Sunday, January 2, 2011

INTERVIEW: Free Energy

Before Philadelphia's Citypaper named Free Energy their number one local artist of 2010, WECB had the opportunity to interview members of the band. Woo! Here's what was said: 

Alright, so this is Ben Danger for WECB, I’m here with Paul and Evan from Free Energy. You guys just played a show with Weezer, you’re wrapping up your tour, so, how was it?
P: Last night was the first night we played with Weezer and we got three more. Last night was totally awesome though, like, so many people just there to have a good time. It was basically like a huge party, which I think that’s something we aim for in every show, every tour. Try to get people out dancing and havin’ a good time.

So the Weezer crowd was receptive?

P: Yeah, I think so. It was a little difficult because of where we were playing. It’s a seated venue so we try to encourage people to get out of their seats and stand up at least. I think by the end we were successful but at first, you know, being the opening act is hard.

So you think you guys have developed like a  game plan for tonight’s show then, now that you’ve played one show at The Orpheum?

E: Yeah I think we’re gonna try to get them standing sooner. I think we know what to do.

So also, I hear you guys are announcing your “Final Debut Album Tour”. I love the name.

E: It’s pretty epic.

So does that mean you guys are recording something other than your debut album sometime in the near future?

P:  Uh, we might just do another debut album.

That would be an interesting way to go about doing things. Get rid of the sophomore slump I guess.

P: Yeah, yeah.

So the album’s been out for like 8 months now, right? So what’s life been like since the album came out?

E: It’s been pretty sweet so far. We’ve just been on the road the entire time. It’s not a bad way to live.

P: Umm, yeah. I guess nothing’s really changed. Except, well a lot has changed for the band, like, the band has grown and become better and more comfortable and we’ve just been like learning from all the bands we tour with and like picking up little things and trying things and experimenting. So umm, like musically and….I don’t wanna sound like a douchebag but, artistically, a lot’s changed. Our lives, like, haven’t really day to day but a lot of good things have happened for the band.

According to your website you guys built your tracks from the ground up starting with drum tracks and working with James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem). So, I was interested in what the production was like for the album, what working with James Murphy was like, whether you would rather be recording in the studio or playing live?

P: Ummm, they’re kind of two separate things we like both, umm, equally. Umm….yeah. Yeah, James helped us flesh out the songs, like, we made demos of all the songs, then he helped kind of like translate those. They were kind of like blueprints. But then when it came to learning the songs as a band, you know, we were pretty sensitive to making sure that the songs feel right, when they’re played by the live band so if that means changing things or, like, you know, kind of tinkering with the songs to make them better live, then we do that. We don’t just like stick to the exact songs. I mean we try to like learn them, like, as straight as possible but then you listen kind of to the band and see how things feel and adjust, ‘cause that makes for a better show and people can feel when a band’s like on key, rather than just trying to hammer out exactly what you know.

E: Yeah, whether it’s on the record or live I think the important word you keep bringing up is feel. Like, you gotta get that right. You know, you can get it down on the demo and then record it that way, awesome, but, you know, in a live setting you gotta keep trying to get that feeling down and ultimately the audience can pick up on that too.

So I was listening to “Bad Stuff” earlier, just to like, get back into a Free Energy mindset to talk to you guys and there’s obviously a strong Thin Lizzy influence on the song in like the vocals the mixing of like where the vocals are and where the guitar is even, so I guess I wanted to talk about influences a little bit. You guys seem pretty, even according to your website, very 70s arena rock influenced, among other things, lots of Cars and obviously the Thin Lizzy stuff. So where do you put that into your music as compared to whatever else you listen to?

E: I  think those comparisons aren’t necessarily written by us. So I think it’s cool to have people recognize all these other bands in what we sound like. In terms of our influences though, we, I think pull from just about everywhere. We all listen to really, uhh, different things and bring a little something to the table, from that. But for sure, you know, like 70s and 80s rock and roll is a huge part of, like, what we listen to and what we try and make in our own music.

P: Yeah it’s kind of like, the 70s and 80s stuff is kind of, I’d say, like, the final, I don’t know, framing device, or kind of like the, the polish or the production is like, that’s where we kind of look to those thibngs but the things that actually inspire the music and the songs and the imagery come from a lot of different places, like books and, yeah, like Evan said, we all listen to, like, a vast range of music and that isn’t necessarily as identifiable as like that easily identifiable stuff like the 80s stuff or 70s.

Yeah, I guess every song has a range of influences. It would be unfair to just say “this is a Thin Lizzy song”

P: No that’s cool. I mean I just tell people its rock and roll. That’s what I tell my mom, you know.

So I was reading that Rolling Stone called you one of the best bands of 2010, which, obviously has to be a pretty big compliment, and then you guys played on Letterman, and had a SPIN write up. So have you been getting more media attention and what’s that been like for you guys?

