Interview | No Age
by Tom Johnson
When you release three albums in three years and then disappear for that same amount of time then people are always going to assume that something has gone awry. However, for No Age that was never really the case. It was more just a step back, some much-needed evaluation time. Although that’s not to say that the recording of album number four – the monstrous An Object, released next month via Sub Pop – was without its troubles. After working on the record for eight months they scrapped the lot. Starting from scratch again they were re-energised and re-inspired, and it shows. An Object is a big noisy beast of a record and a huge leap forward for a band that are steadily creating one of the finest discographies of the past decade.
A few weeks ahead of it’s release, we spoke to Randy Randall about the new record and what it means to them…
You’ve been away for 3 years. How much of that time was spent on An Object?
We started working on songs that would be An Object in the beginning of 2012. We did some writing and then we recorded a bit in the Summer of 2012. Then we went through it with a fine tooth comb and realised it wasn’t right, and that we just had to ditch it and start from scratch. So then September through to march we got all these new songs together. So it was a long process, but more trial and error than just writing and recording.
What do you do in that position? What do you do differently to make sure you don’t end up in the same place?
Really the biggest difference was in the writing process. It was just more intuitive, more of a self-searching ideal rather than “Hey I wrote this bit and it sounds cool!” It was kind of stripping things down to a more primal urge to make a sound and then arrange that and work it into to something over time. It was like the idea came first rather than the basics of a song.
Is that completely different to have you’ve worked before then?
It’s always been a bit of a mix. The last record was really an experimentation in songwriting, thinking about structures and bridges and finding ways of using that traditional method but realising it through different materials. So that was the idea we explored on the last record, whereas on An Object it was about throwing the whole idea of writing a song out the window.
Do you think that with three well-regarded records behind you, you had more of a scope to try something less by-the-book?
To some extent yes, but we were never really that by-the-book. I think what ends up happening is that familiarity breeds contempt a little bit. Some of the tracks on Weirdo Rippers are very weird and on Nouns some of the songs are, not unstructured, but made of very loose fabric. We started touring a bunch after Nouns and playing shows every day really started to do our heads in. Tiny mistakes that came out in the recording process had to get played for three years straight! When you reach that position you end up questioning everything about your music. So we made that EP, which was basically tour reaction ideas. But then we quickly realised that it didn’t really solve the monotony either. We realised that it’s best to leave things looser and unstructured and find your way as you go. So that’s where An Object finds us…
So what kind of record have you made?
You mean the quick description of it?
If you like…
It’s an exciting, dangerous and challenging record and it’s not for the faint of heart. You’ve got to like guitars. And you’ve got like noise. And you’ve got to like, I don’t know…. You’ve got to like life!
If walking down the street is too much for you then you may not want to listen to this record. But if you find yourself up to the challenge of seeing what’s behind the next corner and seeing what’s different about the town you live in and not being afraid to go in to a building you’ve never been in before, then this one is for you. It’s for the explorers and the curiosity seekers.
Dean has done a lot more this time around, playing a variety of different instruments. Was it like having an extra member?
To a degree, but actually it was almost the opposite because I feel like I’ve lost a drummer! He didn’t want to pay drums when we were writing songs so I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do. He was experimenting with all these contact mic’s and he was hitting them against his hands and arms and knees and getting a sound that wasn’t really the sound of a drum, but was the sound of a microphone being destroyed! Then he’d use that in a percussive way and I would have to take it as the point of inspiration for my guitars.
And they sound a lot different on this record I think. How did you approach your playing?
I think I tried, to not necessarily unlearn things, but approach it differently. There were no rhythm or lead parts really because of what Dean was doing, so straight away that was different for me. I don’t stray too far from my taste and intuition. I like loud noisy guitars and they’re still in there, but maybe I dialed back a little to allow his drums to lead the structure of the songs.
Deans lyrics really stand out on this record too. Is there much conference between the two of you when it comes to them?
No, he goes off on his own. We talk about ideas, themes or challenges, and maybe some of that filters through but really he writes all the words and I first hear them when we start recording. Sometimes I’ll be like “Oooh, that’s a rough one!” and he’s like “Yeah, I like it!“, but that’ as far as it goes.
So you’re handling the whole manufacturing and artwork side of things yourself, which is kind of unprecedented for a band of your side. First of all why did you want to do that and, secondly, how did you find the process?
The ‘why‘… (Laughs) It was something Dean was excited about very early on., I think he was in love with the idea of making the record literally, and being involved to the point of absurdity. I mean, literally making it from scratch. So that was his first inspiration point, and some of that filters through in his lyrics too, regarding space and construction and what it means for the artist to be the manufacturer so that there is no separation between the idea and the execution. That really interested him.
And we followed it through. It comes down to passion for what you do. We’ve never been ones to shrink away from a job. We don’t care about the hard work, this is what we do! Working for a year to make twenty-minutes of music is hard work, that’s not a big return on your investment, but it’s good! Quality, not quantity. So we did it all. We folded 10,000 CD covers, just us and a couple of friends over four days. 10,000 covers, folded and stamped by hand. It felt like being back in school. We goofed around and we all had a hand in it. It was a really rewarding project. When I delivered thousands of covers to the pressing plant it felt like the end of a really long journey.
We actually wanted to press it ourselves too, but that was heavily frowned upon. No guitar players in the pressing room! It was really exciting project though. The idea of a band making something themselves isn’t uncommon. 90% of bands out there do it all themselves. There are the higher echelons of bands who are signed to labels, and they’ll gladly pay people to press your record, but you lose something I think. When someone buys that from you at a show, there’s less of a connection because the records just turned up in a box. When someone buys An Object from us it’ll be the final piece for us. The music we make is about connecting to people. We’re not doing this just for ourselves..
Do you still get the same buzz from playing live?
Yeah, totally. The less input you have the more monotonous it is. You get an itinerary and you turn up and play. Its like punching a clock. We’ve found for us that the the more involved we are, the more rewarding it is. So we research places to visit. It’s easier in the States because we know the places and some of the people in the towns. We always try and work with local promoters. That’s fun, working through friends. After Nouns we were playing all these clubs, and we wouldn’t even know where we were, and that got a bit weird, like “wait, this wasn’t the point!” So we changed the process.
What advice would you give to smaller bands?
Oh man. Everyone’s journey is so different. I guess the best thing to do is just to play. All the time, as much as you can. And have fun with it. You’re your own barometer. I’ve played shows that I thought were amazing and everyone hated. Or I’ve written a song that I thought was terrible but people said it was amazing – and that didn’t make me feel any better. At the end of the day, people can like what you do but if you hate it then its no worth it. It’s just misery and you can’t sustain that.
Also, if you’re in a band, choose people ahead of talent, every time. If you’re playing with the best drummer in the world but he’s an asshole then just get out! You can always get better at your instruments but you can’t become a nicer person.
Are you still having fun?
YEAH MAN! Dean and I, we fight. Being in band is like being brothers and being married and owning a business together, all rolled in to one. We probably know each other in a different way than we know anyone else, and with that comes all the good and the bad. We have a lot of fun fun though, we challenge each other and this whole thing just being the two of us just makes sense. Our ideas are so weird musically that it’d be hard to find people who would go for the same ideas.
Thanks a lot for your time. I think the new record is amazing…
Ah thank you so much man! Its weird having people hear it. I laboured and cried over this record for so long and I think we turned it in somewhere around April and then it was out of my hands, so I haven’t really heard it since then. It’s great to be reminded that it’s a real thing and that people are digging it. It really means a lot.
‘An Object’ is released on August 19th via Sub Pop Records