Free Energy “It’s got that kind of circular guitar riffing, like AC/DC-style, that probably doesn’t actually sound like AC/DC.”

Philadelphia's Free Energy are sitting on a tiny landmine of potential buzz. A couple of their members were in the late, great Minneapolis band Hockey Night, and Free Energy's debut record – Stuck On Nothing, due January 12, 2010 – will be released on DFA with James “LCD Soundsystem” producing. The band recently released a 7-inch featuring two songs, and the message is clear: this band is all about joy.

At the risk of sounding glib, Free Energy's songs are like Stephen Malkmus fronting Thin Lizzy; Eddie Money produced by Superchunk's Mac McCaughan. They tumble out of your speakers with both precision and loveable looseness, sounding for all the world like five guys who can't believe they get to do this for a living. I talked to singer Paul Sprangers and guitarist Scott Wells, who were hanging out in Philadelphia prior to a summer/fall tour with Tinted Windows.

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Peoples' main association with Free Energy is Hockey Night. Is that a help or a hindrance? Does it bother you?

Paul: No, it doesn't bother me at all. I think it's cool that it's coming up. It's weird, because me and Scott wrote the songs in Hockey Night, and that's what we're doing now. It's good, it's not a hindrance. It makes sense, I think it's cool that people acknowledge that band. Certainly, while we were Hockey Night, it didn't seem that anybody noticed or cared about what we were doing.

You mentioned the process for your band is pretty similar to how it was for Hockey Night. Is that true for both the songwriting and the arranging?

P: In Hockey Night, we tried to arrange as a band, when possible. That's kind of how we like to operate; we like to collaborate. Ideally, you collaborate with the people you work with, as much as possible.

And you're using that system with Free Energy?

P: Yeah, totally. Already, the songs that we're playing with the band that we recorded with James are better just because we're able to rehearse and work out little details. And people bring their personalities to the songs. They have more life, I guess.

You guys self-produced the Hockey Night record, so this is a pretty big change for you, having James Murphy producing.

P: Absolutely, it's a really big change. It's what we wanted, in a way, to have somebody who is as ambitious as we are. He kind of helps us steer the choices we make towards a vision that we've had but haven't necessarily been able to technically make happen. Just whatever, given the equipment and recording.

You mentioned in an interview that what James brought was like putting your songs into Technicolor. Was that the vision all along? Or was that something you guys didn't expect?

P: That's something we've always wanted, but weren't able to really execute with Hockey Night, at all. Just because of where we were at, we didn't know that that's what we wanted. Once it was just down to me and Scott working with James, it was easier to get the drums sound we wanted, and execute things really solidly, just lock down the drums and lock down the bass, and work from there. So yeah, it helped having someone like him step in and work with us, and show us how to achieve that way of working. Definitely it's rubbed off on us, the way we approach the band and recording now.

Do you see any parallels between LCD Soundsystem and what your record ended up sounding like?

P: Hmm, that's a good question. You want to talk to Scott for a second?

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"Paul and I were fighting to add more and more stuff on top of the songs before. Just trying to get all of our ideas out, rather than cleaning things out and allowing the essence of the song to be heard."
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Sure.

Scott: Hey, how's it going?

Pretty good. So we were talking about what James brought to the table. What parallels do you think there are between LCD Soundsystem and what you ended up recording, if any?

S: Yeah, not much. He was certainly tailoring things to what he thought the songs should sound like, or what we all were trying to go for, but to me that's the closest similarities. On average, the bass and drums, how they sound on his songs, and on average, how they sound on our songs, it's pretty much the same. But I think the attitudes of music, for the two bands, are pretty different, at least to me. I might be too close to it to be able to judge objectively.

I was just talking to Paul about how he said the band is “Technicolor” because of James.

S: I think things brightened up. We really cleared things out. Paul and I were fighting to add more and more stuff on top of the songs before. Just trying to get all of our ideas out, rather than cleaning things out and allowing the essence of the song to be heard. We just used to add so many things that weren't necessarily well-planned-out to go together all that well. So while they all were maybe good ideas, they weren't necessarily complementary. But this time, throughout the entire process, we were doing stuff that would lend itself to adding more stuff, to keep things nice and clean, so that as you added stuff, it wouldn't take away from what you already put down.

Do you mean how parts sound a little more separated on these songs, compared to Hockey Night?

S: Yeah. Because maybe we'd be like, “This is how the guitar part goes”, and James would be like, “That's good, but don't do a little picking sound in between there, because that'll leave that little space open. So something else can be dropped in, and there won't be anything fighting with it.” It was cool to have someone who was listening in that way.

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"We were really trying to clean up our act, to get things down to what they should be."
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Do you think working with him in that way has affected how you guys will arrange or write in the future?

S: Yeah. I mean, it was something we were certainly trying to do. We were really trying to clean up our act, to get things down to what they should be. We were trying to do this already, we were demoing stuff that was really simple. Every single song that we demoed had the same exact beat. We were just trying to simplify it so we could get down to the raw essentials of what Paul and I were doing, which was just trying to get the songs written. But we were kind of aimlessly, with no guidance and no experience, simplifying. James gave us a method, at least his method, of doing this in a more logical way of dealing with the materials that you're working with.

Did you guys actively seek out James as a producer?

S: No. The way it worked was, we were trying to get the record ready, but we didn't have a producer, and we thought we were gonna produce it. And we weren't getting the sounds that we wanted. That went on for probably a year, almost. We'd never worked with a producer before, so we didn't know what we were doing, and we just kind of stalled out until James was like, “I have time to do this now, and I want to do this, and I think it'll be really, really good.” And just sitting down and talking with him about it, we got psyched too. It seemed like it was gonna be a really good idea. I hadn't listened to LCD Soundsystem. I mean, I did after we signed with DFA – I did realize that he's just really good.

He's obviously a dance music guy, but his songs are most definitely songs.

S: Totally. And he came from a rock 'n' roll background, he totally loves rock 'n' roll. That's just where he's at in his life, that he's doing dance music. But he certainly had a good, healthy perspective on where we were coming from, and what we were trying to do. And knowledge about how to achieve it.

Speaking of your sound, basically everything I've read about you mentions the bands you sound like – T. Rex gets mentioned, and Thin Lizzy. Are you coming with those influences mapped out, or are they unintentional?

S: I think they're unintentional. It doesn't go in that direction, “Let's do something like this band”, and then we do it. It's more like, after we've done it, we realize it sounds like a particular thing. But hopefully it's just elements of songs, and not a complete clone of another song. Usually my perception of something is, I'm listening to something else, and other people will think it sounds like T. Rex or whatever, and I thought it sounded like Sweet. People have been talking about Tom Petty a lot – maybe just one person talked about Tom Petty, and now other people are – that didn't even cross our minds while we were recording, I don't think we ever mentioned Petty. But I can see that now.

Are “Dream City” and “Free Energy”, two of the songs already released, representative of the record as a whole?

S: Yeah, they're pretty good. I think “Free Energy” has a little bit of everything in it. It's got a strong vocal harmony in the chorus, and it's got that kind of circular guitar riffing, like AC/DC-style, that probably doesn't actually sound like AC/DC. I think that's a pretty good representation of the entire record. Then “Dream City” has the horns and stuff, but that stuff isn't sticking out as much.

Are both the songs going to be on the LP?

S: That's the plan. Yeah, it'd be nice to get that thing out before all the songs are released individually, but I guess that's how stuff works. We're gonna do more songs, so things could change too. But that's the plan for now. We did ten songs with James, and they probably are gonna sound best together, and if we add some songs that we did with somebody else, that's probably gonna sound a little different. So we might as well keep things together.

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