Object Lesson: No Age forges its path through the evolving music frontier

From the very beginning of their career, Los Angeles-based noise-pop duo No Age has dug into rock's past, while side-stepping many of its clichés. The band, which consists of guitarist Randy Randall and drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt, was spawned from the Smell, a downtown L.A. all-ages performance space that didn't sell alcohol. Following that tradition, the band's show Friday, March 14, at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock will have no booze for sale, but concert-goers can indulge in vegan food provided by Pure Luck and Clara's Cakes.

"Dean and I are both vegans and we've been vegans for many years," Randall says. "In the past, we've always done the best that we can to really try and create an interesting show environment, whether it's playing these sort of unconventional spaces like the L.A. River bed or vegan grocery stores or movie theaters behind the screen, we go out of our way to kind of create an interesting live show. Having vegan food for sale there is kind of nice. It's something that you're not necessarily going to find in a bar or at the Henry Fonda [Theatre]."

While Randall has no problem with drinking, he says the band doesn't necessarily want to be involved in the sale of alcohol. "There are plenty of places you can drink," he says. "You can drink at sporting events, in restaurants, anywhere, but as a punk or an independent-minded person doing it yourself, the amount of paperwork and the headache isn't worth it ... As the promoter of the show or the band playing the show, I just don't think my job is selling you beer."

Although the lack of alcohol may seem out of the norm for a typical rock show, No Age does draw on rock's past musically. With its distorted guitars, tribal drumbeats and monotone vocals, you can hear traces of such seminal punk and post-punk bands as the Ramones, Sonic Youth and the Jesus & Mary Chain in No Age's music. Yet when discussing "Running From A-Go-Go," a song from the band's fourth and latest album, 2013's "An Object," Randall goes even further back in the classic rock continuum to explain the song, which chronicles the boredom that often accompanies life on the road for a touring rock band.

"It kind of hearkened back to the Creedence Clearwater Revival song 'Lodi,'" Randall explains, before singing the chorus of the CCR classic during a recent phone interview. "You know, 'We're a traveling band.' We've never written a song that upfront. Usually the lyrics are a little more abstract, but that one had some personal experience in it."

In the age of digital downloads and streaming audio, No Age is also trying to connect with music lovers on a personal level through another classic medium — physical packaging. Since signing with Sub Pop, the same Seattle-based label that launched Nirvana's recording career, the band has gone out of its way to create unique packages for its albums.

"Nouns," its 2008 debut for the label, included a 68-page full-color book featuring, art, photos and lyrics. It earned the band and collaborator Brian Roettinger a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package. For last year's "An Object," Randall and Spunt took it a step further, personally handling all aspects of the production of the album's first 10,000 units, including manufacturing the covers and inserts and personally picking up the first run of the album from the pressing plant.

The 33-year-old musician says he bought records as a youth during the pre-Internet age and enjoyed the experience of holding an album cover and reading the liner notes. "The artwork and the packaging really said something to me as a burgeoning music fan," he says. "I'd go out and buy 7-inches and dig through crates. There's something really fun about that. It comes down to that whole tactile, visceral sort of idea. I'm playing this guitar, it's a physical thing, and you make a physical record and put it in a physical package."

Randall adds that he has nothing against downloads, but it's not quite the same experience. "There's something that doesn't feel real," he explains. "I can enjoy listening to the songs, but I don't feel like I have ownership of that album if I just bought it for $9.99 on iTunes. What did I really buy? I bought some data."

It was with that mindset that he and Spunt created "An Object," Randall says. "It was something that's kind of exciting and a little tongue-in-cheek and kind of bratty just to call it what it is. We're selling an 'object.' It's a novel idea."

Back when "Nouns" was nominated for a Grammy, Randall and Spunt were touring in Australia and were unable to attend the ceremony. So would Randall attend what's billed as "music's biggest night" if No Age's packaging or music were to garner another nomination? "Yeah, I guess," he says. "I'd love to go to the moon, too, but I guess I'm a lot closer to going to the Grammys than going to the moon."

What: No Age with Peaking Lights and Dunes

Where: Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock, 2225 Colorado Blvd.

When: Friday, March 14
Price: $12.50

More info: (323) 226-1617; cfaer.org.


CRAIG ROSEN is a music journalist and regular contributor to Marquee.

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