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vol 6 - issue 02 (oct 2003) :: interviews
ELECTRIC SIX'S DICK VALENTINE
interview by insane wayne chinsang
illustration by debbie

ELECTRIC SIX'S FRONTMAN, DICK VALENTINE, IS A MAN ON THE MOVE. RUNNING ON THE FUEL OF THE POPULARITY OF THEIR FIRST TWO SINGLES-- "DANGER! HIGH VOLTAGE" AND "GAY BAR"-- ELECTRIC SIX HAS BEEN TOURING NON-STOP, AND PLANS ON CONTINUING TO DO SO THROUGH THE END OF THIS YEAR. ALTHOUGH KNOWN IN MORE PRIVATE CIRCLES AS "TYLER SPENCER", THIS ENIGMATIC LYRICAL MAESTRO TOOK SOME TIME OUT OF HIS BUSY SCHEDULE TO TALK WITH OUR VERY OWN WAYNE CHINSANG.

Wayne: Why don’t we just start by talking about how the first band, The Wildbunch, gave birth to Electric Six.

Dick: Sure. We started in 1996 as The Wildbunch, and we basically were a local band in Detroit for five years, with the exception of one year, when I lived out in L.A. So, we took most of ‘99 off. We got a record deal with XL in 2002, and we were forced to change the name. And we sat on that for two or three months, trying to come up with the perfect name, but nobody liked any of them. So, our bass player at the time said, “Well, I was in a band called Electric Four when I was ten years old.” So we just decided on Electric Six, and nobody really liked it. But nobody really disliked it enough to quit. Then three people ended up quitting anyway. And now we have the current line-up, which we see as permanent, and we’re looking forward to the future.

W: What did you do in L.A. when you took the year off?

D: I got offered a pay raise at the company I was working for-- I was working for a wire service. So I took it.

W: So, with the band, it seems like pseudonyms are important for you guys--

D: I wouldn’t say they’re important.

W: So then why use them?

D: Well, it’s a kind of escapism, I suppose. It’s another security blanket. We’re all terribly weak people, so we need something.

W: Is Dick Valentine different than Tyler (Dick Valentine's real first name)?

D: Yeah. I had been going by Jackson Pounder at the time, but then I grew very tired of that. Then I watched Angel Heart, and I liked that 1920s crooner type of thing. I was kind of reaching for that. So I was trying to think of a great name, and I just came up with Dick Valentine. And I thought, “There’s a cat that could lead a big band, and maybe be involved in some kind of voodoo ritual, as well.”

W: (laughs) There is a fan of yours that has a site dedicated to you, and it says its for “...Dick Valentine of Electric Six, not the bad actor.”

D: Yeah. I didn’t know about the actor. There were a lot of things that I didn’t know about at all. Just like when we were calling ourselves The Wildbunch, we had no idea that there was another Wildbunch out there, you know what I mean?

W: Yeah.

D: We just spent a lot of time sitting around and laughing at ourselves, not really worrying about what other people were doing.

W: Right. So, with the music, it’s obviously funny. I mean, the way you write is obviously humorous, but I don’t think of the music as being “humor music”, in the way of Tenacious D or Liam Lynch. Do you feel that the music gets pigeonholed into the genre of humor? Because I get the impression that you are just a group of naturally funny people that just happen to be making music.

D: Well, I hate to stereotype like this, but it just seems like it’s an American take, because I think Americans tend to get where we’re coming from. And with us being Americans, I guess that’s who we’re doing this for. We’re not the Barenaked Ladies, you know what I mean? We’re just a funny bunch of guys, and we’re also very cynical. We’re doing dance music because we’re the furthest thing from a Studio 54. We just sit around, eat pizza, drink canned beer, and fart. So for us to do the disco thing-- it was almost as if we decided to be exactly what we weren’t. So I think that’s how it all started. But the British take on us is that we’re just a novelty, and I guess they just kind of give up on us after 30 seconds of listening. But, whatever works, I suppose.

W: Yeah. I read a really scathing criticism of you guys on the Guardian’s website. They said you guys were a flash in the pan, and asked if Electric Six was the death of rock ‘n’ roll.

D: Right. And that is a publication over there that I think just epitomizes it. When “Danger! High Voltage” charted over there, they just went on and on about how we must be a one-hit wonder, based on hearing absolutely nothing else that we had done. And it took another five months for “Gay Bar” to come out, so we’re hearing that we’re a one-hit wonder for five months. But when “Gay Bar” came out, the first thing you hear from that publication is, “Electric Six is out to prove that they’ve got more than two great songs.”

W: (laughs)

D: So, you can’t win. The one exception to that was our Glastonbury performance, where it seemed like everybody was on happy pills. That was the one thing. But I just read the review of our Reading show, and they were like, “The tent cleared out as soon as they did ‘Gay Bar’.” And that didn’t happen. It’s just more fun to watch it. We’re going to keep doing what we do, and we have a blast playing over there. But the reviews I read from America, it just seems that people get where we’re coming from, whereas in Britain, I don’t think they do.

