You think you’ve interviewed interesting band members, and then you get to interview Dick Valentine. The lead singer of the ever-prevailing Electric Six gave us a raw, unfiltered insight into the unforgiving realities of the music industry and coping with being an artist for a career. But we also spoke about underwater rollercoasters. Completely standard stuff for an interview with this rock’n’roll treasure…
So you’re just about over half way through the UK end of your tour how has it been for you so far?
Well I can assert with great confidence that this has been the greatest tour in a while we’ve had more sold out shows than we’ve had in recent years. I don’t know what to chalk it up to, I mean you’re looking at me; I’m a 45 year old man dressed in a Patagonia so I don’t understand why this is still going. I keep thinking somebody need to take it out to a field and shoot it.
But yeah the ticket sales have been through the roof and people seem to know the new album already so I don’t understand anymore. I listen to less and less music the older I get and I’m losing connectivity with the fans and yet there seems to be more connectivity coming back to me so I don’t understand. I really don’t, I’m flummoxed.
What are some of your favourite things to do in British cities?
Oh that’s easy go to Pizza Express, go to Wagamama, to go Nandos, I was walking through the Bullring tonight. When you tour and walk through a mall as nice as that you realise the possibilities of what your life could be. It’s brightly lit, there’s a Starbucks there if you need a cup of coffee. I circle Birmingham just for the Bullring honestly. You can feel your heart start to palpitate. Then there’s the old Birmingham, there’s the china town. I walk through there and I look at some of the Chinese objects.
As somebody who has been to both Birmingham Alabama and Birmingham UK, how do the two compare?
I’ll start by saying, and this is no joke, the venue we play in Birmingham, AL is the premier venue in the US. It really is, it’s a guy who was in this band and he’s from Birmingham and he’s spent ten years touring with Man or Astroman and he decided he was going to make a venue that bands would want to play in and that’s what he did. The green room has every possible thing you could want. He sleeps the band, he can sleep up to 16 people. It’s like a spa for bands and he can do that because the rent in Birmingham, AL is so cheap and so forth so. Our experience in Birmingham is coloured by that because it might be the best place to play. That said, the actual town seems like kind of a snoozer, so I think the one in England has a little more going on.
So of course you’ve got your new album Fresh Blood for Tired Vampyres, what has Electric Six done differently for the new music?
This time around there were a couple of things. Our long time drummer joined Flogging Molly, amicably, you know – it’s a bigger band and he definitely needed a change of pace. So we went into this album without a drummer, so we knew it was going to be a drum machine album. With that in mind, we wanted to make a little more urban, or at least as urban as we get. So I wrote a lot of lyrics trying to come from like a hip hop perspective. Again, I’m a 45 year old white man in a Patagonia so I can’t do it that well but that’s the idea. So we wanted to make a more urban album is the best way to put it.
How has it been playing the new music at shows?
It’s fun, so far we only play two of the new songs and we are working on a third one right now. We’re just doing it at sound check and that’s kind of how we role because we have so much material. We try to play back catalogue stuff, a few favourites off old albums, we get requests every night, we have to do Gay Bar and Danger! High Voltage so we’re a little constrained with what we can do but as the tour goes we generally get three or four songs off the new album at some point.
And the title of the album, vampyres with a y, why with a y?
I’ve seen it spelt with a y. I guess, just why? Good question. But yeah we have a couple of younger guys in the band now and it was a direct reference to that, the rest of us are tired vampires just hanging on and going through the motions and now we have these young guys that are giving us new life.
Who is your favourite vampire and why?
Favourite vampire, I got to go with Nicolas Cage from Vampires Kiss. It’s an amazing movie, he doesn’t actually become a vampire, he’s losing his mind thinking he’s becoming a vampire but that’s what I love about him. He’s doing his best with the fact he’s not actually a vampire and he tries so hard. On record, I’ve said this for over 25 years, he should’ve won the academy award for best actor that year for that role. He wasn’t even nominated.
Your back catalogue is full of weird and wonderful songs, about nearly everything. So what in your opinion is the craziest electric six song?
I look at a song like sexy trash which is kind of nonsensical, so that one comes to mind. Actually, Gay Bar is such a bizarre song. When I wrote it it was a minute and a half long and it was supposed to be part of a 30 song album and then it turned into a radio hit over here so to me that’s kind of bizarre. Something like that became what it became.
And the video to match.
Your lyrics have been described in the press as a variety of different things. But descriptions that seem to persist are things like blunt, uncensored and unapologetic, do you agree?
