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No Age A Future World
Photography Brian Doyle

No Age’s Randy Randall on how Californian road trips changed his life

Pin It
No Age A Future World
Photography Brian Doyle

No Age’s Randy Randall on how Californian road trips changed his life

We meet the musician at Doug Aitken’s New Horizon project to get his thoughts on climate change, and noise-induced psychedelic trips

At the end of the noughties, No Age had firmly established themselves as a cult rock band from the West Coast that had a captive, global audience. Succussful albums such as 2008’s Nouns and 2010’s Everything in Between marked them as a modern My Bloody Valentine: melodies floating through seas of distortion, with faded vocals drifting on top. Since their last release as a duo in 2018, guitarist Randy Randall released his debut solo album Sound Field Volume One. 

Randall is a musician who is intent on making soundscapes that capture a mood of serenity. While Randall’s material with No Age, alongside Dean Allen Spunt, hit upon a punk rawness, his debut solo album offers tranquility, full of otherworldly dreamlike sequences. It’s this punk sensibility matched with a search for ambience that sees Randall capable of the unique, in an album that channels the spirit of the vast – and sometimes eerily deserted – Californian landscape.

We sat down with Randall while he was performing at Doug Aitken’s New Horizon in Massachusetts – a sprawling, constantly moving project that matches pop culture’s most creative thinkers with technologists, climate experts, and humanists to help imagine the future of our culture. While he was tripping out in the wild American coast, we got an insight into how Californian road trips influenced his song writing, his thoughts on climate change and noise-induced psychedelic trips. 

There’s an interview where you describe how journeying across California influenced your solo album. How do you find that road trips influence your songwriting?

Randy Randall: For me, in terms of road trips and how it affects the art, there’s a romance to it. There’s a permission to daydream and to be bored. I think on these long road trips – being a native of Southern California with this car culture – it was nothing for my dad to put the whole family in the car and drive for two or three hours to get to this unique beach location, because he was a surfer. So we would drive up and down the coast of Southern California into Mexico and down to Baja with some tents, ice, and a cooler. We would stay for a week in these places on our summer breaks. It was always fun – I assumed everyone grew up that way. It goes from being a kid and falling asleep to then eventually getting mixtapes. Going from Nirvana to Sonic Youth to My Bloody Valentine to Tortoise. These things just became soundtracks to my strange adolescent daydreams. Hearing Millions Now Living Will Never Die or Loveless on repeat and just staring out of the window, looking at other people in their cars, or looking at the truck stops and having that ability to sit still.

It didn’t seem that interesting but then I’ve learned over the years that not everybody had that experience growing up. I think especially now with cellphone and social media culture, I don’t necessarily know if kids are as encouraged in that same way or have that same sort of opportunity. They might have the same opportunity, but I don’t know if they do it. I think you’re more encouraged to be creative or to be engaged in terms of Facebook, taking selfies, and seeing what your friends are up to. For me, once I left my driveway, I didn’t see my friends. You’re alone and that was the chance to create your own little fantasy world. I couldn’t tell my friends what I was doing every minute of the day.

Daydreaming, fantasy, and the romance of that is the way I look back on that stuff – the music and just wanting to make these soundscapes for moments like that. The call-to-mind that’s emotional with the love of seeing something new and being somewhere different. You become wistful in a way that’s different than when you’re at home seeing the same thing. You’re on another planet. You become an astronaut. 

With your solo work, did you have this stuff locked away for a while or was it just a new project?

Randy Randall: No, it was all brand new, original tracks that I created for this project, Sound Field Volume One. It’s an extension of a process that I’ve been doing for quite a long time – taking one guitar, building a chain of pedals, and creating these loops. I think over the years it becomes more like art practice, like someone who paints abstract colours. I see that the music in Sound Field Volume One is part of a creative process that I’ve been doing for a while but it was all new work. If you were to play this record versus something I recorded five years ago it may feel like it sounds the same, but it’s part of a longer exploration for me. 

“You become wistful in a way that’s different than when you’re at home seeing the same thing. You’re on another planet. You become an astronaut” – Randy Randall

What’s your most formative road trip?

Randy Randall: This is maybe apropos to the UK. Around ten years ago at the end of a tour, I just wanted to hang back. I had always wanted to explore Scotland more. We would only play one or two nights and you’re onto the road to somewhere else. But I always felt there was something magical in the Highlands, so at the end of the tour I made arrangements and stayed back. I rented a car in London and drove to see some friends play. The Animal Collective were playing so I helped my friend Avey (Tare) with sound. We went from there and went to Glasgow. I wanted to go as far north as I could. That was a great road trip. I got to see Inverness, and made it as far as the Isle of Skye. I travelled as much as I could without taking a ferry, just taking all the bridges. It was magic up there – I think fairies are real. There was this surreal Lord Of The Rings or Middle Earth vibe. For someone growing up in the desert with beaches and palm trees, there was something mystical and otherworldly, being in the bogs and fog with all the sheep. 

