On Friday, No Age released their first album in 4 years, Snares Like A Haircut. We had the opportunity to talk to one half of the band, Randy Randall, all about the duo’s lives as new parents, how their writing process has changed, how their inter-personal relationship has changed, moving to Drag City and more.

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Has life just taken over for the last 4 years, is that what you've been up to?

Yeah, it's been 4 years since the last record came out, and yeah I became a father! I have a 4-year-old child, not too coincidentally. And Dean has a 2-year-old, and yeah it's been good! It takes up a lot of time, I don't think I was prepared for the transition or how to manage time with a child. But, we've managed to make a record in the middle of all that.

I'm glad. So there was never any question that you would make another record?

No, we knew we wanted to play. But, I think aside from starting a family we also knew we needed a break - not necessarily from each other, but just more from the life on the road; it kinda makes it hard to live your life when you're not in one location in terms of family and friends and staying in touch and building relationships and being there for people. Because when you're always like "cool, I'm only home for 2 weeks - I'll see you in a month!" - we lived like that for quite a few years, so we kind of felt like "alright let's slow down and take a minute and spend some time at home." We kind of regrouped before working on new music.

Are you worried about leaving home now?

We're trying something out this time where we're just leaving for these 2 week tours, and then come home for 2 weeks, so trying to balance it out a little bit. It's a bit of an experiment, we haven't really done anything like that before.

That will probably help maintain energy in the live shows if you're doing it in short bursts as well.

Hopefully, but there's something to be said for going at it for months at a time; you do start to become a machine and all you think about is playing a show every day, you're not really distracted. After a month you just wash, rinse, repeat, you just keep doing it, but I think it can become almost mechanical. So I'm excited, I think it'll definitely keep the energy up and allow us to be decent fathers and husbands. But nothing's set yet, we don't know! We could end up being resented by the children and wives... we're not ruling anything out yet, it's too early to say whether this is the correct way to do it or not.

Has anything changed musically coming into Snares Like A Haircut?

I think this one we felt pretty loose musically, I think we just kinda wanted to write and play what we felt like, I don't think we really felt any sort of exterior pressure. I think maybe on the last record, An Object, we were maybe battling ourselves internally in terms of "what have we done already?" and "how do we do something new?" and we stressed about pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. I think this one we just wanted to get together and make some music and not overthink it or put the screws to ourselves too much, whether it sounds like something we've done before. We kind of let go of the ghost a little bit, of whatever expectations we had for ourselves - I don't think we ever felt ourselves too pressured externally, it was more just in our own demand to grow and progress as a band. I think our previous record, An Object, was more of a reaction to ourselves, like a teenager going into the bathroom and giving himself a weird haircut just to try something different, to not be the same person anymore. You get tired of looking at the same face.

Do you think people or the media are inevitably going to coin this album as a "return to form" or a "return to basics"? How do you feel about that?

[Laughs] I don't know! I haven't really considered what the reaction will be. I hope people will listen to it! I think that's my only expectation; that people give it a shot and check it out, see what we're up to. In terms of how it's received as a return to form, I mean to me there's definitely differences musically in this album. I think we have pushed ourselves to an organic, natural progression, in a way that feels like us that's still searching for something else and pushing stuff and not just relying on our past successes.

So you're not feeling any pressure?

Not really! Is that bad to say? I think the pressure was always worse internally, what we put on ourselves, than the external pressure. I feel like we were never really beholden to anyone; it's not like we have a giant hit single that the record company was saying "give us 10 more of these singles!" We were always a weird band to begin with, it was kind of a crap shoot of what people dug and what people didn't dig. I think it's pretty easy going; we made it intentionally feel loose in terms of leaving bits and pieces at the end of songs or the beginning of songs, just letting it feel loose.

Tell me more about your natural progression and the new sounds on the album.

