Rank Your Records: Dean Spunt Arranges No Age’s Catalog from Worst to First


This story is over 5 years old.


Rank Your Records: Dean Spunt Arranges No Age’s Catalog from Worst to First

One half of the LA-based duo looks back at their four albums in advance of their new release, 'Snares Like a Haircut.'

In Rank Your Records, we talk to artists who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.

Dean Spunt and Randy Randall have been making sweet noise since 2005, after their previous band Wives fell out. As No Age, the Los Angeles-based duo went from a spanking DIY unit spreading releases across as many labels as they could, to music press favorites on Sub Pop pushing boundaries for the lo-fi arm of indie rock.


Like any band in their position, though, No Age were pushed to the brink, constantly touring and releasing an endless supply of albums, singles, and EPs between 2006 and 2013. After they ended things with Sub Pop following the release of 2013’s An Object, Spunt and Randall took much-needed time off. “We were busy, we just weren’t putting out full-length records,” explains drummer-singer Spunt. “We got out of the cycle. I felt like touring and having a big label push to have you grow became tiring for me, so I really pulled back. But we were still making music together.”

When it came time to putting together their fifth LP, Snares Like A Haircut, the main focus was to keep things laid back. “This album was super easy,” he says. “We recorded it in two days. Well, basically everything… Actually, that’s not true. We did most of the record in two days: basic tracking and Randy’s overdubs. We wrote the last two tracks while we were mixing the other songs. We always throw in songs after we get in to do the mix. Having fun was the goal. Because with An Object I felt the touring schedule and how we pushed ourselves was too intense.”

With their Sub Pop deal fulfilled, the band approached Drag City to release the album. “We’ve known Dan [Koretzky] from Drag City for years. He would come to the shows and talk to us. So when it came time to figure out what we wanted to do, the first label we thought about was Drag City. And Dan seemed excited to work with us. It’s been really easy with them.”


Since Snares Like A Haircut was such a breeze, Noisey thought it would be fun to make Spunt sweat a little by ranking the band’s four previous full-lengths. “I’m down to do it,” he says with some uncertainty, “but I don’t think of albums in that way. So I hope it’ll be okay.”

4. Everything in Between (2010)

Noisey: Which is your least favorite album?
Dean Spunt: I’ve got to say at this point in my life it’s Everything in Between. It came out in 2010, which meant we were writing in 2009, and at that point, man, we were on the road all the time. I don’t think it’s a bad record. In fact, I think all of our records are good. But I just remember making this at a time where it almost felt like there were more things I wanted to try but we were just so busy. The first song on the record, “Life Prowler,” we actually wrote in the studio while we were mastering. I’m really proud of that song. I also have a solo song on there called “Dusted” that I like. But some of my vocals are a little funky. It was a darker period for us. The whole record felt dark at the time. We did Nouns and then the Losing Feeling EP, when, in hindsight, we could’ve just made the whole LP then. I don’t know why we decided to do an EP instead of an LP. The artwork came out really well, although it was very expensive to make. I think we had to charge something like $30 for the vinyl. Maybe we should have charged more!


Was this album any sort of reaction to Nouns?
I don’t know. I don’t think we even had any time to think about a reaction. It just felt more of the same. If anything, it felt more like it wasn’t a true document of what we were feeling. That really wasn’t where we were at. It felt like Nouns Part 2. There were a bunch of songs in between that sounded like Nouns-era that could’ve been flushed out a bit to sound more interesting. I was pulling away from indie rock.

How many of these songs do you play live these days?
Oh my god. One, two… yeah, two. Not that the rest are bad. We have played all of the more rockin’ songs at some point. We actually brought in a third person and learned how to play it with three people.

Did having a third member change anything between you and Randy?
It was good at the time, because we weren’t communicating as much as we should have been. The third member was our friend Facundo Bermudez, who engineered a lot of the tracks on Weirdo Rippers and An Object. We had known him for a long time, so it was good to have him there with us. He was essentially just pushing buttons on samplers.

3. Nouns (2008)

Listening to it now, I much prefer Weirdo Rippers and even Everything in Between, now that I’m talking about it. Maybe Nouns should be number four.

Do you want me to make it number four?
Well, it’s confusing because of the darkness surrounding Everything in Between, but I feel like it’s a stronger record than Nouns. Nouns is a lighter record. Let’s leave it, but put this in there. They’re kinda tied.


But I have very fond memories of making this album. It was the second album and everything was so exciting. It’s funny because, speaking of my own progression as a musician, I learned how to play my instruments from Nouns to Everything in Between. Some of the songs now feel uninspiring. I definitely learned how to sing and feel more comfortable as a vocalist since. Maybe that’s why the vocals are lower in the mix. I am a better singer now. I can’t tell you why I’m a better singer, but I feel more confident hitting notes. My sense of melody is probably what got better after the years of experience.

