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Electric Six Interview
By Alexander Laurence

Electric Six was once known as The Wildbunch. Coming from Detroit, they played their brand of disco rock to the lucky ones at the local clubs. A few years ago in 2000, they broke up and leader, Dick Valentine, moved to Hollywood. After a while his acting career didn't take off, so he was back in Detroit with a batch of new songs. This is when ex-members of The Wildbunch got back together to form Electric Six. Singer Dick Valentine, with guitarists Rock n Roll Indian and Surge Joebot, bassist Disco, and drummer M formed the new group in 2002 (keyboardist Tait Nucleus joined as the sixth member), and they released "Danger! High Voltage," which became an underground hit. The group signed to XL and they re-recorded the single, with Soulchild, this time adding backing vocals from someone who sounds like Jack White of The White Stripes. The re-release of "Danger! High Voltage" in 2003, hit the top ten in the UK, as did their second single "Gay Bar."

The Electric Six issued their debut album Fire in May 2003. Then a few weeks after the album's release, Disco, Rock and Roll Indian and Surge Joebot left the band, and were replaced by Frank Lloyd Bonaventure, The Colonel and JOHNNY NA$HINAL. Anybody from Detroit with a weird name and strange facial hair will do at this point. Actually, Bonaventure was a member of The Wildbunch.

When The Electric Six hit West Hollywood in July, there was a power blackout in the neighborhood that lasted for a few hours. Luckily the power at the Troubadour was not affected. I got to talk to the members Dick Valentine and M during their sound check. Singer Valentine was soon tired and was trying to save his voice and energy for the show. Bassist Bonaventura had left the tour early for a few days to get married. The singer of The Witches replaced him. The Electric Six tour was one of the most exciting events of the year. They should be back in the fall.

AL: Did you guys play shows with the Witches back in Detroit?

M: Yeah. It's hard to a musician in Detroit who is in only one band. Everyone needs a drummer and a bass player. There's a bunch of songwriters cooped up in their attic writing when they are not playing with their other bands.

AL: I hear that Hamtrammak is a hip neighborhood. Do you live near there?

M: Yeah. It's about five minutes off the highway. It used to be cool. It's not so hot anymore. The Woodbridge district of Detroit is where it's at now. There's a bunch of violent adolescents in Hamtrammak over the past ten years. It got ridiculous. We were getting chased from our gig to our van, 16-year-old angry kids. They are rough dudes.

AL: When did all these songs come together?

M: Half of the album is a greatest hits album of The Wildbunch (1996-2002). The other half is newer tunes. "Danger! High Voltage" started out as a ditty without lyrics we would do when someone broke a string. Dick finally wrote lyrics to it and we recorded it on a whim. "Gay Bar" is a song we have played every time we have played. Once when Wildbunch was breaking up, we didn't play it, and then The Witches got up and played it at the same gig. It was the last Wildbunch show in 2000.

AL: Who writes the songs?

M: Dick writes all of them. He writes everything. It's very traditional writing. It starts out with a phrase or a riff. There will be something that catches his attention. Dick always has fifteen or twenty songs going in his head at once. He focuses on that.

AL: Did you release anything as The Wildbunch?

M: No, not really. We had a eight-track tape called "An Evening with The Many Moods of The Wildbunch's Greatest Hits, Tonight." We sold about thirteen copies. Then we released a limited edition of "Rock Empire." That was the last show. We mixed it in a day. We thought it was over, so we wanted to release a souvenir.

AL: Was there a large fanbase back then?

M: We had a nice following in Detroit. We played to two or three hundred people there in Detroit. Then we were also going to Cleveland and Detroit. That was all we were able to do. We had a good following in Toronto, till we got kicked out of that country. We tried to sneak back in the country once. We went home and dressed up as sports enthusiasts. We got on the shuttle and went over to Windsor. The shuttle is about five minutes from my house. We were also in, when someone we were with got busted. He had some illegal substance on his driver's license. When you go through the tunnel to Canada, they have this huge molecular detection device. They are not really looking at who you are. They are swabbing your license. According to customs, they were looking for heroin, cocaine, and LSD. We got caught again.

AL: One of you recently crashed his car in Detroit too.

