Hockey Night began in 1998 when New York University student Paul Sprangers, who grew up in Red Wing and played in the Renegades, began experimenting with broken pop, hip-hop beats, and slow jams in his dorm room. On the "Blue" EP and first album Rad Zapping, Sprangers's songs explored the arcades, roller-skating rinks, and mid-'90s indie dive bars of near-past nostalgia, making music beyond pastiche and on to a shambolic new sincerity. After the album, he put together a touring band and started slogging, turning the two-guitar, two-drummer group into a hardworking and seriously silly indie-rock band. Poised for greatness with Keep Guessin', their first album on Lookout!, Hockey Night's Sprangers chats with his old dorm buddy and occasional jam partner, a.k.a. me.
City Pages: Hey, Paul, remember how I used to love Billy Corgan and you loved Pavement? Discuss.
Paul Sprangers: Umm...they're both kinda washed up. We've been getting a lot of questions about [how much Paul sounds like Steve Malkmus]. It's just one of our many influences and at this point I don't listen to Pavement, and don't really care about them.
CP: What about Thin Lizzy? You guys have guitar-monies!
Sprangers: When Scott said, "Hey, Thin Lizzy is actually good," I didn't believe him because I only knew that one song, but then I listened and heard these super two-guitar melodic soloing things going on, a rock band using the guitar in creative ways. For us, with this record, the guitar is in the lead. There's a lot of intent in the playing--it's not a brain-dead dude just waiting for the chorus to come in.
CP: How much of Keep Guessin' was a response to complaints that Rad Zapping was too scattered?
Sprangers: That was mostly me...it was--I don't know--immature. Not a singular vision. Fragmented. I was really excited but not concentrating. Now it's more a collaboration with Scott Wells, the other guitarist. He's really creative and has always inspired me to play.
CP: You seem to really go for the fantasy art. Are you guys prog?
Sprangers: Yeah! No. My lyrics definitely aren't, "Baby, baby, you left me." I want to say something meaningful but not nihilistic. I think that's where Pavement failed. The words were cool but ultimately empty. Our songs are goofy sometimes, but honest, and getting more populist and spiritual. Like Stereolab, on Emperor Tomato Ketchup, there's the lyrics, "What's society built on?" It's innocent, but sounds like war chants, sung in this cold way. That's a rare vision in pop music, to take a risk and talk about society. I think we should be a hippie peace band.
CP: I'm sorry, did you say "should," or "shouldn't"?
Sprangers: Should. Like Phish, but good. I guess it's because I'm growing old and I spend a lot of time doing this, and I'm definitely not doing it for any kind of money. Rad Zapping was this crazy sci-fi thing, like a movie, and I wanted to be more serious. All I do is read spiritual stuff and Noam Chomsky. Still, I don't want to be Sting and end up trying to save the whales.
CP: Does the opening guitar line of "For Guys' Eyes Only" reference "When Doves Cry"?
Sprangers: The tone of the guitar is similar, but unfortunately, no. When I was little I thought Prince was from somewhere else, somewhere really far away. It seemed impossible that he'd be from Minnesota. Growing up in Red Wing was great, though, because we weren't around pop culture or cool people. We could just mess around and do things with our instruments, with our songs, and not know they were wrong.
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