It's funny, I almost feel like the new is the old; I think we've eased into some stuff that could be considered traditional in the rock and roll format, things we may have shied away from in the beginning, just under that sort of adolescent pressure to be different. I think there's some stuff on here that's different for us that's almost familiar in the general traditional sense of what a band does, so it's a funny kind of way of progressing - it's almost like recessing in some ways. Like "Oh yeah, that's a good sound, that's a good song!" I think it's not necessarily new to the world of music, but new to us to settle into some of these more open-chorded songs. Someone came up to me the other day and was like "wow, you guys are playing folk songs!" I don't necessarily view them as folk songs, but maybe the kind of arrangement from the guitar perspective is a little bit more open, Cs and Gs and Fs, chord arrangements you'd find on a Bob Dylan album in the 60s, which is something we had never really done before. So for us it's kind of new and odd.

In the past you've done some innovative things in the studio like putting change inside the bass amp and turning it upside down, did you do anything like that on this one?

We did do some fun, almost collage work. On Everything In Between we composed and arranged and wrote a lot with samplers, meaning we would sample ourselves, sounds we'd made, and then go back and play those in sort of a meta-composition sort of way. On this one it was similar in that we'd kinda demo something and then go back and listen to it like "eh, that's not that interesting, but that one drum fill is kind of cool." So we would just take that one drum part out of the whole song, and chop that up and arrange that in ProTools not really gridded - not like Logic or working NPC, not like "we're mixing dope beats" - just looser, drawing in sounds where it felt right. So there's a few songs on the album that have some rough cut and paste sort of drum sounds. I kind of made more drum parts out of his ones, just like taking one piece like a fill and I would repeat the fill over and over again and layer the guitar over that. So there's a few kind of collages and studio trickery, but I think it feels more like tape cuts and splices rather than a computer record.

It definitely has an analogue feeling to it. There's so many layers that sometimes I just don't know where they come from or what they are. During 'Tidal' there's this kind of tinnitus, ear-ringing…

[Laughs] Yes, that's a guitar sound [imitates whining guitar sound]. We like these kind of siren sounds, and that sort of harkens back to that sampling of ourselves, where I'd play something really obnoxious on my guitar, kind of piercing and go "ooh, that's good, let's save that as a loop." And then I can trigger that at some point in the song.

And how about in 'Soft Collar Fad' where there's this kind of slamming metallic sound, right?

Yeah! I think Dean did that, I think that's like a slowed down drum sound that he had worked with and loaded into his sampler.

It's so rad, it adds so much momentum to the song.

Yeah! There was this band called Disco Inferno from England in the 90s that we got really into when we were making Everything In Between, and they were an incredible band that used a lot of early sample technology. That kind of stuck with us as a practice, as a way to fill the sound - with us just being 2 people on stage and in the studio we always thought about how we could fill the sound in; we were never into the minimalism of just 2 people as just guitar and drums. It was always maximalism, like "how do we do more than just the 2 of us?" So we keep a running palette of sounds we like that we don't necessarily know how it's going to fit, or where it's going to be, but we sort of hold on to bits and pieces, and when the timing's right and we feel like we need something we can be like "oh I have this whole stock of samples and created weird sounds." Then it kind of organically finds its setting and place in the song.

When you're in the studio and putting these songs together are you always thinking about how you can play them live or is that a separate thought process?

It's been different for different records. With An Object we didn't consider how to play them live, so we had to learn and rewrite those songs to perform live. That was definitely more of a studio composition. I think this record we very much wanted to play live, we wanted to not feel like we had to rewrite the whole record to go out on the road and play it. So I think as we were writing it we were working on it live as well.

