Free Energy's Paul Sprangers: I can look like an idiot and dance like a monkey

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Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen
For a lot of us, Free Energy is already that band. The dance-rock group with heavy Minnesota ties has a reputation for making people move their bodies, and no amount of Midwestern stoicism can slow that down. Love Sign, the Philly-based act's latest, is brimming with cowbell, sing-along choruses, and those charged-up guitar riffs that confirm that yes, it's time to debut that move you've been trying out in front of the fogged-up bathroom mirror for weeks now.

The Free Energy fervor returns on June 22 as part of City Pages' 10 Thousand Sounds Festival in downtown Minneapolis. Gimme Noise caught up with frontman Paul Sprangers, who gave very sensible answers to our queries.

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Gimme Noise: The band definitely seems like a much sharper unit than it was three years ago.

Paul Sprangers: That is absolutely true. I would say we are much sharper unit than we were even in September. I feel like we've grown a lot just very recently.

Can you recall particular point where thought it was really clicking?

Sheridan [Fox, guitarist] joining the band was really huge. He's really talented and he's the most positive guy I know. When he joined, things really started clicking. And the energy in the band is really good. And we're all more comfortable onstage. It takes awhile to get comfortable in your own skin. When the first record happened, that was a lot of attention very quickly and we weren't ready yet. We weren't road-seasoned. I think its very frustrating to not be able live up to that. You have expectations for yourself. I always knew this is how good we could be. You're always giving everything you can, but now it feels like it's connecting.

Was there one show where you said to yourself, "We're really good tonight. We've come a long way"?

No, I never think that. You're always pushing. You always want to be better. Like this last show in Minneapolis was amazing, but I would never sit down and say "Man, I'm so good." I think if you ever do that, you're done. I know what it's like as a fan, though. You don't notice everything.

As a fan you might think the show was, great, but you ask the band, and they have a different answer.

Yeah, I know as a fan, when I go to shows, if I love the band, I don't notice that stuff. And it's important to remember that. You can't let that stuff affect you onstage. Because ultimately, unless it's really bad, they don't care. They just want to see you kill it. That's something we would get hung up on in the early days, and now we just barrel through it.

So you're more comfortable with you role as entertainers, as opposed to musical perfectionists?

Yeah, I'd say that's a huge component of performing. It does take a while to grow into that and learn that particular skill. Some people are born with that, and I was not. I like getting on stage, but I wasn't comfortable with myself, completely.

After touring so much behind the first album, did you write songs for the second album with the live performance in mind?

Yeah, absolutely. Scott [Wells, guitarist] and I write demos together, but then we bring them to live band, and they get a second life there. They either live or die there. We make adjustments or throw them out. That's the second stage. Does it come across there? And if not, it dies.

It looks like you guys have really embraced the idea that your shows are a dance party. It was there in 2010, but it looks like you really own it now.

Yeah, we talk about that a lot. Scott's mentioned that in the '50s, the rock 'n' roll show was where you went to dance, and rock music was danceable. And riffs can be danceable. And that is definitely something we talk about and is a conscious decision, and I'm glad to hear you say that. I definitely have found, since January, at every show now people are dancing, and it's awesome. Like you said, it was always there, but now I feel more comfortable. I don't care what I look like. I can look like an idiot and dance like a monkey. I think it relieves people of any kind of tension, and then they feel comfortable and start dancing, and then its just party, which is ideal.

How has the progression of events over the last couple years made you feel about the near and perhaps more distant future?

For one thing it's made me more grateful for the opportunities we have now. What happened [with the first record] was kind of an anomaly, and it gave us our way in, so to speak. We may not get that kind of attention again, maybe we will, but everything that happens now, we're really grateful for. The band keeps getting better, and we keep writing better songs, and it's exciting.

Are you writing on the road?

A little bit. This time we had two weeks off and Scott sent me demos, and I sang over them. So now we're sitting on those, but we're planning on recording after this tour, and trying to get en EP out by the end of summer. So, that's another difference, I think. Now we're rolling as a band, and writing, and things will happen faster. We won't take as much time between this record and the next stuff.

Does your Minnesota sensibility affect the way you go about things?

I'd say there is humble stoicism that is particularly Minnesotan, and I think people around the country like that. People around the country, at least on the East Coast, are out of control, and they respond to Midwesterners -- the calm energy -- at least in my experience.

Not to rehash the whole story, because you've already answered a lot of questions about it, but in reading some of your recent interviews about the decision to end ties with DFA, all of your answers struck me as very sensible Minnesotan.

To be totally honest, of course there are emotions behind the scenes, but you don't talk about that professionally or in the press. I learned from everything. That's a huge component of what I write about and what I'm trying to do with my life. Trying to learn and not hold on to things. I wouldn't go around bashing people in the press, because that's been done to me, when [former band] Hockey Night broke up. And I don't have any bad feelings, to be honest. It's all positive. Yeah, maybe that's a Minnesota thing, but that's just an attitude I've taken, to try to be happier and enjoy life. It works. I'll add that -- that I've seen changes in my life, and it's awesome.

Free Energy will perform at City Pages' 10 Thousand Sounds festival at 8th St. and Hennepin Ave. in downtown Minneapolis on Saturday, June 22. The lineup includes the Walkmen, Greg Grease, Prissy Clerks, Strange Names, and the Chalice (hosting). Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and $45 for VIP (not available day of show), and are available via Ticketfly here.


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