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Meet Paul Sprangers - Lead Singer of Free Energy
Free Energy I Photo: Cass Bird
Power pop is a tricky genre to do right. The line between a fist pumping anthem and grotesque, easy listening cheese is very, very thin. Fortunately a couple of Minnesotan guys living in Philly have been studying the greats and have put forth a deliciously catchy debut album, Stuck on Nothing. In the vein of Thin Lizzy, Cheap Trick, and T. Rex, Free Energy will make you want to cut off the sleeves of your t-shirts, soup up your Chevy Camaro, and cruise for babes. We caught up with Paul Sprangers on the road somewhere in the wilds of Arizona to talk about his debut album. Here is some of what was said.
How old were you when you first picked up an instrument?
I don't know. My family had a piano which I played for awhile. I quit because I hated practicing. Then in high school started playing guitar.
How did you guys get together?
Scott (Wells) and I are old friends. We made a record in New York together and then moved to Philly. From there we started putting the band together.
Why did you move to Philadelphia from Minneapolis?
Because it was cheap and we could get to New York easily. Also Geoff already lived there and we could have a whole house for nothing and practice in the basement. I know it's super unromantic. It was cheap and easy.
I heard you chose your name after you wrote the song "Free Energy." Is that because it was catchy or does the song itself encapsulate some things about the band?
I kind of think it does. That song has a lot of elements of what we're trying to do. It's got really driving choruses, big simple riffs, really melodic harmonies, and wild guitar solos. It's kind of a survey of everything that we're about.
What is your writing process like?
Scott and I write the songs together. It can happen a lot of different ways. We'll usually have a riff or a piece of a song and then try and build from there.
Free Energy I Photo: Cass Bird
What inspired your album name, Stuck On Nothing?
It came from in the studio. Geoff said it about something and we just went, "That's the name of the record." I don't remember what it was about. I think we were discussing Supertramp or 70s album titles. It just sounds like such a classic rock album name.
Where is "Dream City"?
Oh, I'm not sure actually. It's kind of about Red Wing, MN where Scott and I are from.
How did you hook up with DFA Records?
We sent them the Hockey Night record and they were kinda interested in it, but not enough to put it out. So we kept Johnny Galkin (co-founder of DFA) up to speed with what we were working on and eventually he gave in.
Did you convince James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem and co-founder of DFA) to produce the album?
Jon Galkin really sold him on the idea. He thought it would sound really good. We just kept hounding James until he had time. James Murphy doesn't like having to wait for people, so we spent a lot of time just sitting around.
Did you send him flowers?
Heck yes. (laughs.) 1-800-FlOWERS got a lot of business from us.
How long were you guys in the studio?
It took a long time. We recorded "Free Energy" first just to see if it would work. It took three days, and it did. So then we would come in for three or four days a week every couple weeks to record the album and then we took three weeks after that to mix the thing. It was really drawn out.
What is the weirdest thing you ever saw in the audience?
We opened for Hot Chip a little while ago and a few guys in the audience had their middle fingers pointing at us the whole set. I guess they were only there to see Hot Chip. They just didn't care for our set at all. Oh and some chick flashed her boob at us in Minneapolis.
Just one boob?
Yeah, that's what I thought. You might as well go whole hog in that situation. I mean, you're already one boob deep.
If you could change one thing about the music industry what would it be?
I wish it moved a little faster. I'm not against record labels. In fact ours has been really cool. The little ones are usually run by people who are just really big fans of music, but I do think that like any kind of industry the music industry has lot of bureaucracy. If there was some way of getting rid of that, I think that would be great. If it could just be the music and people who like it, that would be wonderful.
Does it ever bother you that people constantly compare Free Energy to classic rock bands?
No, I mean it's clearly influenced by that time, but I think it sounds pretty fresh. The production is pretty fresh. It's something kind of new.
Do you have a favorite local band at the moment?
Yeah! The Tough Shits, they're a great Philly band.
All right, last question. What is your favorite karaoke jam?
Let's give them something to talk about. Everyone gets into that one.
Well thank you for talking with us.
Be sure to check out Free Energy next week when they play the Echo on Monday with Useless Keys (free!) and Spaceland on Tuesday with The Mystery Lights (Tickets are $7).
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