We did a thing with this record that we'd always wanted to do, because we found that when you're in the studio writing it's usually your first or third take of playing a song is the one that ends up on the album, but then you go out on the road for 6 months and the songs just gel in a live setting and you have that conversation "man, I wish we recorded this record after we toured." It was always time constraints that didn't allow us to do that, but this time we figured "it's taken this long, why be in a rush at this point? Let's just take the time and do it." So we wrote and demoed the majority of the songs on the record, then we did a short 5 or 6 day tour and just played all the new songs live, and as soon as we got back from that tour we went into the studio and recorded it. I think the songs definitely developed and found their settings a little bit, settled into what they would eventually be. We road tested it. After you play a song enough times live, you know what works and what doesn't work - it's just a feeling like "that song sounds too flat, it needs something to shake it up or open it up," so it doesn't feel like it's just sitting in the middle of the mix. It's like "how can we change that up and make it more interesting?" You can get bored if the song's not written creatively. You can be excited about a song for the first week like "it's a great song!" and then you give it a couple of days on tour and you start to feel like "oof, this one's not fully baked, we gotta put it back in the oven and develop it a little bit more.”

Which one do you think developed the most from the original demo?

'Drippy' was one that was originally written a little bit inside… If people know guitar structure this might make a little more sense, but it was all written in power chords, like something The Ramones would use, but we thought to ourselves it sounded a little too straight ahead. So there was a day that we had on that tour in Oakland, when we had some time during soundcheck, and we'd kind of noticed "that one's not sounding as interesting," so we took some time to soundcheck and I rearranged the parts to a more open-chorded progression that just felt like “now it's open”; the chords aren't as defined, it's sort of a more interesting, complex sound of a chord arrangement. That's something I never thought I would be talking about, I kind of approached the guitar in a very punk sort of way, I didn't really know how to do that when I first started. But now, going on 20-something years playing the guitar I figured out "oh that's the same chord up here, but you can do it down here and it has a different sound or timbre."

Dean writes all the lyrics, right?

Yeah he writes all the lyrics and even names the songs. But that's what was kind of cool about playing the new songs live beforehand is that I got to hear the lyrics. Normally when we're writing we just write the music together and I won't hear the lyrics until we're in the studio recording them, which is fine with me, I feel like that's his territory as the writer and singer. But now on this record I got to hear them live every night before recording and being like "oh, that's what he's singing about!" It didn't really change what I was doing, but it was interesting. I could kind of give him a hard time on the drive the next day like "what are you saying in that song?" Repeating back misheard lyircs.

What do you think the overall feeling of this album is? I get a lot of frustration.

I don't know, I don't think there's one feeling to the whole album. Hopefully there's some ups and downs and some development, some depth of feeling, it's not all just one emotion. Frustration is interesting in that I think politically here in America, and in the world, there's a lot going on that is beyond frustration into almost anxiety-ridden panic, and I think that it's probably not unusual that it would find its way into our creation. I don't think we set out to make a "fuck Trump" record, but I think that feeling is with us every day whether we're playing music or just driving the car going to the grocery store, there's a general anger and head-slapping sort of "gosh this is embarrassing and horrible and what is this world that we're occupying right now?"

Yeah, and it seems to me it ends like it ends on a kind of hopeless note with 'Primitive Plus' where he's singing "I'm a fantasy/ nothing left for me." Was that a conscious choice to end like that?

Hmmm! I don't think so, not in lyrics alone. Maybe just the feeling of the song felt like the way to end the record. I'm not sure lyrically if it's hopeless...

There's a song on the record called 'Send Me' that's a little slower, which we haven't really played in a mellow way like that before. We've kind of grown as a band, I think, to play something that measured and at that tempo; it isn't a fast ferocious thing, and it also isn't ambient and rhythmless. I remember the first time we played it at the beginning of last year, it was the day of Trump's inauguration, the day before the Women's March, and I think playing that song live - even though it's something we created without really having any overt message to it, it's just kind of an expression of a feeling - it was an all-ages show, and playing that to a younger crowd felt like a mix of "we'll get through this," we can join together as a community to resist these outside larger government forces, but also at the same time the acknowledgement of like "we're kinda fucked!" You know, have it be realistic but still have it be hopeful and progressive, in an environment that's not very progressive at all. I don't know, I take solace every time we play that song, I'm reminded of what it feels like to share that with this younger audience.

