Electric Six rose to power in 2001, setting fire to the disco with their song Danger! High Voltage. Since then, they’ve develped a cult following with their flair for clever lyrics, catchy tunes, on-stage aerobics and bizarrely awesome videos. In short, Electric Six are ridiculous refined.
They have a relentless work ethic, writing and releasing roughly an album a year, then embarking on marathon tours to promote them. They recently finished touring the globe in support of their fourth album, I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me From Being The Master. Despite the fact that I Shall Exterminate… was released only five months ago, the boys are already back in the studio, working on album number five.
We caught up with frontman, songwriter and weirdo extraordinaire Dick Valentine to discuss the new album, the Lenny Kravitz effect and dreams of wine and cheese with Montana sorority girls.
Antiquiet: I caught your show at the Key Club in Los Angeles a few months back, and that’s probably the first time I’ve ever seen anyone do push-ups and calisthenics onstage…
Dick Valentine: Oh man, I’ve been doing that a long time. It’s becoming a parody of itself.
Antiquiet: What’s the motivation behind it?
Dick Valentine: The first time I ever did it was back in 1990, when I went to see Rob Tyner of the MC5. It was a solo show he did in Ann Arbor. You know, you’re sitting there through all his new solo stuff, but everyone’s waiting for him to play Kick Out The Jams, which he finally does, and the place goes nuts. Everybody runs onstage, and the only thing I could think to start doing was push-ups and sit-ups. And Rob Tyner was standing there pointing at me, looking entertained but confused. For that brief moment I was in his reality, you know what I mean? And I thought, if push-ups and sit-ups can get me into Rob Tyner’s reality, then it must be a good thing. It’s also a great way to stay in shape. And I mean this, I mean this seriously, when you’re on tour, you don’t have a lot of time to exercise. So ironically, the middle of a guitar solo is the only time I can get some exercise. Other than that, you’re just, like, sitting in a van, eating at Chipotle and Panera bread, and not doing your body a lot of good.
Antiquiet: So it’s really a matter of time management.
Dick Valentine: Yeah, yeah totally.
Antiquiet: You promoted a record release party on the band’s website, asking for fans in Montana to throw it for you. How did that work out?
Dick Valentine: We knew it wouldn’t work out. I mean, we got some offers, and they were the type of offers that we… expected to get. What we were hoping for was maybe a nice sorority at Montana State would offer to have some brie and gouda and merlot with some of the girls, where we could bring out the sweater vests and penny loafers, but instead it was a bunch of guys with tattoos saying “let’s do this bro, let’s do this.” Just a whole lot of “let’s do this.” I’ve got like fifty guys ready to party. So we didn’t take anyone up on it. The closest thing we had was a sixteen year-old kid who seemed really nice, but we didn’t want to get involved with anyone under the age of eighteen- especially a guy under the age of eighteen. That’s, like, sending out double the wrong signals there. And they don’t cancel out.
What actually happened that day, the day of the record release, we rocked a 750 mile drive from Fargo to Bozeman, Montana. Ten miles from Bozeman we actually had a tire blow out, and we were stranded on the side of the road for an hour and a half in the freezing rain. So that was how we spent the night of the record release.
Antiquiet: What a shitty way to celebrate.
Dick Valentine: Well, it was better than spending it with fifty meatheads.
Antiquiet: So did you really meet a girl named Kukuxumushu?
Dick Valentine: No, that’s like the American Apparel of Spain, I guess. So the Spanish Apparel. That’s the name of the store, Kukuxumushu. And I was there last year and saw the store and was like ‘I’m gonna write a song called Kukuxumushu‘ and it just kind of wrote itself. But when we went to Spain this year, the number one interview question was “How much did Kukuxumushu pay you do do that song?” They didn’t pay us anything, but I should’ve looked into that.
Antiquiet: How does your sound translate overseas?
Dick Valentine: Oh yeah, there’s some smart people in other countries. They cry and they laugh just like you and me. So they understand. We do well in certain countries, Spain’s one of ’em. I think they tend to get it… on a lot of levels they get it more than they do in the States, where it usually just tends to be one big bro-down.
