Free Energy to play in Noise Pop Festival

Lead singer Paul Sprangers talks about new album and upcoming show

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San Francisco’s Noise Pop Festival is coming to the Bay, and this Thursday, Free Energy brings their brand of anthemic pop rock to the Brick and Mortar Music Hall, where they will strengthen their already tight connection with Bay Area music fans.

“We actually love the Bay Area,” said Paul Sprangers, lead singer of Free Energy. “We’ve had some really good shows out there. Obviously there’s a long, rich musical tradition, so maybe that’s just in the air.”

San Francisco is a far cry from the band’s roots. Free Energy originated in Red Wing, Minn., where classic rock was the order of the day. “Classic rock is kind of ubiquitous in the Midwest,” recalled Sprangers. After diving into records from 1990s indie titans like Pavement and Yo La Tengo, Sprangers and Scott Wells — current lead guitarist for Free Energy and fellow Red Wing native — returned to their binding love for the older stuff.

Love Sign, the band’s sophomore album, takes the listener back in time. It boasts wicked guitar solos, cowbells and sing-along “WOAH-OH!” choruses, best witnessed on lead single “Electric Fever.” It conjures a long-lost, idealized era where the times were simple, the jackets were leather, and the girls just wanted to rock (see Love Sign’s second song, aptly titled “Girls Want Rock”). It’s optimistic, without apology and without irony.

That optimism is partially due to the convivial mood present in the studio while they recorded Love Sign with legendary producer John Agnello. “He’s like Willy Wonka or something,” said Spranger. “He has the enthusiasm of a 15-year-old kid. Despite having an amazing career and having worked on incredible records, he just doesn’t have an ego, you know?” The band drew inspiration from Agnello’s eagerness and self-deprecating sense of humor, which enlivened the recording process. “Dude, it (was) just a nonstop blast.”

Though the sounds of classic rock are clearly represented on Love Sign, it’s the sentiment and honesty of that era that particularly inform the music. “The best pop music often has some kind of deeper spiritual or hopeful context,” said Sprangers. When thinking about Free Energy’s sound, Sprangers pictures cartoons and rebellious teenagers — reflections of youth and determination. “I imagine … this alternate universe where this bombastic, hyper-pop music is playing. But (the music) hopefully has some kind of message — or some kind of sincerity.”

Sprangers wants Free Energy’s music to connect with a diverse audience. “I’ve always kind of hoped that our music could be like a Trojan horse,” he said. “That’s the only way you can get through (to most people) … because most of what they have access to is trash and filler.” Love Sign certainly has that potential to “get through.” It’s big, poppy and, most importantly, catchy. Newcomers to Free Energy will grab onto the hooks, but Sprangers wants more for them than just a new melody playing in their head. “Hopefully, there’s something else there that maybe works deeper.” He isn’t content with just reaching that audience — he wants to inspire them.

Contact David Bradford at [email protected].