In-between playing on boats and the release of their new album, Electric Six’s singer Dick Valentine talked with QRO. In the conversation, Valentine talked about the new record, Flashy (QRO review), their upcoming tour, music videos, always being associated with “Gay Bar”, having shows that go out of control, their smelly suits, getting married, meatheads, dipshits, recovering dipshits, Lenny Kravitz (guess which is worst…), and much more…
QRO: How did making Flashy compare to making previous records?
Dick Valentine: Well, it was the same process as the last one we did [I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me From Being the Master –], where we basically did it in our guitar player’s apartment. It’s a home recording in every sense of the word, as was the last one.
I think we’re finding that the advent of technology means you don’t have to go into some fancy studio to get just as good of a recording. I think ‘home recording’ now doesn’t mean the same thing it did even two years ago. I think you’re bridging the gap between what you can do at home and what you can do at, Abbey Road…
QRO: Did you do anything else differently, even compared to the last record?
DV: I think we went in with even less of a pre-conceived notion of what this one would sound like. I think we actually had some songs finished when we first went into the studio [on the last one], whereas this one, really a good portion of them were written as we recorded them.
We started January 4th, and I remember showing up that day, just thinking, “What do we do? Where do we go?” And most of the records aren’t like that. Most, we usually have at least five or six songs done, ready to go, so it was kind of cool, that we pulled it off. I think we pulled it off…
QRO: Do you think, because you weren’t going into a studio, you could go in with nothing written?
DV: We haven’t worked in a big studio since the first record – scratch that, the second and third records were done in a studio, the studio owned by our bass player’s brother…
We wanted to take the reins away from any outside producer, because we felt that was a very unnecessary step and just brought more headaches to the table, another personality you didn’t need. We’ve always just tried to keep it as DUI as possible – DIY…
QRO: Why did you title the opening track “Gay Bar, Part 2”?
DV: We felt it was time to do that. Even around the second album, we would do interviews, and people would go, “What’s the name of your second record going to be?” And we’d be joking and say it would be ‘Gay Bar, Part 2’, and people would go, “Really?!? That’s amazing!” They didn’t know we were joking.
So we always knew, sooner or later, we would have to do a song called “Gay Bar, Part 2”. Just because, I can explain it away in a million interviews, but there are still people out there who think, “Oh wow – this is what I’m looking for!” I think the song is self-referential that way – putting in the reference to “Gay Bar, Part 2” is just about the people lining up because that’s still here.
QRO: Where did the video for “Formula 409” come from?
DV: We worked with that director before [Anthony Garth], so we knew him pretty well. It was the same thing on that video, too – basically, I come up with the concept, and what ended up on the video is maybe 70% of my concept.
My idea was more of an ‘acid camp’ kind of a video, more of a ‘hippie flower power’ kind of video, but then he turned it into more of an ‘MKULTRA’ mind-control by lizards. And forced to clean up Detroit with 409 – I thought that was a good touch…
QRO: You’ve made a ton of music videos, and are known for them – is it something you enjoy doing?
DV: To some degree – I think the novelty has definitely worn off, ‘cause we’ve done so many. If they turn out like this last one did, it’s worth it – it was fun video to make. Some of them haven’t been as fun…
I think we went through a period there where we thought with YouTube, it made a lot of sense to do a lot of low-budget videos, and looking back now, a lot of the videos weren’t so good. We’re probably only going to do one video off this album. I don’t know if we’ll do more than that
You know, you make these videos, you put this money into it, and I check on YouTube the other day and I see this video that came out three years ago only has 8,000 views – what are you really getting out of that?
QRO: Have you heard anything from the Formula 409 people?
DV: No – you’re not going to say anything, are you? You’re the first person that’s brought this up, so if anything happens, I know exactly where to go…
QRO: What about other people/things you’ve referenced, like McDonald’s or Lenny Kravitz?
DV: No – I’d be interested in what Lenny Kravitz would have to say. I’d like to have a long discussion with him – I’d like to have a steel cage match with him. I would welcome Lenny Kravitz’s reaction, and I would come back with three times as much. I think he represents terrible humanity. I think he might be one of the worst people I’ve ever seen…
No, we’ve never heard from Taco Bell or McDonald’s. I think we’re still in a good position where we’re pretty much under the radar. They could come after us, but it’s not a good idea – it’s not like we’re sitting on top of a ‘gold mine’ – I think they’d lose more money in litigation then they’d get, coming after us.
Electric Six playing “Germans in Mexico” live @ Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY on December 12th, 2007:
QRO: Do you have any material that you’ve written since Flashy?
DV: I live in Brooklyn, and I’ve lived here for four years, and this year kind of lent itself, finally, for me to actually work on another project. So I just completed a record with my buddy here in New York (Evil Cowards) – for the first time in eight years, I’ve done something that isn’t Electric Six.
I’ve got some ideas for the next E6 record; I’ve been Garage Banding stuff. We won’t really address that until January.
