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Naming the first song on your first album after your own band is a bold move — after all, then the track becomes a de facto mission statement. But "Free Energy" (the song) by Free Energy (the Philadelphia band) would sound as sweet even with another name. Within three seconds of its DFA Records debut, Stuck On Nothing, the band comes out roaring: A relentless cowbell propels a pair of cocksure chords while frontman Paul Sprangers sings, "We're breakin' out this time" with the flair of Thin Lizzy's late vocalist, Phil Lynott. Before Free Energy preaches the gospel of unironic classic rock at the Old Rock House, B-Sides caught up with Spranger to discuss the band's metamorphosis from defunct group Hockey Night and Nothing's producer, DFA Records figurehead and LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy.
B-Sides: How did you get hooked up with James Murphy and DFA?
Paul Sprangers: We'd sent DFA [Hockey Night's final album] Keep Guessin', and they liked it but weren't ready to put it out at the time. Toward the end of Hockey Night we made some demos, and as we geared up to make the record that became Stuck On Nothing, the band wasn't really working anymore. James wanted to work with us, so we made the record based off the songs and demos rather than based on the band. Hockey Night was never able to get it together. We didn't all live in the same place, we didn't practice much, and band members didn't get along. It could take a long time to get into all the reasons — it just wasn't in the cards. We didn't want the same things. Everyone in Free Energy believes in the band.
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What does it mean to believe in Free Energy?
I guess everyone believes in the songs and has the individual artistic ability to make the songs better. Everyone shares the same vision and can contribute toward that vision. I think fundamentally the things that make our band work are the things that make any relationship work. You have to take into account that people have different ideas. At a certain point you have to include everybody to make it go a bit. It's a weird thing. All bands are different. I certainly don't think a band should be a complete democracy or it should be just one guy calling all the shots. We're somewhere in the middle, just feeling it out.
The reception of Stuck On Nothing has been positive and fairly instantaneous. Do you think people get the false impression that you're newbies, even though you really toughed it out with Hockey Night?
It's weird, especially when you talk to writers who have only received press releases. We hear things like, "I see you've been on Rolling Stone and Letterman. How are you handling all this?" And we're thinking, "We've fucking done this for ten years!" It's still really slow to us. It's amazing for it to happen, but the things that seem so huge are really just drops in the bucket of what is our lives. I don't see Free Energy as exactly an extension of Hockey Night, but when you read about the band, it seems like it's a huge leap from the past, and it's not. Hockey Night and Free Energy have more similarities than differences. Stuck On Nothing is the record Hockey Night would have made if we hadn't broken up.
Hockey Night was like Free Energy plus Pavement. Was the Pavement influence intentionally absent with the new songs?
I think we wanted to embrace that level of.... I don't want to say professionalism, but thoughtfulness of performance and production that existed in music before indie rock entered the consciousness. At that time, people were still ambitious and trying to push the limits of recording. Pavement is kind of the negation of that, which was obviously positive and empowering. But I think it eventually lowered the bar for expectations in recording.
Are you tired of the comparisons to those older bands? The names Journey, the Cars and T. Rex keep coming up.
I mean, it's great. I don't think what we're doing is as good as those bands. I don't think we're capable of that level of excellence. But those comparisons are very flattering. [Free Energy is] such an amalgamation of different references taken different ways. An influence to us from the Cars could be something like the panning on a guitar or the way a guitar is taken back in a mix or occupies a certain frequency band. All of that stuff, it's been processed by our brains, and it's in there.
Did James Murphy have a heavy hand in Stuck On Nothing's production?In a lot of ways, the record was me, Scott, James and [LCD Soundsystem drummer] Pat Mahoney assembling songs track by track. It was not live with a band, and it was pretty much the opposite of what we did before. We exchanged ideas with James, but the songs were already written. He just helped turn them into a big rock record.