No Age are a band that has been gaining a strong following in the indie/noise realm and their latest album Everything in Between, put out by the eminent SubPop label, has been receiving plenty of high praise and attention. Whatever success they've had as a band though isn't slowing down their rigorous touring, or hampering their ideas or creativity.
Following an awkward-looking session with the MTV Taiwan crew, I just sat down with two nice guys and had a chat.
You've been in the country about 20 hours now and I saw you visited Shida market last night. This being Taiwan, it's almost customary to ask what morsels you tried.
Dean: We got the wrap, looked like a burrito (潤餅). That was really good. We got this soy pudding (豆花). Today we ate soup from that vegetarian chain restaurant - we're both vegan - what's it called? There's one in LA, oh yeah Loving Hut.
Randy: It's been great. We had no idea really what to expect to be honest so we're just trying lots of stuff.
Any stinky tofu (臭豆腐)?
D: Not yet, but is that good? It's fermented tofu, right? How would you describe it?
You might've smelled it last night at the night market. It's kinda like rancid socks.
D: That's okay, I like things that smell funny. Have you heard of valerian? It's a root that helps you sleep. Or nutritional yeast kinda smells funny. I mean we're used to it but if you show people that they're like "ooooah!".
R: What do they put in stinky tofu?
D: They ferment it.
R: But.. what do they make it with?
They deep fry it so it's really crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. There's varying degrees of stinkiness and the one in Shida is actually pretty good. It's a good beginner's stinky tofu.
R: Yeah, I think I'll stick with the minimal stink.
Your former band Wives was a three-piece. What was the thinking behind forming a two-piece rather than adding members?
R: Well that guy, the third guy, really not a cool guy. When we were just hanging out, it was like, let's just be us two, man. Once he was out of that first band, someone else came in and we were like, this whole thing isn't working anymore. The dynamic was different. We wanted to start something new that was reflective of our interests.
D: That band broke up. So it was a whole new thing, it wasn't even a continuation. I really wanted to play drums and sing because it seemed like a challenge. I was not a very good drummer at the start, which is what I thought was cool. In the old band, half of our set I'd play bass and Randy would play guitar and the other guy would play drums and then the other half Randy would plug into my bass amp and play just guitar and I'd sing. So we already sorta had this and we were like, why do we need this 3rd guy?
I imagine it's easier to write songs as a 2-piece.
R: It's simpler but also things are a lot more refined. We can only get as complicated as the two of us can think. It's not like there's a lot of arrangements or organisation of a lot of other parts, so it's simple in some sense, but also we have to think outside the box and how to trigger samples and try to construct things that are on the record.
D: It's definitely more simple, streamlined but then also more complicated. We were pretty young in that band, we were like 20 or something. We didn't really think much. We were like, this is a song.. go!
As each successive album of yours gets a bit more layered and complex, how much of a challenge is it to play these songs live, albeit with the help of a third member?
R: It's a trick sometimes. In some ways we try and in others we think of it as something new.
D: Sometimes the live version just has to be a different version that on the record, but that's fine. That's why we employ the third member to play some of the things and figure it out.
You guys started out in small sweaty venues like The Smell. Do you still play similar venues to that?
D: Sure, we still play small clubs. We just make it happen. We enjoy that kinda stuff so, like this last US tour, in Flagstaff we played a house. That's the funny thing though, a lot of people are like "it must be weird now, you can't play those places" but for us it's like "why can't you? Just book a show there". There's a shitload of people there, but it's all the same, big club and small club, really. Like we're gonna play Wembley Stadium in England coming up in a few days. I like to think about that, and then the house show in Flagstaff. It's funny.
R: The best of both worlds.
D: In April we're back to touring. Weird shows. Museums, some houses, it's a cool tour. It's kind of everything we want, coming together at the same time.
I noticed on some of those dates, according to the SubPop site, you're 'performing The Bear by Jean-Jacques Annaud'. Umm.. what is that about?
D: It's a movie that was made in the 80's by a French director about a bear Mom and a bear cub and hunters are chasing it. The whole movie's really sad. There's not a lot of dialogue in it so we made music for it and performed it a couple of times. So we're gonna do it again. We have visuals, and I'm playing electronics and Randy's playing guitar and somebody's gonna be on drums.
How did that come about?
R: We know these guys in LA that have an arthouse movie theatre and they were having different bands curate films so he called me and was like "do you guys wanna do one?" and we were like "yeah", so he was like "so what movie do you want to do?" and I remember in the 80's there were all those kids films with animals, before computers could make them talk and stuff.
D: We were thinking "Look Who's Talking".. (laughs)
R: Riiight. I was trying to find something that didn't have a lot of dialogue that was like a silent movie, but wasn't a silent movie, because I'd seen that sort of stuff done by people like Stan Brakhage. Purely visual things. But I wanted something that still told a story.
D: Narrative was important still. We were just playing with the narrative of the movie. There's a narrative that's strong visually, and the music's actually good in the film itself. We use some of the audio from the movie, some of the vocals and sound effects, we loop them. We performed it for the first time in Seattle International Film Festival.
