Dean Spunt of No Age on the importance of DIY
No Age (due tonight at The Bluebird Theater) isn't a band that has hit the mainstream yet, but it has enjoyed an unexpected rise to prominence as a noisy pop band, making art grounded in notion of doing things your own way -- regardless of whether or not it's met with the stamp of approval of mainstream society.
It's rebellion without violence. Punk attitude and spirit without strict aesthetics and narrow political stances to go along with it. Coming out of the Los Angeles underground scene of the late '90s and early '00s, Randy Randall and Dean Spunt were in the highly regarded, experimental hardcore band Wives. But when that band parted ways mid-decade, Randall and Spunt formed the more accessible but just as wonderfully offbeat No Age.
From the beginning, No Age tapped the national DIY circuit to play in basements, warehouses, art galleries and other off-the-beaten path spaces, where most of the groundbreaking music of the last few decades got off the ground and, oftentimes, stayed.
In May 2008, No Age was featured prominently in a series of interviews on MTV2, including a part in a documentary called Lo-Fi Rockers Revel in Poverty - For Punk's Sake, which featured similar-minded, but sonically disparate artists like Tyvek, Times New Viking, Psychedelic Horseshit and Jay Reatard -- undoubtedly introducing any young people paying attention to music far outside vapid radio hits.
By that time, No Age had already signed to Sub Pop, which released the duo's latest album, Everything In Between. We recently spoke with the sharp, thoughtful and refreshingly idealistic Spunt at length about the pervasive importance of DIY in his life, as well as the lives of anyone who has been touched by that decentralized, yet significant phenomenon in the world of music since the first wave of the punk era.
Westword: How did you get involved in the DIY music scene in Los Angeles and come to play a place like The Smell, and what are the most important things you learned being a part of that?
Dean Spunt: I started going to shows, like what I'd call punk shows, independent shows at spaces like The PCH Club, and this place called The Pickle Patch and The Smell around 1996. I was fifteen or sixteen, and I started becoming aware that there were punk bands that toured. Up to that point, punk was older stuff that I'd found out about -- stuff from the '80s that people would make tapes of and mail order things. I'd find out about these clubs and see these hardcore bands, punk bands, weird bands. It kind of opened my eyes to a new scene and another world.
I got pretty into it, but it wasn't until I started going to The Smell more that it caught my interests more than other places. PCH Club was for hardcore kids, The Pickle Patch was for emo/hardcore kids -- a specific subgenre. The Smell was just fucking weirdos. I'd see a free jazz band and then I'd see a punk band and then I'd see a solo noise guy. For me, it was really eye-opening.
There was no connecting musical tie but what synched up in my mind is that it was about DIY. That's what punk is. It's not a scene, it's not hairstyle, it's not a certain chord. It's people who do stuff themselves and make art. It seemed more fulfilling to me to have a bigger artistic palette. I started booking my own shows and The Smell became the basis for my music and business practices -- that was the way it was done. It was a big influence.
Obviously, you know Josh Taylor from Denver, then?
Oh, man, Josh Taylor works. He helps me run my record label now. He's incredible and so is Amy [Fantastic].
I've seen Wives described as a hardcore band, but most people who are into hardcore probably wouldn't think of it that way. What inspired the music you did in Wives and when you started No Age, and how did you change your approach to making music?
Hardcore kids didn't like it. Arty kids thought it was too dumb. Our band is now described as lo-fi. In Wives, it was a lot of reaction to what we were angry about. We were trying to make the noise in our heads. When the Wives started, The Smell wasn't what it became. It wasn't young kids' bands playing. It was a scene for older, avant-garde musicians.
I took a big liking to it. I had to convince one of our old bandmates to play there because it was too arty and weird. We just tried to make noise and really aggressive music, not thinking about song structure so much as sort of just blasting you. The energy of hardcore but not the music so much.
With No Age we wanted to write songs, but we wanted to employ a stripped down sensibility. In Wives, I played guitar sometimes, and I played bass, but in this band, it's sort of anti- the other band. The drummer in Wives was aggressive and heavy. I was like, "I want to play drums because I don't know how to fuckin' play." I wanted it to be really stripped down. I like the struggle and learning things.
We wanted to write songs and work within our limitations and really use the stripped down approach to confine ourselves almost so we had to work hard to get out of it. Like not having enough low end, or not really knowing how to play drums or sing. But we had fun figuring that out.