Is it always the lyrics that come last?

I think so, at least from my perspective. I think Dean does have a collection of writing, or at least a sketchbook of lyrics and writing that may or may not turn into songs. So whenever we had this moment of "oh cool, we have this music" he always has, I think, something pulled from previous writings that he can draw on and develop.

Because I think in 'Send Me' in particular the music and the lyrics go together so well.

Yeah in writing in the verse-chorus-verse arrangement process, we always try to give it room, like "OK it probably needs 2 bars to transition out of one section to another, then you'll sing for 4..." but I remember with that song in particular, 'Send Me', we were playing it and it was still sort of loose on that tour, where the changes would happen, and he was like "that second verse, we need some more time there." And then by the time we got to the studio I knew where he was, it wasn't improvised, he had claimed the space for what he wanted to say in that second verse. But yeah, that did change as he's writing and placing his lyrics to fit what I was doing with the guitar.

We should talk about the album title, Snares Like A Haircut

That name came out of that tour that we did when we were playing all those songs live. We had a lot of talk, we had a lot of time in the van just driving through California - the cities are far away, like 4 to 6 hours - so we had a lot of time just the 2 of us in the van just talking about songs - our songs and other people's - just listening to records as we drove the highways. The title came out of listening to records all kinds of years, and over different decades, and you can always kind of tell when a record was made by the way the snare sounds, generally, it's like the signifier of time, what the snares sound like. So we kind of equated that humorously in the van to like a haircut, like how fashion will change; it's usually the haircuts that'll cement a photograph of somebody in a particular year, like "oh yeah that's the haircut of that time," much like the snare sound is that sound signifier of when the song was recorded. Most noticeably in the 80s there's those reverb drum sounds, or in the 60s there's those Motown pocketed snares sitting in the mix a little bit, in the 90s there were hard core piccolo snares that kind of ping.

So yeah I think that idea of the snare literally like a haircut as the signifier of time, I think seemed tongue in cheek or humourous or a little coy as a funny idea. Only in talking now about the record does it sort of make sense, like "oh yeah this record is our meditation on time a little bit" and what changes and what doesn't. Like, how do you know where you're at in time? People are always like "It's been forever since I've seen you" or "I feel like I just saw you yesterday!" But how do people, as individuals, really mark time in their lives? I think for us as dads it's a whole new kind of way, where you literally have this person growing, and you know when a year's gone by, but then I talk to friends who don't have kids and they're like "how old is he now, 2?" and I'm like "no, he's 4! It's been 4 years" and they're like "wow, it doesn't feel like that long!" But as a parent it seems unquantifiable how much time goes by; it's this cliché of "you blink and they're grown up!" But what does that really feel like as you're going through it, every day, when you're exhausted and tired and suddenly a year's gone by and it's like "wow, I'm living with a different person now." I'm living with this strangely evolving domestic terrorist in my house [laughs]. You know, he can explode anything at any moment - not to make light of terrorism, but just to nod to anybody who's a parent dealing with newborns and toddlers. It's a strange place you find yourself in constantly. I don't think this record's really about being dads, but it's just as a band, I mean here we are going on this number of years - we're not in the Rolling Stones territory - but as young men becoming middle-aged men, what does time mean to us and how do we look at that?

Do you think the relationship between the 2 of you has developed since the last album?

Oh my god, yeah! I mean, we've known each other since 2000 and we've gone through so much stuff personally, and then stuff that affects us a band, and stuff that affects us people, and I think how we interact and how we show up for each other, it kind of deepens like any relationship or friendship with years. The more time, the more experiences you go through, good, bad, sad, happy, these things add to the tapestry, the story of our friendship. So as the years go on we definitely have grown closer, and also established a life outside of the band that's meaningful to each of us with our wives and children now. Yeah I think we're definitely in a different place when we made the last record.

Do you trade parenting tips with Dean?

