Free Energy, Deap Vally
2639 Poplar St
Philadelphia, PA, 19130
This event is 21 and over
Watch & Listen
There are certain bands that demand to be listened in a certain way: Pink Floyd might require a bong & lazer light show; Led Zeppelin benefits from giant, wood-paneled speakers, and FREE ENERGY—a band responsible for having crafted some of the finest guitar-filled power pop this side of Weezer or Cheap Trick—should be played on a cassette deck in a Camaro screaming down the highway; stereo cranked, feather roach clip dangling from the rearview.
"Being from the Midwest definitely informed our aesthetic," says Free Energy vocalist Paul Sprangers. "Growing up in a small town with radio and MTV—then later discovering indie rock and punk rock—really shaped the kind of music we make now. So, I had the same kind of unabashed love for Phil Collins as I did for Pavement—I don't think I ever grew out of that. It probably shows."
The story of FREE ENERGY, however, doesn't begin in the backseat of a muscle car, rather St. Paul, Minnesota, where Sprangers and guitarist Scott Wells—both members of the late, great Hockey Night—were signed to NYC powerhouse DFA records based on their homemade demos. After signing and spending a year writing and demoing they moved to NYC to record with James Murphy. As the record neared completion, Sprangers and Wells moved to Philly, brought in their Minnesota friends to fill out the band, and toured relentlessly behind the release of 2010's Stuck on Nothing.
While it might have seemed an odd fit for a power-riffing pop rock act to put out a record on a West Village disco label, the euphoric vibe of Free Energy—embodied in tracks like "Free Energy" and "Bang Pop"—was actually a perfect compliment to the roster of artistically different but equally accomplished bands, such as Black Dice, Yacht, The Rapture, and LCD Soundsystem. The record spawned nearly two years of solid touring and a pile of accolades, including a Best New Music nod from Pitchfork and Rolling Stone's assessment that the band "totally fucking rules."
At a time when a lot of indie rock is mired in gloom or coated with layers of reverb, FREE ENERGY is interested in sounding like Thin Lizzy or Fleetwood Mac: old-school juggernauts that made clear, well-crafted hook-laden singalongs; songs about love, truth, and the journey within. It's a time-tested formula, but clearly one that can still sound fresh in the right hands.
"For some reason, DFA was the only label that really understood us," says Sprangers, "They got what we were trying to do, and could hear potential in our demos. We learned so much from their philosophy, and continue to apply it to this day—it was a true education. So, after having done a record with James and DFA—which was a dream come true—it felt like a good time to push ourselves further, which turned out to be making and releasing a record ourselves."
As the band began work on album number two they flirted with a couple different producers. They cut an unreleased track with Jeff Glixman (the producer responsible for Kansas' classic rock staple, "Dust in the Wind") before doing a trial run with John Agnello. Agnello's work with the likes of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and The Hold Steady made him a good fit for the band, but it was his formative work in the 80's with the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Hooters, and Bruce Springsteen that sealed the deal.
"He really produced," says Wells. "He came to band practices in Philly. He helped us shape the songs and get the sounds that we needed. He helped us get more clean, digital drum sounds like The Outfield used, which was a priority for us. We wanted to make the biggest, brightest rock songs we could. "
The resulting album is Love Sign, to be released on the band's new imprint "Free Energy Records" in January of 2013. Much like it's predecessor, the new record flirts with hysteria-inducing pop songwriting and classic rock production. Tracks like "Electric Fever," "Hey Tonight" and "Girls Want Rock" demonstrate the band doing what they love—condensing handclaps, harmonies, fist-pumping choruses, and lazer guided guitar leads in such a way that the songs always feel vaguely familiar. These are songs that demand to be blasted in a car as one sings along at the top of one's lungs. These are songs crafted by young men who clearly have an understanding of pop music's DNA; the way a good melody can be more catchy than the common cold. Given their go-for-broke vibe, It makes sense that the band keeps a framed photo of Van Halen in their practice space.
Ultimately, Free Energy occupy their own interesting niche. Are they an indie rock band? A classic rock band? A power pop band? Even the band isn't sure ("I wish someone would tell us what we are," says Sprangers, "because we've been described as everything!"), but in the end it doesn't matter. The tracks on Love Sign flirt with the great themes of lasting rock music—the search for truth, falling in and out of love, and the quest for happiness—without ever sounding like retreads of a bygone era. Love Sign proves that there will always be ways to reconfigure the rock and roll archetypes into something fresh and —for lack of a better word—rocking.
"When I think of great songs by Peter Gabriel, or Tom Petty, I hear the them almost like hymns. They speak to something greater than ourselves. Even the simplest rock music—songs about partying and girls—can be transcendental," says Sprangers. "I hope people can relate to what we do on some level. I hope kids like it. I hope moms like it. I don't care about being cool, I just want to connect. I want people to know that no matter what, life is good, and every experience is meaningful. Maybe that's weird. But we definitely feel like weirdos and we always have…maybe we always will, which is totally fine."
“I think people could look at us and make one assumption, and then when they see us play, that assumption will be shattered,” says Julie Edwards, Deap Vally’s drummer. “And that’s the beauty of it.”
