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?'"
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.
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.