Electric Six are returning this fall with Mustang, a new album for dancing pleasure and sexual gratification, to further cement their status as purveyors of pleasantry and everything that is hilariously awesome about Rock n’ roll. The sex-jam disco-jizz wizards will be setting fire to your local venues throughout September and October in celebration (dates below), and accordingly, we caught up with frontman and band nucleus Dick Valentine to discuss the current state of E6 and much more.
There was a problem, however. Not long after the interview, the recording disappeared. Days passed. Then weeks. It didn’t look good.
I had no recourse, no fix for the missing audio – until my daughter showed me her “secrets toy,” which she’d been using to store her most treasured, private information. Digging through the files, most of which now contained several sound snippets with enough damning evidence for a handful of nights without dessert, I stumbled upon what I thought was gone forever: my Dick Valentine interview was still there, pulsing and grinding amongst the ones and zeros.
And so now we bring you the immortal words of the Electric Six frontman, wherein he discusses the new Electric Six record Mustang, our mutual homeland in the mitten state, exciting new changes in the band and their upcoming appearance at Austin City Limits this year.
You’re still playing 200+ shows a year, nearly more than a decade into Electric Six. What’s the motivation? You’ve escaped Michigan…
I didn’t get to start doing this professionally until I was thirty, so I had my whole twenties of working shitty jobs to make me appreciate what a great situation I’m in. So I don’t want to give it up until I absolutely have to. Writing my own songs and making money off it, I had a ten year window of life where I didn’t think that was possible. That’s my motivation.
There’s been a consistency of character and stride in Electric Six through various lineup changes, and nobody seems to mess with your sound on the label side.
I think so. We’ve arrived at a point where Electric Six and all the other projects that we do outside of that are accepted as they are. There’s no A&R filter we have to run it through. We put out the albums we want to put out, whether Electric Six, Evil Cowards, Johnny Headband, whatever. There’s no one telling us ‘you need a hit’ anymore, so that’s a good position to be in. But yeah, as far as lineup changes go, every time we have one I always think ‘Man, there’s no way in these six people that there’s going to be one bad apple.’ But I say that every time. (laughs)
I think it’s just a matter of years going by, and in the span of six, seven years of doing something people are bound to change. What we’re doing changes. If we go another six, seven years, I’m sure we’ll have some other kind of lineup change. But right now, who we have in the band, we had such a fun tour in Europe.
With your solo records, do you see any shift in what you expected and how that affects your approach to Electric Six?
I can easily do both, and I hope to do more U.S. dates. I’d like to do some acoustic shows in Chicago or out West, those are some goals. I’d like to keep Electric Six going, and I’ve started working on my first musical. But that might be years in the making.
So hopefully the Green Day and Spider-Man/U2 thing will run its course and people won’t still have a bad taste in their mouth about rock n’ roll Broadway crossovers.
I actually got contacted by a guy who’s a player on the Broadway scene and a big fan of the band. He wanted me to work on a musical with him, and while that particular project didn’t work out it sparked my interest in doing something like that. It’s a long way in the making, I’m not going to rush it. The main character, who I hope to play, is actually in his seventies. So the older I get, the better I’ll be prepared for the part.
Cuts down on the makeup. I’m wondering what keep you coming back to the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, MI?
I went to school at U of M, and aside from it being a solid, reliable show, when I was at school I was struggling to get a band together and every time I did I couldn’t get a show there. I went there in the age of grunge, and I was doing anything but. It was just really, really hard – I’d have to send the booking guy my demo under different names every time. Now we’re at a point where we can just call up the Blind Pig and get a show anytime we want. It’s very gratifying at this point in my life, because it was a big struggle early on.
There’s a consistent streak of astonishment that you’re so in touch with local culture throughout the UK. Journalists always seem to point it out.
It’s not just the UK, it’s everywhere I go. I don’t do it just to make connections with the towns we’re playing or the audiences – I’m an avid traveler and I like looking at the map, seeing where I’m at and retaining that. But I’ve found that if you say something like that onstage, you can blow people’s minds. Most bands that people see are filled with dipshits, stupid kids who are high and don’t pay attention to that shit. It still amazes me that in 2013 people roll up on tour like, “dude what town are we in?” I didn’t know that people were like that anymore. I think audiences appreciate that someone pays attention to where they’re at. The UK is so small by comparison, so local flare becomes that much more important over there.
What’s your perspective on music festivals? You’re set for Austin City Limits this year. You seem to be the perfect festival band, especially for newcomers to your sound.
We’re very much a bar band, a club band, and with our reputation as being a novelty, most festivals are looking for the newest, latest and/or ticket sales. So whenever festivals come up, we’re elated to get them. Cause we don’t do them that often. But I love doing ’em.
Was there ever a conversation about possible litigation for talking about setting a Taco Bell on fire in Danger! High Voltage?
