No Age's Dean Spunt on How His Band's Rainbow Logo Became a New Punk-Rock Icon
"The idea was to have a visual identity before the band even started, before the music started. It kind of worked because people would be like, 'Dude, what is this? What is No Age?'"
Radiohead's Colin Greenwood wearing the No Age "Classic" in January 2008
Dean Spunt's first band was a punk-rock outfit called the Gromits. He was 13 and he sang. His mom had just become a partner in a family silkscreening business, so for fun, he made Gromits' T-shirts with a photocopier and sold them at school. After years of messing around with that machine, piecing together fake show flyers and reprinting punk cassette covers, the drummer became something of a designer, despite having no formal education. ("Using PhotoShop is really kind of difficult for me, but with the photocopy machine, I'm like an Olympic swimmer.") So when he and guitarist Randy Randall formed No Age, Spunt's first order of business was to create a strong visual identity. What he came up with was vertical text, built with a font he can't remember exactly (though it's probably one of the Gothics), in a rainbow blend. That logo has since become something of a DIY meme, popping up everywhere from Colin Greenwood's torso to The New York Times Book Review.
In honor of No Age's excellent new Everything in Between released today, we spoke with Spunt about the band's visual identity and that now-iconic rainbow logo. "I never get to talk about this," he said, genuinely seeming pretty stoked. "No one really knows."
What's your graphic design background?
I don't have a graphic design background. When I was 12 or 13, my mother and her sister opened up a silkscreen shop and started making T-shirts for companies; my mom became a partner in the shop when I was like 12. I would always go in and fuck around. I made punk-rock flyers--even fake flyers--or flyers for my band when I was 13.
Indo Out Part III
TicketsFri., Mar. 31, 7:00pm
TicketsSat., Apr. 1, 7:00pm
16th Annual Eric Clapton Birthday Show: Godfrey Townsend & Friends
TicketsSat., Apr. 1, 7:30pm
Dorthaan's Place Jazz Brunch: Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Laub Duo
TicketsSun., Apr. 2, 11:00am
As far as No Age goes, I wanted a strong visual identity. Like the Ramones or the Dead Kennedys. Or Black Flag. Or Crass. Like something you'd see and immediately know what it is. I always liked how the Ramones had one [iconic] T-shirt.
When No Age was starting, I was at my parents and I made this design on the photocopy machine. I wanted the logo to be text. I came up with a font, and it was this weird ripple--it almost looked like static. That was the first thing I made, those flyers with these quotes that meant nothing. I would take them around, like to the Smell. And I made all these paper stickers that said "No Age," and "Get Hurt," which was a slogan we made up.
Spunt made these flyers before No Age even played a show. The quotes meant nothing.
No Age's first T-shirt design.
The idea was to have a visual identity before the band even started, before the music started. It kind of worked because people would be like, "Dude, what is this? What is No Age?" I made those flyers, and I made that T-shirt, before we even played a show.
My mom and her sister made logos for [organizations like] the high school cheerleading squad or like Bill's Auto Parts. This was all in the late 80s, early 90s. I was looking through all these files that they have--they still don't use the computer--and they have all these really thin kind of felt swatches that they print designs on. I was looking at all this stuff--and that rainbow blend was in so much stuff in the late '80s and early '90s that my mom would print. I was just like, "We should do a rainbow blend, that would be so sick." I remember thinking, "That would look so cool, I've never seen someone do it and make it cool." Because it's sort of lame.
The cover of Get Hurt
It's also on the cover of an early EP.
Our friend took the photo for the cover. I remember talking to her in New York, and I was like, "Hey, do you want to take a photo for our thing? We want to do something with all these T-shirts." She's like, "Oh, I'm going to shoot these 15-year-old Brazilian models for some thing--maybe we can put them in the T-shirts." For whatever reason, the model thing didn't work out, but she's like, "I'm going to my aunt's house and my cousin is really cool and I just shot some photos." She sent them over. That one was so striking, and so cool-looking, that I was like, "Oh my god, that has to be the cover."
When did you start notice the shirts catching on?
Right when we made them, people were like, "Dude, they're kind of goofy." But then people were buying them a lot. It's funny, at one point, I personally tried not to bring the rainbow one [on tour]. I didn't want to be just known for the rainbow ones, I wanted to be known just for the text [logo]. But I quickly learned. We'd go on tour and people would be like, "Hey, you don't have the rainbow shirts?" I'd be like, "Fuck! We have to bring this."
We went to London early on, every other month or something: since there's only two of us, we could just fly, and play three shows, and then make enough to pay for the flights and go home. It seemed to work. So I remember one time we went to London, and the kids, for whatever reason, be like [feigning a British accent] "Oh, can I get one 'Classic.' You know, The white rainbow one?"
Now, people call it "The Classic." Even in the States now, people are like, "Can I get one of "The Classic"? It's like, "WHAT?!" So funny.
Rush backstage at The Colbert Report, where a No Age shirt makes a cameo, courtesy of Nick Sylvester.
Where was the most surprising place you saw them?
