Dick Valentine of Electric Six
Flash(y)back: Detroit’s Electric Six was three days into their ‘I’m Cutting a Fuckin’ Spot, Tony’ tour, their sixth and latest album, Kill (QRO review), hadn’t been released yet, the super NSFW “Body Shot” video had just dropped, and the band was playing their first of two nights in New York City (QRO live review). So what did the man in the spotlight, frontman Dick Valentine [real name: Tyler Spencer], have to say for himself before the band took the stage at Hiro Ballroom (QRO venue review) this past October? That “Body Shot” actually does have a legit storyline, Kill doesn’t actually sound like Fire, there will be capes (!), and other than that – he prefers not to think about it. Why push genius, anyway?
QRO: The new Electric Six album [Kill] is going to drop really, really soon, and the first taste everyone got was the “Body Shot” video, which doesn’t need any introduction…
Dick Valentine: Well, maybe you do – what does it mean to you? What do you think it means? Because there’s a story being told there, and if your version doesn’t match the story then I think it needs an introduction.
QRO: I think it’s about – alternative uses for breast milk?… [laughs]
DV: Aww see, it’s nothing like that! Well the idea is that the director is a bad man, he’s a jerk, and he treats women like a piece of meat, and he gets sucked into his own movie. And the joke’s on him, and then voodoo breaks out at the end, and that’s how that works.
QRO: That’s awesome! Did you have that in your head for a while?
DV: Actually because of budget constraints we had a different idea for a video and we realized we didn’t have the budget to do it at the last second, so we kind of threw this thing together at the last minute.
QRO: It doesn’t show a budget constraint!
DV: Well, you’d be surprised what can be constrained.
QRO: Are you signing the divorce papers? [laughs]
DV: Yup. No, it’s a green screen video, hence you can do a lot of the shooting and you don’t have to pay a lot of actors or have a high catering budget, and then you put in the images after the fact.
QRO: Are you planning on other videos for Kill?
DV: We’d like to do one for “Steal Your Bones”, but we have to find the time and the wherewithal to do it. Yeah. Time and wherewithal. [laughs]
QRO: How did you end up being in that ["Body Shot"] video? Did the other guys opt out, or did you just want to?…
DV: Well, historically, it depends. The videos that the whole band are in are shot in Detroit. So it comes down to budget, like in this case there’s a director in L.A. and you have to fly everyone in the band out – we set the precedent in the first video that we did where it was just me, so we kind of realized we could go both ways. It’s easier to fly one man than the whole band, and I guess by default, I’m ‘the man’.
QRO: [laughs] You are the man.
Electric Six’s video for “Body Shot”:
QRO: Okay, back to the new album. The big difference is that you guys are embracing Fire this time-
DV: Oh – part of that is just something we’re saying. [laughs]
QRO: You can tell me the truth about it! I know it’s a gimmick; every album has a gimmick, right? The Flashy (QRO review) gimmick and the Exterminate [I Will Exterminate Everything Around Me That Prevents Me From Being The Master - ] gimmick…
DV: Yeah, whenever we say things like that it’s usually just something to say to – say something. We don’t really think about it that much. I actually don’t think this record sounds that much like Fire. But I think we felt like if we said it people would believe it, and people would stop talking about it.
Electric Six playing Flashy‘s “Formula 409″ live at Hiro Ballroom in New York, NY on October 16th, 2009:
See also them playing “Danger! High Voltage”
QRO: Is Fire like the white elephant in the room?
DV: No, not at all. We play a lot of the songs off of it. You know, it is what it is. We try to play a healthy mix off all the albums, but Fire is the one that has the three songs that everybody recognizes, so – so there you go. [laughs]
Electric Six playing Fire‘s “Danger! High Voltage” live @ Southpaw in Brooklyn, NY on December 12th, 2007:
See also them playing “Rock ‘n’ Roll Evacuation”
QRO: [laughs] Good gimmick, though! Especially with the one word title, that’s a good trick. But – what stands out about Kill for you?
