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Free Energy: Red Wing rock musicians to appear on Letterman Show

"Stuck on Nothing" is Free Energy's debut album.

Friends at Red Wing High School knew them first as The Renegades. Minnesota fans discovered their music as Hockey Night.

But the band's evolution as Free Energy is about to capture a much bigger crowd -- on the David Letterman Show on March 17.

Red Wing musicians Scott Wells, Paul Sprangers and Evan Wells admit they're "really excited about it."

But, Scott Wells said, they're equally ramped up about some of the other good things happening to the rock 'n' roll band.

Like the digital release of their debut album, "Stuck on Nothing."

And their prime bookings at the SXSW (South by Southwest) Festival next weekend in Austin, Texas.

They've come a long, long way.

Wells (RWHS class of 1996) and Sprangers (class of 1998) began playing together in high school. "We just started goofing around and writing songs" when they got guitars. Alex Achen joined them as the Renegades. Wells also recalls playing as Legend of Boggy Creek.

The music was "rambunctious, energetic, more attitude than musicianship," Wells said.

Even then, they wrote their own music.

"We were never good enough to play anybody else's songs," he said. "Just our own."

After high school, they went off to different colleges but played during breaks and summer vacation. When Sprangers settled in St. Paul, "we started to get more serious" and formed the indie combo Hockey Night, which toured nationally and in England.

That group broke up about three years ago, but Sprangers and Wells continued writing songs and making music. They moved East and settled in Philadelphia, where they spent the next three years evolving once again.

At first both sang, but gradually they began to specialize. Sprangers is now lead singer; Wells is lead guitarist, and his younger brother Evan (class of 2000) plays bass guitar. Also in the band are Nick Shuminsky on drums and Geoff Buckum on rhythm guitar.

Their music caught the ear of DFA Records, a major studio, and the band is on the move.

"We recorded the whole record" before deciding on a name, Wells said. "It was there all along" -- a song which Sprangers titled "Free Energy" because that's what it sounded like to him.

Right now, Free Energy one of the hot new bands on the East Coast, with great reviews and writeups, music blog plugs and an expanding audience for their facebook and myspace pages.

Rolling Stone called their album "a road-trip-appropriate blast of T. Rex glam complete with hand claps. fuzzed-out riffs and loads of 'na-na-nas'."

The band's music is "'70s inspired," according to their publicist. "Free Energy marks a leap forward" from Hockey Night, she wrote, describing the new album, "Stuck on Nothing."

"The driving pulse of Free Energy's 'Bang Pop' could jump start a stalled semi-truck, and 'Bad Stuff' juxtaposes vapor trail guitars with nimble riffs that rival Thin Lizzy. Snippets of glam, power pop, bubblegum and arena rock all filter into the mix."

Vocals are audible and upfront, according to Sprangers, who explained the process like this: "With Free Energy, the first thing we do is make sure the drums sound awesome. Then we build on top of that, so everything is solid, well thought out, and distilled to its essence. ...

"There's a lot of optimism and positivity in the music, lyrics and imagery," he added.

The band's music definitely evokes earlier eras, evolving as it did from the punk of Hockey Night to a contemporary sound that also reflects their early years.

Favorites of the band include the Steve Miller Band, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and Cheap Trick, Wells explained.

"Ultimately, that's what we're trying to compete with: The songs you might hear any minute on a corporate classic rock radio station,"he said in a press release.

Does that make their current sound the final evolution?

"I doubt it," Wells told the R-E. "You're always changing. I think you have to."

And right now the band members are happy just making music and finding new audiences.

Appearing on Letterman and recording for a major studio are beyond anything he expected when he picked up a guitar as a high school kid, Wells said.

But at the same time, success doesn't really surprise him.

"You have to believe in yourself," he explained.

And five years from now?

"I'm going to play music no matter what," Wells said. "Whatever naturally occurs will be good."