Dean Spunt—drummer and singer of the Avant-punk band No Age—graced the No-chella festival with his side project on Saturday, April 19th. Alongside him were Beth Houfek, a Los Angeles based graphic designer, Michelle Suarez, who is currently in a band with Dean known as C.R.A.S.H., and Brian Roettinger, who has done the album art for No Age, Beach House, Jay Z, and many others. In Luis Sanchez’s interview with them, they talk about DIY communities, how Los Angeles has shaped music and art, and food.
Luis Sanchez: Are you still connected to the DIY community now that No Age has more attention?
Dean Spunt: DIY as an idea is something that applies to my lifestyle. I live my life in a way that I do a lot of things myself. I think yes.
Beth Houfek: I say yeah.
Sanchez: How do you feel DIY communities have changed since you were younger?
Brian Roettinger: I think they have expanded. It used to be like these small communities. Now it’s larger communities because everyone is connected. It is easier for me to share skills with someone across the country, because I can contact them where that used to not be possible. Your community was everyone you knew that lived around you. Now I know there’s people, like, on the other end of the world that have the same interests and same ideas. I can share ideas with them. That used to not really happen.
Spunt: Yeah it is easier to connect. Maybe there is a space?
Roettinger: There is no longer an underground where I think there used to be. There is really no such thing as a… I mean you could say this is but not like a… the scale between underground and above ground is…
Sanchez: Right, because the Internet has sort of made a connection between underground…
Roettinger: Yeah, I mean, you can record two songs, put them on the Internet, and in a day a million people can hear it, so you are no longer like this band that just has a demo.
Michelle Suarez: It is all about access I think. It’s just access has, yeah, become insane. Like back in the day you would get a fan zine to like read about something cool, and now you can go on YouTube, and lots of people are talking about one thing. I think it is f***ing awesome. That’s my contribution.
Sanchez: Do you guys feel like your performance art today can be seen as sort of evolving from a similar idea as noise music has, in the sense that it is comedic and absurdist?
Spunt: I think I take that into consideration, because I do find in my art or my music or anything I seek out things that are humorous, things that are to me funny. I like to exploit those things. I mean, I think this was humorous on many levels, this performance…
Houfek: I think yeah.
Spunt: But, you know it’s also about these smaller sort of mechanisms in music, in performing, in touring. I think it’s exploiting those and I think that is humorous but I think, you know, I don’t think it is necessarily funny but I think it is humorous.
Houfek: I think it’s something that people in everyday life take for granted and pointing it out and, like, calling attention to it—it is very funny. I mean there is something quite like you never thought of it that way, but you do it every… so often, that it is interesting to, you know, just call attention to it.
Spunt: Michael Asher.
Roettinger: I wonder if we wouldn’t have been saying check if it wouldn’t have been as funny, because I think when you are saying check…
Spunt: Check is an instant signifier that we are sound checking, and everyone can relate to the idea that we are sound checking
Roettinger: The continuous use of it too…
Spunt: But that’s why I like it because it was… I mean, that’s what we do is sound check. Until we check the song…but the funny part is that the song is the sound check song.
Roettinger: The sound checking is the song.
Spunt: The performance is the sound checking, and the song is actually the sound checking song. So I mean it’s, you know, you find it very funny as a lot of people did.
Houfek: When he explained it everyone was like laughing
Spunt: Everyone that I explain it to was like, “Oh my gosh!” It’s funny, as a musician or someone who makes music…
Roettinger: It also questions the idea of what is performance and when do you know a performance starts or ends? It relates a lot to me. When you say noise music? What’s the difference between noise music and this? If my dad heard this he’d probably be like “turn that noise off!” It’s not noise; it just there’s melody, rythym and tempo. You could say in many ways there was, like, potentially some of that happening there, it just wasn’t so structured.
Spunt: This seems more populist but it, I think like you said there is a generational difference someone is gonna say, “What is this?” I think it is more of a… I brought up Michael Asher who is an artist. It’s sort of this vaguely connected to institutional critique or something where you’re bringing up these ideas or these structures inside of our world of performance or music and showing them off rather than hiding them. And it’s just sort of like, how… why isn’t the sound check the performance? I do it every night. I mean I do the sound check sometimes longer than the performance.
Sanchez: It’s like self-reflexive. Would you guys agree that it is a self-reflexive performance?
