Interview: Electric Six

Dick by name and by nature? Dick Valentine talks to Ally Swadling about being rock n roll and ‘the Gay Bar band’

After introducing myself to Electric Six’s frontman, Dick Valentine, there is a lengthy silence. I giggle nervously. His Detroitian drawl finally reaches my ears.“Oh sorry, I’m uh, getting inundated with all kinds of uh, UK press at the moment.” Sweet, let the crushing discomfort commence.

Dick Valentine, or as his mother calls him, Tyler Spencer (which is actually quite a cool name – like a boxing champion, or the family dog) is charmingly carefree and blunt. Like Dick, the rest of the band brandish equally fitting stage names – The Colonel, Johnny Na$hinal, Smorgasbord, Tait Nucleus? and Percussion World. Ironically, Dick seems to care little for personas and while I admire his bluntness and unshakeable quest to live up to his namesake, it also makes me want to apologise profusely for calling. And then hang up.

Instead, Dick divulges more about their latest album, which was released this October:

“It’s very user friendly, you know, it lets you in and won’t let you go until the final note.”

In an attempt to veer away from the unexpectedly huge success of ‘Gay Bar’ and ‘Danger! High Voltage’ in the UK, I had decided to educate myself pre-interview with a militant listening of their seven albums since ‘Fire’ (2003). Personally I found their latest offering ‘Heartbeats and Brainwaves’, with its slightly intergalactic ambience and daring layering of different genres, not to be the easiest or most engaging listen.Valentine cuts me off.

“Well that could just be your opinion.”

Uh…

“I just know once I started listening I couldn’t stop. I continued listening over and over again. I didn’t feed the cats, they died, my wife left me. I was just sitting in the chair listening over and over again”.

Ah, this is the kind of Electric Six frontman I wanted – irreverent, insincere and cheeky. However little or much respect you have for Electric Six, there is little mystery and pretension around their style—pleasurably silly, dance inducing alt rock—and with eight studio albums in the space of nine years, there’s no doubt that they work hard either. Their presence is even more impressive considering after their 2003 limelight moment, three members left the band and left only two original members.

“Every line-up change has generally been to improve the band” Dick comments.

So losing those members was an improvement?

“We’re constantly improving, constantly evolving. We’re becoming deities”, he insists.

Despite Dick’s joking, their dedication and perseverance in spite of these obstacles (including being dropped from their American label on the eve of the release of second album Señor Smoke and pissing off Queen drummer, Roger Taylor, with the video for their cover of Radio Ga Ga) is commendable. Marvelling at this ostensibly effortless musical endurance, I question their creative ease.

“It’s just rock n roll music – it’s not the hardest thing. We always approach it like that. I think a lot of bands get into trouble thinking rock n roll music means more than it does.” He continues, “the songs don’t necessarily need to make sense, just add up and gets where it needs to go. It doesn’t have to mean anything; it doesn’t have to have a point.”

There’s no issue in offering fans some auditory escapism,but Dick’s blasé arrogance is especially grating. Like the majority of the UK, Electric Six will forever be ‘The Gay Bar Band’, and with this in mind I decide to underline the slightly ridiculous vein of the band’s mainstream success.

“I’d never been to the UK when I wrote ‘Gay Bar’. I just thought it was a funny one and half minute song with a repetitive riff,” Dick informs me. “I don’t think I ever would try write a hit. I’m not that person. Generally anyone I’ve ever met who says ‘oh this is gonna be a hit’ are assholes, so I try not to be like them”.

And how do you feel about the pinnacle of your success being captured in the rather iconic image of yourself as ‘Gaybraham Lincoln’ (chin-strap, top hat and spandex panties)?

“It feels okay” Dick responds nonchalantly. “I don’t really care how I’m being iconised. Maybe that’s what people think the band is about but if you’re home and your kitchen like I am now, and the sun is coming through your window you know that none of that really matters.” Shit, I’m welling up. “That you are who you are, and as long as keep putting one foot in front of the other, nobody is gonna take that away from you”.

After this strikingly sincere comment, I’m left feeling confused. It’s difficult to determine what exactly is arrogance or parody with Electric Six. It’s probably this tension that has given them the cult following they have, also being aided greatly by their constant touring and infamous high-energy live shows.

“We are a rock n roll band that plays rock n roll songs, and we are very good at mingling after the show and making new friends. If you have a financial problem or you need advice, we can give you money or some advice,” Dick says earnestly. “We have a new song, ‘It Gets Hot’ that comes across really well live,” he continues. “Really gets you wet with anticipation”.

But are you equally, uh… wet, with the idea of constantly ploughing on like this?

“That’s the best term I can think of, ploughing on. For no other reason we can’t help but to plough on. To rub some dirt in its face,” Dick states. “It’s our factory. I was institutionalised – this has been a substitute.”

Self-deprecating, sarcastic and contradictory are some words to describe Dick Valentine and his band. I have spent the past thirty odd minutes feeling reasonably uncomfortable and disappointed that I didn’t warm to what I assumed to be a friendly and quirky band, but then again Electric Six aren’t ever logical. In fact, they’re just doing what they like to do – ploughing on.

2 comments

  1. Electric Six are the best band on earth.

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