Indeed there are plenty of assumptions to make about a female duo who on the surface of things are all wild hair, short shorts and lip-curling attitude. But this would not prepare for the sheer hurtling power of their music; the kind of inextinguishable ferocity that cannot be faked or fluked or phoneyed, that can only be hauled up from the guts.
Edwards met her bandmate and co-conspirator Lindsey Troy in the unlikely environs of a crochet class in Los Angeles’s Atwater Village. Edwards was teaching; Troy her new student. “Lindsey learned crochet really fast,” Edwards recalls, “she had good eye-hand co-ordination which was a good sign. But while we crocheted we bonded, and talked about our struggles as artists – how frustrated we were.”
At the time, Edwards was in another duo, the Pity Party, while Troy was performing solo, each somehow orbiting one another as they played different circuits in LA. Both felt unsatisfied — Troy quietly plotting her solo world domination, while Edwards, feeling burnt-out, was contemplating a return to college to study psychology. But following that first fateful meeting their plans began to shift.
We kind of stalked each other online after that a little bit,” is how Edwards explains it. “I was really impressed by her,” adds Troy. “I thought she was really cool. You know, like Cool with a capital C.”
The idea of jamming together seemed a natural one, and at that first session Edwards brought in a bassist friend to make up a three-piece all-female band they jokingly named God’s Cuntry. But with the bassist away on tour thereafter it was just Edwards and Troy — a guitar and a drumkit and two wild voices.
“I knew before we even went in to that first jam it would be special,” says Troy. “I could feel it. And I was happy being a two-piece. A big part of Deap Vally is that there are limitations, and we enjoy those limitations, but at the same time within those confines having no limitations. We like to push boundaries.”
It is when they play that they say they feel freest — ignited by the roar and the pure physicality of it. “I have always wanted to make heavy music,” says Edwards. They speak of their soul and gospel and punk influences, of R’n’B vocal melodies and Blues riffs meeting “powerful dark dissonant Sabbath-esque chord progressions and the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll.” They talk of the “heavy” sensation of fingers stumbling on a new riff, arms beating drum-skins. “It’s just a great release,” says Edwards. “It’s very freeing.”
They first played live in the spring of 2011, first at the Silverlake Lounge and then at the Hotel Café, where Marilyn Manson pushed his way to the front row and heckled them as they took to the stage. After the show the first thing he said to them was, “Can I be your groupie?”
That so many eyes and so much attention lingers on their bodies and their attire does not ruffle them. "Sex is a big part of the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll," says Troy. Look at all the great rockers, the power they had over the crowd. Sexuality is power, and we don’t want to be a neutered band; we like embracing our sexuality. It’s a part of our music, and being women is a big part of it, our lyrics are very much from our experience. We’re very much women.”
Certainly many of the songs on this record are from a powerfully female perspective — from dealing with sleazy men in Creep Life to the glorious two-fingered defiance of Gonna Make My Own Money. “That song is kind of literal,” admits Troy. “My Dad was always saying ‘You’re gonna have to marry a rich man!’” Edwards nods. “And my Dad would be like ’When are you going to meet a nice dentist?’” It is a song, Troy explains, that is about “people underestimating your ability to do things as women and feeling like ‘fuck you I’m going to do this and prove you all wrong!’ It’s that spirit of independence and achievement.”
But there are gentler songs here too, songs about relationship dynamics and heartbreak, as well as a number called Procreate, which was, Edwards elaborates, “an idea Lindsey had, about wanting a guy so much that you want to have their baby. That weird lust that exists, and which I totally relate to, but a lot of people don’t write about, because maybe writing about babies is kind of weird. A man wouldn’t write that song, and if they did it would be a little bit different. It would be more like ‘I wanna knock you up so you stay home and you’re mine forever.’”
They were drawn to each other, they say, by a mutual unapologeticness, by the fact that they are both, by their own definition, socially aggressive women. “I was always very drawn to female performers who were very loud and outspoken and flamboyant,” says Troy. “And I feel like with Deap Vally we are unstoppable – we are so driven, full throttle, it’s undeniable. We really believe in what we represent as a band. And what we represent I feel is like post-post-post feminism.”
By their nature, they say, what they do is political — “In that we’re women,” Troy says, “and we play this type of heavy rock music, not afraid to let it all hang out,” she says proudly. Edwards adds, “So many women masculinise themselves and play their femininity down, and something Lindsey and I felt is that we have never wanted to do that. I’ve been playing drums in tiny shorts for as long as I’ve been playing drums.”
Certainly, short shorts and their breed of visceral, heart-churning rock ‘n’ roll is quite an arresting combination. “I don’t know what image of femininity we’re trying to fulfill,” Edwards says, “and maybe we’re creating a new one: we’re badass but we’re not mean-spirited and angry. We just really, really love heavy music.”
“We believe,” says Troy, “in bringing truly live music back.” Edwards nods. “And we believe in the rock ‘n’ roll revolution, bringing guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll back to the mainstream. We love Led Zeppelin —they’re our heroes. Because that’s a band that played stadiums, didn’t have a safety net of a pre-recorded back-up tape, they didn’t record to a click, and they were really, really sexy and really commanding. And why can’t that happen again? “
Deap Vally’s Debut Album will be released in 2013.
Prowler is a dance-heavy, gigantic big beat, scowling guitar jam and heat band from Philadelphia.
$12.00 - $15.00
North Star Bar
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