INTERVIEW: Free Energy – “We love this shit.”

Free Energy at Pitchfork Music Festival 2010

Free Energy is unquestionably one of the breakout indie acts of 2010, and for good reason.  Their debut album, Stuck on Nothing, is full of note-perfect pop songs that unabashedly reference every great song you’ve ever heard on classic rock radio.  The live show’s killer, too.

They’re genuinely enthusiastic about what they’re doing as well.  Few bands seem to be having as much fun on-stage.  Honestly, hating this band would be like hating a puppy.

Frontman Paul Sprangers answered some of my questions in advance of the band’s show on Monday, September 20th, at The Earl in Atlanta.  They’re currently on tour with Titus Andronicus, with whom they recorded a tour-only split 7″.  We talked about that 7″, Philadelphia, indie vs. classic rock, and the band’s plans for the future.

Full interview after the jump.

How did the split 7” with Titus Andronicus come about?  Was it planned before or after the tour was planned?  Had you previously recorded the Springsteen cover, or was it recorded just for this 7”?

It was planned after the tour was booked, specifically for this tour and this 7″.  We knew we wanted to do something special for this tour.   Titus had already covered Televsion Personalities.  We have a ton of songs we want to cover, but we didn’t know until the morning we went into the studio that we would record “Going Down.”  We booked time on a day off in Minnesota.

You guys have played with a lot of bands over the past year, including opening for Mates of State and Titus Andronicus.  Does it seem like there’s a lot of overlap in your fanbases?  What’s more intimidating, opening or headlining?

I think there is a lot of overlap in the fanbases.  Also, the bands we open for have really cool fans, who are open and receptive to new music.  So it’s fun to open because people come early and listen to us and we have a good time.  Headlining is ideal cause you can stretch out and play longer and have even more fun with the crowd.  We enjoy both.

I read a Pitchfork Festival wrap-up that basically said you guys were a classic rock band in a sea of indie rock.  It seemed strange since you guys have definitely come up through the indie scene, playing with indie rock bands and getting coverage from the outlets that cover that scene.  Do you identify as “indie rock”?  Does the term even mean anything?  How do you feel about the “classic rock” label?

The term doesn’t mean anything now.  It rarely refers to music that is released on independent record labels.  As far as I know, it’s mostly used as a genre description.  But you’re right, we did come up in the indie scene, etc.  The thing is, we don’t identify with the “classic rock” label either.  I don’t even know what that would mean!  We are inspired by so much music, but what comes out is just our sound, which has always been catchy and influenced by rock n roll of all kinds from the 70s and 80s.

To be clear, I really like indie rock, especially the so-called “sea of indie” that played the Pitchfork Festival.   I love Beach House, and Neon Indian, and Surfer Blood, and Sleigh Bells.  It’s all rad.  I think we have more in common with those bands than people think, just because I think our band is also kind of an anomaly right now.   We definitely feel like weirdos.

I wrote this post back in April about how it seemed like rock critics were creating these artificial barriers around your music, like they couldn’t just enjoy a rock record without jumping through intellectual hoops.  It was strange, because your record was very well received, and it seemed like critics were inventing these naysayers that didn’t even really exist.  Have you read any reviews and just asked, “Where the hell did that come from?” or thought the critics were just way off-base?

Yeah, that post was really good.   Thank you for writing such a thoughtful piece.  I think that’s interesting.   The creation of naysayers.  If that’s what happened, then I assume it was any given writer just giving voice to the naysayers in his or her mind.

Here’s the thing, a band like the Ramones (who are still relevant and loved) consciously chose to make very simple pop music.  Or Springsteen.  Or INXS.  Or U2.  These guys are fucking geniuses, and they are choosing to make “simple,” direct songs, and make no mistake, it is extremely difficult to write and make a simple, memorable pop song.

No one hates on the Ramones, because they were obviously smart and aware of what they were making.   I tend to think that people have trust in us, and can tell that we are making exactly what we want to make, so there hasn’t been any real backlash.  We don’t sound like something that’s popular right now.  There’s no cynicism in our music, so we don’t attract that energy.  Unfortunately, it also means that we don’t get any breaks in the industry.  We have to prove to people at clubs, at radio, at press, that we are good, and we are honest, and really serious about what we’re doing.   Which is fine.  Actually, it’s great.  We love this shit.

Anyway, I’m not too worried about the reviews.  They were mostly positive and that’s all we needed to get our foot in the door.  But thanks for having our back!

What brought you guys to Philly?  How’s the music scene there?  The New York Times wrote this big article awhile back about Philadelphia as the sixth borough, and there seems to be a lot of cool bands coming out of there right now.

Philly is awesome.   Geoff, our rhythm guitar player, lived here, and while Scott and I recorded in NYC with James [Murphy] we would come down and hang out and play him the record.  And eventually we decided to try living here.  We’ve met amazing people.  There are some mind blowing bands here, like the Tough Shits.  Dave P is here and the Rocktits Djs.  So many rad clubs and food and neighborhoods.  We love it here.

I don’t know if it will ever actually be the sixth burrough.  I’ve heard that term before.  I think with Philly you’re either in or you’re out.  It’s definitely not an extension of NYC.  There’s no other city like it.

Have you started writing the new record yet?  You guys played a new song at Pitchfork.  Any recording plans?

We’ve written a ton of stuff.  A couple albums worth.   But we need to sit down and refine things and edit and tweak and we can’t do that while touring.  So once we’re done touring we’ll be able to work on the backlog of material.  It should go much quicker than the last record.   We’re talking about recording/living on the West Coast.  That’s the hazy plan right now.

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