W: That seems crazy to me, because usually the consensus of musicians I’ve ever talked to is that Europeans seem to be more accepting of music in general.

D: Well, I’m referring to the press. I’m not referring to fans, or certainly not the radio. I’m just talking about our perception of the press. At the end of the day, we’re still playing bigger venues every time we go over there. So, I’ve got no complaints.

W: The music obviously has a bunch of different things going on: 80s synth-pop, rock, metal. And the whole album seems so schizophrenic in genres. Is it everyone’s likes coming into play?

D: Yeah. One of the things that the guys who left brought to the band was an element of cock rock, which I don’t think is something myself, the drummer, or the synthesizer grew up listening to. We were more into Talking Heads and Gary Numan, that sort of thing. So we definitely had a marriage of Sabbath and Devo going on. But we’re going to continue in that vein, because the guitar players we have now come from that background as well. I think the key is-- and this is how I approach music-- even the bands I’m not "supposed" to like, like Creed or something, I’ll sit down and watch their videos and listen to them as much as I can, and find something that I like about them. If you strive not to hate music, I think you’ll have a better experience with it. I think there are so many people out there that define themselves by what they don’t like and what they think is bad. I just try to like everything.

W: Was it hard to get the album picked up because it is so all over the place and not easy to categorize?

D: Well, we did not have a record deal for over five years. But when XL came knocking, they were committed to us from the start. So it wasn’t really like we had to pitch anything to them. They had heard all our stuff, they knew that we had 80 or 90 songs in the can, and they approached it like, “We’re not really worried about anything. Just do what you do.” With where we’re at right now, I’m really happy. It’s nice to have somewhat of a really big profile in one part of the world, and then drive yourself around in a van in another. It’s cool to do it both ways.

W: When you recorded Fire, you had to record either all of it or most of it twice, right?

D: Yeah. We used new tracks, we used old tracks. But I couldn’t even tell you what is what. We did a lot of takes of everything. I don’t have a really trained ear. A lot of times people would be sitting there deciding between two takes that I thought sounded exactly the same. Eventually, I’d lose concentration, and go get a bowl of soup or something.

W: (laughs) My sister went and saw you guys play in L.A., and she said that you are a madman on stage. She said that at one point you stopped and did push-ups in the middle of a song.

D: Right.

W: So, obviously, you enjoy performing. Do you prefer doing live shows as opposed to recording, and does the recording then come across as too polished for you?

D: I do prefer playing live as opposed to recording, that’s for sure. But I appreciate a good recording. But, again, that’s not my forte. Our drummer has a huge record collection, but I personally don’t own any records. I’ve just never romanticized music or records in that way. I’m not one of those types that believes that you have to do the best recording possible, and that there is only one way to do it. I think that there is a billion right ways to do something. However it ends up being, that’s the way it is, and just move on. And that’s why I like live shows. Live shows are just naturally like that, because you do six of them a week. And that’s what I like about it; I like a fluid existence.

W: You guys should record a live performance then. Because with the way CDs are sold now, they’re trying to get people away from downloading, so they’re offering more stuff with the CD. Like the new Dropkick Murphys album offers a DVD with it.

D: Yeah. When we were The Wildbunch we did a live recording in 1998, and that’s made its way out there. I don’t know how many copies there are. Basically, we’re just trying to get through this year. With a band like us, when you have an amount of success, you really have to work hard. We haven’t really concentrated on all of the extra-curriculars this year. We’re just concentrating on touring, because that’s what we need to do right now. Maybe next year we’ll do an Electric Six on Ice Extravaganza or something.

W: (laughs)

D: But, for right now, we’re just doing it the old-fashioned way.

W: That’s good. Because now comes the really hard part, when the critics will start looking for the sophomore slump.

D: Oh yeah. They already are. I just think that the quicker you get your record out there and stay on the road, that generally tends to work in your favor. But with myself and a couple other guys in the band, there is always Plan B and Plan C; you can only control what you can control.

W: Do you like touring and living out of a van?

D: Yeah. I love to travel. And that’s the sad thing, because now I’m used to it. Now it’ll be really hard to give up, whether it’s next year or ten years from now. We did a show in Scotland with Foo Fighters, and I talked to Dave Grohl briefly, and he was like, “Before you know it, 15 years of your life are over.” (laughs)

W: Yeah. I have a friend that plays violin for some bands on Saddle Creek Records. She plays with a lot of bands, so she’s always on the road. And she said that when she finally does get home, she just looks around her apartment and thinks, “What the fuck am I doing here?”