Yeah, yeah. People really tripped out on [Radiohead bassist] Colin Greenwood wearing one.
That was an international music-blog incident.
Yeah. Kids were always like, "How does it feel to have Colin Greenwood wear your shirt?" I'm like, "Uhhhh, how does it feel? I don't know." It's more cool that my mom silkscreened it--that he's wearing this piece of art that my mom made.
The most surprising place? I bought a scooter recently, like an 80s Honda, and I was riding that yesterday. I saw some kid getting on the bus with a No Age shirt, that was pretty rad. He was putting his bike on the front and I was just looking and I was like, "Oh that shirt looks really cool." And then I was like, "Oh shit!" [Laughs]
They pop up all over, which is pretty awesome. I think it's funny that it's a rainbow and dudes will wear it. Before, if you saw that--it's striking and it's cool-looking--but some people are like, "Oh that's the gay one!"
I know people who won't wear it. Like, "Aw, dude, it's not really my thing." That's why we made the rainbow on black shirts initially because it toned it down. But now it's sort of--people can wear it.
Mad Decent fall tour flyer, fall 2008
Something looks eerily familiar about this Bloc Party shirt
Diplo has worn a No Age shirt--he even spoofed the shirts on a Mad Decent flyer.
Yeah, that's the other thing--the design gets copied so much. He copied it for his label in the same font in that rainbow blend.
Bloc Party I saw--it was the same thing! But those were direct rips. It's the same shirt, it just says Bloc Party.
That's funny to me too. Seeing the shirt was surprising, but the New York Times Book Review thing? The cover was all these punk-rock logos, but the words were changed. There was the Descendants logo, but it said "Dependents." There was a Black Flag. So there were all these old punk logos and there was a No Age rainbow. It said "Middle Age." The book review is huge and the fact that it's our logo? We were the only band on it that's a new band too. That solidified in my head: "Whoa! Our goal is accomplished to make a punk-rock logo."
The New York Times Book Review cover for Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad solidified in Spunt's head: "Whoa! Our goal is accomplished to make a punk-rock logo."
New York Times
We could've started any business, really. Like Tupperware. Or organic tahini. [Laughs] It could've been anything, but we came up with a corporate identity--I guess that's what they call it in graphic design world.
Have fans or friends send you photos of themselves in the rainbow shirts, like beside the Eiffel Tower?
No, but we should do that--start a Flickr page or something. Our friends Kate and Maura--Michelle Obama recently wore their clothes, which is huge. She's a fashion icon. So they were saying that they were going to go to the White House. We were like, "Oh you gotta take a No Age shirt!"
One sidenote. Since my mom and my brother do this silk-screen shop, whenever we play and my family comes, they're always wearing No Age shirts. People are always like, "Oh there's the Spunts!" So when my mom will print a shirt, she'll just print a bunch of random ones that're at the shop too. So when we played Coachella, I had probably 20 family members come: my immediate family, my grandpa, my aunts and uncles--like 20 people-- and they all had No Age T-shirts on. And they all had these crazy [designs] that were like, beige with like black ink on them and one with fluorescent yellow-green. At the festival, people were like, "Oh, I saw this old Mexican guy in this crazy No Age shirt!" It was my grandpa.
Also at Coachella, my mom was talking to Cory Kennedy. And Cory Kennedy is like, "Where did you get that shirt, it's so awesome!" [laughs] It was just really funny, my mom slinging these T-shirts to Cory Kennedy.
You guys have done a lot of stuff with apparel companies. Having grown up skating, it makes sense that you'd want to help design the perfect skate shoe or a skate deck. But some might find it amusing that two guys who wear jeans, and plaid shirts, and play DIY shows are collaborating with fashion companies.
I don't know if it's the coolest thing. We think it's fucking awesome--we just like collaborating with people and making things. There's really no definition of what we're supposed to do [with No Age]--we set this thing for ourselves.
When you grow up skateboarding, and grow up listening to music, and getting into DIY culture and punk rock, you sort of have to be an outcast and a weirdo. You sort of have to feel like you don't fit in. And when you're a skateboarder, you see the world a different way. Like a set of stairs opens up a whole different thing in your brain, as opposed to your mom, who sees a rail or a curb. That's the attitude that we've always had. And we just apply it to making these things, anything--we make jackets, we make shoes, we make records, we make whatever.
Classic denim jacket by No Age with Altamont
Would you wear a rainbow No Age shirt at this point?
I totally would. Not right now, so much, because I'm on this kick where I don't wear logos, oddly enough. [Laughs] But I would. And that was the concept of the shirt, and that's the concept of our band: make music you want to hear, design something you want to wear.
So I used to wear them. Then people would be like, "You're that guy! Wearing your own shirt." In the back of my own head, I'm like, If someone tells me it's lame, then it's probably a good idea. When people are like, "That's dumb," you're probably onto something really sweet. I like to think like that, anyway.
Def Jam publicist Gabriel Tesoriero, left, pictured in the July 6, 2008 New York Times
New York Times
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.