Along with a penchant for glow-in-the-dark anything, Free Energy lead singer Paul Sprangers is also a big fan of the word “totally.” It all makes sense when listening to the band’s second album, Love Sign, which is full of modern rock riffs with an ‘80s twist. We chatted with Sprangers about his band finding its voice and running its own label before Free Energy plays Tractor Tavern on Tonight.
Free Energy performs tonight (6/11) at the Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave. N.W., 789-3599. 8:30 p.m. $12 adv. Photo by Dominic Neitz
What are you up to? I’m about to walk to our practice space to rehearse for this tour.
Any pre-tour jitters? Jitters of excitement, I think [laughs].
Do you change the songs at all before you start each tour cycle? Some we stay faithful; some we mess around with. They take on a life of their own once you start playing them live.
Have you seen any changes in how the band plays live since 2010’s Stuck on Nothing ? That’s probably one of the biggest changes that took place. A lot happened for that first record very quickly, and we weren’t totally ready as a band.… For this record, writing together more helped bring the band together. We have a new guy, Sheridan [Fox]. The band is on fire. That time really gave us the ability to reflect on everything — what we do well, what we don’t want to do, how the show should be. We benefited from that time, and in the future, we won’t take as much time off.
What did you learn that you did well? We’re finding our own voice where they’re still rock songs but they’re dance-y. Trying to integrate these two worlds is what we’ve been focusing on.
How was working with producer John Agnello? The guy is a genius. He will work as hard as you want to work. He holds court in the studio, and he’s the funniest dude in the room.
Did he share any interesting stories? Oh, yeah. He recorded an EP with the Breeders in Dreamland in Woodstock, New York, where we recorded. They’re not super positive stories; they’re mostly about drugs and stuff [laughs], but Kim Deal is one of my idols, so it’s pretty amazing. He did say he had the opportunity to hook up with her, and he didn’t. Who knows if that’s real or not? I mean, c’mon!
Was his work with artists like that why the band was drawn to him? We knew he did the Hold Steady, but then we looked at his earlier stuff and saw that he worked on Cyndi Lauper and Born to Run. He worked on the Outfield. They totally rule, and the production is really sick, so we were like, “John, this is what we want.” We were playing him weird ‘80s pop-rock records, and he totally got it and knew how to do it.
It’s cool that you worked with a guy from that decade who was able to recreate that sound with a modern twist. Right?! Not only that but a guy from that decade who’s still enthusiastic and inspired to work with guys for 12 hours in a room. It’s totally remarkable.
You all released Love Sign on your own label. Why do you think releasing music independently is becoming such a popular option? It’s really case by case. We have a really good team in place, so signing with a label again would’ve been a step sideways instead of a step forward into the unknown. It didn’t make sense to sign with an indie label, especially since we love DFA [Records] so much. That was our dream, so now it’s exciting to be a pioneer. That’s part of the allure for people; it’s like the Wild West.
Now that you have that team in place, could you ever see yourselves back on a label? Absolutely, knowing what I know now and running this label ourselves. We know what we want, what we need and where money would go, so we could use a major label very efficiently, but at the same time, I really like the idea of building this business. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I’m really excited.