Antiquiet: The very beginning of Dirty Looks sounds like it could be off [U2’s] The Joshua Tree. Then it takes a David Lynch kind of turn…
Dick Valentine: Right. When I first heard it it felt like Twin Peaks or something involved with David Lynch. Yeah, I mean we’ve got all kinds of sounds and synthesizer patches at our disposal, and a lot of this record was just done on the fly. Probably half of it was written before we went into the studio, and half of it came up while we were recording. That was one of ’em. And that’s why you do something like that because, with time to think about it, you tend to fall into your natural tendencies. Whereas, if you write things on the fly and only give yourself like ten minutes to write, you tend to come up with something that sounds like nothing you’ve ever done before.
Antiquiet: I can’t wait to hear where you guys are headed next. How prepared were you, going back into the studio?
Dick Valentine: We’re not stressing out too much about it. I’ve got a couple old songs that I think I want to revisit, and one brand-new one that I can’t wait to do, and then after that we’ll see what comes up.
Antiquiet: What direction are you heading in with the new record?
Dick Valentine: I honestly don’t know what direction it’s going to go in. I have a lot of mellow stuff written, but I don’t know if I want to go in that direction. Plus, this is the first record that we’ll be doing with our new bass player, who really brings a lot to the table. He’s already played me a couple things he’s written, and one of ‘em is amazing, so I think he’ll definitely add something to it.
Antiquiet: I can’t wait to hear it.
Dick Valentine: Neither can I, really. ‘Cause I still don’t know what it’s going to sound like, with all that’s in front of me.
Antiquiet: Your music, as well as Clutch, was the soundtrack to more than one mignight driving marathon from San Diego up to San Francisco for me. It’s nice to have that adventure association when I hear your songs.
Dick Valentine: Nice, that’s really cool. I moved to Los Angeles in 1999, and the only album I had in my car was Not A Pretty Girl by Ani DiFranco. And it’s pretty amazing how when you’re you’re forced to listen to one thing for such a length of time, it defines your whole driving experience. So I associate Ani DiFranco with… uh… New Mexico.
Antiquiet: And I associate your music with maniac drives up the coast in Big Sur.
Dick Valentine: Well look man, that’s not what it was intended to be.
Antiquiet: Well, I worked with the tools I had. There was no user’s manual.
Dick Valentine: I’m fucking around. It’s more of a southside Chicago, hard hard livin’ kind of sound. No, I don’t believe that either. It is what it is, it’s verse chorus verse chorus rock n’ roll.
Antiquiet: Well it’s fuckin badness through and through.
Dick Valentine: We’re having a good time with it.
Antiquiet: How do you feel about the progress Electric Six has made to this point? Are you happy?
Dick Valentine: Oh yeah. I look at a lot of other bands, ones that we’ve toured with and bands that I know from Detroit and so forth, and there’s not a whole lot of people I’d trade places with. I think we’ve really managed to get really good at getting dropped, and taking that for what it is and understanding what it means, and how to wind up in different situations as opposed to, like, doom and gloom. You know, that sort of thing. We became self-sufficient early on and learned how to do it that way. We put as much of it in our own control as we could, and went with it from there.
Antiquiet: How have things been with your label, Metropolis?
Dick Valentine: We’ve got a really good situation with them. If we continue releasing records on Metropolis for the rest of our lives, that would be a good thing.
Antiquiet: I wanted to talk about the state of the music industry for a minute. Do you see filesharing and the instant access to everything available on the internet as a threat?
Dick Valentine: Not really. Any trend or technological advance that comes along, it’s like a flat tax. It effects everyone, no matter how big or small you are. We all benefit or suffer at the same rate. You just have to adapt to it. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that we’re an American band because America’s such a big place and you can be under the radar and still make a good living, moreso than you can in Europe, it would seem.
We never really made much money off record sales anyway. For us, and for a lot of bands dealing with record companies, they’re there to brand name you, so you have to accept that. And a lot of bands don’t do that, they’re like “Oh, the record companies fucked us, they fucked us.” Well yeah, they do and they don’t. You just have to accept that you actually are getting something from being on a label. You’re getting brand name recognition and you’re getting promoted in a way that you couldn’t do on your own. So if you learn to make money through publishing and through live revenue and through merchandise the way we have, then you can do it. So to answer your question, I don’t really care that much about record sales. (laughs) I’ve never benefitted from it anyway.
Antiquiet: The small business model’s working then.
Dick Valentine: Yeah, all that’s for the record company to worry about. Cause they’re the ones making money off of it anyway.