So it's only available as a live performance?
R: Well, because of all the licensing stuff we can't put it out with our music.
D: .. and it's 90 minute long piece. That's about the longest time I've ever performed. So, we did that and it was really fun. People were crying. It's pretty emotional. There's funny moments in there too, like when the little bear cub eats a magic mushroom and he gets high and he has a psychedelic experience.
R: It has a really cool claymation thing that's his psychedelic moment where he's chasing butterflies.
I was going to ask you about skateboarding, referencing your song 'Shred and Transcend', until I realised I'd been reading the title wrong (it's actually Shed and Transcend).
D: That song is pretty 'skate'. I kinda imagine it in a skatepark. I think that was a SubPop error, they sent it out named like that.
But anyway, how important do you think skating and the culture around it, was to shaping your lives and music?
D: When we were kids growing up it was a big influence. Skating culture now has gotten really popular but when we were younger it was still very small and it was going through these phases.
R: It was just after the bust of the big wheels in the 80's and early 90's where it was more of an underground weirdo sport.
D: But we were just talking about this, it's a similar mindset playing music and trying to make experimental music. The same way that skateboarding is a sport, but it's also about the individual going out and expressing themselves, just like music, mainly experimental music. Pop music too, but it's about the individual, about attacking certain things with the way you think. Not a global consciousness of skaters, it's just you.
R: There can be skaters that are technically great, just like bands that are technically great but they're just not interesting. They don't have style whereas these others, there's just something about it where these guys are just going for it.
D: We're not musicians, well we are musicians, but we not really trained. I don't know how to read music, I don't know anything about notes or anything like that. So it's like, there's dudes that shred but they're not really interesting.
R: Same thing like there's skaters that go big, you can tell they're putting it all on the line, they're the most fascinating to watch, it's inspiring. Same way with music, those bands that you see are just going for it. And maybe they're not playing the most complicated music but it's just, they mean it.
D: They have that gusto.
R: I think the other side of the skateboarding world, where growing up skateboarding you learn to look for things that maybe other people would pass up, or just discard, like those are just some stairs and a smooth marble ledge, who cares? But as a skateboarder we've learned to look through the trash and the debris and find what you like and maybe nobody else would notice. So the same way when we're writing music and making things, it's not necessarily the part of the song or idea that everyone likes, maybe they'd say "oh that's just the messed up part", but for us we're gonna sample it, slow it down, make it louder, use that and build a whole song around this cool part that just sounds like a glitch, but that serves as inspiration for us. It's about having fun and being creative. I think that's where they both share the same qualities.
Any advice for bands and promoters in Taiwan wanting to put on shows?
D: Sky (from Earwax Promotions) is doing an awesome job.
R: I think doing something like we did earlier today, underneath the bridge with the skatespot and the generator.
D: It was incredible, a lot of fun. My advice for anyone who wants to play music is to just, I mean Nike have got it right, you have to Just Do It, and not be afraid to just fuck up or make a mistake or get in trouble. If you wanna play music you just gotta play music, anywhere, anytime you feel like it, you have to just do it.
R: Yeah, and for starting a scene, you just hang out with your friends doing what's fun. That sort of translates everywhere. People are the same, no matter what culture or language you speak, people like to have fun.
D: You can figure out ways to do everything. This tour in April we're doing in Europe is interesting because the promoters we're working with are friends and they're cool but they're promoters that promote big concerts and we approached them and instead of playing just one show in Berlin, we're like let's play 3, let's do the store and let's do 2 house shows, and we're getting them to think outside their boxes. Same thing in Paris, same thing in Amsterdam, let's try to play a house, let's play a museum and they're excited, they think it's cool. It's just trying things.
R: Not being afraid to go down the unbeaten path. Everyone tells you how things are supposed to be done, but look at the music industry, they don't know, it's falling apart, nobody can sell a record anymore, attendance at shows are low. People go to the same bar where there's been 80 shows this month, maybe not here in Taipei and Taiwan but in some places on tour we go to, it's like you're the next band in the line. We never want to be on that same road that everyone else is on. We'd prefer to be doing something unique and different. I think the world is ready for that, so any new people or new bands doing stuff, new ideas are what's going to save live music.
D: A lot of times on tour people are like "tell me about LA, tell me about New York" like it's so cool, and you're like "it's not any cooler than your city". There's aspects in every city that are cool, you just have to figure out how to make it work, and maybe it's just one person with the idea "we can have a show here, or why not one there?". It's like skateboarding, I can skate this, I can skate that. Playing a show in a club is the most uninteresting. That's been done. For us, I mean coming here [The Wall] is incredible, it's great, but playing that bridge thing was cool, trying stuff, and especially for someone who isn't as connected and doesn't know how to book a show at this place, The Wall, just some kid they have to think "if I can't book it here, then I'm gonna book it here, or here".
Dean spots the little logo on my hoodie.
D: Black Flag, that's a big influence.
Actually, I noticed on your MySpace page that you list only one influence - Bad Brains.
D: We used to have a bunch on there...
R: That's perfect though, that's very singular. I like it better this way.
Photos: No Age + Touming Magazine