All Dick Valentine knew was that there was going to be more guitars! More drums! More communism? He laughs easy; it’s a cue to his winking satirical charm: “yeah, there should be more communism” in music. “I’m flummoxed why just one or two certain bands get to be ‘that band’” for America. “…on the Super Bowl or on the Today Show.”
The lead singer of Electric Six laments: “it seems the rich get richer in music, especially on the rock n roll level, when it’s just so hard for a band to crack it here.”
The Electric Six have “cracked it” in a sense, if only in that they can (mostly) live off their music (…if and only if they continually record a new album every year, tour their asses off and regularly re-visit Ann Arbor amid extended treks to-and-from their homes in metro Detroit. Now, Valentine’s notorious for his playful provocation (E6 fans are addressed, affectionately, as “the Crazies”) so, obviously he’s no communist. For further tongue-in-cheek checks, there’s a new song on Mustang addressed to Adam Levine, but it winds up being an indictment, actually, of the current state of pop music trends.
With songs about Taco Bell, McDonalds, gay bars and new brands of shampoo – the Six have always satirized consumerism, a silly jazz-hands waving snark that often strikes some seriously contemplative tones. Mustang is also an album where Valentine, backed by a Russian choir, claims that he’s “the new Michael Jackson” and that we should all commit to saving the world. So there you have it.
But seriously: more guitars, more drums! That’s what their 10th album, Mustang, is all about: a return to more of a raucous rock-band vibe. If they had any objective, it was to answer the last album’s heavier electro-vibe, thus paring back the synthesizers here and bringing drummer Mike Alonso back in, with guitarist Johnny Nash (who, by the way, produced 2011’s Heartbeats and Brainwave) more up front and flexing his sensational fretwork.
There’s a political song about barfing out fast food – a masterstroke in screwball rock-n-roll vaudeville called “Late Night Obama Food,” showcasing all the ensembles respective talents: a crunchy bass groove from Keith Thompson (a.k.a. Smorgasbord), a marching beat from Alonso (a.k.a. Percussion World) and plenty of spaced-out UFO-sounding FX from keyboardist Christopher Tait (a.k.a. Tait Nucleus?)
They’ve mastered their particular genre (an energetic mutation of punk’s raucous rattle, disco’s grooving hustle and arena-rock’s butane-torch balladry), while also physically attuning themselves to the whirlwind of a modern music-life. That’s from 15-years spent booking their own DIY tours that span the entire North American continent (while also regularly visiting their many European fans), hauling their own gear, driving their own van and sweating two pounds off every night under boom lights.
Last year, they finally took a year off from writing/recording and instead released an ostensible “best-of” album by way of Absolute Pleasure – a live album documenting two shows in Chicago and Minneapolis that basically recited all of their revered jams. Last fall, as they wrapped up Mustang’s first tour, they had their “hometown” show at St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit filmed for a Live DVD (Absolute Treasure), an endearing project based upon its boost from a kickstarter campaign. The DVD should be out later this year.
But for now, they’ll be going back into the studio to begin work on yet another album – Mustang’s follow-up.
“Ya’ know, every year we go in the studio to make a new record and I worry,” Valentine says, “that…there’s not enough or it’s not good enough yet or it’s going to be terrible or that we shouldn’t be making a record now and that we should take a year off…but then…then it ends up being a better album than the last one. With Mustang, I didn’t know what we were doing going into it and it worked out great.”
That characteristic levity doesn’t skip a beat. “I mean, the worst thing that could happen is someone might say: ‘…an Electric Six album is bad.’ But, they certainly wouldn’t be the first person to say that. To me, personally, everything that’s been possibly said about this band has already been said.”
Current then taunts him, promising we’ll shrewdly shuffle through our own thesaurus to wow him. Again, he laughs easy.
Do you guys even need to work out? You play so many shows and seem to sweat your asses off at every one of ‘em…
Valentine: We’ve been going through a big push-ups-phase, lately. We all go in and out of doing yoga or juice-cleansings, too.
You don’t strike me as a band that thinks long-course, even though you’ve wound up sustaining, recording, touring for a “long course,” now. Is that the secret? Think too far ahead and you burn-out quicker?
I can only speak for myself, I look at doing an album as: this has to be the world’s greatest record! I don’t pressure myself; it enables you to do what we’ve done, which is to have a…career…for lack of a better word. I see bands take four years off between albums and by the time their next one comes out nobody cares about them anymore. I try to avoid that, that’s for sure.
Thoughts on the new Beats Music streaming service? Or, new trends, overall, in music consumption?
I’m no expert on that. I’m not a music consumer, or a consumer of much at all, actually. To me, anything that happens to music is a flat tax that affects all people, listener and artists big and small, the same percentage. Presumably we’re all in this together.
You cover a lot of lyrical territory on Mustang. Further thoughts on this album?
Yeah, I’m all over the map (a chuckle). But, yeah, it’s good. (Keith) Thompson has really come to the table, more lately. One of the songs of his I think might be a “single,” per se. And (John) Na$hinal has historically written some of my fav E6 songs.
Any favorite E6 songs, all time, for you? There’ve been so many, now, at this point…
I think “When I Get To The Green Building” comes to mind. I really like the last two songs on Flashy (“Transatlantic Flight / Making Progress”). I’ve always wanted to do a gospel version of “Making Progress” live, we’ve never done it, ever. I like our catalog. I like being in the band, I like doing a lot of the songs, it’s always fun.
We haven’t even covered all the other songs you have on your two solo-albums Destroy The Children and last year’s Halloween Fingers- these acoustic jams of yours.
That’s why I do the acoustic shows, too, yeah. In a lot of ways I can’t get enough of it.
And so, the next album…?
Only just getting started with demos. We’re talking about this being a concept album. The great thing about our approach is that the “concept” can be very loose: it can consist through words. As long as you’re confident when people start to pick it apart and say: ‘Hey, there’s no concept here…’ You just stay confident, look them in the eye and say: ‘Yes! There is a concept! Why can’t you see it??’ And so, then, yes, it becomes a concept album. As long as you’re confident it’s not bullshit than people start to believe your own horseshit…