E: It’s been fine. It doesn’t like, inflate our egos or anything, it’s just really cool to be mentioned or recognized for doing what we do. I don’t know, that attention kind of comes and goes in waves, like it’s definitely disappeared for a little while and then, you know, come back again. So, it doesn’t change anything we do. But, yeah, it’s definitely awesome.

P: Yeah, totally. It’s always kind of like a novelty to see things like that and Rolling Stone, we’re just kind of like, it’s kind of ridiculous ‘cause, I don’t know. Yeah.

E: The thing that, like, blows me away though is when other bands talk to us about how much they like our music. I think that’s something that really, really means something to us. Like our friend Patrick Stickles from Titus Andronicus just like wrote this, like, essay on us, in SPIN or something. It was just this description of why he liked us so much, and that….

P: That’s like the best thing that happened to us all year probably, is to have like a friend and peer, like, write about what you make. It’s pretty incredible.

That’s pretty awesome. So, moving on. You guys are originally from Minnesota. You comprised Hockey Nights?

P: Yeah, that was Hockey Nights.

So, what prompted the move to Philly and how did you guys get that all together?

P: Umm, well Scott and I were finishing the record in New York, and Jeff lived in Philly, and we would visit him so, umm, we kinda just like chanced it. We had visited a few times and it was cool. You know, Hockey Night had played Philly a bunch of times and it always sucked. So we were very hesitant cause we played Downtown and Old City, and in this bar that sucks. But anyway it turns out its amazing. Philly’s rad. So then we uhh, we rented a house to practice in and then Evan moved out from San Francisco and we just started kind of learning songs, and he’d never played bass before. I mean, he just picked up bass. It’s incredible.

That’s great, did you play something before bass?

E: Just guitar. On my own. So there was definitely a pretty serious education that I had to go through. Lots of like, watching like VHS tapes and like, you know, rock bands. I, uh, you know I knew all the stuff but it’s like, totally different to like play so many songs that were already written and it was tough.

P: Yeah, it’s tough. You had a lot, ha ha ha.

E: Alright, so like, two years ago, like today, you know, we would have been down in a basement. This freezing basement in Philly, just like running through these songs and, like…

P: Oh god. Yeah…

E: They were tough times but, like, you know, it’s totally awesome though, in the end.

Yeah, it’s good to hear that you guys made it out of the freezing basement. Now you’re in a freezing van somewhere.

P: Yeah exactly, ha ha ha.

So here’s something I was thinking about when I was coming up with these questions. If there was one thing you wanted people to get out of your music…you know, one single message, feeling, anything…what could that be?

P: Probably umm, life’s a dream. But followed closely by life’s a beach. I don’t know really… yeah, I think it’s supposed to pass on the inspiration that we feel from the music and things that we kind of put into the record.

E: Yeah, I think something you can take from the music is that it’s supposed to be a really positive thing, or our intention, I think, going into playing a live show or making a record is trying to take everything that happens to us and sort of distill it into really like a polished and positive experience for everybody. Like, I don’t know, Paul mentioned life’s a dream and life’s a beach. I think that’s actually really apt and like you just kind of have to go for the things that you want to go for and uhh, and live your life to the fullest. I think that’s hopefully a boiled down version of the lyrics.

P: Yeah, hopefully people realize that its true. I mean, we’re fuckin’… it’s so surreal to be opening for Weezer, you know, and that’s cool, like, ‘cause like we’re making stuff that talks about how you need to just be free, and follow your dreams and stuff, and that it works out. So, it blows my mind.

Hahaha, life advice, courtesy Free Energy.

P:  Hahaha, yeah man! That’s free.

What was your scariest tour experience? There must be at least one, like, heart-stopping moment, or something.

E: Yeah, I don’t know. Tire blowouts? We had one of those that was a little scary.

On a highway?

E: Yeah

P: I would say probably uhh, walking into the bathroom to a pee-drenched floor, that, uhh, haha, a member of our band possibly sleep-peed onto. Yeah, drunkenly.

Haha, I think everybody has at least one bad drunk sleep-peeing experience.

P: haha, drunk sleep-peeing dude. Hell no.

E: He even, went into the shower man.

P: Did he really?

E: Yeah. Shower door was open. Peeing in there.

P: That’s right.

An ugly day in the life of Free Energy.

P: Well, that wasn’t the only time. But…

Uh oh. Chronic sleep-peeing. I guess an issue every band goes through.

P: Actually, yeah. This is something  that people don’t really talk about. It’s kind of the, uh, it’s kind of a hush-hush thing, I think, in the touring/band world, but I think it’s probably out there and we just want to bring some light on it.

E: Yeah, the last band that we were touring with had a sleep-pee-er as well.

P: That’s right
This is a real issue, it seems like. It’s like, an article in Billboard waiting to happen.

P: Or Oprah! Probably O Magazine. Yeah.

She’ll talk about sleep-peeing. She’ll interview the sleep-pee-ers.

P: hahaha, They’ll cry.