What would be the soundtrack to your ideal road trip?

Randy Randall: Oh, wow. I think there would definitely be some Brian Eno in there – Another Green World, maybe. I feel like he goes on the soundtrack. God, I’ve done so many. I switch it up from time to time. I had the Paris, Texas soundtrack by Ry Cooder on a lot of road trips and that’s gorgeous. It’s fun because they have snippets from the dialogue of the film. That’s a beautiful slide guitar soundtrack. I put on Firehose the other day. We’re here in western Massachusetts right now and we drove for an hour – we put on some music and Firehose were on there. I feel like it bounces around, but those are a couple that come to mind. 

When Doug Aitken asked you to be part of New Horizon, what drew you to it?

Randy Randall: When Doug asked us to be part of New Horizon we were stoked because it was in a unique location where an audience wouldn’t normally see a band: the middle of a farm field with a hot air balloon behind us. It sounded like a lot of fun. Everything we have done with Doug is always super creative, and a special experience for us and the audience. He has a way of creating magic. He sets the environment and invites people to come and play and experience something that only happens once in a lifetime.

What do you think art and music need to be doing in response to climate change?

Randy Randall: I feel like there’s a responsibility for art and music to be a reflection to things, but I think art and music can often be an escape from things. It’s unfortunate in America – and now the UK has a touch of this – that criminals have taken over. They’ve hijacked any sense of government that citizens put their faith in. It’s been this not-so-polite coup where individual people have been conned. There was a big criminal conspiracy to get these people in office.

As an artist, how do we reflect that and how do you provide some escapism from it? At the end of the day, until it gets to the point of picking up arms and chopping the heads off these people in some sort of bloody civil war, where do we go? What do we on a day-to-day basis? People still have to get up and go about their life. People have to put their pants on and get down the road. There’s a futility to it with all the anger I have. It feels like a collective anger that I think can be expressed, but there also has to be a pressure release valve added to this as well. This is how I’ve been dealing with it; I’ve noticed my flights of fantasy have increased. As much as I try to stay present in the world, I also feel like, ‘fuck this’. I need to just bliss out because it’s kind of depressing.

You were saying earlier how when you were a teenager you wondered what you’d be like as a man. Now that you’ve got other people to look after do you think that’s changed your emotional response to everything that’s going on? 

Randy Randall: That’s a great question. There’s nothing but those darker feelings that wash over me. I don’t know the answer, it’s difficult. I’ve talked with people or heard arguments about having children at a time like this, but it’s also our time as adults. Not in a selfish way, but this is the time where we’re alive and, for better or worse, what will I leave behind? What will my legacy be?

“Rather than the nihilistic sense of ‘we’re all doomed’, I hope there’s some ability to move forward, not in my generation but in the following generations” – Randy Randall

Part of that will hopefully be raising these two children to have a sense of right and wrong, and hopefully carry that through to the next generation. Rather than the nihilistic sense of ‘we’re all doomed’; ‘we’re fucked’; ‘it ends here’, I hope there’s some ability to move forward, not in my generation but in the following generations. Even my children’s children will have something that I have hopefully left – have it imprinted on my kids and they can do good in the world moving forward. If we’re all gone, who’s to say whether I have these kids or not. If it’s all just burning up and we’re out of here, I would rather at least have known the love of this life that I feel now than just cowering in a corner.

If you could start over on another planet, what would that place look or be like?

Randy Randall: Complete utopia. OK, how would I envision this utopia? Oh my lord. I don’t know if I have the brain power to think of anything super intelligent. At the moment, we’re looking at this giant field where Doug Aitken’s farm is. This feels like utopia. There’s a giant silver hot air balloon that’s going to be launched in the air with lights that run on it. I’m standing in a field with people where it’s like waiting for alien visitors. This feels like a strange utopia. I’d bring some Neil Young records, maybe Harvest and Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere. I’d bring some John Steinbeck books, and maybe a guitar or two, or a delay pedal. I think with the guitar, delay pedal, and the amp, I could keep myself busy for a while.

Do you know the movie Heathers? A film with Christian Slater and Winona Ryder from the 80s? Well Slater is this nihilistic teenage Jack Nicholson rip-off and he says “the world’s gonna burn” and that when the world’s ending he’s going to row out into the middle of the lake with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a saxophone and watch it burn. It’s a great line. How do you posture a response to the world ending? What are you going to do? There’s something comical about just going to the middle of a lake with a sax and a bottle of Jack. I think the reality is darker, sadder, and pedestrian. Hide your kids and believe in whatever you believe you’re going to next.

Doug Aitken’s New Horizon was presented by The Trustees as part of their Art & the Landscape initiative, and ran from 12 – 28 July 2019 at multiple sites across Massachusetts. For more information, please see here