Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Paul Sprangers and Scottie Wells, along with the other members of their former should-have-been-huge Minneapolis-based band Hockey Night, in the year of that band's demise, made a four-song EP that they sold at their last remaining shows. It was a greatly enhanced version of the band and the direction that the ace guitarist Wells - an aficionado of BIG, HUGE, MIND-SPLITTING guitar riffs and solos out of the Thin Lizzy and T. Rex playbook - and Sprangers, a loosey-goosey frontman who was an engaging and terrifically free-willed, beat poet of a lyricist and singer - sounding as if he lived on a buzz, smiled with the energy of a gentleman allowed to be shaggy and completely carefree for as long as he should live, were alive with.
It was a twist and it was something new that they were going with. It was a better way to get their juices flowing and immediately, those new songs were the focal points of their energetic and loud as fuck live shows, giving everyone the greatest, delightfully woozy dosage of swooning rock and roll, Rock And Roll…ROCK AND ROLL. It came out as pure sunshine, pure get-up-in-the-mornings-happy-and-recharged-ready-to-get-back-out-there-and-do-more-of-that-supreme-LIVING. The two lingered in Minnesota for a while, just buying time, before moving to Philadelphia - with no real motive or reason other than the city's cheap rents and a proximity to New York City - and forming a new outfit, Free Energy. It's a group that carries on with those big and meaty jams that they'd been working on over the last few months of Hockey Night.
Some of those songs remain in the Free Energy setlist - renamed and tinkered with, made into spanning and booming songs of the attitude that every night is a party night and there's way more to life than bitching and moaning and being all melancholic all of the time. It's music that could single-handedly pull us from the grips of a minor depression.
There is no possible way of not subsuming the parts that Sprangers and Wells bring into these new songs, feeling that they contain parts of everything that they're about and everything they will ever be about. It's not a jib or a jab, but an exclamation that they have narrowed down what turns them on and they've found that the list begins and ends with roaring, classic guitar licks that howl through walls and automatically make people air guitar and feel as if they were much, much younger than they actually are. The list continues with the kind of positive, reach for the goddamn stars - ALWAYS - and never let a shitty day get in the way of an impossibly fantastic night. The idea is that one should use the night to drown out anything and everything that caused any kind of dissatisfaction with the other hours that had to be survived. Free Energy is perfect. It really is. It is a band that does these kinds of band things for the reasons that they're supposed to be done - for a chance to lean away from and escape from the dreariness of everything else. It's KISS as an indie rock band and one that aspires to send you home soaked in your own secretions. Sprangers sings about an endless sound and the city lights that suggest that all of the fun stuff could be done tonight. It's not any serious endeavor and Sprangers is usually joking - wearing mesh tee-shirts that barely fall past his nipples on some days, gigantic old school Nike high-tops and jeans that must make his legs purple - as can be heard here when he sings, "I think I can see the Great Wall. I think I can see the pyramids," during a bridge on "Something in Common." But he's not kidding later when he sings, "You said there's nothing to wait for, there's nothing to know/We're never waking up if we never let go." It could very well be what this band means by everything it does.
*Essay originally published December, 2009
Free Energy Official Site