Ooga Booga, an indie clothing-book-music store in Chinatown’s Central Plaza, is fairly quiet on a recent Thursday afternoon. The music of Japanese tribalists OOIOO plays over the stereo, punctuating the shuffle of paper as the staff focuses on counting stock and receipts. I’m here to meet Randy Randall, one half of the experimental punk-noise duo No Age. Recently back from a European jaunt with fellow L.A. band Mika Miko, Randall’s got some post-tour business to conduct at the store. He’s brought an armload of band merch to sell: T-shirts, homemade bandannas, and import CDs of their highly anticipated album Weirdo Rippers. On August 28, the respected British label FatCat (current or former home to, among others, the Animal Collective, Sigur Ros, Mum and Mice Parade) released the U.S. version of Rippers, a collection of songs culled from a series of previously released EPs. But today, Randall’s trying to figure out how much to charge for these expensive European editions. No Age’s buzz in L.A. has been deafening of late, so he could probably make out like a bandit. But he doesn’t want to alienate their fan base.
This hands-on, do-it-yourself approach to everything from merchandise to the mundane details of band business has long been part of the band’s methodology. But it’s more than strategy. It’s a statement of self-determination. “DIY, to me, means not asking for permission, not waiting for anyone to ask you to do something,” says Randall. “It means following your dreams and goals and realizing them, not waiting for anyone to ask you to join the football team or debate team, or a band. Start your own band. Go out and make music yourself because you believe in it.”
It’s been a busy summer for Randall and cohort Dean Spunt, who first played together in Wives, a post-hardcore outfit that made some underground ripples during their brief existence. After Wives’ demise in 2005, No Age was born, and the band’s arrival signaled a departure from their spastic roots into minimalist waves of sound collage, noise-rock and cacophonous ambiance, all bound together by a real sense of traditional song structure. As Randall works his guitar through a variety of pedals and Spunt pounds the drums and sings, both manipulate sampled sounds and loops. The result is noisy yet melodic scraps of controlled lo-fi chaos, sometimes beautiful, and often raw. “Our intention is to write pop songs — Ramones songs, Squeeze songs, Paul McCartney songs, but in the way we know how,” clarifies Randall. “Rod Stewart can write a fucking song. I’d love to cover ‘Maggie May,’ ’cause that’s an amazing song. But maybe it gets overlooked because it’s sung by some dude with a rooster haircut.”
This admiration for Stewart comes as a bit of a surprise, given No Age’s deep roots in L.A.’s underground punk/skate/art/DIY scene. They’ve long been involved with the Smell, downtown’s all-ages bastion of independent music, as both organizers and performers. (Spunt books shows, and Randall mans the soundboard.) It makes sense, then, that the cover of Weirdo Rippers is a snapshot of the venue’s Main Street façade. “The Smell is part of us as a band. It’s almost like a third member,” explains Randall. “[It] represents a DIY spirit and not conforming to expectations, the idea that you don’t have to sell liquor, you don’t have to sell out tickets. By sidestepping the bar and expensive ticket prices, it’s a ‘fuck you’ to other bars and venues in the city.” The appeal to No Age and their ilk is that the Smell is a venue focused on music instead of cash flow, a theory in keeping with the band’s scrappy persistence in staying close to their DIY roots, no matter how much (deserved) hot-shit press they may be collecting at the moment.
After delivering the merchandise, Randall heads for a visit with some friends who are putting together an art installation for a Nike party celebrating the relaunch of a retro running shoe. He’s having car trouble today, so the guitarist parks it on the sidewalk with the engine idling and enters the Chinatown-adjacent space. Jars of peanut butter and cans of beer are stacked in piles just outside the space, soon to be incorporated into the piece in homage to the pre-Atkins diet of 1970s runners. He seems truly psyched to be catching up on artistic endeavors he missed while on tour.
This enthusiasm is matched by a refreshing sense of wonderment at the fact that people are actually taking notice of No Age. “I remember when the Wives CD came out, I went to Rhino [Records] in Claremont. I was like, ‘We did it! Don’t tell anyone we snuck through the cracks.’ I still feel like that with No Age. It makes me laugh.” Perhaps it’s time to get used to it, though. Members of Radiohead and Franz Ferdinand popped up at shows on this last tour. The F.F. boys even invited them to an art-school party, but No Age took a pass. “Some of our party might have been more inebriated than the bouncers liked,” he admits.
We hop back into Randall’s Ford Explorer and head off to Thai Xpress, a comfortably grungy favorite of his in the nether regions between downtown and MacArthur Park, for some lunch. A longtime vegan, he expands on his love of both punk rock and pop music between mouthfuls of pineapple curry with mock chicken. “Greg Ginn tried to play the blues. We’re trying to play pop — as best we can.” As we finish and the waitress wipes up our curry drippings, Randall sits back and contemplates No Age’s future. They’re heading out on tour again on September 17, and then plan on entering the studio to record new songs. “We’re progressing as any band would, trying not to repeat the idea.”
Repetition doesn’t seem to be much of a worry. The band seem to thrive upon incorporating new concepts of music, design, art and community into their DIY regimen. “If it makes sense to anyone else, that’s [affirmation] that being honest and not being an asshole is a good thing,” Randall says. “In a world where we have the government and pop culture we have, Paris Hilton getting arrested . . . How does that relate to us? I get why they’re funny and why they exist, but maybe being straight with yourself can work too. The more work you put into something, the more value you get out of it.”