Houfek: Also, like, I don’t know if people felt uncomfortable, but I know sometimes that’s what makes things funny, and that, like, you know… I think there is a discomfort in it. It’s like awkward.
Spunt: Having the papers was a last minute decision. I mean if we didn’t have those nobody would have known what was going on.
Houfek: I think you guys stood up at one point. Maybe you thought the song was gonna start?
Spunt: You read the paper but I think the paper at least made it so we could all… I think when I got here it needed something to be more inclusive. In my mind, the environment was slightly different… I think we need to lighten the mood a little bit.
Sanchez: It was a good idea.
Spunt: An explanation, it was really an explanation, but at least you had some sort of context, so, like, this is a performance about sound, a soundcheck performance rather than just like… I mean if we didn’t say anything or have any paper there would have been a lot more meandering, less laughing.
Sanchez: Maybe negative reactions too?
Spunt: Which is fine too but I mean, you know… maybe I don’t know. I think people would have been more dumbfounded or confused.
Sanchez: Los Angeles has a lot of cool noise and punk music. Do you think there is something about LA that let’s this type of art exist?
Spunt: Nowadays that can exist in most places but I think historically Los Angeles, because there is no center, it’s spread-out… It’s not a European style city, where there is a city center and things are built around it.
Roettinger: It’s not a vertical city; it’s a horizontal city.
Spunt: It’s a postmodern city.
Roettinger: Yeah, there are many downtowns. It’s connected by these arteries, which are the freeways and streets that connect multiple hubs, so each hub sort of has its own subculture.
Spunt: So to be less informed by someone because you’re twenty miles away might allow for more, kind of avant-garde culture, possibly, but I definitely think…
Houfek: There is not as much pressure in LA as New York or another city.
Spunt: And LA is sort of reinventing itself all the time.
Roettinger: It has an identity crisis. It doesn’t have an identity.
Spunt: And that’s what people are attracted to, that’s the idea of this area. You came out to the west to become a new person. It still has that.
Sanchez: Is it easier to communicate ideas with this new project?
Spunt: It’s just an individual practice rather than a collaborative one.
Sanchez: Why did you drop the name Preggers?
Spunt: That was just a different performance thing.
Sanchez: What puts you in a good mindset for writing or creating?
Spunt: Good food, cooking, reading, and gardening.
Houfek: Gardening definitely! Being out in nature and my dog. Dean and I are new to coffee so…
Spunt: Coffee is pretty amazing.
Suarez: Loneliness and isolation. Nowadays, I write music because it makes me feel better.
Roettinger: I guess it’s when I have no idea what I am gonna do.
Sanchez: Like confusion?
Roettinger: Not confusion, just like unknown landscape. Right off the bat, if I know exactly what I am gonna do, then I feel like I am too comfortable, and I have probably already done it before, or someone else has thought of it before. When I just have no idea what I am gonna do for something and it takes me a while I am kind of uncomfortable, and I am one of those people… I am comfortable when I am uncomfortable. So my mind works good when I am moving in an awkward way, and then I just find my comfort zone from there and then sort of finish it out. It’s kind of an abstract way of thinking about it.
Sanchez: How do you feel that some of your friends’ bands are broken up now?
Spunt: Bands break up. They’re supposed to break up. That’s what happens. I feel very positive about bands that break up.
Roettinger: Yeah, sometimes bands stay together for too long. Like Sonic Youth, I love Sonic Youth, but if they would have broke up like ten years ago they would have probably been playing Coachella this year and making, like, way more money than they ever made.
Houfek: It’s like a relationship.
Suarez: Oh my God, I was just about to say it is just like a relationship, and sometimes it’s better for everyone not to be in that relationship. It’s not bad; it’s actually a lot better. And especially in Mika Miko’s case—and I’ll just speak for myself—we had a really fucking good run as a band. We had a lot of f***ing fun. We did a lot of cool sh*t in my opinion, and now everyone is still doing cool shit. They are just doing it on their own. It’s all perfect. Like, the timeline is great. Bleached is fucking amazing; they are doing great. Jen is doing f***ing great. I think I am doing ok, and, like, everyone else is great. Kate Hall, oh my god, Kate Hall’s art is amazing. Jerik is doing tattoos and got babies. Seth is in f***ing engineering school or some sh*t. Everyone ended up great I think.
Sanchez: Is it play?