Haha, yeah. They’ll bring Dr. Phil out. Turns out they were touched as children…

P: hahaha. In the pee-hole!

Hahaha. So ummm, now that you guys have played The Orpheum, which is a seated venue, which was apparently one of your first times doing something like that, what do you think? Small venues, large venues, do you have a preference, you know, obviously large venues are probably harder to get everyone…interacting?

E: Depends. It’s all based on the audience, I think. Like whether there’s like, you know, thousands of people, or twenty, you know, it’s like what the audience is willing to put into it. Like, if they’re there to have a good time, we’re gonna, you know, give it back to you. Then, uhh, that’s all you need.

P: Yeah, ‘cause, I guess we pretty much played all kinds. We’ve played big, giant festival crowds where people go nuts and where also where they stand still, and we’ve played rooms of like four people and they’re all psyched and it can be just like playing, you know, a huge space, but you can also play small, intimate shows and no one cares, so…it does just depend on the audience and the environment, you know, like some places are just more conducive to, like, feeling more like a party than others.

E: I think sonically though, we like playing the bigger stage with bigger amplifiers and, like, having, like…outdoor shows are the best. I have the most fun doing that.

So, this’ll be my last question, but I noticed that on your myspace page, that you have basically the entire album for streaming, which I thought was interesting, you know. So what’s it like being an up-and-coming band in an age where illegal downloading is hardly even a controversy anymore because its so commonplace, where you have to be able to put all of your music out there all at once and sort of just go by that?

E: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s a different ballgame now, then it was before, and I’m not too sure we had the experience of what it was like before so we’re just playing it by ear kinda. It doesn’t bug me at all. I assume most people are just downloading stuff, like, and I don’t even call it illegal downloading. I think, to some people it probably is, and it matters a lot, but for us, you know, the ones who are creating the music, I think the idea is just to get people to listen to it, and we also need to live off that, but hopefully people who enjoy the music and do want to support us will, and that just comes by selling records, comin’ to live shows, paying for a ticket, whatever.

P: I think also, there’s probably something happening, like, there isn’t just gonna be this weird, umm, like, there aren’t just gonna be bands that just make records, or people who are just in movies, or comedians who just do this. All the lines are blurring, so like, you have…a band can be anything now. Like, we have a bunch of guys who are all really creative and talented and we just like made this like, mini internet tv series, that I think is really good, and like, its more like this little group that can make a bunch of different things, umm, including like, you know, a record, or maybe its all kind of based around a record. For another band, like, maybe its all based around something else. So, uhhh, the days where you just make money off of record sales are absolutely gone, completely, but its really exciting because you can’t just use some kind of formula to hype shit and shove it down peoples throats. Like, the way it was for the past thirty, forty, fifty years. So, its really exciting, and it means that good things have a chance, and people have access to, you know, quality art. So, it’s a really good time. All the anxiety or whatever, or freak-out,  that you read about is all, like, rich people who are part of the same like system of like labels and, like, media and newspaper, they’re all terrified cause its all going down, but its actually a really good time to be making things, and creating, so its great.

So, given that situation then, how do you gauge how far your music’s being spread?

P: It’s really hard. It’s weird. It’s hard for us.

Yeah, there was a point where you could have said “we sold X amount of albums” but now that doesn’t even mean that that many people have heard your song.

E: Yeah, I mean, people still count those numbers, and we hear about them, and I don’t know what to make of that.

Yeah, being in radio, like, half our job is paying attention to those numbers.

P: You know, I think what’s interesting about radio is that, umm, hopefully, what that means is that the big corporations that own big radio stations will start to ease off and realize they can’t make as much money in radio, and then, umm, it’s already happening, and you see the re-emergence of DJs, who like, kind of, you know, umm, curate these stations and play what they want. I think that’s gonna happen again, and people, like, will always listen to radio, the same way they’ll always listen to vinyl. It might not be, like, the way to hear music, but it’ll be like this kind of unique thing, ‘cause, like, hearing music over the airwaves is still pretty awesome. Its pretty rad, so, I think its nothing but positive. In all these industries, like, you can’t make as much money, so people won’t use it to try and sell shit, you know? Like, it’ll be more open to people who are creative. So, there’ll be, like, some genius, who figures out how to make radio cool again, you know?

This guy!

P:  Haha, there you go man, absolutely! It’s just like, wide open dude, you know, like, its really exciting, and anybody can do whatever they want.

Tumultuous times for the radio industry.

P: It is. Definitely. And its good. Its good they’re freaked out. Now they can’t play shitty music like a million times a day.

So I guess that brings us down to the end of out question list here. It’s been interesting. It’s been enlightening. It’s been funny. We’ve had discussions of sleep-peeing.

P: Wow. We’ve really been through a lot in this interview, nice.

I certainly enjoyed it. So, thanks for stopping by.

E: Yeah, it’s been great to experience this with you.

Yeah, I’ve had a great time. Thanks. 

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