QRO: You guys seem to tour a lot – how do you fight ‘tour burnout’?
DV: At the end of a long tour, we do feel burnt out, but honestly, we all really enjoy it. It only takes maybe three, four days of being back in your apartment for you to realize that your life off the road isn’t that exciting.
That happens all the time, but at the same time, we always get back in the van, we always go back and do it, because we realize that ultimately, other jobs are much worse.
QRO: How do you prevent things from going out of control at shows?
DV: A lot of times, you don’t. The level that we’re at, where we’re just basically playing clubs, a lot of times, there isn’t security.
We do attract a lot of meatheads at our shows, that’s for sure. Sometimes it does get out of control – and I’m not bragging, at all. That’s being candid. It’s funny that, a lot of our songs lampoon these people, and yet we also seem to attract them.
It’s actually kind of liberating for us, because I don’t feel like I have to do any dance moves or anything to sell the show at that point. I can just stand in the corner and say, “Gay bar” and then people go nuts. That’s basically it. I don’t have to do anything, just basically cash a paycheck, which is fine with me, too, if that’s the way you want to go…
QRO: Do you enjoy the fact that you’re getting these guys to shout, “Gay bar!” – something they wouldn’t usually shout?
DV: I can’t tell you how many times people come up to you and say, “I want to take you to a gay bar! – But I’m not gay, dude…” I love that they feel like they have to ‘qualify’ that.
I got past all that at a pretty early age. At age eight, or nine, I realized I didn’t want to be that guy. But it’s funny to see guys in their twenties being completely comfortable with being that guy…
QRO: On the Rocks Off Concert Cruise show last month, aboard The Temptress in the Hudson River (QRO live review)…
DV: Case in point of a show being out of control.
QRO: What was the experience like from your end?
DV: I refer to my previous answer – that was case in point.
I’d seen it before; I wasn’t really worried about my safety or anything like that. My experience was, ‘Look at these dipshits…’ And also thinking, ‘Well, this makes it easier for me – I don’t really have to dance or move or anything. I can just sing this song and stand here, and everyone seems to be happy enough.’ That’s how I interpreted that whole thing.
QRO: They didn’t mess with your equipment, stumbling over the monitors, run into someone playing guitar?
DV: That happens sometimes, a body will land on the pedal board, and that’s not very good for us or our equipment. But there’s nothing you can do – a lot of these places don’t have security up front.
It would take a lot of us to walk off the stage in disgust, because we understand what it is. I guess it comes with the territory with being Electric Six. Maybe we’ll do an all-lounge album next, separate the wheat from the chaff…
Electric Six playing “Dance Pattern” live @ Rocks Off Concert Cruise aboard The Temptress in the Hudson River, NY on August 14th, 2008:
QRO: On the boat, you said that you’d played on a Rocks Off Concert Cruise before…
DV: Yeah, we did the exact same show a year ago, and we’re scheduled to do one next year, too.
QRO: They let you back, after a show like that?
DV: Oh Jake, the promoter, is a recovering dipshit, so he knows. He went into dipshit therapy, so he’s doing much better know, but he knows his past.
QRO: You and the rest of the band dress up for shows – don’t you get intolerably hot?
DV: Sometimes, yeah. There was this show in St. Louis a couple summers ago where it was sweltering on stage, so five of us came out shirtless on stage, and our guitar player, The White Wolf, actually came out in his white suit. So every now and then, we take precautions.
Electric Six playing “Randy’s Hot Tonight” live @ Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY on December 12th, 2007:
QRO: Is it tough to keep those suits clean?
DV: Not even at the end of a tour, at the end of the first week, our suit bags just reek, but there’s nothing more we can do. We don’t have time to go to the dry cleaners – we’re in a new town every day. It’s a problem, but we’re willing to ‘man up’…
QRO: You’re going on tour in October with the Local H – how did you get in touch with them?
DV: Just through booking agents. I know that we’d been talking about doing more of a ‘package tour’, where it’s sort of a co-headlining, because that tends to bring out bigger crowds. We played with them once, a long time ago, and it seems to be a good fit. There’s a lot of crossover – we’ve been getting a lot of e-mails, “I can’t believe my two favorite bands are going on tour together…”
I don’t know them that well yet, but we’ll have five weeks to get to know them. I think it will go really well.
QRO: You’ve made a lot of albums – how do you balance them all in your set list, as well as having to include new stuff?
DV: We’re hoping to play a good portion of the songs off the new album. It just means you can’t play everything. We try to do at least a couple of songs off every album.
But we’re not going to worry about that so much. I think the main thing is doing a lot of stuff off the new album, and giving people ‘the hits’. I think that’s the two main concerns…
QRO: Do you think you’ll play more new material on this upcoming tour, as it will start right around when Flashy comes out?
