Dick Valentine is Not a Character
If the words “Electric Six” conjure up images of the band’s lead singer, Dick Valentine, dressed as Abraham Lincoln, but with leather hot pants, and singing, “I want to take you to the gay bar, gay bar,” you might be in for a shock. Dick Valentine’s art is not his life. Valentine’s real name is Tyler Spencer and, dressed in jeans and free of facial hair and leather, Spencer seems a very normal Brooklynite.
Electric Six first came onto the scene in 2003, with their album Fire, a high-energy rock record that is at once supremely silly and captivating. With their videos for songs like “Gay Bar,” and “Danger! High Voltage,” the band seemed to be reveling in their preposterousness.
Since Fire, the band has released an impressive eight albums, with another one on the way, and gained a bit of a cult following. Dick Valentine, however, is the only remaining member of the original six. We met with Valentine over tea to discuss making the fraternity playlist, Taco Bell, and favorite song lyrics.
EMMA BROWN: Electric Six is very popular in England.
DICK VALENTINE: Well, I wouldn’t go that far. Kaiser Chiefs are huge. Oasis is huge. We’re a couple steps down, but it’s a great, great place to be. It feels great.
BROWN: Would you say that you’re more popular in England than in America?
VALENTINE: Yes, slightly more popular. There’s so many tiers and levels you could be at, and not just in music, but in any industry. Nickelback would be like Prêt à Manger or your [British chain] Nandos and we would be more along the lines of one of those smaller coffee shops with the tuna sandwiches with sweet corn.
BROWN: Yes, I would name one, but they all keep growing.
VALENTINE: Everyone grows. All the bands grow. Except for us, we stay the same. We play a lot of the same venues over and over again. It’s a purgatory, but it’s a wonderful purgatory.
BROWN: Is that why you decided to record a solo album, Destroy the Children ?
VALENTINE: We’ve been going for 10 or 11 years, and I’ve found that the key to longevity is, like anything, mixing it up. There’s six people in the band, and we all encourage each other to do our own thing whenever we have a chance. So by doing a solo acoustic album, it definitely keeps it fresh on my end, but now I’m ready to go for Electric Six record number nine.
BROWN: Yes, Electric Six is very prolific—you recorded eight albums in nine years?
VALENTINE: About that, yeah. We’re releasing a live album this year. We’re in that region where the record’s turned in, but it hasn’t come out yet—for us, that record’s done. We’re already looking towards the next studio album, and it’s going to be very exciting. Very exciting time. I’m of the mind that if you can put out four albums a year, you should. Between doing an Electric Six record every year and various other projects, I’m [also] in a New York band called Evil Cowards. We’re putting out a second album this year.
BROWN: I know that everyone lives in different cities. When you write, is it via e-mail, or do you write on your own?
VALENTINE: The music is done by everybody in the band. If I write a song—I’m not good at whistles and bells and producing, I’m just good at writing chords and stuff. Generally, we designate one person from the band to be the lead producer, but we all kind of lend our hand in musical writing. I guess I kind of have a lock on the lyrics. I think in the history of the band, only one other person has written one lyric.
BROWN: What was it?
VALENTINE: Well, it was, “Danger! High Voltage.” When I originally wrote it, it was: “Fire in the disco, fire at the Taco Bell” twice, but the guitarist at the time said, “Let’s change that second one to ‘gates of hell.'” And that was it. He gets x amount more money because of that.
We’ve had that reference to Taco Bell sitting out for 10 years, and a band we went on tour with a couple of years ago, they just got their song in a Taco Bell commercial. It sounds great, but we’ve been trying so hard. It’s just been sitting out there like a ball on a tee ready to be hit.
BROWN: You should go to the competitor, turn it into something negative: “Taco Bell is on fire, you should come here instead.”
VALENTINE: [laughs] Yeah, “You don’t really wanna go to that place, it’s on fire.” I like that.
BROWN: Do you have a favorite lyric?
VALENTINE: Of mine?
VALENTINE: Yeah. There’s a song called, “Riding On The White Train” and the lyric is, “Satan destroys you, but Jesus puts you in a little bowl and smokes you,” and that’s my favorite over all the lyrics I’ve written.
BROWN: Do you have it up on your wall?
VALENTINE: No. If you went to my apartment, you’d have no idea that anyone from rock-‘n’-roll, or Electric Six, for that matter, lives there.
BROWN: Tell me about your stage name, Dick Valentine. Is he a character?
VALENTINE: There is no character. Not at all. If you watch me on stage with a rock-‘n’-roll band, you might think something is different because there’s amplification and a lot of music, but there’s nothing. People read too much into it, I think, but I think it’s funny. It is nice to operate under a stage name for a long time. People get confused, which is nice.
BROWN: Earlier you mentioned that you play the same venues. What are some of these venues?
VALENTINE: We play Bowery Ballroom a lot—pretty much all the time. This coming tour, we’re doing two [shows at] Mercury Lounge instead of one Bowery Ballroom because it enables us to stay in the city two nights.
BROWN: I thought you were going to say something about establishing a more intimate connection with the audience.
VALENTINE: No, we just want be in the city longer. We’d all like to have more time in New York rather than get down to Philly the next day.
BROWN: Because there’s more to do in New York more or because the crowds are more receptive?
VALENTINE: All of it. And because Philly’s a shithole. So all three.
BROWN: No cheesesteaks and Liberty Bell for you.
VALENTINE: Hell no. You know, I hate freedom and I hate liberty, so we’re excited about staying in New York.
BROWN: What’s the weirdest question anyone’s ever asked you in an interview?
VALENTINE: When will you die? [laughs] It was one of the greatest interviews ever. He was wearing leather pants and smoking and looking at me intently and that was question number six. [laughs]
BROWN: What sort of people come to your shows? What’s your demographic?
VALENTINE: It’s all over the map. It depends, we go through cycles and phases, I guess. In 2005, it seemed like it was a lot of frat guys. But now we’re starting to see older couples coming to our shows. It’s more varied now. I don’t want to say that frat guys are disappearing—they’re probably not—but they’re disappearing from my radar, which is great.
BROWN: You don’t want to be on the frat party playlist with The Outfield and Journey? You’re the only original member of Electric Six, does is still feel like the same band?
VALENTINE: It’s different in a lot of ways, but there are some similarities, at least from my perspective. You would have to talk to the people who are no longer in the band. But to me, it ‘s different in the fact that I’m much older and the people that I’ve played with for the last seven years are way more professional. You can have a conversation with them. Those are the big differences.
BROWN: It’s an adult band now?
VALENTINE: Yes. Well, that was the debate back then, some people thought that, by definition, a band should not be adult. But, you know, it’s like anything—it’s a job and if you’re going to tour, you need people to at least make the effort. And we definitely have the people who can do that now.
BROWN: What’s the most alarming way a fan has expressed their admiration? Any lyric tattoos?
VALENTINE: I’ve seen those, but I try to tune them out. If you look at me now, if I just walked into a café, no one would say, “Oh, that’s a guy I wanna tattoo everything about him on me.” It’s weird from this perspective.
ELECTRIC SIX ARE PLAYING TOMORROW, FRIDAY OCTOBER 26, AND SATURDAY, OCTOBER 27, AT MERCURY LOUNGE IN NEW YORK. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.