Power-pop party music is still Free Energy's calling card.

Free Energy's Paul Sprangers on starting a label, pop songcraft and his band's latest, Love Sign 

Power-pop party music is still Free Energy's calling card.

click to enlarge FREEENERGY.jpg

Dominic Neitz

Browse the track list of Love Sign, the new LP from Free Energy, and it's clear that no momentous shifts in the band's aesthetic have occurred since its 2010 DFA Records debut, Stuck on Nothing. "Electric Fever," "Girls Want Rock," "Dance All Night": the Philadelphia group is still enthralled with the kind of power-pop party anthems of such forebears as Cheap Trick, AC/DC and Weezer.

Love Sign is an improvement over Stuck on Nothing, though. The songwriting is tighter, and it's more cohesive sonically. Also, the band has left DFA and is self-releasing Love Sign through its own label, Free People. We recently chatted with frontman Paul Sprangers about this new phase of the band. Free Energy's tour stops at Czar Monday.

The Pitch: So you guys started your own label. I sometimes wonder what exactly record labels even do anymore. Can you enlighten me?

Sprangers: [Laughs.] Dude, that is such a good question. Thank you for asking that. I've learned so much more about what a record label does now than I did when I was actually on one. I'm starting to realize everything I took for granted: the ways that labels are good, but also the ways that they're inefficient. I think labels now, for the most part — it's maybe about cred? Maybe a label has some connections, maybe it has a certain distributor, maybe it has certain relationships? But at the end of the day, it's kind of like — actually, I don't know how much you want to get into this stuff. I could really go on for a while.

No, go on. I like this stuff.

OK, yeah, I love this stuff, too. I geek out on this stuff. Because, I mean, I used to totally worship labels: Matador, Sub Pop, Merge. I was such a fan of records as entities and rosters, and I'd listen to everything that certain labels put out. And DFA, of course, was like a dream come true.

That said, we're so particular about our music and our design and aesthetic that we want to control everything. Even down to, like, how posters are put up at the venue before we get there. Like, with the street team — we would always complain when we'd get to shows and the EMI street team would have just thrown up a hundred posters the day of the show. And it would look crazy! I mean, this is a small example of how anal we are. But it was, like, fuck it, why don't we get our own street team and have them put up fliers all over town two weeks before the show? And so, that's what we're doing now. Our management helps a lot with day-to-day stuff, arranging logistics, things like that. Scott [Wells, lead guitar] designed the cassettes. Scott's older brother did the art for the new record. My friend finished the design. We put together the posters.

So it's really liberating doing the whole label thing yourself. And, also, you can't blame anybody when you're doing it yourself. Which is good. I think when you're on a label, you can become babies. And we definitely did that sometimes. You kind of bitch and moan about things that you don't like, and you feel like you don't have much power to change the way things are going at the label. The label is this big bureaucracy, and you have to wait for answers.

Do you feel like being on a bigger label can slow you down as a band in some ways?

Sometimes kids would ask us to use our songs in, like, their movies, and EMI would have to confer with their lawyers and shit. And it's like, come on. They're out of touch — all the old barriers, the old guard trying to protect everything, that's all done.

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