I conducted a Q and A with Electric Six front man Dick Valentine in preparation for their headlining show at The Loft in Lansing on Sept. 16 with Kitten and Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers.
From the Facebook event page
Q: Electric Six are going on tour in Sept. to support the Oct. release of the new album, “Heartbeats and Brainwaves”. You’ll be playing Lansing on Sept. 16. The band originated in Detroit in the mid-90s. Is this the first time you’ve played in Lansing? What is Electric Six’s history with Lansing and mid-Michigan.
– Well, the original lineup of Electric Six played Mac’s a couple times in like ’97 and ’98. I remember thinking that I was “on tour” because I was finally playing a show that wasn’t in Detroit. And once we got going as a professional touring outfit, we’ve played several shows over the last 7 years or show either at Temple Club or at Small Planet. Lansing’s always been good to us.
Q: The new songs like “Hello! I See You” and “It Gets Hot” show a lot going on musically. The drums are really dance-able, the guitars are heavy and rocking and the synths add a disco-like texture to the songs. What was the goal, musically, for this album?
– We set out to make a much more synth-heavy album and that was really the only idea we had going into it. This is the first album we’ve ever done where every single song was written as we recorded it. Every other album had at least one song that was written before the recording started. So this one was really just a fun process of throwing a bunch of stuff out there and seeing what stuck.
Q: How did the songs come about this time around? Was the songwriting a collaborative effort?
— Everyone in the band submits demos and I go through them and see what I gravitate towards lyrically. That’s one way of doing it. Other songs come about by just fusing ideas between two or more band members. The song “Eye Contact” was a total collaboration between me and Johnny Nashinal that basically just happened out of the blue and within 15 minutes we had a song.
Q: What inspired the lyrics this time around? Were there any particular events in between albums that inspired the lyrics?
– Inspiration for lyrics is completely random and unfocused. For Psychic Visions, I just happened to be walking by a shop with a bright purple neon sign that said “Psychic Visions”. And the lyrics were written within 10 minutes. Songs like French Bacon and Food Dog were written because I said to myself, “I’m gonna write a song called Food Dog. Then I’m going to write a song called French Bacon.” And then “Hello! I See You!” is a song about realizing the ecstasy of accepting Satan as your master. Which for the record, I don’t. But it’s written from the perspective of someone who has.
Q: In 2003, your song “Gay Bar” became a hit. It’s been about 8 years since then. Have fans and journalists moved past Electric Six being a supposed “One Hit Wonder”? Or do you think people are more receptive to the band than ever before? How do you look back on the song and how it helped you?
– Well anytime we pick up the local rag in the town we are playing, more often than not they reference us as disco sleaze lords or something clearly based on our perception from the first album. But that’s just how it goes. And there are more and more people coming to the shows who are very familiar with our last 6 albums post-Fire, so I would say we are slowly growing out of that perception. Two steps forward, one Gay Bar back.
Q: Your band member John Nash produced the new album. How did he influence the production here? Did you all know what you were looking to create and having a band member producer, only eased that process?
– John’s written the music to some of my favorite songs over the years….Slices Of You, Randy’s Hot Tonight, Table and Chairs. And lately his demos were starting to show that his recording/producing chops were growing exponentially. It was just the right time and right album to give him the reins.
Q: Some of the song titles are bizarre, like “French Bacon” and “Interchangeable Knife” along with the title track. You’ve previously commented that, in most cases, your songs are about nothing. Is this the case here? Do any of the songs have any particular meaning?
– Again, the only song really about anything concrete is “Hello! I See You!”. It’s about the ecstasy of accepting Satan as the master. The rest of the songs are loose sketches symbolizing sound and fury and being nothing.
Q: Your live shows are characteristically wild; a big dance party. Do you always try to bring a “party” atmosphere to your shows or does that atmosphere happen to follow you?
– That atmosphere happens to follow us. We don’t bring shit.
Q: The record will be released on Oct. 11 with a world tour starting in Sept. in Lansing, MI. What’s it like to play in smaller, more local venues than you’re accustomed to after all these years of touring the world?
– We’ve played venues of all sizes this whole time. Even when were playing festivals and crowds in the tens of thousands in Europe, we’d still find time to play a 200-capacity toilet and “keep it real”. But sometimes we end up keeping it real too many shows in a row and at these times I resume working on my time machine.