Exclusive Q and A: Free Energy Talk Irony, Romance, Rebellion

Philly-based indie rock outfit Free Energy have been bringing classic rock riffs back since the mid 2000s, when three-fifths of their members were part of Minnesota hometown heroes Hockey Night. With Love Sign, the band’s follow-up to their 2010 release Stuck on Nothing, Free Energy is channeling a whole new decade to expand on their ’70s sound. We talked to lead singer Paul Sprangers about the ’80s influences on the new album, his affinity for certain recurring phrases in his lyrics, and what makes the idea of rebellion so appealing.

OS:  How did the band approach writing the new material compared to Stuck on Nothing?

Paul Sprangers: Scott and I demoed songs together, like the last record, but this time we were able to bring the songs to the band, work on arrangements, then re-demo, sometimes repeating and refining the process many times. Then the songs would undergo more arranging with John Agnello so we were able to spend more time refining the songs and letting them ferment. We also had a clearer vision of the production aesthetic going in, partly because of our experience working with James, and also because we had been listening to so much mid-80s music in the last 5 years. INXS, Def Leppard, Peter Gabriel, AC/DC, The Bangles, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Billy Ocean. John Agnello worked on the first Outfield record, and a Cyndi Lauper record, so those were two huge sonic reference points.

OS: What different people did you draw inspiration from for the “Haley” addressed in “Dance All Night?”

PS: I drew from the end of a relationship to the love of my life. I also drew from a girl I had a crush on in Philadelphia. Some of it is stuff I should have said in real life, or stuff that I’d like to say if it wasn’t so hard. A lot of it is just imagery that comes to me when i’m thinking about the melody or people or memories.

OS: Rebellion/resistance is a theme that has been with you guys since you were in Hockey Night. Why do you gravitate towards that idea in your lyrics?

PS: Yeah, totally. It’s kind of like that with a lot of images for me. Streets, night, the city. They are all full of meaning for me, and it’s maybe just that I’m kind of a romantic and those scenes are part of that. As far as rebellion, I guess I really sympathize with young people who are fighting against a system that rules them out.

OS: Artists and musicians have also always been stereotyped as the rebels who have existed outside of the mainstream of culture and are disenfranchised as well.

PS: Totally. I think that’s true for anybody who speaks truth to power. Whatever greater power it is will try to silence them.

OS: Free Energy is such a positive band with the music you make and the message you send out.  Have there been times in the band’s history when that positivity has been tested?

PS: Yeah, all the time and still [laughs]. I mean, now we have more people looking out for us. Publicists, managers, record labels. But it’s still tough. Still, though, Free Energy is such a great group of people that if I didn’t do this with Free Energy, I wouldn’t want to do it. I’ve recorded some solo stuff on my own, but I really love the band.

OS: Will we ever get to hear some of that solo material?

PS: Yeah, if I get enough material together to eventually release it all together, then I think so.

OS: A recent New York Times article on irony that made waves online has revived an old debateabout whether the prevalence of irony in pop culture is a negative thing. You guys channel this type of unbridled enthusiasm that could be considered cheesy by other people because it seems so unironic, so I’d like to know: what do you think of the whole irony vs. sincerity debate?

PS: I think that irony is really important. It’s a way that we deal with things that we are uncomfortable talking about. Sometimes, we don’t want to talk about things directly, for whatever reason, and irony is a way to delicately treat that subject at a time when it is tough to address it directly. I think it’s really important to have for that reason. You can’t be all sincere or all ironic all of the time. But you can have a good mix of the two, and that seems like the best way to do it.

OS: You’ve said in past interviews that music saved you.  Was there a particular moment when you realized, Yeah, I want to make this band my thing. I want to dedicate all of my time to this project?

PS: There wasn’t really one single moment. It was more of a gradual movement into it. I played in bands in high school and then kept doing it for the next few years. When I would record songs, I would just feel like it was the right thing to be doing. But, honestly, one thing that did have an effect on me was having several friends die. That really put things into perspective. It made me think that life is really short and that I should be doing the things that I want to be doing.

Pick up Free Energy’s newest album, Love Sign on January 15!