M: That was Disco. He's no longer with us. Disco was foolish and he drove right into Jason Von Bondie's car. I think Jason was hurt in the accident. It was drunken stupidity.

AL: When did you form The Electric Six?

M: We had broken up for six months in 2000. Dick Valentine moved to Los Angeles for six months. He came back because he missed being in a band. He came back to Detroit with thirty song. He realized that he couldn't stay away from it. We reformed. But when we got signed, we realized that we couldn't put out a record as The Wildbunch, because we would have been sued.

AL: There are a few bands called The Wildbunch.

M: The big one was a DJ collective in Bristol.

AL: Yeah, that was Massive Attack and Nellee Hopper.

M: Yeah, the guy who owned the name was a New York DJ. He wanted some big paycheck to use the name. We didn't have any money. They released a Wildbunch record last year even though they haven't been together for ten years.

AL: You have had a few Top ten singles in the UK. What was it like playing Top of The Pops?

M: We played with The Pretenders and Robert Palmer. Cat Power was on too. We hung out with her all afternoon before the show. Chan is great. She's a lot of fun.

AL: When did you record this album?

M: We recorded it twice. We recorded it last summer. We met Soulchild and they were interested in recording it from the ground up. We were into the idea. We did the re-recordings starting around Thanksgiving in 2002. We had a trial run with "Gay Bar" in October. We liked what he did. We started in November and finished in February in 2003. Most of it was done in Detroit and at Abbey Road.

AL: What version of "Danger! High Voltage" was out last year?

M: The one to the album and radio was a remix of the original recording by Jim Diamond that came out on Flying Bomb. Soulchild built the song from the ground up based on the pre-existing tracks. That song was the only one with Jim Diamond.

AL: What is your set like now?

M: We play most of the album. There are a few covers and two or three new songs. We were hit with half of the band quitting on us about a month ago. We are limited. We have 130 songs. But we can only play fifteen songs because those are the ones we rehearsed with the new members.

AL: Disco told the NME that he thought the new version of The Electric Six was like "Kiss after they took off the makeup." What do you think about that?

M: I would really know what he was thinking. I would really like to take this moment to set the record straight. When those guys left the band, they weren't wearing any makeup. When these new guys joined the band, they were also not wearing any makeup. I don't know what Disco was talking about.

AL: What about the song "Gay Bar?" Was that there to set off the homophobic element in the audience?

M: Perhaps. It's a song of nonsense.

AL: We are here in West Hollywood, one of the gayest places on the planet. Let's set the record straight. Girl, I want to take you to a gay bar. It's across the street here on Santa Monica Boulevard.

M: Yeah, it's nonsense. Dick wrote the song in my studio that I set up. I was cooking us some tuna melts. He said "M you have got to come down here." He was sitting with my acoustic guitar. He said, "I think that I have just written the stupidest song that I have ever written in my life." I fell to my knees because I was laughing so hard. I still think that it is funny.

AL: So some songs start out trying to get a reaction?

M: It could be that. It could be a badass riff. There are a few reasons a song will be held on to and developed. We are not trying make funny music

AL: It's not Weird Al Yankowitz.

M: Exactly. It's naturally who we are. Since we were in middle school, we were writing songs that had a sense of humor to them. It's something about ourselves that we couldn't ignore. The goal here is to write shit that rocks! It has humor but it has other things too. If you listen to that album as a whole and it's quite disturbing. It's almost post-apocalyptic. There's a lot to it.

AL: There are many references to fire. Is "fire" a metaphor for something bigger?

M: "Fire" began creeping into our recent songs more and more. It was the Y2K thing. It was just part of the apocalyptic vision. Plus you sing about shit like "fire" and you sound cooler than who you really are. Nuclear war is exciting. It sounds cool.

AL: There are a few videos for "Gay Bar." The one you did is with Abraham Lincoln. Then there's the one with Tony Blair and George Bush. Who did that one?

M: We don't know. They just crept up on the Internet. I was sent a link from friends to see the George Bush one and the one with the kittens. Actually the one with the kittens (www.rathergood.com): we know that guy. He worked on a television crew for the Sarah Cox music show in England. When we were doing soundcheck he came up to me and asked if he could do Internet only flash video. I said "absolutely." Months later I saw it.

