If you spend any amount of time at the Pearl you’re probably familiar with Electric Six’s dance hit “Gay Bar” and the music video that accompanies the song, chock full of shirtless Abe Lincolns in spandex short-shorts and more shameless phallic references than you can count. The Detroit six-piece will be at Jack Rabbits Oct. 27 as part of a tour in support of their sixth full-length album, Kill. Lead vocalist Dick Valentine talks about their latest album, their newest music video (which only lasted on YouTube for 12 hours before it was removed because of explicit nudity), and his unending fascination with Nickelback.
You guys are about to start your tour now, aren’t you?
We’re five shows into it. I’m already exhausted. Day one, fatigue sets in.
I was looking at your schedule, and you guys have two straight months in the U.S. and then less than a week off before you start a month of European dates. Don’t you want to kill each other by the time you’re done with the tour?
We’ve been touring for a while, so we’re good at it. We’re good at not killing each other.
How do you avoid getting burnt out while on tour or experiencing the fatigue you just spoke of?
A lot of ginkgo biloba, a lot of wrestling.
We have a club in Jacksonville that is often mislabeled as a gay club, and they poke fun at themselves by playing “Gay Bar” all the time. Did anything specific inspire that song, or was it just kind of a joke?
You might be familiar with a band called Devo. They have a song called “Girl U Want” from one of their albums in the ‘80s. I was at a crowded bar and it was on the jukebox, and listening to it I thought that the lyrics he was singing were “she’s just a girl, she’s just a girl in a gay bar” and it turned out it was “she’s just a girl, she’s just a girl you want,” but I was mishearing it, so, so far I write a lot of songs of things I think I heard and it turns out I wasn’t hearing the correct lyrics, so I then take the incorrect lyrics and think of my own. So from that moment on I knew I needed to write a song about a girl in a gay bar.
How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard Electric Six before?
I would say that we are nervous dance music.
How is Kill different from your five previous full-length albums, and why will your fans like it?
It’s not any different. It’s exactly the same, it’s the same album. (laughs) There’s more guitars, we’ve got a real power ballad, “Steal Your Bones,” so if you’re looking for inspiration, to feel better about yourself, you can listen to “Steal Your Bones” off the album Kill. Our fans are gonna like it because we’re giving them exactly what they’ve come to expect, the high quality that they’ve come to expect.
I saw the video for the first single from Kill, for the song “Body Shot,” and I’m glad I wasn’t at work when I decided to look that up. Was there any particular inspiration behind that video?
Well, I just think it’s mostly based on the lyrics. The song is vaguely about a director of porn, or at least of explicit images, and it’s the idea that this character I play in that video is kind of a jerk, and he treats women like a piece of meat, and then the tables get turned and he becomes part of the meat show. And then at the end voodoo breaks out, and the joke’s on him.
I read that Kill was originally rumored to be titled Sign of the Beefcarver. Was there ever any truth to this rumor, and where did it originate?
That’s completely true. Sign of the Beefcarver is a restaurant in Detroit, and it’s got a huge sign that you can see from the road, and it’s kind of a Detroit landmark. And we thought it would be a good idea to name [the album] Sign of the Beefcarver. But I got cold feet about it because I went online and saw that they had a history of litigation, and even though we’re not naming a restaurant Sign of the Beefcarver and it’s a non-competitive use of it, I just didn’t even want to deal with the headache or stressing out about the fact that maybe one day they just might file some sort of lawsuit, because I’ve already had a couple people coming after me for things and it’s not easy. It was easier just to go with a word like “kill” because everybody kills and everybody’s going to be killed and you can tie that one up in court for a long time.
Electric Six comes off as a band that knows how to have fun and poke fun at themselves. Do you think that not taking yourself too seriously is an essential part of being successful and staying sane in today’s music industry?
Well, a lot of people ask the same question and say “if you took yourself more seriously, don’t you think you’d be bigger?” So, my answer to this is always that this isn’t anything premeditated or concocted, it’s just kind of the way we are naturally and it’s the path of least resistance for us so we’re just doing what we did for a long time without getting paid, and now we’re getting paid to do it. It’s just the easiest way to go about being a band for us, I think.
What can fans expect from your tour this fall?
You’re gonna see six middle-aged men playing their instruments, playing a collection of songs from our six albums, trying to connect with the audience, trying to involve the audience, hanging out with people in the audience after the show, perhaps buying them a banana daiquiri.
With 2009 coming to and end, what musical moment or event do you think has been the biggest one of the year?
I don’t know, I guess you’d have to say the passing of Michael Jackson, even though I’ve never met him. I don’t know if he actually ever existed, I never met him, I never touched him, he only existed on television. But that having been said, it was a big televised moment, the passing. I was running in the park when it happened. I saw people getting the text messages as I passed them in the park, people would stop running. I kept running, because, like I said, I never met him so it didn’t really affect me that much. In terms of other great music moments, I think Nickelback went to number one again, so that’s pretty cool for Nickelback. I don’t know how that keeps happening, but good for them.
What is the most outrageous thing that a fan has ever done for you guys?
Recently a girl wrote a screenplay based on our lyrics and got back stage somehow, I don’t know how that happens, they vaporize or something and come through the walls, and then [she] handed me this screenplay and was just like “let’s make this movie.” And I was like “well, I’m going on tour for three months, I don’t have time.” And then she was just like “you’re not hearing me, I wrote this and I wanted to do this, so when can you start filming?” It’s really weird to see people that crazy.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry, and do you think that the condition it’s in now is helping bands or hindering them?
I guess I could go on for a while. The one thing I always say is that it’s a level playing field, all bands are affected by the same technology in the same way, so there’s nothing really to bitch or moan about. America, at least in my lifetime, has always been interesting and cool anyways because of the situation where Nickelback is the only rock band you hear on the radio, whoever decided that Nickelback gets to be that. So that leaves a big vacuum for people who want to seek out more interesting types of music, and so that allows bands to be more independent and kind of do a DIY sort of thing because there’s always an audience for music that isn’t Nickelback. But just because the record industry doesn’t know that doesn’t mean that musicians can’t find ways to market themselves and be more do-it-yourself and I think that’s kind of cool, especially about America.