Feel Good Hits

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Published January 22, 2010

With its defiantly sunny refrain and unmistakable T. Rex-inspired opening riff, Free Energy’s “Dream City” is a coming-of-age power pop anthem the Dazed & Confused kids would totally blare from the car stereo of Fred O’Bannion’s 1972 Plymouth Duster 340, PBRs in hand. In just over three minutes, it epitomizes everything that made Nixon-era radio rock such a romp: it’s fun, it’s familiar, and, most importantly, it features the cowbell.  Inspired equally by Thin Lizzy,  Springsteen, and–perhaps most tellingly–vintage Juicy Fruit Commercials, Philly-born dance rockers Free Energy play a brand of punchy, stadium-sized glam pop that will soundtrack a million house parties in 2010. That DFA Records, the NYC dance label and creative collective helmed by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, has launched such a feel-good act may raise the eyebrows of a few cynics. But the purists should ask themselves: what is the purpose of dance, if not to unify? Murphy, 21st century dance culture’s preeminent avuncular figure, has always had a knack for making rocker boys dance. (PHOTO CREDIT: CASS BIRD)

I caught up with Free Energy frontman Paul Sprangers, as his band prepares to release their debut album Stuck On Nothing.

COLLEEN NIKA:  What draws you to 70s rock?

PAUL SPRANGERS: Innovative Production. Playfulness. Honesty. Ambition. Idealism. Deep Grooves. Complete and utter excess. Clarity. Experimentation. Bob Seger.

NIKA: How did you initiate working with James Murphy?

SPRANGERS: First, Scott Wells and I wrote the songs together, but Jon Galkin was the brains behind the Murphy collaboration. He had a vision for how the band fit on DFA; he knew that James could complement and enhance what we do.  We didn’t know James going into it, but he took the risk, and it was a nice surprise for everybody that it worked out as well as we thought it would. We “demoed” a lot–until James had an idea of what he could add as a producer and ad time to work with us.

NIKA: How influential was he in shaping the album and you as a band?

SPRANGERS: Very. I mean, Scott and I write and arrange all the songs. But James made it sound the way it sounds. He mixed a lot while we were recording. That is huge. A lot of things rubbed off on us. His experience and ideas partially informed how we went about conducting the band and they way we work together.

NIKA: Why is important for the rock you make to be danceable?

SPRANGERS: Because otherwise you end up with some boring, intellectual mush that has no redeeming value. Rock music that doesn’t move your body is heartless and cold. We tend to see beauty in things that other people don’t want or dismiss as “cheesy” or “classic rock.” Then we dust it off, polish it, sculpt it into something different, and name it Free Energy. We treat all music lovingly, no matter when or where or how it was made. Everything is potentially equal.

NIKA: Why do you think critics so hesitant to embrace the 70s rock you love?

SPRANGERS: Most critics despise clear, direct, music–which is all over classic rock radio– because there is no room for them to get between the artist and the listener. If there’s no need for explanations or contextualizations, then the critic is unnecessary. You hear a song like “Born in the U.S.A.” And you get it. It’s fucking simple. It’s overwhelming. You feel it. What can a critic add to that? They have no choice but to be hesitant to embrace it, or straight up deny it, because its existence threatens their very job description.

NIKA: What is something that Free Energy will never do as a band?

SPRANGERS: We will never go on a segway tour of Philadelphia. NEVER! Actually, we probably will.

Free Energy play Brookyn Bowl tonight. Their debut album, Stuck On Nothing, is out February 23rd.