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The opening riffs of Free Energy's lead single, the self-titled "Free Energy," sounds strangely familiar. But it's not a Cheap Trick deep cut. Nor is it a Thin Lizzy cover either.
It just sounds like one.
"We're trying to make our own version of what we like," says Free Energy frontman and co-songwriter Paul Sprangers over his cell phone from a van headed from Chicago to Minneapolis.
It's probably the reason that the band deserted the quirky '90s jangly indie-pop sound of their previous act, Hockey Night, in the first place, instead opting to start a band with a more wide-open, free-wheeling rock sound. The result: Their debut album, the James Murphy-produced Stuck on Nothing, is stuffed with big riffs and power chords. The warmth of each instrument, especially the bass and drums, adds texture and a carefree personality to a record that conjures great summer memories, even upon first listen.
Problem is, it's a sound rooted in memories and not in anything necessarily all that new. In a time when the plumb line for indie rock measures a band's quality by how lo-fi their recordings are, Free Energy has decided that the most punk thing to do is to create a big, warm, old-school rock record. Hence the conjuring of Cheap Trick and Thin Lizzy upon initial listens.
"Today, straightforward rock is so bland and sterile and lacks melody," Sprangers says. "What we are doing should be what's considered straightforward rock, but people who are into rock these days look at it like it's this weird thing."
Which is understandable: The last time this sort of thing happened was when The Darkness came out with "I Believe in a Thing Called Love." Only this time, Free Energy isn't going for laughs. It's just a group of five dudes from Philadelphia who are looking to have a good time. And it shows in their explosive live performances.
But perhaps by tapping into the timeless music of the past, Free Energy is ensuring that its music will be around for just as long. Sprangers, at least, assures that his band's intentions are pure, rather than ironic: "Deconstructing music is pointless and insane," he says. "We just want to make something that lasts."
But the lack of irony is actually what's ironic about the whole thing: With so many indie bands going for such a lo-fi sound these days, Free Energy's brand of straightforward rock and roll is actually considered strange. And on the flip side, modern rock fans don't quite know how to react to Free Energy either.
"The kids weren't sure what to make of it," Sprangers admits while describing his band's recent performance on a bill with Motion City Soundtrack.
A pretty basic rock band with undeniably good hooks is struggling for a place to fit in? Yeah, that is weird. But it's not necessarily a bad thing.
The current leg of Free Energy's summer tour sees them as the somewhat ill-fitting opening act for Mates of State, a stripped-down indie-pop outfit, but, according to Sprangers, the band's been making new fans in each city.
"Their fans have been really cool to us," Sprangers says, sounding somewhat surprised.
And why not? It's not like Free Energy's sound is an unfamiliar one.
"We don't aim to break new ground or do something new," Sprangers says. "We just want to do right by what already exists."