No, I think the only thing I say about my lyrics is I try to be true to myself. One of the big misconceptions is that we’re a novelty band. To me, novelty means you’re doing something you wouldn’t ordinarily do in order to make more money or sell more records. And for us, this is what we naturally do and this is what we naturally write. So it’s unapologetic in that respect, but to me it’s not something like Donald Trump becoming President of the United States it’s just lyrics. It’s pretty inconsequential, I think we all have bigger fish to fry than worry about if a band is doing this or that.
Across a span of 12 albums, no one has been able to pin you down to a genre. Why is electric six so genre bending?
I don’t think we are, I think at the end of the day it’s just rock and roll and I think we are a rock band: two guitars, bass, drums and keyboards. I think, starting with me and everyone in the band, we don’t over think anything. We all come from different background and listen to various things so we just make the albums we want to make, we don’t worry if it’s going to sound like this or that or what people are going to think. We let the free market decide and like I said I completely flummoxed that the free market didn’t decide that we needed to go away and people keep rolling up to these shows and they’re as big as they ever were. So it’s bizarre but we’re very grateful and if we keep going we’ll probably do another album next year.
Imagine you had unlimited resources to create the ultimate live experience, what would you do?
The ultimate live experience? That’s a great question, the first thing that comes to mind is I’d build an underwater rollercoaster. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. To me, owning a rollercoaster is something I’ve wanted ever since I was a kid. I used to fantasize about commuter rollercoasters, people would read a newspaper on their way to work and maybe they’d go up a hill or loop a loop. Eventually the rollercoaster would get them into town and they could get to work. It’s something I would need to think through but in terms of a rushed interview I would say a rollercoaster would be involved somehow.
You’ve been using crowdfunding for a few projects recently, what pushed you to make the jump to crowdfunding?
Again, for all our faults, we’ve been really good at adapting to the way the music industry has changed for lack of a better word, we also don’t have much of a sense of shame. We did the first thing just to see how it goes, other people were doing it and it went really well for us. This is our fourth one now and this one we raised more money than any of the other three. It’s something we do to keep it going, we have to be pro-active, we have to take the initiative and that’s what we’ve been doing.
What is in the pipeline for 2017?
We’ll be recording a live album in Oxford. It’s going to be good because we’re going to be doing a lot of deep cuts and fan sourced songs. Hopefully do studio album number 13, that’s definitely in the plans. Just keep doing it.
I have a kid now and Johnny Nashinal just had a kid the other day so that’s very important to us as well. To try and get a little more time off, but we tour a lot and that’s how we make our money. We’re not millionaires, we’re definitely a working class band but that’s why we keep doing it. Having kids definitely shifts your priorities a little bit, maybe scale back a little bit, but for us that just means maybe we tour 15 weeks out of the year instead of 40.
On the extensive touring, I know you do your own solo tour and then you come around with Electric Six. What do you do to fight off the fatigue?
Just don’t take another job, you remind yourself you’re out for three weeks and you can be home for two months. You go hard for three weeks, you get to shows and follow the money and then when you’re home you have enough to pay your rent for a few months. And then you go out and do it again, that’s kind of the way I’ve survived for the last 15 years and that’s it.
I’ve always said, when you get to our position, if you treat it like a job then you’ll do fine. If you treat it like, ‘I’ve been put here by god to make magical rock n roll music and I’m a genius and a celebrity’ then you’re going to wind up on the wrong side of it because I’ve seen people like that and it never works out. They trip themselves up. We’re not perfectionists, that’s a big part of it too. For us it just has to be good enough and that’s how we’ve maintained a 15 year career.
What was the line for you, when you went from doing music and it became your career, not just something you did for pleasure?
Obviously, 2003 when we had the radio hits. It took a while but eventually you do get the publishing royalties for those songs and you realise that’s a lot more money than I’ve ever made. But in that time we also managed to cultivate a cult following so when we did get dropped from the major labels there were enough people that were still interested. Then Metropolis picked us up and we’ve been on Metropolis Records ever since. We’re very lucky, whenever we’ve been on the radio that was our foot in the door and we’ve done a good job of staying on the right side of the door ever since.
I want to give you the chance to say anything you want to fans, anything you’ve wanted to put out there.
I take the piss out of our fans a lot, just because I can, and some of them are a bit too hard-core for my liking. I’m a big proponent of – if you can come and see Electric Six seven days of a week, why not just come and see us four days of a week and take the other three to yourself. That been said we are very lucky people that so many people are in to our band and I do think that we are unique. I still don’t see bands out there trying to be Electric Six, so we have the Electric Six market cornered.