Antiquiet: What do you say to a kid who loves music and wants to write songs, and he’s got the passion, but he doesn’t know how to put chords together?
Dick Valentine: Oh, well I’d say you’re in a great situation. I was the same way, I’m not a studied musician at all. The way I learned how to write songs was my roomate in college had a guitar, and while he was in class I taught myself how to make sounds, and realized I had a knack for it. It didn’t matter to me if I was writing a ten second song or a twenty second song, I just kind of learned how to do it my own way. And also do it because you enjoy it. As an outlet, because you want to do it, and be happy with never making a dime at it. If you approach it like you’re gonna become this band or that band or make a billion dollars, that generally doesn’t work out.
I always hate those stories about those schlops who actually knew they’d be the world’s biggest band one day, and then actually became it. Like Creed, like that kind of thing. “We always knew, we always knew…” it just makes you feel sick.
Antiquiet: But look at Creed now.
Dick Valentine: Riiiight. Touche’.
Antiquiet: In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I have to ask: what does love mean to you?
Dick Valentine: Let me approach this very carefully, I have someone at home who may be reading this. Love, for me, is a refrigerator full of fantastically prepared gourmet foods that you prepared together and you will one day eat together as a team.
Antiquiet: What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done in the name of love?
Dick Valentine: That’s hard to answer. I have a high threshold for embarrassment anyway, so I don’t… the bandmates I currently have, it’s always hard for me to relate to their anxieties and insecurities, because I don’t really embarrass that easily. I don’t know what people are talking about a lot of times when people have big hang-ups with things that we do or videos that we make.
Antiquiet: So people have a problem with glowing babylons and gay Abe Lincolns?
Dick Valentine: Well, just certain things. It just always seems that when you make a video or propose an album cover, people come up with millions of reasons to have some sort of hang up, and I’ve never understood any of that. But I understand that I’m in the minority. A lot of people are self-conscious. I’ll be the naked guy dancing at the nationally televised event.
Antiquiet: I heard that you’ve been thinking about writing a book.
Dick Valentine: Yeah, I’d like to write a book. I wanna make more collages, I wanna do more paper maché, I wanna build more furniture. But again, I don’t have that much time. Currently I’m addicted to online Scrabble, so if I do get a free moment, I tend to play like five or six games of Scrabble in a row. And that eats up a lot of time.
Antiquiet: How good are you?
Dick Valentine: I’ve gotten a lot better at it. It’s very easy to get upset with it.
Antiquiet: Lenny Kravitz is one of the best songs on the album, but what did he ever do to you?
Dick Valentine: I’ve always disliked him. I’ve never understood why anyone likes him. (laughs) It’s just one of those things where whatever machinations went into producing a person like that and a style like that… I just don’t understand it. It’s just the most boring music I’ve ever heard. And there are people out there that look at them and think wow, he’s risqué… when of course, nothing could be further from the truth. There’s always somebody that brings you down. He’s done a really good job of sucking for a long time.
Antiquiet: He’s made a lot of money doing it, too.
Dick Valentine: Yeah, I guess you gotta hand it to him, but… I don’t know, I think he had some money going into it. He’s the son of Roxie Roker from The Jeffersons. He’s sitting on that Jerffersons fortune. I’ve just never enjoyed him.
Antiquiet: We know Lenny’s out, but do you have any guilty pleasures?
Dick Valentine: Back when they were kinda hot I was into the Backstreet Boys. I went to see ’em at the Silverdome (in Pontiac, Michigan) and everything. There’s just certain pop songs you like better than others.
Antiquiet: Rumor has it they’re making a comeback.
Dick Valentine: Alriiight, I’m buying that ticket. (laughs) I have a respect for anybody who makes a career out of music, no matter how bad it is. Even Creed, you know, I was fascinated by Creed. You don’t relate to those people and you hate to see egotistical people succeed when there’s not a doubt in their mind that they would succeed.
Antiquiet: Any musical mountains you’ve yet to climb?
Dick Valentine: No, I honestly don’t have any goals. Maybe I’ll do a musical, maybe I’ll get into doing this or that. I’ve always wanted to have a local band here in New York or something I’m involved in where I’m playing bass or drums or synthesizer… something where I’m not singing. But I don’t have time. I never have as much time as I’d like to have. I should buy more watches.