The music world loves an eccentric. From Lady Gaga to Michael Jackson, those on the more individual, or, perhaps less diplomatically speaking, odder, end of the spectrum have always managed to find a voice within the music industry. Electric Six belong to this category. While they have yet to wear outfits made of meat or build a giant theme park in their back garden, they have managed to turn the words “I’ve got something to put in you at the gay bar, gay bar, gay bar” into something iconic; no small feat in its own right, and certainly not a usual one.
You could be forgiven for assuming that the band’s quirkiness was some commercial ploy, an attempt to fill a niche in the market for bands singing about gay bars and high voltage light bulbs, however a quick chat with lead singer Dick Valentine is sure to leave little doubt about the authenticity of the group’s eccentricity.
The mischievous and somewhat terse Valentine is full of sly puns, and jumps at any opportunity to exploit the bad phone line to the highest comic effect. Questions on his album are misunderstood and used as a base to begin talking about tacos, while when asked if he hopes to pursue his solo career in the future, Valentine replies: “Did you ask me am I in Vogue?”
While Valentine is quite the rascal, and certainly not afraid of showing his less cooperative side, it’s hard to dislike a man who admits the reason he’s releasing a live album is so he’ll have more time off. “Well as I demonstrated it takes a month and a day to write and record an album and this year we wanted those. What is a month and a day? 32 days; we wanted those days back. So instead of investing 32 days out of this year, we invested two.” What did he fill those 32 days with you ask? “Well I did a great deal of laundry.”
Valentine’s peculiar side should come as little surprise, considering he once performed in a music video with a light bulb attached to his crotch that intermittently turned on and off. Even in his approach to the music process more generally Valentine is far from typical. Forget the tropes of messages of togetherness or the inspirational ability of music, Valentine’s message is something far more pragmatic. “I am trying to say that here is a collection of songs, here are some songs, let’s put them out on the free market, and see what happens.”
For a man so apparently laid back in his attitude, Valentine and Electric Six have been surprisingly prolific. Since 2000 they have managed to a release an album every year, this on top of touring and solo work makes for an impressive display of stamina; however any expression of wonderment at Valentine’s prolificacy is greeted in an irony becoming increasingly pronounced in the lead singer: “Well there are 365 days in the year, it takes about two hours to write a song, there are 12 songs in an album so that’s one day right there. And then recording takes about a month.”
Valentine is quick witted and has a certain mischievous quality about him; smugness on anyone else would be off putting, but Valentine manages to make it work with his quirky manner. Either that or memories of his spell binding moustache from the ‘Gay Bar’ video are pushing him closer to the camp of eccentric than the one of obnoxious.
Despite this jokey side to the Detroit-born singer, he’s quick to assert that he and Electric Six are far from just for laughs: “I do have a more serious side. I think if people think of the songs that we’re known for, most of them, they are serious; they’re serious as a heart attack.”
Whether Electric Six’s song carry a deeper resonance than may at first come across is of course a matter of personal perspective, what’s left to little doubt however is that Valentine is a rare breed within an industry brimming with falsity and conformity. There are standout figures, who fly the flag for the more peculiar among us; Valentine with his constant reference to KFC and tacos, his fantastically weird music videos, and lyrics which include the sage words: “No more fire in the disco, fire in the disco, fire in Taco Bell” is one of these flag flyers. In many ways it’s somewhat of a comfort knowing he’ll be around for many years to come.
Electric Six are playing The Academy, Dublin on December 1st, and their new album, Absolute Pleasure, is out now.