D: Yeah. That’s why I’m going to an amusement park tonight. I mean, I can’t just sit here and drink a beer and watch a movie. I need something more. (laughs) I need a roller coaster at night.

W: (laughs)

D: I haven’t done that in ten years. You know, a year ago if someone would have asked me if I wanted to go to an amusement park, I would have said, “No. I’ll stay here and watch SportsCenter.”

W: What city are you guys in right now?

D: I’m in Pittsburgh with my girlfriend. We have a month off, so I’m kind of chillin’. We’ve talked about getting the next record together, but I’m taking this week off. All I’m doing this week is talking to you.

W: Aww. That’s nice. (laughs) So, the videos you guys put out are great. There is some thought process behind them, whereas most other videos today are just of bands playing their instruments in a field or something.

D: Yeah.

W: So, who comes up with the ideas, and how does it go from a thought to a final video?

D: Well, in all three cases-- have you seen the latest video, for “Dance Commander”?

W: No.

D: Okay. That was done by a new guy named Ruben Fleischer. But the first two-- “Gay Bar” and “Danger! High Voltage”-- were done by (Tom) Kuntz and (Mike) Maguire. In all three cases, the directors came up with the basic ideas. And then I just show up and do my best to work within that frame, I guess. The only thing in the “Danger! High Voltage” video that was my idea was the disco pose. The rest of it was theirs. In all three cases, when I saw the scripts I was like, “When can we do this?” So it has been really good. I’m really glad that we don’t do performance videos and whatnot, because if you’re going to be dropping that kind of money that it takes to make a video, you may as well make it stand up.

W: Well, they definitely stand up. The first time I had heard of you guys was when I saw the video for “Danger! High Voltage”, and it definitely stuck out in my mind.

D: When we were in New York last, there was some guy throwing a party, and he wanted to fly Tina-- the woman in the “Danger! High Voltage” video-- in, and have her and I reenact the video at this party. But if we had done a performance video, no one would have said, “Hey. We want you guys to play air guitar at our party.” It’s that kind of thing.

W: So, did you go to the party?

D: Hell no. (laughs)

W: (laughs)

D: No. I believe that the moment should be preserved in the snapshot. It’s very August 2002. I’m passed that now.

W: (laughs) Where did you guys find Tina?

D: She’s a working actress in Toronto. She’s a grandmother; she’s 70 years old. They cast her on a Tuesday, and we shot on Friday. So on Thursday I went in because we were doing wardrobe, and she’s putting all this bondage gear on. And I said to her, “So let me get this straight. When you woke up on Monday you had no idea that your Friday would be like this?” (laughs)

W: (laughs)

D: And she was like, “Yeah. That’s right.” (laughs) That’s just how quickly the business goes. That quickly you can be in S&M gear with glowing boobs--

W: Making out. (laughs)

D: Making out. Yeah.

W: So, I know you are doing a lot of touring, but what’s next for you guys? Recording a new album?

D: Yeah. We probably won’t get to the recording until December or January, because that’s when we’re off the road. We have a little time off now, but not enough to make a dent in it. So we’re going to use September to rehearse some stuff. Then we’re touring the States, and doing one more round of Japan and Europe in November and December. Then, hopefully at that point we’re done with Fire.

W: Cool. I don’t know if you were able to check out our site or not--

D: I did. But I was only able to spend about five minutes on it. I apologize.

W: No, no. That’s cool. I was just seeing if you knew about the question we ask everyone we interview.

D: No.

W: Do dogs have lips?

D: Yeah, they do. Definitely. They have black lips. That’s something I’ve thought about.

W: (laughs)

D: Hey, I want to give a shout-out today to John Ritter. I’m a big Johnny Cash fan, but all the media is saying is, “Johnny Cash died. Johnny Cash died. And also,.. John Ritter died.” (laughs) That’s horrible.

W: (laughs)

D: I mean, I understand it. I know you have to categorize things that way and give things precedence. It just sucks for Ritter,.. and Ritter’s family.

W: Everything I’ve seen here is the opposite. They’re putting John Ritter before Cash.

D: Oh, well, there ya go.

W: There’s some balance in the world, I guess.

D: I remember that Ween went on a big John Candy kick when he died, because he died right around the time Cobain died. And Ween was just like, “John Candy needs some recognition because everybody is just paying attention to Kurt Cobain.” I always feel bad for the B-Level deaths on the same day.

W: Right.

D: I’ve always liked John Ritter. I thought he did good work. Did you ever see Skin Deep?

W: No.

D: Oh. That’s a good movie. It’s kind of a romantic comedy. It’s a Blake Edwards movie, and he’s really good in it.

W: I dug him in Sling Blade.

D: Yeah. And he was only 54.

W: And, of course, you can’t beat Three’s Company.

D: You’re telling me. It’s very sad. It’s a sad day.

VISIT DICK AND THE GANG HERE.

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