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Dick Valentine of Electric Six

Expectations go out the window when Mr. Woman comes to town.

Dick Valentine of Electric Six

Detroit rockers Electric Six don’t take themselves very seriously. After all, a band known for songs called "Gay Bar," "Danger! High Voltage!" and  "I Buy the Drugs" shouldn’t be anything less than fun, and that’s exactly what Electric Six is. Intense, hilarious, riff-rock new wave thrust punk, whatever the hell you call ‘em, they rock in a laughing-during-dirty-sex kind of way. 

We called singer Dick Valentine to discuss the new Electric Six record, what drugs work best with their music and more…

Word around town is that you’re recording a new album. How’s it coming along?

Really good… we definitely wanted to wanted to answer Switzerland and make a ridiculous record, and I think we’re doing that.

By ridiculous you mean…

Just over the top… it’s really cool, it’s more experimental than any of the other records we’ve done. In some cases we’re definitely getting away from the whole verse chorus verse chorus bridge kind of pattern, and just doing part a followed by part b followed by a small part f and then going back into part a and maybe visiting part z and…. I don’t think any of the songs sound like each other at all. I mean, you’ve got 17 completely unique sounds going on so… I don’t know if we’ll use them all, we might have some b-sides left over, but right now we’ve got seventeen tracks recorded.

Any you’re particularly excited about?

Yeah, there are,… we haven’t really mixed ‘em yet, so we’ll see how it all sounds but we’ve got a couple where we said okay, if and when we make a video, that will be the song for sure.

When Switzerland came out you said you wanted to make a video for every song on the album. You’ve still got a ways to go on that…

You’re telling me bro… it’s slowing down nicely. We’re waiting on two that we shot to be delivered, and then the other ones we’ve kind of had some people where it was “yeah man, I’ll definitely do that video” and then never hear back from them,.

So yeah. We don’t really have video capabilities ourselves otherwise we’d do it ourselves, but none of us owns a camera so we’ll have to see about that.

What else can  you tell us about the new songs?

There’s one song that doesn’t fit on the album at all, cause it’ll be like our "Wonderwall".  It’s real poppy …almost a beautiful song, and it’s followed by complete noise and trash. There’s seventeen songs and the working title for the record right now is Something For Everybody cause that’s literally what it is. I mean there’s like a Beefheart-esque song, there’s a song that kinda sounds like "I’m the Bomb," there’s the "Wonderwall" song… there’s just a complete ripper of a song… just a full on guitar assault. And you know, you get these things that just come out of nowhere. We’ve got this cabaret song on there so…yeah.There’s a lot going on. And I just kind of figured no lyric was too corny this time around. We’re not really over-thinking this one.

Where do your lyrical inspirations come from?

I know what I like. I grew up listening to the Talking Heads, Camper Van Beethoven and Captain Beefheart so to me, lyrics were always very important, and that’s how I approach music. And it’s funny how many musicians don’t. Like people in my band or people that I’ve played with before, they concentrate all on the sound of the guitar, and they’ll hand me like a three second riff and consider that a song, you know… and to me you have to go a bit further than that.

You want to push it further.

Yeah definitely. That’s something I always wanted to concentrate on.

Do you foresee longevity for Electric Six?

The thing with us is that we’ve got the six people in the band now that I think are here to stay. We all want to do this for a while because we’re making a good living doing it and I don’t know if anyone in the band, truth be told, would be doing any better than we’re doing right now in some other field. So I think that bodes really well for us, putting out a lot of records. And when you know that you might be looking at having 7, 8, 9 records when it’s all said and done, you don’t really have to freak over making the perfect record. We just want to make fun songs to play live that people will be into and just kind of keep the snowball going.

I think one of the benefits of being as old as we are, we’re all pretty much in our mid thirties, and we’ve all had shitty jobs and we really realize what a great deal we’ve got and I don’t think any of us ..as long as the window’s there for us, we want to do it as long as we can.

Is there a formula to your songwriting process?

I’ll give you a title of one of the songs that’s on the record, and it was a conscious effort to write another song with the word ‘dance’ in it cause we didn’t do that last time. We’ve got a song called "Dance Pattern," and that was entirely..I was talking to my girlfriend’s dad about all the songs that had the word ‘dance’ in them in our band, and he just said "how about ‘dance pattern’?" And I just thought that was absolutely ridiculous. And so I knew that I had to write a song called "Dance Pattern". And that’s what started that one. The song is absolutely about nothing, the lyrics don’t add up, they don’t mean anything, but at the end of the day you’ve got a song.

Dance Commander sounds like an example of that.

That’s a song about absolutely nothing too.. 80 percent of our songs, maybe even higher than 80 percent… I mean, there are songs that are about something, and the ones that are about something are usually get misconstrued. Like "Boy or Girl" a lot of people said that’s about gender identity and transsexuals or something like that, and it’s actually about a classroom full of kids that are too stoned or too high to fill out what gender they are on their little papers.. that’s kind of what that was about. It’s just.. some of ‘em actually have a story. "Naked Pictures" is a good example of an actual story. But a song like "Gay Bar" means absolutely nothing..

But it’s come to mean so much to so many…

Yeah, my bank account. (laughs)

I hear you also do acoustic shows?

Yeah I’ve been doing that lately.. it’s just something to do, really.. I have some down time off the road, and I just have a fun time doing it. Now that I don’t live in New York, I’m looking to hopefully do one out of LA when the time is right.