How did signing to Sub Pop change things for the band?
It definitely seemed, especially in the Nouns era, that anything was possible. Fuck, man, I feel like they wanted us to be… what’s that band?

Nirvana, yeah. [Laughs] We wanted to sign to Sub Pop and get off the label quickly, hoping we’d get enough recognition so that we could put out records on our own—weirder music where we wouldn’t have to worry about what anyone thinks. But I think we got caught up a little bit. It did seem like a big deal. We always liked the fact that Wolf Eyes did a couple of records with them, but then they also had the Shins. It seemed like a funny juxtaposition.

No Age were right there in between Wolf Eyes and the Shins!
That’s what we thought when we signed. Put those two together and that’s kinda what we sounded like!


After finding an audience with Weirdo Rippers and signing to Sub Pop, did you feel any added pressure making Nouns?
Not really. We knew there were labels that wanted us to put out a record and people were excited but at this point we were still fucking around. We were on tour all the time. But we were aware that people were blowing smoke up our ass. I never paid attention too much to press either.

There were a bunch of labels interested in you. Was it a bidding war?
A bidding war? I don’t know if it was a bidding war, but I think the advance got bumped up by the time it got to Sub Pop. I don’t know. We hired a lawyer, which seemed like a very professional thing to do. [Laughs]

You guys included a 68-page full-color book with the CD. Did you guys have to negotiate that with Sub Pop?
Yes. Eventually. I remember talking to Jonathan and at first he didn’t wanna do it because it was expensive. We thought it was funny because people were just starting to stop buying CDs. So we thought, “Let’s put all of the emphasis on designing the CD.” People were still buying them, but I think most labels wanted to keep it cheap with a jewel case or just a cardboard case, and sell a thousand. And I took a photo of my cassette tapes and used it, and one of the tapes in it was Metallica. Jonathan said we couldn’t use that photo because Metallica would likely sue us. But I was very adamant about leaving it in there. And it stayed and we never got sued.


But then we got a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package against Metallica. I think they won [for Death Magnetic], but I wonder if we had won if they would’ve looked at ours and sued us. I think it worked in our favor that we didn’t win.

I know you said you don’t read your own press, but how important was that 9.2 that Pitchfork gave the album? I’d say that 2008 was probably the peak for that site’s influence.
Yeah… I don’t know. Again, I didn’t pay attention to that website, ever. But I do know that the fact that they got behind us was a huge thing. Their review for Weirdo Rippers was probably part of the reason why other labels even heard about us. I wonder how it will play out. We’re part of the “Pitchfork Generation of Bands.” I wouldn’t pick that as a label, but it seems that way. I guess block criticism works when it’s in your favor.

2. An Object (2013)

On one hand, our communication was at the peak of nonexistence at this time. [Laughs] …As far as being on the same page, musically. For me, at least, it was both a fun and different record to make. It fit the final statement of this run we were working with. Until then, I feel like I got away from the initial thoughts and ideas and feelings about what No Age was, and I think An Object brought it back a little bit. Maybe the execution wasn’t the greatest and some songs were too reductive, but I like that. This album reminded me more of Weirdo Rippers, which I’ve always held in high regard.


I think it’s a great record. There’s one song that I kind of feel is not so great now: “Running From A-Go-Go.” But everything else I stand by 100 percent. I just wanted to make something that was warts and all. Nothing was slick. It almost felt like demos.

Did having more time to make this one help?
I don’t know. I feel like we had a harder time making this after Everything In Between. We toured a shit-ton for that album in 2011 and 2012, and we’d been touring since 2006. So it was six brutal years of constantly going. I don’t even know what we were going towards. Randy was really pushing to finish a record earlier, but I just couldn’t find a reason to make one. But then we started talking about packaging and I decided I wanted to touch all of these things. Like, in that era, Amazon was a glooming influence. Everything was available at the click of the button. It was so impersonal, made somewhere else. And I wanted to touch every single item that someone would buy. Just to see if it even changes the way I felt about consumerism or music. I don’t know if it did, but it was a good exercise. It felt good. And it was also a way to get to the point where I could write music for it.

You guys assembled 10,000 copies of the album on both CD and LP. And you were still feeling good after that?
Yeah! It felt great. Oh my God. It was nothing new. In DIY, underground culture people make their own records all of the time, but on a scale of 10,000 it just seemed so ridiculous. Also, I think our humor gets lost a lot of the time in what we’re doing. But it’s sort of the driving force and super important to what we do.


