A punk band that wants everyone from kids to grandparents at their shows? A punk band that demonstrates no trace of nihilism, even embraces that dreaded concept of "positivity" and still manages to be cool? Well, yeah. Or maybe they're not punk, by your definition of the word. But what No Age definitely are is one of the most exciting bands in America, one that's been building awareness for the past year and who look to build that following even further with this week's release of the album Nouns.
"Punk" is certainly the term The New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones used to refer to the band in a profile last fall of the L.A. scene that gave rise to No Age, a scene centered on the all-ages downtown space known as the Smell. And punk — at least their understanding of it — is a word guitarist Randy Randall and drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt have no problem with.
"We take it from the D. Boon [long-departed member of seminal Cali band the Minutemen] idea of punk — the aesthetic where punk is what you make it, that you should be able to do anything," Randall said. "I think that's why a place like the Smell really embodies the true sense of being a punk. It's not about youth culture and Mohawks. It's about believing in yourself and expressing yourself in any unique, personal form you want to do it."
Which is why, Spunt said, as their name suggests, this is a band that's happy to play for very mixed crowds. "I think when we play in L.A., and really all over, it's like the term 'no age' really is true. There's kids who say, 'I like you because it's energetic,' and older people who are like, 'We like it because it reminds us of the '80s or the punk scene.' " He added that the following only expanded in the wake of the aforementioned New Yorker piece: "I mean, we were getting e-mails from people ... women who were, like, 60 and said, 'I just read about you and I just heard your music. You're my favorite. I don't even know what punk rock is, but, wow!' "
Wow, indeed. No Age have had a few "wow" moments in the past couple of years. Spunt and Randall launched the band after the implosion of their previous, decidedly more aggro outfit Wives, bonding over their love of bands like Crass and Captain Beefheart, and vowing to finally make what Spunt calls "the kind of music we really want to listen to, all the time." That music first came out in the form of a series of small-release singles and EPs, and those songs — two-minute blasts of beautiful noise like "Everybody's Down" and "Boy Void" — were compiled and released last year as the band's debut album, Weirdo Rippers. An L.A. reputation for explosive live shows was cemented in October with a performance during CMJ week in New York, again in February with an unhinged set at the newly opened Brooklyn all-ages (of course) venue Market Hotel and the following month, during South by Southwest, where No Age left their mark on Austin, Texas, playing multiple shows, including a late-night mob scene on a pedestrian bridge.
Earlier that day, I caught up with the band to talk about Nouns, a record that may be slightly less left-field than its predecessor, but is every bit as brilliantly raucous — tight pop melodies buried, and sometimes not, in a pounding sheen of sound. That's right, pop — the other "p-word" that No Age are equally at home with. "When we first started the band," Spunt said, "we discussed music, and one of the things we agreed on is, we like catchy songs. We like pop music." They cite Hüsker Dü as inspirations, and even Squeeze, though it took them some time to warm up to the new-wave icons. "I remember when we started listening to their 45's and Under compilation, we felt like cheese balls," Spunt said. "And we were like, 'Guys, listen to this! No, it's awesome!' "
As is Nouns, from its most slamming moments, like "Sleeper Hold" and "Teen Creeps," to the percolating "Things I Did When I Was Dead" and the bright and lively "Here Should Be My Home" and "Cappo." It's sometimes hard to believe this much sound is coming from two guys.
"I feel like you can't just make the same record twice, and we just want, as artists, to continue to evolve and do what we're doing better than we did it last time," Randall said. "So as soon as we finished Nouns, the next day we went back to our home studio and kept writing. Because we were like, we just learned all this stuff making this record — let's make the next one!"
Besides evolution, other principles this principled band is committed to include DIY — motivated again by Mike Watt and the Minutemen's "econo" approach, No Age prefer to handle most of their touring, merch and related concerns themselves — and veganism.
And whatever happens for No Age this year, Randall said any sort of success is all gravy, albeit vegan gravy. "You grow up in L.A., playing the kind of music we do, kind of noise music, and finding that first your parents are nice enough to listen to it, then your friends want to hear it, then you find a community like the Smell, where kids are willing to come listen to you on a hot summer day, and it just kind of keeps growing and growing. And I keep scratching my head, going, 'Maybe the world isn't that big after all.' "