Personality clashes, a lack of success, the daily grind or arguments over the musical direction - any one or a combination can cause a band to break up. It's almost always unpleasant but it can occasionally have an upside. When indie band Hockey Night (from Red Wing, MN - of course) broke up vocalist Paul Sprangers and guitarist Scott Wells decided to keep working together. In the process the two left Minnesota and relocated to Philadelphia (close to NYC yet relatively cheap to live).
There they added Geoff Bucknum, Nicholas Shuminsky, and Scott's brother Evan to form Free Energy in the fall of '08. They also ditched their indie leanings and moved toward Classic Rock.
"Our aspirations are to be a big sounding Rock band and do it like some of these great bands before us—ideally, in the vein of Classic-Rock bands that influenced us, that we loved growing up," said Sprangers.
"I guess for us it's... starting with Punk and then embracing more Blues-based Rock and Roll," Wells told Pitchfork magazine. "Rather than applying Punk to Classic Rock, it's the opposite."
While in Hockey Night, Sprangers and Wells made contact with James Murphy, LCD Soundsystem frontman and co-founder of the Dance-oriented DFA Records.
They produced a number of demos but Murphy didn't feel the time was right. Plus LCD Soundsystem was keeping him very busy.
It may sound strange that DFA would even be remotely interested in Free Energy but their involvement was part of a larger strategy. "They have aspirations to be a label that just puts out music they like, like Island or Virgin in the 70s," said Wells.
Finally, Free Energy issued their debut, "Stuck On Nothing." Produced by Murphy and released on DFA, the set earned the group a "best new bands of 2010" accolade from Rolling Stone and high praise from Spin.
DFA was affiliated with EMI, who had high expectations - beyond praise form music journalists. "To be on EMI, you really have to have some kind of a hit, and we just didn't," said Sprangers. Touring with indie bands like Titus Andronicus failed to provide the breakthrough. As a result, EMI dropped the band in '11.
The experience gave the group some exposure that they might otherwise not have received. "I'm just so grateful about how lucky we are to have been on a label where people are like, 'You want to make a music video? That's cool, here's some money," stated Sprangers.
Free Energy's sophomore album, "Love Sign," featuring the single "Electric Fever," was recorded with producer John Agnello and released in '13 on the band's Free Energy imprint.
2010 Stuck On Nothing
2013 Love Sign
2009 Free Energy
In the mid-00's, Australia's Wolfmother and England's The Darkness got a lot of mileage out of reviving Classic Rock. Now that enough time has passed (5-6 years) it makes sense for Free Energy to give it a shot. Why not?
Classic Rock bands produced some great music and sold millions of albums. And fans went back to the well when CDs came along and later downloaded all their favorites. Obviously, it's a popular concept.
So how does Free Energy compare? Well, they are closer to The Darkness than they are to the late-60's/'70's (Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Tom Petty or the Mick Taylor edition of the Rolling Stones). But had Free Energy been around, they wouldn't have had a problem opening for Free or Bad Company (kind of the same thing).
"Stuck On Nothing" doesn't mimic Classic Rock acts as much as employ the same elements - just like The Darkness and Wolfmother. "Free Energy," "Dream City" and "Bang Pop" prove they have the chops. Guess what? They are the first three tracks. Free Energy certainly isn't the first band to front-load an album. The remaining tracks are solid and entertaining but don't have the opening tracks' punch.
Classic Rock appears but doesn't dominate "Love Sign." Free Energy sounds like a band formed in '72 that are trying to navigate the tricky waters of the post-Disco/pre-Wave era and do a good job of it.
"Electric Fever," captures the J. Geils Band's "Centerfold" groove before they kick it out on "Backscratcher." "Girls Want Rock," "Hangin'," and "True Love" (which sounds like a cover of an early Madonna ballad) prove that back in the day, Free Energy could have opened for The Cars.