Posted January 10, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes

Free Energy embraces “dad rock” on its new album, ‘Love Sign’

Free Energy (photo by Dominic Neitz)
Free Energy (photo by Dominic Neitz)

On Love Sign, Philadelphia indie rockers Free Energy so shamelessly draw from ’70s classic rock that frontman Paul Sprangers admits a track like “Time Rolls On” sounds like it could have been something in his father’s record collection. This is a band that not only uses cowbell on its albums; it takes the damn thing on the road. Sprangers recently phoned in from his Philadelphia home to talk about the band’s new album and a tour kicking off next week.

Have you read the Wikipedia entry on the band? It says you keep day jobs working as a “bounty hunter” and “children’s fart balloonist,” and that you hold a record for having gone to personal claims courts so many times. So, is any of that true?
No, that was a prank pulled by one of my old college roommates. But I thought it was funny so I left it.

How’d the band first come together? It was in 2008, right?
Yes. [Guitarist] Scott [Wells] and I were in Minnesota and DFA Records signed us based on our demos. We recorded [2010’s Stuck on Nothing] with [DFA’s] James [Murphy] in New York and then moved to Philly because a friend was there. Then the rest of the guys moved to Philly and we lived in a house together and just rehearsed and started touring.

What was it like working with James Murphy?
It was incredible. It was a huge education. The whole DFA philosophy is that less is more, essentially, if you wanted to distill it down to a line. We really took that heart and tried to apply that to our songwriting and production, even though there’s a lot going on with this new record. We apply that aesthetic to everything. To this day, it’s still really important to us and a shorthand that we use when we’re working.

How’d you get your demo into John Murphy’s hands?
I was sending demos from my old band to Jon Galkin who runs DFA. That process took years. It was another year of waiting around until James had time to do it. It was a very slow process.

Do bands still send out demos?
I have no idea. I think it was old-fashioned when I did it. But I love DFA. I would send John packages of handmade art I had made from felt; just putting any kind of personal touch on things is such a huge thing when everyone is sending out mass mailings and I think that helped a little bit.

People get to be babies when they’re on labels because they want everybody to do shit for them. That’s not good for anything . . .

What’s it been like creating your own label for the release of your new album?
It’s been a lot of work, as you can imagine. It’s been a lot of learning. It’s made me appreciate the whole process. It’s made me grateful for having been on a label and it’s made me more appreciative of what everybody does. It’s a lot more responsibility because it’s make or break. You can’t blame a label if you don’t succeed because nobody has our back. But that’s good. That’s how it should be. We have to do it. People get to be babies when they’re on labels because they want everybody to do shit for them. That’s not good for anything, so I find it really rewarding to have our own label.

Talk about the genesis of the album. Did you start writing songs right after Stuck on Nothing came out?
Yeah, in fact some of them we wrote while we were touring. We wrote “Backscratcher” when we would play out and rehash it.

Are you really into ’70s rock?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. I think the last song on the record, “Time Rolls On,” reminds me of some kind of “dad rock” song, like a Seger song. It’s an homage to dad rock.

But how old are you?

So you’re too young for the ‘70s.
We all hold a special place in our hearts for Bob Seger, always. We were inoculated by American classic rock just by listening to the radio growing up. It’s in our DNA. Even after we found indie rock and experimental stuff and punk rock, radio rock will always be there.

I think many young fans and musicians reject classic rock and only embrace indie rock. But you like both equally.
Oh yeah. Just being isolated in a small town in Minnesota you’re able to experiment more and become a weirdo. You’re not as inundated by culture as you would be if you were growing up in a major city. You’re free to experiment. You can make your own connections. You’re not told what’s cool and what to listen to.

So how did you get introduced to Seger?
In my dad’s truck, listing to an old cassette tape of Against the Wind. My dad would also play us Tom Waits and the Doors. At some point, I probably rejected it because it was my dad, but you come back around and appreciate and have some nostalgia for it.

So would you take Seger over Springsteen?
I don’t know. That’s a hard question. It’s apples and oranges. I might go for Springsteen only because his ‘80s stuff like “Dancing in the Dark” is so great and he tries so many things . . . like Nebraska. But you could argue that Bob Seger did that stuff at the beginning of his career when he was a little more psychedelic. You know what, I can’t answer that. No comment.

Is that really cowbell on “Electric Fever”?
Oh yeah, you know it.

Do you take it with you on the road?
Hell yeah. Of course.

Talk about the record as a whole and how it differs from the previous album.
It’s stronger. There’s a stronger vision and we learned so much from the first round that we could apply—from trying to sing stronger to having the band demo songs and then play them and then rearrange them and then play them again. Going through a bunch of drafts of the song benefited the songs and the songwriting. Knowing what to ask for and what we wanted made it easier. James [Murphy] was open to everything, which was incredible, but we didn’t really know what we wanted and that can be hard. This is much smoother. You can hear it in the music and it feels much better.

Tour Dates

Thurs., Jan. 17

Fri., Jan. 18

Sat., Jan. 19

Sun., Jan. 20

Mon., Jan. 21

Tues., Jan. 22

Wed., Jan. 23

Thurs., Jan. 24

Fri., Jan. 25

Sat., Jan. 26

Sun., Jan. 27

Mon., Jan. 28

Thurs., Feb. 28

Happy Dog – Cleveland, OH

Schubas – Chicago, IL

Rock Island Brewing Company – Rock Island, IL

Pyramid Scheme – Grand Rapids, MI

Magic Stick – Detroit, MI

Ace of Cups – Columbus, OH

Southgate House Revival Room – Newport, KY

The Old Rock House – St Louis, MO

High Noon Saloon – Madison, WI

Turf Club – St Paul, MN

Gas Lamp – Des Moines, IA

Czar – Kansas City, MO

Noise Pop – San Francisco, CA


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.