GRAY MATTER “I don’t even know what rock and roll is now,” says Paul Sprangers (center). “It makes sense that nobody gives a shit about what’s considered rock music.”
Bad news for people who like bad moods: Free Energy are about to ruin your shitty day. The Philly band's effortlessly good-timing '70s-era guitar pop has spent the past year pushing the cranial buttons of the indie cognoscenti and armies of music journos who are excited about getting to remind everyone one more time that they like T-Rex. (Me, I'll make the Supergrass comparison — one doesn't get enough opportunities for that.) Their debut LP, this year's Stuck on Nothing (Astralwerks), is a keg party at the moontower of jaunty piano riffs, cow bell, and big, fuzzy guitar swipes.
The high energy and sense of fun that Free Energy put forth live is something of a rarity these days. "People do come up and say they aren't used to seeing shows where the musicians enjoy themselves on stage," singer Paul Sprangers tells me. They also get those traditionally statue-like club-show audiences moving. "People do dance, that's the incredible thing. People clap along, and we engage the audience, it's pretty incredible. I think that's a unique thing about our shows. People feel comfortable being involved with the band and the music."
When you hear the mutton-chop guitar fuzz of "Free Energy" and "Bang Pop," it's hard not to feel some barrier of internal cool breaking down. "This is all we've got tonight, we are young and still alive," Sprangers sings on the former. As in: life's too short not to wild out in the crowd.
The music, and Free Energy's approach to sharing it with crowds, is disarming. "I think I make it very clear that I'm a total nerd and there's nothing to worry about," Sprangers offers. "I'm certainly not a rock star. I just do what I feel in the moment, whatever that's going to be. I think when you see someone doing that, you feel more at ease."
So he's more like the host of a party that you're all invited to than the dude at the door keeping people out? "I think that's exactly what it is. And I'm also between the band and the crowd and trying to feed the energy back and forth."
But though he believes that rock and roll is supposed to be dance music, he's not sure just what that means. "It's funny, because I don't even know what rock and roll is now. I think there's a lot of dance music and hip-hop that has the spirit of rock and roll, but you listen to what's supposed to be rock and roll on the radio and it's this bland, super-produced, over-compressed white noise, just mindless. It makes sense that nobody gives a shit about what's considered rock music."
One guy who probably does give a shit is James Murphy, DFA head and LCD Soundsystem maestro, who produced the band's record before releasing it on his label. Although Free Energy fall outside what you might call the traditional DFA spectrum of clubbed-up disco rock, Boston's Bodega Girls just cooked up a remix of "Free Energy" in the same science lab where best friends and sunny days are made. Fool's Gold's remix of "Bang Pop" translated that song into a slowed-down dance-floor trip.