Opinion-dividing DFA rockers Free Energy will release their James Murphy-produced debut album, Stuck On Nothing, on February 23.
Stuck On Nothing was produced in New York by the LCD Soundsystem mainman, who reportedly relished the opportunity to work with guitars again. It follows last year’s ‘Free Energy’ single, which was adored by one faction of the FACT office, and pretty much reviled by the other.
With a sound quite at odds with the rest of the DFA roster – there’s pretty much nothing in the way of a disco or post-punk influence going on – Free Energy are openly indebted to hoary old power-pop-rockers like Tom Petty and Cheap Trick. We’re talking, breezy, optimistic AM radio fare – but done right. The band was formed out of the ashes of Minneapolis indie-rock institution Hockey Night by Scott Wells and Paul Sprangers, and is currently based in Philadelphia.
“After [Hockey Night] ended,” Sprangers told Pitchfork last year, “We just kept going with songs we were working on, both with Hockey Night and stuff we’d been working on and demo-ing ourselves. We just kept working on stuff like we always had. Eventually, James [Murphy] had time to work with us, and we made the record, still without a name [for the band] or anything. Now we have a band, and we figured out our name as a band just this winter. The band came together last fall. It’s been kind of a long, weird stepping-stone process.
“DFA could see what we were trying to go for in the demos we sent them. They didn’t want a rickety indie band. We’re trying to do right by our heroes, the bands that are referenced or that we are inspired by.
Asked which heroes in particular, Wells expanded: “Just pretty much what they play on any corporate classic rock station every single day. We’re trying to put ourselves against that and judge whether or not we’re doing a good job. That’s where we fit, at least in our minds. I’m sure that’s not true to other people. We feel like we’re doing stuff, in a way, like what was going on during punk but was still pop, like the post-glam 70s stuff. Tom Petty, in the face of punk, was adopting new wave, at least in appearances, but was still kind of doing pop-rock. I guess for us it’s coming out in the opposite direction, starting with punk and then embracing more blues-based rock and roll. Rather than applying punk to classic rock, it’s the opposite.
“[DFA Records] have a pretty devoted fan base for their disco-y stuff,” said Sprangers when asked about DFA’s seemingly unusual decision to sign Free Energy. “It might be weird, but they have aspirations to be a label that just puts out music they like, like Island or Virgin in the 70s. I think they were sad to lose Black Dice because that filled kind of a certain niche in there, outside of the dance stuff. They’ve been putting out some stuff that I don’t know if anybody really paid attention to. They put out Prinzhorn Dance School, which is post=punk. And they totally hear what we’re doing.
What about working with James Murphy?
“It was really fun. It was nice to be able to trust him to get everything locked down, to trust that the drums were going to sound great. We would just work on the bass until it was locked in. He was really inspiring and goofy, and he would just keep pushing if we were ever a little self-conscious about something being too goofy or poppy or whatever. It was nice to have a person who would step in and make uscomfortable. He helped us clean up. We tend to overdo stuff, like over-harmonize, add too many guitar harmonies or too many vocal harmonies and just kind of dilute stuff, make it to difficult to listen to. So he was good for being like, ‘Pick a melody, pick a line, and do it right. That’ll be it. If need be, we’ll come back to it later.’ That was nice, that discipline.”
1. Free Energy
2. Dream City
3. Bang Pop
4. All I Know
5. Bad Stuff
6. Dark Trance
7. Psychic Lightning
8. Light Love
9. Hope Child
10. Wild Wind