No, because when that song was written we were still this Detroit band… at that time we never thought anyone would hear that song. But then it came out and became what it was… if you want to make a call to Yum brands or whoever owns Taco Bell, go ahead (laughs). I need some action in my life. But I don’t eat Taco Bell anyway.
Let’s talk Evil Cowards.
We started this album right after Covered in Gas came out, and a lot of the songs are 3-4 years old. In that time, Fall on Your Sword became what it was, and they’ve gone all over the world doing DJ sets and stuff. It really became a secondary project for us, and it got to a point where after a few years, and doing these E6 albums, I was like “Look man, if we’re not going to use these songs I’m going to make ’em Electric Six Songs.” And he was like “No no no, we’re putting ’em out!”
So that was kind of the impetus. Also seeing interest people had in it, people asking me about it, so I figure we might as well just finish the songs. Especially with the advent of Tunecore and being able to do it all yourself. It’s turned out pretty well. Neither of us thought it was going to catch the attention of, like, Spin magazine or whatever. But there were enough people who knew about the first album that I think they’re buying it. I really like it, I think it’s as good as the other album. Maybe we’ll do a third album – Wills and I are pretty tight, and whenever he has a voice-over job or commercial stuff or things like that… I’m suddenly in a lot of commercials because of him. He’s doing some interesting things right now.
And now we have a new Electric Six album on the way.
I think having a year off from doing studio albums is good. There’s a backlog of songs, and the new stuff coming out… I think it’s going to be an absurd album. I think in the vein of Exterminate – that’s the closest way of describing it. I’m not worried about being taken seriously anymore, so there’s some pretty ridiculous songs in here. It’s gonna be a good one, that’s for sure.
You said you’ve stretched the Electric Six show from an hour to an hour and ten minutes. Are we continuing the expansion on the next tour?
We might! It depends how long the drive is the next day. If you see us in San Diego and the next show is Orange County, I’d say that’s a safe bet.
Are there any songs that have taken on a new life lately on tour? You play a hell of a lot of different songs from night to night.
A lot of songs we never did were because the person who left the band didn’t like playing them. And he was very good at making it you believe he couldn’t get through playing a three minute song he didn’t like. So we didn’t do ’em. So now with Dave in the band you’re hearing things like Pink Flamingos and Newark Airport Boogie and I Wish This Song Was Louder and so on. I think you’re going to see a lot more backlog because there’s not that filter of one guy who doesn’t like half the songs in our catalogue. It’s great to have someone onstage who wants to be there.
Excellent. Does your drummer still have no recourse?
My drummer has no recourse. My drummer’s doing very well, by the way. He’s a man of wealth and taste, and he’s a happy man these days. So big shout out to him.
When you’re finished recording a song, do you still feel the sense of triumph after all this time? Is there a moment of victory when a song like Steal Your Bones is complete?
Yes, I think that’s a great song. And to the person we were just talking about’s credit, he did bring a lot to the table. He produced that album and that song and I think he did an amazing job. But yeah, that song was everything we wanted it to be when it came out. I think the later albums all have that one song, or at least one. This next album, I’m struggling to come up with that one. We might have one, but it might just be wall-to-wall jackass.
Some of my most favorite songs of yours are little snippets or castaways that people don’t know. Whether it be Dirty Blankets or Into The Rappongi…
Yeah, I love that.. when we were doing those demos I remember driving between Detroit and Ann Arbor, I’d put that song on repeat. That was all Tait. For the life of me… I like the version on Switzerland, but that’s one of those things that for whatever reason it didn’t go in that direction, and it probably should’ve.
Did you ever wind up spinning more of the Filthy Blankets yarn?
No, I never really had the desire to finish or add to that, so that’s where it’ll remain.
The demo for Down at McDonnellzzz is awesome, even though it’s only 20 seconds or so long. But to hear what it’s become is really incredible.
The one we most recently did is We Use The Same Products. My original sketch of that song was a faster beat, almost like Gary Numan kind of thing. Then Keith and John slowed it down to what it was, and I think it worked out so much better. The other people in the band take my sketch and make it different, and 9 times out of 10 I like it better that way. Into The Rappongi, what it became, I actually wrote the music for There’s Something Very Wrong With Us, but I would prefer the music for Into The Rappongi. A lot of times I’m not as vocal as other people, and it’s taken me 15 years to realize that I should be. (laughs)
And now, a message from Electric Six:
Crazies of the Eastern half of North America…you will see that new tour dates have been announced for September and October 2013, in support of the forthcoming Electric Six album, Mustang. They are visible here at the “tour dates” link or via electricsix.com. Ticket links shall be forthcoming, which will allow you to purchase your right to entry into these events in advance of the date of performance.
Keep up with Electric Six on Facebook as well.