Noise, Punk, and Chaos

Bad shows keep turning out good for No Age

The "Obama shirt thing" hounds No Age almost as much as the band's always-asked-about affiliation with the punk scene that sprung up around a trendy Los Angeles club a few years ago.

But guitarist Randy Randall doesn't mind talking about his group's TV debut in 2008, when he appeared on Craig Ferguson's Late Late Show sporting an Obama T-shirt a month before the election. CBS officials wagged their fingers, and No Age threatened to walk. Eventually, Randall turned his shirt inside out and scrawled "Free Health Care" on it. Ferguson jokingly referred to them as a "young punk band that's causin' trouble" on the air that night.

"There was a misunderstanding about equal airtime and they decided to apply that to us," recalls Randall. "It was still sort of unknown whether he was going to get elected. He was the closest thing we'd had to an electable candidate since Ralph Nader. I thought, Why not throw our hat in the ring and get behind him?"

The hastily scribbled health-care comment wasn't as tossed-off as you might think. It's an issue that personally resonates with Randall. In 2003, he fractured vertebrae in his neck in a bike accident and eventually required brain surgery. No surprise that he didn't have health insurance.

"It was amazing that they were able to save my life and put me back together, but there was this insane financial burden to undergo," he says. "First there's the physical trauma, and then there's the ongoing trauma of having to pay off every single department in the hospital. Everybody that you see? You get mail from them ... [even] the dude that puts the Band-Aid on."

Randall survived the physical and financial hardships, and since then he and drummer Dean Allen Spunt have become indie-rock heroes. Their mix of noise pop, punk rock, and dreamy shoegaze has propelled them to the top of hipster lists. The band's 2007 debut, Weirdo Rippers, led them to Sub Pop a year later, when Nouns became a must-hear hit. This year's Everything in Between continues the frantic pace.

"The kind of music we're playing isn't the most radio-friendly," admits Randall. "We're still shocked that we're able to do this and that people respond positively more than negatively."

No Age are known for their tumultuous live shows, which are loud, noisy, and methodically chaotic. Their performance on Ferguson's show was a typically noisy blast of art-punk simplicity. When it was over, Randall stormed offstage. Still, even though he blogged about the horrible experience, it wasn't the band's worst show; the one that got them signed to Sub Pop was.

"We were playing on borrowed gear and equipment, and it was sort of falling apart as we were playing," he recalls. "Four songs in, the drums started breaking and the amps started breaking and everything was just falling down around us. We knew [Sub Pop was] going to be there. But apparently they thought it was still enjoyable. We never thought they were going to sign us in the first place, and definitely not now."

 Regardless of all this talk of noise and punk and chaos, No Age take their music and career very seriously. "It's sort of officially living a dream — this thing that everybody says isn't going to happen," he says. "A rock star? That happens to .1111 percent of the population. You take that leap of faith, and the ground didn't fall out from underneath us. You walk this tightrope."

And despite their politically charged mainstream bow, Randall insists No Age aren't really a political group. "We're not a Rage Against the Machine kind of band," he says. "Our image and work is much more of an artistic statement about life and love and family and friends. We haven't attacked any larger global social issues. I think out politics run more personal." 

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