What about your solo project, Drunk Billionare?

I’d like to put out a lo-fi record, but Electric Six keeps me really busy, and a lot of times when I’m off the road I think I’m gonna write songs and do other projects and it just doesn’t happen. So that’s just chalked up to laziness, but the good thing is that a lot of these songs are still saved to Garageband on my computer, so sooner or later I’ll put em out.  It’s definitely something I’d love to do.

A journalist once referred to you as a fun-drug band.

(laughs) I could see that.

Any songs in particular come to mind?

Depends on what drug… with this record coming up I could think of a couple. If you’re stoned, there’s a song called “Dirty Looks” that I think is good for the stoners. If you’re on acid there’s a song called “Sexy Trash” which is probably good for them. If you’re on coke, then I’d probably do something off of Fire like "She’s White" or “Dance Commander”.
"Taxi to Nowhere" for the PCP crowd.. loosen your tie, do some angel dust… get on that piano.

Got any advice for a kid trying to write his first song?

It depends. I’ve kinda realized from all the people I’ve met being in this band that I’ve always kind of danced to my own drummer. Like I said, going back to the music versus lyrics thing, in my approach to music I’ve never really cared too much about instrumentation or you know, guitar tones or drum tones or things like that. If you’ve got a voice in your head and you’ve got things that you need to get out, music’s a great way to do it. As long as you can learn a bar chord or some semblance of something on a piano, I mean you can always write a song. Once you learn how to do it it’s one of the easiest things in the world to do. Just write the song and then hopefully you can meet some good people, some good musicians that will make you look better.

How do you prepare for a show?

When we’re on the road we play six shows a week, and I’d be lying to you if I said I got amped up for every show. There are certain nights you really don’t want to be there but you have to do it. It’s not horrible, for sure. Lately we’ve been incurring a lot of meatheads that come to our shows, and if you see a big meathead factor in the audience you’re not particularly jazzed to be there but you do what you can. You know, some nights you’re drunker than others… it just depends. If we’re playing a song that we haven’t played in a long time, like "I Invented the Night," and we’re whipping that out, then I can get excited about something like that, a song that we do once in a blue moon.

Do you do covers?

We’ve done covers. Two tours ago we were always closing with “Stand Back” by Stevie Nicks. So you just kind of wait for that cover to come along. Like with "Radio Ga-Ga," we were kind of forced into put that on the record..

Why?

It’s just a UK thing. When we first started playing the UK, like our very first London show, we were just doing that song, we didn’t have that big of an awareness of how big that song had been in the UK ’cause it wasn’t that big in the US. It was just a song we were doing at the time, and when we did it the crowd went nuts. They did all the handclaps and everything. In the UK everything’s chart driven, they have novelty singles and stuff like that, and there was no way of getting around it so we just put it on that record to shut people up. We kind of learned that we’re not going to fall into that trap again by playing too many covers.

Are you happy with Metropolis Records?

Yeah, we have complete creative control now. The first two records weren’t completely the record that we wanted to make, where with Switzerland, at least for me personally, it was pretty much start to finish what I was trying to do at the time so this is the first  time that we can just turn in a record to a record label and say ‘here it is’ and they just put it out, no questions asked. So it’s been really good.

We’ve learned how to tour and do that effectively so we can make money doing it. We never made money off record sales anyway, regardless of what record label we were on, so as long as someone’s putting it out and continues to, then that’s all we really need.

You’re known for being something of a spaz onstage.

Again, that’s just naturally who I am. There are times when people have said that’s the most intense show they’ve ever seen and I wasn’t even there… I’m a pretty nervous guy so I can’t not move around a lot and look like a…you know. I can be doing an entire set, thinking about what I’m going to eat from room service when I get back to the hotel, and people would be like ‘that was amazing man!’

Are the nerves performance-related?

No, it’s not stage anxiety, it’s life anxiety. I’ve always twitched and had problems forming coherent sentences. I grew up in the Reagan era. I was a child of that era so it’s not like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. I’m just off in general.

You’re set to play some shows overseas. While you’re in London it might be cool to pick up a british accent like Madonna.

We still get our American television shows over there, so that’s all I’m really doing anyway. I don’t really go out and talk to people or let them talk to me (laughs)… so the influence may be lost.

What do you watch?

I’m big into pretty much all the crime dramas. I can’t get enough of ‘em. CSI Miami’s really good.

Any Detroit bands you’re into nowadays?

The Detroit scene has always been really vibrant. There’s a lot of bands in Detroit now like the Hard Lessons and Nice Device. Those are bands that I really like and enjoy seeing. Other than that I don’t really know about newer music until it becomes big, you know? I spent a good 70 percent of the year dealing with Electric Six so I don’t really care about other bands after that.

Do you get to a point of burnout?

We do seven week tours, and by week five or six, you start to see your band members with apples in their mouths and you start salivating and stuff. But after like a week off, you kind of want to get back at it again. It all comes back to having a lifetime of shitty jobs and you realize that what you’re doing is actually pretty cool.

What’s your ideal venue: summertime festivals, clubs, arenas?

Given a choice, I’d rather play festivals. I mean for a band like us, big events are kind of few and far between   and I mean we play small ratty clubs all the time … playing Coachella was amazing. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had. I was wasted. That was about as drunk as I’ve ever been playing a show. With that heat, I just kept crackin those heinekens and 8 or 9 of em later, there I was. Flailing like a maniac.