It's hard to imagine Electric Six's manic frontman Dick Valentine doing anything other than stalking stages and inciting musical riots. But batteries that run that hot require constant recharging. Electric Six's current tour comes on the heels of a two-month road break, and its resumption isn't a moment too soon for Valentine.
"You sit at home and go grocery shopping and clean the bathtub and play Wii and Scrabble online, and you forget you're in a band," says Valentine. "When we were onstage in Cincinnati, it just kind of dawned on me that I'm in a really fun band. Every now and then, you realize what a great job you have."
Valentine has been at his great job for nearly a decade and a half, forming the Wildbunch in Detroit in 1996; legal threats from a British trip-hop outfit led to the name change. Electric Six have either broken up or shifted personnel a number of times since then, leaving Valentine as the lone original member. But his status as the band's primary songwriter has given E6 a trash-rock-fused-with-dance-pop consistency, from the early U.K. hits ("Danger! High Voltage," "Gay Bar," "Dance Commander") to last year's Kill. Given the band's propensity for performing songs from a character's viewpoint, it has endured a certain measure of misunderstanding.
"We're smarter than we come off, and lamer," says Valentine. "People are surprised that we've made six albums after 'Gay Bar,' and then there's the dipshit kids who come to our shows who think that the Dance Commander just wants to do a bunch of cocaine and wrestle with them at their frat house afterward. I've burst so many bubbles that way."
Since 2005's Señor Smoke, Electric Six have maintained an album-a-year pace. They even released two in 2008: a new studio album, Flashy, and a rarities compilation, Sexy Trash. So it's not surprising to hear that Valentine and band are already writing and recording their seventh album. Valentine notes that the next Electric Six set will be different than its predecessors.
"It'll be a little bit of a departure from what we've done," he says. "A little happier, peppier. Good times. An overall feeling of contentment and bliss."
The as-yet-untitled album will revolve around a concept that Valentine is keeping under wraps for the moment. The theme will ultimately determine which of the 16 songs they've recorded will end up on the finished record. And for fans who keep track, some famous folks will be name-checked.
"Some politicians, yeah," says Valentine with a laugh. "I am cognizant of that. There's one song that references Joe Biden, but I don't know if it's going to make the final cut."
Valentine has claimed in interviews that most Electric Six songs are about absolutely nothing, so it seems natural to wonder what inspires a song without an actual subject.
"Well, I think that's the answer right there," says Valentine. "It's easier to write when you're not writing about a person or place. You don't owe anyone or any historical account any sort of fact or truth — you just make shit up. It's an outlet. Now I'm rebelling against too much time on my hands. I'm rebelling against having enough money to buy too many videogames. It's time for a drug habit or some sort of bender where I lose it all and do the album where I go back to the beginning and remember what got me here. My Eddie and the Cruisers moment."
Of course, not every Electric Six song is "about nothing." Kill offered the hilarious and pointed "Escape From Ohio," taking the Buckeye State to task for Joe the Plumber, John Boehner, Jean Schmidt, cities that begin with the letter "C" and, well, buckeyes. Still, Valentine has a great deal of respect for our state.
"After traversing Ohio — I lived in Toledo when I was in middle school — and knowing the state as well as I do, I just felt something needed to be said," says Valentine. "But some of my favorite bands have come from Ohio. I like Detroit, and I enjoyed my time there. But I do think if you compare the two states, Ohio's had better music over the years. And I'm a big Sherrod Brown guy. It's like having Bill Murray for your senator."