Q&A with Dick Valentine of Electric Six
Electric Six have been bringing the party to the unwary for six albums in as many years, starting with 2003's Fire and leading up to the brand-new Kill. The group's songs combine '80s rock, disco and New Wave into a cranked-up, ultra-catchy sound all its own, with lyrics that mix a David Lee Roth-esque bravado with surreal barrages of imagery revolving around fire, sex, dancing...and air travel. Frontman Dick Valentine comes across like a smarmy cross between Mike Patton and a Baptist preacher, but underneath he's a funny, thoughtful and down-to-earth guy just looking to rock the crowd.
Westword (Phil Freeman): How did you develop the Dick Valentine persona, and what went into that? What are you pulling from?
Dick Valentine: I'm not pulling from anything. I don't even know that there is a persona. I go up onstage and I have a lot of nervous energy and that comes out. If you're referring to any character I play in the videos, that usually has something to do with a director generally wanting to cast me as some sort of sleazeball.
WW: So despite the fact that you use a stage name, it's not really a carefully assembled act?
DV: That's a popular misconception. I don't really think about myself or what I'm doing that much. I look at it like, basically, 100 years from now, one way or the other, I'll be dead, so it doesn't matter.
WW: Who inspires you as a performer, though?
DV: One time I watched George Michael, and he performed with a choir around him. He was in the middle, and he had his choir kind of surrounding him, singing right back at him, and he would sing at them and then he would go around and around and around. I got dizzy watching it, but I thought, this guy knows what he's doing. This guy is in control. I've kinda strived to be in that situation ever since.
WW: During Van Halen's heyday, David Lee Roth said he wrote his lyrics during commercial breaks while watching TV. What's your writing process?
DV: I jot things down in a notebook when I'm at home or on the road. Other times things just come, like a whole song develops real quick. So it's always good to go back to that notebook and see what you wrote down maybe six months ago and see if it turns into something. That being said, I've heard that Alice Cooper wrote the entire Muscle Of Love album during eight hours of watching television.
WW: I interviewed him last year and he said there are two or three albums he doesn't even remember writing or recording.
DV: Hopefully one day I can be in that category. I think it's a healthy way to be. It's fascinating to turn up at shows and have people know more about you and your music than you do.
WW: In addition to your usual subjects - sex, fire, dancing - you've written three songs now about airports or air travel. Can you explain how and why that became one of your recurring themes?
DV: Topics like fire and sex and dancing are exciting things. They dress up the band and inspire the idea that maybe we might be exciting. So I include air travel in that as well. Since this band has become professional I've probably flown more than I did in the previous 21 years of my life. I just turned 27, and the six years I've been doing this, I've traveled more than I've ever traveled before. Air travel, airports and so forth, it's very exciting, so I would put that in the category with fire and murder.
WW: What's your beef with Ohio? Explain where the song "Escape From Ohio" came from.
DV: Well, it's a long and drawn-out story. I lived there for a while, and it's a state that you're not sure why it isn't part of Pennsylvania. It's got the Kentucky element, it's got the Michigan element, it should be part of other states, but it's allowed to exist on its own. I believe it's like our eighth most populous state, so why are so many people choosing to live there? Then you look at the way it's broken down and it all adds up to what I believe is just a mass suicide waiting to happen.
WW: And you're not concerned that writing a song like that will doom your chances of making it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland?
DV: I've already been there, and I don't think it's anything anyone should aspire to. That said, it was maybe some of the best catering I've ever had. We played a big summer concert series there, where you perform in front of the big pyramid that is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but you know, you walk through there and it's all the predictable shit, big posters of Lenny Kravitz and things like that. It doesn't make you feel good about anything.
WW: You did a cover of Queen's "Radio Gaga" years ago, but you don't really seem like the kind of band that would do ironic cover versions...
DV: We did "Radio Gaga" on the second album. We were under enormous pressure during the first album to put that out, and we didn't want to do it, but then it came to a point where they were like, "This record's not gonna come out unless 'Radio Gaga' is on it," and it was the lead single in the UK. [They said] "This is the way it's gonna be, take it or leave it," so we took it. And predictably, the label said [it was] gonna be the #1 Christmas single and it ended up charting at like #37 or something. We saw it coming from a mile away, and it ended up destroying our chances in the UK of being taken seriously at that point. But we've rebounded, we've put that behind us and we're moving forward.
WW: I don't think it was ever released as a single in the U.S., though, right?
DV: You should YouTube it. The video's actually really good. I stand by the video. But the idea of having to put out your follow-up album and that's the way they choose to market you, like I said, you can see it coming from a mile away, but that's what you have to do unless you wanna have the record shelved and be in fuckin' limbo.
WW: You guys are kind of in a tough position; there's ultra-serious bands and totally vapid bands, but the idea of "serious fun" doesn't have any meaning anymore.
DV: I don't worry about that - in fact, I think it benefits us to stand alone in that regard. We may not be the biggest band in the world, but we do carve out a niche because there aren't a lot of bands like us. So as long as we aren't in vogue, then there'll always be a place for us.
WW: You guys are a band a lot of people could easily misconstrue.
DV: Definitely. We get disregarded in a lot of conversations about what's good or relevant. But I've seen a lot of bands that are included in those conversations and people get tired of them and they get replaced, whereas we might not get a lot of good press, but we certainly have people that come to our shows all the time.
WW: Where do you see the band fitting in Detroit?
DV: Geographically, we fit in, but that's about it.
WW: So you don't think you'll ever open for Bob Seger or play the Gathering Of The Juggalos?
DV: Actually, a long time ago we played with ICP, in '97 I think that was. So we'd be more likely to play with them. Though Bob Seger, I could see that happening. We'll never be playing with Kid Rock, though.
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