Fun, But No Joke 

Dick Valentine of Electric Six wants to put the fun back in rock 'n' roll.

As frontman and lyrical/musical force behind the deliciously over-the-top Electric Six, Dick Valentine has been delighting those who get it, and confusing the hell out of everyone else. Since first catching the public's attention with Danger! High Voltage, the band has managed to offend Queen fans with a cover of "Radio Ga Ga," the video for which featured a backing band of poodles (a comment on Brian May's unfortunate hair?), spawn rumors as to whether Jack White was doing some of their backing vocals, and lose all of their original members other than Valentine. They've also earned a perhaps undeserved reputation as being all about camp, which Valentine is a bit ambivalent about.

Electric Six didn't actually set out to be campy; it set out to be a rock 'n' roll bar band, and it still is. In fact, Valentine isn't thrilled with being "pigeonholed as a campy novelty band," which he claims is something that happened more as a result of the kind of videos they make than because of their musical style. Electric Six's actual band mantra is more along the lines of what Black Francis of the Pixies used to say: "The only thing we're trying to do is not be phenomenally boring."

The videos are a big part of what fans love about Electric Six, however, and the band loves making them. It attempted to make a video for every song on its third album, Switzerland, though budgetary issues nixed that plan. Its latest video, released in October to coincide with new album Kill, is a case in point. In the video, Valentine plays an obnoxious porn director who treats his actresses like meat, until the point where they turn the tables on him, "and we enter a voodoo world and I'm impaled and my head is on a stake and there's fire." Sounds just about perfect for a band that's always insisted that instead of plain performance videos you should try to make something as unique and memorable as possible.

Coming out of the same Detroit scene that produced the White Stripes, Electric Six seems to have benefited from being so far removed from the musical centers of LA and New York, allowing them to focus on creating its own sound. Valentine still seems a little surprised that the band has turned into a long-term career for him, since in the beginning he never expected it to go anywhere. He certainly never expected his band to become the grizzled veterans that they are now, educating younger touring partners in the ways of the road.

Perhaps the biggest problem for Electric Six is one of perception. The release of "Radio Ga Ga" indelibly branded them in many people's minds as a gimmick band, and they've never entirely been able to shake that label since. Valentine has mixed feelings about the whole thing. "We did get some exposure and it was a great video and whatnot, but in the UK, in particular, it was the final nail in the coffin in terms of us being perceived as just a gimmick band." And he has a point — mention Electric Six to most people and they'll think of "Radio Ga Ga" first and "Gay Bar" (the band's other hit) second. Many won't even realize that they're already on their sixth album and have been touring steadily the whole time.

Some reviewers have rather inexplicably described the band's lyrics as "angry"; they apparently just don't get Valentine's sense of humor. "Oh yeah, of course I feel like that," he said. "But it doesn't really matter — I think a lot of people do get it. I think there are enough people out there who get it to keep us going." Ironically, Valentine notes that the band has a lot of "dumb guy" fans, and that those people may not realize that videos set in frat houses are making fun of them rather than celebrating them.

Though there's a tendency for casual listeners to latch onto a few big hits, Valentine says he never gets tired of the songs that made them famous. Having had a history of boring jobs, he said, "if the worse part of the job I currently have is that I have to play 'Gay Bar' every night, that's not so bad."


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