Free Energy are playing several shows each day during this year’s SXSW festival, hot on the heels of the recent news that they’ve been hard at work on a new record. It’s the first time the band has really performed since hunkering down to work on their sophomore full-length Love Sign, and it’s the first chance anyone’s had to hear the new songs live.
At a free outdoor show off E. 6th St. this afternoon the band sounded as tight and hooky as ever. New single “Electric Fever” translated well to the stage, as did new tracks like “Girls Wanna Rock,” “One More Time,” and a slower heartbreak ballad that found lead singer Paul Sprangers channeling Mick Jagger with his scoffing yet sweet and melodic delivery. After their set, I caught up with all five current members of the group (Sprangers, guitarists Scott Wells and Sheridan Fox, bassist Evan Wells, and drummer Nick Shuminsky) for a chat about the new record and their favorite ironic t-shirts they’ve seen so far at SXSW.
How many shows are you playing during SXSW?
Paul Sprangers: Seven total.
You have a new single out now, “Electric Fever.” What else can you tell me about the new record?
Sheridan Fox: It’s done! It’s ready.
Do you have a release date?
Paul: We’re hoping September, but that’s just between us and your listeners.
It’s called Love Sign — what does that name mean?
Paul: It’s like when there’s a halo around someone’s face and it’s pulsating colors.
Sheridan: It’s kind of like that glow that pregnant women have.
And I know that you worked with a new producer this time around [John Agnello]. How did you connect with him?
Paul: His kids go to school with our manager’s kids, they both live in Jersey City. But we’re big fans of John’s work, especially his early work on like Cyndi Lauper and the Outfield and Hooters, pretty big ‘80s pop records. So we were psyched to work with him. He did an amazing job.
Is the album coming out on DFA?
Scott Wells: We don’t know, it’s up in the air. We’re kind of talking to a lot of labels, so we’ll see.
What is your biggest goal this year at SXSW?
Scott: Just to play shows and be in public again, I guess. We haven’t really been touring much, so it’s a good way to get back into the swing of things.
Nick Shuminsky: Yeah, just play a lot of the new songs, and we love Austin. Try to keep it weird, too.
Paul: I personally just come down and try to check out all the ironic t-shirts. I saw a guy walking around with a Twister t-shirt, the movie Twister, which I really liked a lot. Oh, there’s a guy with a Mickey Mouse vest right now!
Sheridan: That looks like it’s actually not old.
Scott: It’s probably the ‘80s, late ‘80s, when Mickey got a new wave update.
Sheridan: It’s a deluxe reissue vest.
Paul: Now this guy’s walking into traffic like a joker and cars are honking at him. Ok, this is a developing story everybody. One of his bros has a towel over his head, this could get nasty.
So tell me more about this new record, when were the songs written?
Paul: Once we kind of stopped touring for the most part, we holed up in Philly at the practice space, which is a glorified drywall box inside of an empty, cold building. And we demoed a lot, me and Scott make a lot of demos and then we sit with the band and work on them and arrange them and go back and demo more, and it’s kind of a back and forth, just a very gradual process. And then we brought John in for pre-production and started kind of polishing the songs with him, and then we went to record it.
What can people expect from the record?
Scott: I would say there’s a little more world beat, a little more —
Nick: — positive vibes.
Scott: A little more metal ballad.
Sheridan: It’s the Best of Genesis.
Scott: It’s a little bit funkier, there’s more electronics stuff in it — we tried to keep electronics off the last one, for some reason, and this one we kind of let loose a little more. There’s some train whistle, some drum machine. Paul played a lot of [Yamaha] DX7, which is kind of a classic synthesizer from the ‘80s.
Paul: Steve Winwood used it, and probably Hornsby used it. But that hasn’t been confirmed, we need a fact checker. There’s a lot of background vocals.
Scott: We should also note that the presets you used were not the same presets that were used by Winwood. Paul’s got more of a novelty preset catalog. Caliope, banjo, it’s more of that kind of vibe.
Paul: Well those are the names of the sounds, but you can’t really tell. They all just kind of sound like synth bleeps and bloops. Which is the same used by Winwood. And Lauper.
Nick: A lot of deep sounds.
I know everyone in the Twin Cities will be excited to hear the new songs live — do you have any Minneapolis shows in the works?
Nick: Well, when’s the Current throwing their next show?
I’ll have to see, do you want to play it? Should we book it right now?
Nick: Yeah, it’s a live booking session. Not sure yet, I’m sure we’ll be back soon though.
Scott: If we get our act together, probably in the spring. May.
Nick: We’re going to go out in the spring after this and play some shows this summer, so hopefully Minnesota is on the map.