No Age: Bringing art-punk to the masses 

Dean Spunt and Randy Randall are Age-nts for change.

photo by Todd Cole

Dean Spunt and Randy Randall are Age-nts for change.

You can hear the low whir of traffic and muffled chatter on the other end of the receiver as No Age's Dean Spunt talks candidly about his band's philosophy:

"Music for us ... is more of a spiritual experience, more of a community experience, something that can really invigorate you and make you excited," says Spunt. "It's not just for the sale of alcohol."

Spunt and bandmate Randy Randall are in New York City for the night. Though the dancey, noisey, art punk duo--who were nominated for a Grammy for Best Recording Package in 2008--could easily fill one of the city's medium-sized venues, they decided to play two smaller shows instead: one at a Brooklyn skate shop and the other at a revamped dive in the West Village.

"We wanted to keep it small, keep it real," says Spunt. "First, we make sure it's not a big shitty venue where it's just like a bar. We like to feel like we're connected, make connections and have more fun."

In fact, when No Age lugs their limited gear to the Treasure Valley on Monday, Nov. 29, they will shirk larger spots like Neurolux or Visual Arts Collective to play the all-ages Flying M Coffeegarage in Nampa. According to talent booker Nathan Walker, the smallish venue has garnered a wide-reaching reputation for its good vibes.

"We may not have the biggest venue or the largest-paying crowd or even a nicely stocked bar, but we strive to make it a positive stop on the tour through various intangibles," says Walker.

Despite the buckets of Internet love dumped on No Age for their catchy 2008 release Nouns and the 2010 fuzz-pop noise bomb, Everything in Between, the Los Angeles skate punks have stuck to their DIY roots. The group got its start at the L.A. all-ages, vegan-friendly venue The Smell--notable for incubating acts like Health, Lavender Diamond, Mika Miko and Captain Ahab--and they continue to play similar venues, where they can engage directly with their fans.

"We just do what makes sense," says Spunt. "Not many bands are willing to do that: Check in with your friends and your community and figure out what to do, not just do what bands on the Internet do."

But that's not to say No Age turn away when artistic opportunity blows a kiss. In 2009, the duo scored Jean-Jacques Annaud's film The Bear and, more recently, provided the soundtrack for futuristic fashion mavens Rodarte. Not to mention, the late-20-somethings opened for their art punk predecessors Sonic Youth and a newly reunited Pavement at the Hollywood Bowl in September.

"We're not just making music ... we're designing records and making jeans and making clothes and making sound collages and making art," says Spunt. "We do all sorts of shit because you can't just tell yourself, 'The creative thing I do is play guitar.' It doesn't work for us."

What does work for Spunt, it turns out, is drums. Though the musician formerly played bass in the hardcore punk group Wives (with Randall on guitar), he picked up percussion and vocals when the two split off to start No Age in 2006. Spunt's feverish drumming guides No Age's distortion-heavy sound, helping to frame his barely-discernible vocals through Randall's squawking guitar and random electronic chirps and swirls.

"Initially, when we started the band, I had never played drums and sang in a band before and I was like 'I just want to try that.' It was really challenging," says Spunt. "Now I can do it pretty well, and sometimes I get a little bored, like I want to go play tuba or something. I want to try different stuff. I want to make mistakes and I want to learn and I want to let my friends know what I learned."

The words "friends" and "community" pepper almost every sentence Spunt utters. Though No Age has hit it big by indie standards--they're signed to Sub Pop and were written up in The New Yorker--the guys do their best to avoid the industry's underbelly--the "culture vultures," as Spunt dubs them.

"When it's a product at the end of the day and all about the music business, it's not fun," says Spunt. "Although it looks like we're integrated in that to some degree because of Internet culture, we're really not. We're just doing our thing with our friends."

And No Age's network of friends keeps expanding. From Brooklyn hipsters to Nampa teenagers, the duo's blend of poppy art punk continues to charm a wide swath of music fans. Their now-iconic block-letter, rainbow T-shirt--which Spunt's mom and brother personally screenprint--has even shown up on Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood. For Walker, having a band like No Age play the Coffeegarage gives kids and of-agers alike the opportunity to build community through a collective musical experience.

"There is no better outlet of expression, vehicle of change, source of shared experience, or consumer of time for me than music," says Walker. "Kids is people, too."

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