Oh god, not really. I think that's one thing that makes our relationship interesting is we sort of have different philosophies and practices. One thing I've learned, personally for myself, is that you can't really tell anybody about how to raise kids. Everybody wants to give advice, even random strangers. When my wife was pregnant random people in the supermarket line waiting to check out would see a pregnant woman and be like "are you doing this? are you doing that? you have to do this, you have to do this." I think Raising Arizona, the Coen Brothers film, captures that perfectly, the Frances McDormand character being like "you gotta get your shots, you gotta save for college." So I've kind of learned from being on the receiving end of that random, unsolicited, unnecessary advice to just shut the fuck up and let everybody raise their kid however the hell they wanna do it. So with Dean and I, we'll trade war stories, but, you know, it's so personal how you raise your kids so you gotta let people do what they're gonna do, it's best to just shut the fuck up and be like "good luck with that." If someone asks you can always say "well, this is what I did..." But I have no idea, because every kid's different, every parent's different. You'd think as human beings there's some commonality, but just become a parent and you realise "oh man, everybody's so different."

That's good advice.

I've kind adopted a philosophy too of "not my kid, not my problem." When you see people struggling with infants or kids out in the world it's just like "good luck. Let me know if I can help, but you got this."

I wanted to ask about switching labels to Drag City, how did that come about?

Yeah, we've been friends with [Drag City co-founder] Dan Koretzky for a long time and whenever we would go to Chicago we would usually see Dan at a show or just meet up and hang out. We've been big fans of Drag City as a label for years, there's such an incredible catalogue of artists they've worked with, you know Will Oldham, Bill Callahan, Ty Segall, White Fence... they just put out incredible records and we really respect how they operate as a label. So when we started talking about making another record, we'd reached out to Sub Pop - we'd fulfilled out contract with them for 3 records - we had a quick conversation with them saying "we're thinking about making a record," and then let that conversation run its course. Then we talked to Dan and he was like "yeah, let's do it!" So we were stoked, it's been a very easy going relationship.

You don't worry about not being on Spotify?

[Laughs] Not really. I've been told I should worry about that. I have Spotify and I listen to it, and I think it's a great avenue to hear music legally. But I don't know, I defer to Dan and the Drag City crew, I trust they know what they're doing, it's their label, part of their responsibility is to shepherd their catalogue through the different digital platforms and do what they think makes sense for themselves as a label and also for the artists, and they came to the conclusion - not overnight, they spent a lot of time looking at the different platforms and what works and what doesn't work for them as a label. They were on the "no streaming" kick for a while, and then for reasons beyond me they've decided to go with Apple Music, which I'm not that familiar with, but if it works for them it works for us - I put that trust in them.

For An Object you famously hand packaged all 10,000 records, are you doing anything crazy like that this time?

Oh my god, no. This is more of a straightforward package for us.

You weren't fathers back then so your time wasn't as precious.

Yeah, we had lots of time to fold pieces of paper. For this one we worked again with Brian Rodinger who's worked on all of our releases since Weirdo Rippers. Brian's become this powerhouse in music packaging; since we first started working with him he's done records for Jay-Z and Marilyn Manson and Mark Ronson and Florence + the Machine. He's gone on to do all these huge record packaging things, but we just started the conversation like "hey we're doing a new record, do you wanna do it? Do you have time to do it?" and he was like "I HAVE to do it, of course! It's a No Age record, I have to do all of them!" So it was cool that he lent his talents and time to do this.

We did play around with the packaging a little bit. The prices - which may or may not be what you actually pay for the record - the prices for each major currency are all on the cover. We also designed this sticker that makes it look like it has a digital download in it when it doesn't, it says "Digital download NOT included," so that's a little misleading. I think we also put the Drag City office number in the packaging too. So there's a few little Easter eggs, we weren't totally hands off - even if we didn't go to the lengths of folding and packaging them all ourselves.

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No Age's new album Snares Like A Haircut is out now. Read our review.