Dick Valentine of Electric Six Calls Himself An Asshole, Asks Why Americans Love Maroon 5
Detroit's Electric Six is all about one Dick Valentine. Also known as Tyler Spencer, Valentine has led some form of his band since 1996. And he's been largely successful: The band has become renowned for its chaotic live shows and interesting mixture of punk, funk and alternative rock.
Electric Six first broke through with their 2003 single, "Danger! High Voltage," which became a big hit, particularly in the U.K., and drew attention to the band due to rumors that Jack White contributed backup vocals to the song. With or without the help of White, though, Valentine has taken the music of Electric Six across five continents while maintaining his commitment to solid musicianship and over-the-top showmanship.
Speaking poolside before a tour stop in Tempe, Arizona, and in anticipation of tonight's show at the Prophet Bar, Valentine spoke to DC9 about his band's unique sound and how it came to be.
You guys are from Detroit. From Motown to Iggy Pop, why do you think the city has had such a varied and storied musical history?
One thing I know for sure is that, because the city is so economically depressed, it makes it very cheap to live here. That bodes well for musicians who are lazy, angry and self-centered.
Electric Six incorporates elements of garage rock, punk, disco, new wave and metal into your sound. What else can there be to add?
We're not afraid to do anything. We don't care about having one, consistent sound. We like all types of music. There are six guys in the band, and we all have things we share in common and some things we dislike as well. We try to bring everything to the table. We don't think about how the music is going to be generalized.
There have been at least a dozen members who have left over the years. Are you hard to work with?
Yes. I am an asshole. I am very difficult to work with. I have a threshold of excellence that must be met, or else you're getting your walking papers. Johnny Na$hinal has been in the band eight years because he consistently hits the mark.
Where did you come up with you Dick Valentine stage name?
I don't really remember. It just kind of came to me. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it. It reminded me of a 1920s crooner from Hoboken.
Your real name is Tyler [Spencer]. Do you answer to both Tyler and Dick?
I respond less to Dick. If someone addresses you as Dick, it usually means they want to ask me about Jack White being on that one song. I tell them that they have no idea what they are talking about. I tell them that my name is Evan.
Are you sick of questions about Jack White's contributions to the band?
It's fine if it comes from the Dallas Observer, but if it's from a guy in a golf shirt and baseball cap, then I tend to run away.
What does the typical Electric Six fan look like?
Well, some do wear golf shirts and have baseball caps. These people want to put me in a sleeper hold. Occasionally, there are a few cute girls who are friends, and they are shy, and they might want to hang with us.
A lot of the band's music has been really popular in the U.K. Why do you think the band has had more success there than here?
Our first record was put out by a London-based record label. We got signed in 2002, and rock music was really happening over there. It is really difficult for rock music to make it over here. Any time I turn on the radio over here, Maroon 5 is playing. There have to be more American bands than Maroon 5. The powers that be wouldn't let you know that.
Your 2003 effort, Fire, is considered to be the band's best effort. What makes that release so special?
That was the one that had all the radio hits on it. We were on that UK-based label and they put us on television. I don't want come off like I am complaining. That is just the way it is. If the record label has connections, they decide what the hits are going to be. It doesn't matter how good your song is or how catchy it is. People respond to what they hear on the radio. Back to Maroon 5: It's mindboggling. I don't know who is actually buying their records, but whether it's a Super Bowl event or the Today Show, they seem like the only band in America.
The band's live show is known to be pretty wild. Do you put a lot of thought into the presentation or is it impromptu?
A lot of it is impromptu. I talk a lot during the set. Half of what I say is rehearsed and half is off the cuff. Our drummer [Mike Alonso, aka Percussion World] is just amazing. He is one of the best drummers I have ever seen. It all starts with him. The guys in the band make it a lot easier on me.
What's the biggest difference between your new album, Heartbeats and Brainwaves, and your other releases?
This one was produced by our guitar player, John Na$hinal. We took our time and had a lot of fun with it. We started with just him and me, and then brought everyone else in and they would bring in ideas. Then I would throw lyrics on top of everything. We did a lot of vocals in my bathroom.
Is this the best backing band you have worked with?
This is the one that is allowing me to pay my bills. We've been around a while. This band has taken me to five continents. This is the best version of the band.