AL: Does the band have any political philosophy?

M: Not really. Just avoid any trouble.

AL: Do people vogue to your music?

M: I don't know. Most of the interest in the band in the early days was from club going kids. There was a lot of clubs that were playing our records. They didn't know who Jack White was. The rumors about Jack White singing on that record came later.

AL: So that is Jack White singing on that record?

M: No, no, no. My attorney has advised us to neither confirm nor deny the presence of Jack White.

AL: There was a synthesizer part in the middle of "I Invented The Night" that was a tip of the hat to Gary Numan. Who did that?

M: Yeah. That was Soulchild's idea. We didn't want to rip him off. We didn't have any guitars there. We were open to new ideas. I came out sounding A LOT like Gary Numan.

AL: You have another song called "Synthesizer."

M: There is a fan in all of us for 1980's synth, and Kraftwerk and Devo. Gary Numan fits in there obviously.

AL: What is "Improper Dancing?"

M: It's an autobiography song. I was freaking with a friend of mine who was getting kicked out of a club. There is a dance club next to this club that we played in Ann Arbor called The Blind Pig. We were freaking outside the club in front of the bouncers and that was the motivation behind the song. The bouncers didn't want us in this club.

AL: Who is the "Dance Commander?"

M: Mark Jones from Wall of Sound. I can see him embodying that figure. "Dance Commander" is the next single. We are gathering artwork for that. We might release "Radio Gaga" around the Holiday season. It looks that way.

AL: What movies have you seen that you have liked?

M: The last great film I have seen was Fight Club.

AL: Why can't you get a milkshake in Detroit?

M: You can get a ton in Midgettown.

AL: Do you read a lot of books?

M: Not so much. I read a lot of technical books for the past eight years. I just picked up a book by Hubert Selby JR.

AL: Did you play with any new bands in the past year that you liked?

M: The Witches are my other favorite band from Detroit. I was fortunate enough to play with them for three years. We toured with Detroit City Council in Europe and they are great.

AL: Frank Lloyd Bonaventure was in The Wildbunch and he is in the band again now?

M: Yeah. He got married two nights ago. So we have Troy Gregory from The Witches filling in for him right now. Frank Lloyd Bonaventure will meet us in Japan. We play in London tomorrow. It's for BBC radio. It's a festival and we are only playing four songs. We are going to London to play four songs and then to Japan, and then back to Detroit, so we are circling the globe. It's been nonstop. Tomorrow will be our fifth time in Europe this year.

AL: What is the most difficult thing about being in a band?

M: Contrary to popular belief it's a very difficult job. It's a dream job too because it's what you want to do. It's not work in a way. It's demanding. As is evident in the lineup change: everyone is not cut out for it. It's like not having a home for a while and having all your days and nights planned out. It's wonderful too. This year we have been home about one month. The rest of the time we have been on tour. You have to be careful for what you wish for.

AL: Do you have songs for a new record?

M: Yeah. We have a shitload of songs. We want to record now. We will probably start recording in November. Whenever we decide to stop touring this record. There has been a demand in Europe so we have spent most of our time there. We will be back on the east coast and the rest of America in October and November. We play to thousands in Europe whereas we still play to three hundred people here in America. We will play in Detroit at the end of the year.

AL: When people come to see you what should they expect?

M: We store up a lot of energy from every gig we play. We transform that into kinetic energy the best we can for the next show. We just try to play a really good show for people. We allow them to release any frustrations they may have. They may have fears of being white. White people need to dance.

AL: Have audiences behaved badly on this tour?

M: No. The audience participation aspect has been high but people haven't gotten freaky with us. I am 5 foot 6 and weigh 120 pounds. People look at me and think, "That little dude is from Detroit and he must know something I don't." People keep their distance.

AL: You have some hobbies?

M: I have been into photography since I was fourteen. I have done graphic design before I was in this band for eight years. I helped layout the CD design. I made some films for the band.

AL: Where do you like to go in America?

M: I think that Oklahoma City is fabulous. It's a big surprise. We played a sold out show there. New York City is great. Detroit is my favorite of course.


Website: www.electricsix.com




--Alexander Laurence

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