I love how you did all of this, and then it came out on Sub Pop. How did the label feel about you guys doing the packaging?
I don’t think they liked that idea. I do know that at this point in our career with Sub Pop the publicist had changed three times. They had a lot of turnover, and it felt like we didn’t know anybody well. The woman who had initially brought us on left after Everything In Between, so we were left floating in their universe. I don’t think they liked this record. I got that vibe. I think they felt progression was a linear thing, where you get bigger, and this album was a step maybe backwards, a little off-kilter. That makes total sense to how I think about things, but maybe not in a commercial sense to a label like that.

As far as the packaging, I remember having to push a little bit, and they seemed a little annoyed, likely because they had to pay us to do the packaging. We got paid double. It was like slave labor, if you look at the hours. But we got paid as the manufacturer. We manufactured the covers, so we got paid the amount that they would spend on the covers and the inserts—we printed all of that. So that probably felt weird that they had to pay us. They never said anything to that extent, but I could feel that they were lost with our direction and the way we handled the packaging.

What made you play bass on this album for the first time since you were in Wives?
I was thinking about rhythm and low tones. Bass and drums are one in the same to me. My job was to keep rhythm and time, and I just felt like the drums we getting a little boring at that point. I was using these prepared speakers that I made for the bass, as well as this stomp box to keep time. I loved playing these songs live, just because it was this reductive way of keeping rhythm and people were slightly confused. There was a lot of hype about what No Age is or isn’t. Like, people would show up and start crowd-surfing and moshing because they saw a YouTube video of us playing or something. This felt like a reaction to that.


You told Interview that you didn’t want to play any drums on this record at all.
Yes. My idea was to stop playing drums. This was gonna be the last record I would play drums on and then I would stop playing them. But as we were writing the record I started playing the bass and the contact mic, and Randy and Facundo were like, “C’mon man!” And then as we wrote more the drums creeped in and it felt fine.

1. Weirdo Rippers (2007)

Why is this your favorite?
I think it’s the best because we put out a bunch of EPs and then put this together and it was the best of those five EPs. It was the best of our first year as a band together. We recorded a lot that was super solid. And we recorded a lot of it ourselves, though Facundo did a bunch of songs too. We were in there mixing with him and experimenting a lot. But this is what No Age was to me. It was a very tight version of what we set out to do, which maybe got lost. Although I think now we’re back. It was this culmination of these ideas that we couldn’t do in our old band. We were just excited about trying. I learned how to play drums, Randy learned how to perfect things on guitar, we learned how to record ourselves, even though everything was in the red and kinda sounded like shit—but it worked! I had such a good time making these songs, especially being in LA at the time. It felt special.

Technically a compilation, but most people regard it as your debut album. When did you realize this would work as an album?
I think it was FatCat’s idea. They wanted to sign us for two records, but we didn’t end up doing that. I think they were like, “This works as an album.” Maybe the idea was lost on us because it was five different EPs on different labels from different countries. But it worked as a record. I think of it as our first record, 100 percent. And I always thought we’d put out the other half as another album at some point. I still want to do that, I just don’t know when. It wouldn’t be as tight because Weirdo Rippers was the best of those EPs.

The copy of Weirdo Rippers I have is a bootleg you guys were selling in 2008. What’s the story behind that?
Ah, yes! I’ve always been into bootlegs. I think it’s beautiful, the idea that someone loved something so much that they would spend money on something unofficial. Some people don’t realize this but bootlegging is expensive. It’s tough to make a record without any distribution because it’s completely underground. You can’t really distribute it unless you do it under an alias. So aesthetically it’s super simple: we glued a piece of paper onto a sleeve.

We needed something to sell on tour and people were asking for it. I had been running a label [PPM], so I just pressed them, gave them blank labels, took a photocopy of the CD cover and pasted it on there, spelled Weirdo Rippers wrong on the matrix. scribe. FatCat was not happy that we bootlegged it. I remember getting a very angry phone call from Alex [Knight], but I think they find it funny now. They ended up releasing it on vinyl a year later, but it wasn’t on vinyl at the time. I mean, it doesn’t sound great, but I wanted it to not sound great because it was a bootleg. It’s the album compressed to mp3, and then I think we affected it to make it sound slightly worse. But now I see how that fits into my art practice. Oddly enough, I recently found a box of them and we sold them at the last couple of shows we played.

Legendary LA venue The Smell is on the album cover. How surprised were you that the painting on that building lasted as long as it did?
I didn’t think it would last long and someone would just paint over it, tag it, make a joke or something. What’s funny is that it lasted for so long, and the city actually painted over it for like a day. And then they received all of these emails complaining about it, so then they repainted it in like different colors and this jackass font. [Laughs] It was just so perfect. I was so happy for that to happen. Like, “Oh fuck! We’ll just repaint it.” And it looked so crazy. Even crazier. That only lasted about a week and then our friend Jesse made a mural over it.

Cam Lindsay is on Twitter.