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Free Energy's Paul Sprangers on Potato Guns, Cowbells, and Prog

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Not long ago, we featured Free Energy's joyfully messy video for "Electric Fever," off their upcoming second album Love Sign (Free Energy records), due January 15th. In the clip, four band members are blasted with water, paint, and a mysterious off-white powder. The song, like many in the Free Energy catalogue, makes liberal use of such classic rock devices as twin guitar solos and cowbell percussion. We recently spoke with singer Paul Sprangers about the video shoot and the band's formal choices.

Where did you shoot the video?
It was awesome. We shot that in Springfield, Missouri, actually. You know that band Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin? They're friends of ours and they live down there and I met this kid who did a bunch of their videos, Brook Linder, and he was psyched about the band and had this idea so we flew down there and did, I think, two videos in four days. We also shot one for "Girls Want Rock," which is another song from our new album. But, yeah. we set up at 8 p.m. and shot until 8 a.m., so we were all pretty delirious. We were all holding the potato gun cannons and shooting each other with stuff, it was pretty wild. It was this weird, old abandoned storefront on the west side of town. Springfield's kind of a weird city, it's kind of sprawling and there are different little main street areas that are kind of dried up. We just set up in there, no one cares.

How did you achieve the explosions?
They were just pressurized, have you ever built a potato gun at all? PVC pipe, and then you have a chamber at the end. Brook's right-hand man rigged them up so you could just use a bike-pump to pressurize the bottom chamber, so it was just air-pressurized, and whatever you put in there got shot out. I think usually you would use like nitrous canisters, but this was actually easier.

How was working with producer John Agnello?
The guy is awesome, he's worked with a lot of amazing bands and he still has more energy than any of us. He's just so excited to make music and he has a really good ear, he can make guitars sound massive. We played him some '80s rock records like INXS and Billy Ocean and told him we wanted him to make the drums more synth-y and he didn't hesitate. For some of the songs we put a drum trigger on the snare and the kick drum so we could use the recorded hits to trigger drum samples on ProTools. It could be a boing or a whistle. We used a bunch of old Roland drum pads that were contemporary of the music you were referencing.

Speaking of drums, how did you guys decide to use the cowbell?
The cowbell was just used because nothing else would have made sense there. There are times when you're like, "oh, the cowbell goes here." It's a no-brainer.

Your songs almost exclusively use major chords. Are you ever going to do a song in a minor key?
I think I'm just kind of endlessly fascinated with big, simple, major keys. That's how I hear the music that comes through my head. I feel like as long as that's still inspiring and we're able to keep finding new waves for ourselves to keep it interesting, then I think we'll keep using it. If we feel like we've exhausted it then we'll move on, but there usually isn't any better way to achieve an anthemic feel or a feeling of epicness than using big simple major chords and simple chord changes.

Are there times when someone brings in a riff and it feels too similar to something you've done before, or something another band's done, and you have to throw it out?
No, honestly, how do I explain it, I think our brains luckily ascertain whether a riff is like good or interesting to us a split-second before, our maybe minutes or hours or years before, we remember that it's from another song or it reminds us of something. We're fortunate in that respect where we don't really care if something sounds like something else as long as it's interesting to us and it has some energy or it's servicing some rare vision for where the song's going then it's okay. That doesn't ever hold us back. But you know, so many songs are the "Sweet Jane" riff or "Louie Louie." And in fact that almost fascinates us more than trying to reinvent the wheel. Using clichés and tropes and re-working them into something new and fresh is a challenging. That's interesting to us. I guess the opposite of thinking you can do something new and you come up with something that sounds like Rush or prog rock, which does not interest us right now.


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