DV: I would say it’s the most collective in terms of everyone shaping the sound of it, and more people doing the music writing – it’s more of a group effort than a lot of the other records, which is good, what we’re trying to encourage. And I think if we do a seventh album the plan is to do something we haven’t done in a long time, which is actually learn the songs first, rehearse them, and play them out, whereas with the last few albums we’ve just been recording by computer, and-
QRO: And wingin’ it, right?
DV: And wingin’ it. That’s why we don’t always know all of the songs off the albums when we go on tour.
QRO: That’s okay, you’ll learn – that’s what a tour is for! [laughs]
DV: Yeah, exactly.
QRO: Does everyone else live in Detroit and you just live here [in NYC]?
DV: Yes, for the last five years, yeah, so that’s a big part of it. We can’t, you know, just like schedule rehearsals and all.
QRO: What are your fave tracks off Kill?
DV: I like “Steal Your Bones” a lot, “I Belong in a Factory”, and if I had to pick a third… Gosh… I would go with “White Eyes”, the closer.
QRO: Your ‘adult contemporary note’! [laughs] On the note of songs, are there any songs that you feel are overlooked in your whole catalogue, or songs that you wish people would pick up on more so you could play them more?
DV: We have a song off Switzerland called “I Wish This Song Was Louder”, which – I love that song, but the band never wanted to play it. If you could point to one forgotten song by Electric Six, that’s the one. It’s completely like – [laughs]. When we did that record, it was the first song we recorded and I thought, ‘this was gonna be the hit, this is so catchy,’ and it’s like the ultimate forgotten song [laughs], we just never even attempted to play it.
Electric Six playing Switzerland ‘s “I Buy the Drugs” live aboard the Rocks Off Concert Cruise, The Temptress, in New York, NY on August 14th, 2008:
See also them playing “Dance Pattern”
QRO: Are there any songs that you just love out of the whole catalogue, like the ‘pinnacle of Electric Six-ness’?
DV: Oh, I don’t know, I like “[Exterminate's "When I Get To The] Green Building” a lot, that’s a good one. That’s probably my favorite song that we’ve done, but yeah, I like it all.
QRO: It’s better that way!
DV: I think so, I hope so.
Electric Six playing Exterminate‘s “Dance Pattern” live @ Southpaw in Brooklyn, NY on December 12th, 2007:
See also them playing Exterminate‘s “Randy’s Hot Tonight”
QRO: That’s what I was going to say – you have Evil Cowards [Valentine's solo project with Fall On Your Sword's William Bates] going on, [Electric 6 bassist] Smorgasbord is in Johnny Headband, some of the other guys are in other bands… What keeps all of you coming back to Electric Six?
DV: Well, we’ve all been in bands of lesser ‘fame and fortune’ I guess, so, you know – we don’t always want to be doing this, but at the same time you realize you’re in a good position. We do make good music and music we like, we play shows we like, but you know, it’s also a job, so –
QRO: Yeah, is that why you guys have been strikin’ with all the albums one after the other lately?
DV: Kind of, yeah! We feel like if we go away for even six months then no one will care anymore. We do what we can to keep moving.
QRO: With all you’ve been through, if you could go back and give yourself advice – ye olde Dick Valentine writing Fire way back when – what would you tell yourself?
DV: The first thing that comes to mind is – the people who left the band in the Fire days left the band a couple more times before that, and I wish I would have let them go the first couple times they quit. [laughs]
QRO: On that note – what do you think works about this particular configuration of Electric Six?
DV: Oh, I just think that the six people involved – no one is insane. I mean, we’re very boring off-stage, but that helps for longevity. They’re all amazing musicians – I’m a songwriter and they’re amazing musicians, and it works out. My songs aren’t terribly difficult, it’s very easy for them to do and to make my shit better, and it works out well. But yeah, they’re all very professional, they’ve all been in other bands, they all know that you have to pick and choose your spots when you’re on the road, and lately we’re choosing less spots, so it’s good.
QRO: Where did [the stage name] ‘Dick Valentine’ come from?