DV: Oh yeah, definitely. We hadn’t really rehearsed any of the new stuff [before the Rocks Off show] – we only played two or three of the new songs, for lack of rehearsal. Before we go out, we’ll have a couple of rehearsals and learn the new stuff for real.
QRO: Do you have plans for foreign touring after this U.S. tour?
DV: Yeah, we’re doing four shows in Spain and four shows in the U.K. & Ireland – that’s in December. And we’re going back to Europe in February and March.
QRO: You guys are from Detroit, yet there seems to be no dates just across the river in Canada on this tour. Is there any particular reason?
DV: There’s ‘legal issues’ for us getting into Canada. I’ll leave it at that…
Electric Six playing “I Buy the Drugs” live @ Rocks Off Concert Cruise aboard The Temptress in the Hudson River, NY on August 14th, 2008:
QRO: Do you do anything differently, when you play outside?
DV: Not really. When you do the festivals and stuff, it’s harder to tell how well you’re going over. It seems like people are standing there more, maybe. When it’s right in your face, it’s a lot easier to see how everyone’s doing. Try to get everyone involved more – I think I talk more, move more, when we’re at a festival.
QRO: You guys seem to have more of an album output than other bands: your last four albums have come out, one a year. Do you know why you make them more frequently than other bands?
DV: There’s six people in the band, so there’s six people who can write and come up with ideas. And we all do it in our spare time; between myself and everyone else, I’m sure we could go into the studio and come up with an album, in terms of ideas we have lying around.
I know a lot of bands do and that works for them, but it that would never work for us. I wouldn’t be happy that way. I like bands that have a lot of output, and just kind of ‘throw it up against the wall and see what sticks’ kind of thing. I’m not looking to make ‘the perfect album’ – I just can’t work that way.
QRO: Are there any songs from Flashy that you particularly like playing live?
DV: Well, so far, “[We Were Witchy] Witchy White Women” – we’ve only done three of them live, but that one really stands out. I think that’s going to be good. I’m looking forward to playing “Dirty Ball” as well. We haven’t done that one yet, but I think it’s going to come off really well.
QRO: Any you don’t think you can play live?
DV: It’s going to be tough to do “Making Progress” the way it sounds out on the record, but I’ve talked about maybe doing a ‘gospel’ version of it – we’ll see how it comes out. And “Transatlantic Flight” will be kind of a challenge too, but we’re hoping to do it.
QRO: What about from previous records: Are there any songs you particularly like playing live, and/or any you can’t?
DV: In terms of playing from previous records, I gotta go with “Future Is In the Future” is always a show-stopper, and I really like playing “When I Get To the Green Building” off the last record.
In terms of songs that we can’t, we can’t do “Dance-A-Thon 2005” anymore because I pledged that the only year we would ever play that would be 2005. We’ve kept that promise to ourselves.
QRO: Do you feel like you have to play “Gay Bar” and “Danger! High Voltage”?
DV: Yes, I do. In fact, the night before the boat show, we played Maxwell’s (QRO venue review) in Hoboken, and I actually left “Gay Bar” off the set list for the first time ever. When we play Maxwell’s, it’s usually a crowd that tends to like all our material, as opposed to just ‘the hits’, so I thought maybe we would get away with it.
Electric Six playing “Danger! High Voltage” live @ Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY on December 12th, 2007:
QRO: Do you feel like you’re still most associated with those two songs, and how do you keep it fun, playing those songs?
DV: Obviously, that’s what people think about, that’s what got a majority of people into us, but because we tour so much and we have such an output, our shows are always filled with people who know a song like “Night Vision” or they know a song like “Dance Pattern”. We have a nice little cult following of people who appreciate the body of work, as well as ‘the hits’.
It’s not a bad situation to be in, having those hits. They get used in movies and TV shows. I think we’re in a nice middle ground, where we get some publishing checks, but we’re also not ‘too big’, where it’s out of control.
Electric Six playing “Dance Pattern” live @ Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY on December 12th, 2007:
QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing at?
DV: I always enjoy playing Scotland, just because the shows up there are always like that boat show, but you also feel like they respect your shit more. You get that feeling where everybody’s going to go nuts, but nobody’s going to land on– well, security’s got, they have to. If you’re walking down the street, I think every Scottish person has their own security guard, anyway. That’s the way it works.
In the States, I like playing New Orleans and Portland, Oregon the best. I’ve had great times in both cities.
QRO: Do you think married life will change you band-wise at all?
DV: I’ve been married for eight years, basically. I’ve ‘lived in sin’ for five years, or whatever.
I think my particular relationship has actually made it a lot easier for me to go on tour, because I know that I’ve got a stable life waiting for me at home.
QRO: Do you feel pressure to get a great wedding band?
DV: We got a great band for our wedding. My friend’s the leader of a jug band, so we’ve got a jug band playing at our wedding. So it will be kind of ‘old-timey’…
Electric Six playing “Rock and Roll Evacuation” live @ Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY on December 12th, 2007: