With the release of their eighth studio album and a current European tour, Electric Six frontman Dick Valentine talks to Evan O’Quigley about their adventures from Gay Bar to the present
Anyone listening to Heartbeats and Brainwaves, the latest studio album by the Detroit rock group Electric Six, can expect the same hyper-sexuality, cynicism and humour the act made their name with. But this doesn’t mean it’s a mere rehashing of the same material, as frontman Dick Valentine states; “We use more synthesisers, more drum machines; it’s a little stickier than some of the previous albums.” The band very much has its own unique sound, which they are very proud of.
Like all their previous work, this latest record was home-produced by their guitarist Johnny Nashinal. Valentine explains that he sees this as an advantage. “It’s much more preferable to have it done that way, rather than having to bring in some asshole.”
To promote the latest record the sextet are in the middle of a European tour this winter, and will be playing in Dublin along the way. However, this is not the first time the band have stepped foot on our island. “We always play here around Christmas; it’s the part of the year I look forward to most.” The band prefers playing in Europe to at home in the United States for a number of reasons. This is mostly due to having a larger fanbase and generally a larger turnout at their performances than back home. “It feels more professional in Europe, we have larger rooms, and we can actually pretend for a moment that we’re actually somebody”, Valentine tells Otwo candidly.
In fact, many of the band’s singles have charted considerably higher in European countries than on home territory. Valentine partially relates this to the current state of popular music, which generally puts guitar bands on the backburner. “I don’t think any band is capable of cracking the US anymore, I don’t think it could actually happen,” he says disappointedly. He also chalks it up to the general differences in attitudes towards sexuality between the two continents. “In Europe it’s easier to do something more risqué, with more of a sense of humour. The United States has a long way to go before it completely shakes its puritanical layer.” However, the band’s relative anonymity is not a problem for Valentine, who explains that “it’s such a big country, even when you’re a band that’s relatively small like us you can make a lot of money”.
Touring is often the time when Valentine begins the song writing process. He explains that advances in technology have made a considerable impact on how the band writes music in general, as he records phrases and lyric ideas on his iPhone constantly. Due to previously not being able to instantly record any hook that came to Valentine, “there are probably two albums of amazing songs that I don’t know what happened to them”.
Many will remember Electric Six’s 2003 hits ‘Gay Bar’ and ‘Danger! High Voltage’, as well a popular cover of Queen’s classic hit, ‘Radio Gaga’. A fan-made video accompanying Gay Bar that depicted George W. Bush and Tony Blair miming the lyrics was a viral hit in the early 2000’s, something which was particularly topical at the time due to the line ‘let’s start a nuclear war’ (which was removed from the radio edit of the song). Valentine was delighted with this use of their song in the internet sensation. “With our schedule and relationships with our wives and girlfriends and stuff, sometimes there’s not enough time to do everything you want to do, so it helps when people make a video and throw it out there and goes viral”.
This has not been the only video the band have released which has attracted media attention. There was some slight controversy surrounding the accompanying video to the ‘Radio Ga Ga’ cover. It was widely interpreted at the time that Valentine, dressed as the late Freddie Mercury, was dancing on the musician’s grave. However, Valentine clarifies that this was not intentional. “It’s more like we are resurrecting Mr. Mercury for the duration of the song and his grave is the logical starting point”, as is explained on the band’s website. This was not the greatest concern of Valentine, who was more concerned that they had to release a cover song as a single. “We were just upset that we had to release a cover to begin with. We thought we had so many better songs we could release. But that was the record company’s decision and there’s nothing you can do.”
The band began in the 1990’s playing venues locally in their native Detroit, Michigan, home of the garage rock revival that included the White Stripes. Jack White sang on Electric Six’s ‘Danger! High Voltage’, a fact so often debated that it greatly puzzles Valentine. “I don’t know, we’ve all answered that many times. It’s funny how there are stated confirmations and people are like ‘there’s still some debate’.” Valentine tells Otwo that the answer is yes, he does sing on the track, but “go ahead and keep the debate going”.
Valentine looks forward to playing in Ireland and the many other destinations that the band will reach over the course of their tour, and remains positive about the future of the group. “Absolutely, one thing for sure is that, I don’t know any band still that is like us, that’s been as prolific. No-one wants to be Electric Six, and at first that doesn’t sound so good, but there’s a market for Electric Six, and we’ve got it cornered.” It’s not clear whether the band will ever release another ‘Gay Bar’, but they will continue making new music for the forseeable future. In the meantime, everyone else can simply listen to the old tunes again on YouTube, synched to footage of politician’s speeches and cats falling over.
Electric Six play The Academy on the November 26th. Tickets priced at €20. Heartbeats and Brainwaves is out now.