DV: I had another stage name and I just kind of ran out of patience for it and I just concocted the name – I didn’t know that there were two other Dick Valentines out there. But it just came to me, I was like, ‘that sounds like a really funny, cool name,’ so it just came out of thin air – and I was like, ‘for now I’m going to be Dick Valentine,’ but [laughs] I didn’t really think about it too much.
QRO: [laughs] I wanted to ask, does Tyler Spencer get along with Dick Valentine?
DV: That’s funny – there was like a four-year window where no one was asking me that, now people are asking me again, I don’t know. Again, I don’t really think about it so much – I just try to live minute by minute, and not worry about it.
QRO: What’s one thing people should know about Electric Six that they don’t?
DV: One thing, umm – I think they know everything. I think they know everything there is to know; it’s all right out there. The information’s out there, it’s in microfiche and government records – you just have to look for it. Yup.
QRO: [laughs] Would you ever have a huge reunion of everybody who’s ever been in Electric Six, playing together, or just a reunion in general?
DV: I mean, we would, but – you know, I think the lineup that we’re out with now is the Electric Six lineup. There are a couple people we could have onstage, but I could point to two people I’ll never be in the same room with again, and others in the band would say the same. Yeah so, it’s no good. [laughs] It’s no good; it’s not a good idea.
QRO: What are some highlights of this whole crazy Electric Six experience?
DV: I’m proudest of the fact that we’ve been to Russia like four times. For me that’s really bizarre and really not what I ever expected to do when we started this, so to me that’s like the number one highlight and everything else goes from there. You know, earlier this year we played this huge show in the Netherlands out of the blue; it was very strange. We hadn’t been to the Netherlands in five years, and cut to 2009 we’re playing this massive, massive room, so every now and then something like that happens to us.
Electric Six playing “Germans In Mexico” live @ Southpaw in Brooklyn, NY on December 12th, 2007:
QRO: Has the tour been good so far?
DV: Well, we’re three days into it. The first week is the one where you have too many fresh memories of your life off the road. Two, three weeks in I’ll be institutionalized – I would’ve answered a lot of these questions with ‘ma’am’ a lot more – [faux country accent] ‘Yes ma’am, absolutely ma’am, I don’t wanna be a problem, oh most definitely, ma’am!’
QRO: [laughs] You guys are so used to it, though, right?
DV: Yeah, but I mean like, still – I have to drive to Connecticut tonight with the band and my cats are one borough away from me and I can’t see them.
QRO: Aww, do you call them up or play Electric Six songs for them in the house?
DV: Oh, they don’t know I’m in Electric Six. They don’t even know they live in New York City. We always talk about that with our one cat because he’s from Michigan and his world’s just gotten smaller and smaller because he has to live in these New York City apartments, and you know, we try to explain to him, ‘you live in the greatest city in the world!’ But he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know. [laughs]
QRO: Do you ever miss Detroit?
DV: Well, I’m there enough that I don’t get to miss it. I mean the band is based there and my mom is there, I have friends there – I’m probably there five, six times a year anyway, so I’ve never really missed it because I go back for four or five days, and get all I need out of it.
QRO: [laughs] What are some of your favorite albums of all time?
DV: Oh, I would go with Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart, that’s a good one. And – Desire by Bob Dylan, those are my two favorite albums.
QRO: One last question! Is there anything different going on on this tour? Are you still going to have capes?
DV: Well, the cape is currently being made – I’ll have the cape for early next week.
QRO: We got gipped!
DV: New York got gipped.
DV: But yeah, there is a Kill cape – it’s under construction.
QRO: [laughs] Nice! Is there like, blood dripping off of it?
DV: There can be!
QRO: You should make glittery red blood.
DV: I’m gonna put a word in about that.
QRO: I think you should! I’ll watch for a picture.
Electric Six are still on tour, currently making the rounds in the UK throughout December. Kill was released on Metropolis Records on October 20th, 2009. The incomparable Mr. Valentine will also be performing a solo show as the ‘American Troubadour’ acoustic version of himself on December 10th in Stockport, U.K. No word on the glittery, bloody cape on the E6 tour, though. I’ll be waiting.
Electric Six covering INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart” live at Hiro Ballroom in New York, NY on October 16th, 2009: