NHC MUSIC Talks To Dick Valentine Of Electric Six - Chrissy Mullen

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of grabbing a chat with Dick Valentine of Electric Six fame right before their sold-out show at Glasgow’s very own Oran Mor. I’d arrived windswept and flustered due to the little game Scotrail and I have called “Next Train – Delayed” and my favourite sequel “Cancelled.” Many of you are avid fans I’m sure.

I’d caught Dick (go on – have a chuckle) in good spirits as, not only were the band about to play another sold-out show as part of their tour for new release “Fresh Blood for Tired Vampyres”, they were also celebrating Thanksgiving together. I was made to feel welcome right away and even made an honorary American to boot.

So, how’s the tour going so far?

It’s been great! We’ve had a lot more sold-out shows than last year and it keeps getting better. We’re like a snowball. There’s a snowball effect that’s becoming a… a snowball!

A bigger and bigger snowball then?

A bigger and bigger snowball and you can’t stop us. You literally cannot stop us!

It’s great to have you guys back. I think the last time I seen you was at the ABC about a year or two ago.

Well, we played here last year so that might have been the year before. We’ve been playing the ABC for a very long time but we really like it here. (Oran Mor)

I really enjoyed that show but, as a fan, I thought that the early finish due to the club’s curfew was a bit of a shame.

We’ll be finishing up a little early tonight as well. The earlier finishes tend to suit us as we have to hustle down the coast after this. We have to head to Stranraer to get the ferry to Belfast so it’s nice to leave a little early to make sure we get there at a reasonable hour.

So, this is the twelfth studio album you guys have released, you have multiple side projects, DJ and always seem to be doing something or other. How do you find trying to find a balance between your personal life and what seems like constant work?

We actually have a lot more free time than what it looks like. It seems like I’m on the road a lot but if you actually break it down I’m only away from home around 14 weeks a year. As you know there are 52 weeks in a year so if you do the maths I’m actually home for around 38 weeks per year. If you take maybe another 4 of those away for bits and bobs or recording it shows I’m actually home a lot more. I mean, everyone pitches in and everyone writes songs so it’s actually easier to do than I think it looks. If you look at the business model of bands not putting out as much as we do it’s not as much to do with time than people worrying about it being bad more than we do.

We look at this as a job and we just want to get more put out there. Until the free market dictates that we can’t do this anymore – that means if you stop buying the tickets or stop buying the records then we’ll stop. Until then, we’ve no incentive to go away as it’s just too much fun and too easy.

So, would you say that you’re able to do that because of the commercial success of “Fire”?

I was just having this conversation yesterday. I think that another way bands kill themselves –
As mentioned previously, the guys were celebrating Thanksgiving and just about to have their Thanksgiving meal together. At this moment, Dick’s starter had just arrived but he kindly continued the interview while ninja darting to and from his soup without missing a beat -
So, as I was saying, what happened to us after Fire was we got dropped from our record label and a lot of bands when that happens go “oh, it’s over” or “we’ll never be as big as we used to be!”

We never thought we’d be that big in the first place so for us to go to that level then come back to this level that we were already at – to me, that wasn’t a problem. We were able to just kind of pick ourselves up and build up a kind of cult following. We still play a lot of the same rooms we used to in those days when we had the hits so as far as me experiencing this and living it day to day it doesn’t really feel that different. I don’t watch television so I never saw myself in the videos.

Really? That’s interesting as at that point every time you turned the channel you guys were pretty much there.

Well, I mean I was aware of that, but if you don’t watch television and don’t see it then it just seems like everyone around you is going crazy – and now I’m going to have a bite of soup!
That was great, so what’s next?

Still keeping to a similar topic – I was recently listening to “Lottery Reptiles” and some of the lyrics stood out to me – “you lose money doing things your way.” Was that just stating a general fact of life you’ve observed or a nod to your experiences in the music industry?

Well... Not really. To explain the genesis of that song - I live in New York City. A lot of times I’m going to a corner store or bodega and all I want is like a bottle of water or a tube of toothpaste. I end up in line behind someone playing a million lottery numbers when I just want to buy something at a dollar and they’re taking forever like *cue some sort of Farmer Sam/hick voice* “5! 1! 9! 2! 50! 50!! I SAID FIVE! ONE! NINE…”

So I started calling these people “lottery reptiles” because they’re just everywhere and holding up your day. So, I think the lyrics are just kind train of thought with that in mind - you actually lose money and time doing things your way.

When it comes to writing lyrics, how do you manage to write so much given the amount of material you have?

I have a phone that’s quite similar to yours actually and your phone probably has a note pad. So, as I’m going through the day I type in things that I’m thinking about on the notepad and string them all together. At the end of the day it doesn’t even have to make sense – you just have to have some words and hopefully some of them add up. Maybe some of them rhyme or maybe they don’t but just don’t overthink it.

That’s a fantastic approach to song-writing and makes it sound so easy.

It just depends. You try to make it work, you try to make it good and try to make it add up to something but it doesn’t have to. I get people on Facebook trying to settle bets all the time like “is this song about this?” or “is this song about that?” and I’m like “that song’s not about anything – it’s just some words.” I’m going to go grab some more soup now then let’s go to the next question.

With such a large catalogue of material to choose from, how do you go about creating your set list for each show?

We just kind of do the stuff we’re comfortable with. Obviously, we have to ram High Voltage, Gay Bar and Dance Commander in there and people expect that. We have done a couple of shows where we don’t do those songs but it just depends on the night. We try to do stuff off the new album but people have been paying for Kickstarter encores lately and we have one tonight actually. Someone gave money to our Kickstarter campaign and got to choose the four songs we’ll play for the encore. A lot of times we leave those songs in the set as we’ll go eight years without playing it then go “oh we should have been playing that song!” Our set is sort of structured but sort of not. I’d say our set is about 85% the same every night and we kinda mix it up for the other 15%.

I’ve just got a few more questions, then I can let you get back to your food. As mentioned before, you’ve been in music for years with different side projects, a lot of the writing as well as all the DJ stuff – how many instruments can you actually play?

Anything stringed I can fake. I play all the rock and roll instruments at an average to below-average level. I can drum, I can bass, I can synth but I never even wanted to be good at those. I just wanted to be good enough to write a song. I’ll never be in anyone’s band as a technical musician. I can be in your band if you were very patient with me but I’ve just gravitated towards singing and writing lyrics at this point.

Before you go, I outsourced a few questions to the fans to see if they had anything pressing they would like to ask you and well… got what was expected.

The first question is “where exactly do you buy your drugs”?

I don’t – I’m actually drug free. I’ve been drug free pretty much my entire life and that goes to even over the counter stuff. I had a 10-day flu where I got addicted to NyQuil and I never wanted to go back there again so I’m actually clean living. So yeah, I don’t buy drugs or even know where people buy drugs. Somebody offered us drugs the other night and I thought it was acid but I was told it was actually cocaine so I can’t even tell the difference between acid and cocaine. I’m clean living and it’s fantastic. You know, to look at that plant over there and know that it’s a plant and not a demon is great.

Has it been difficult to stay away from all that, then? The music scene is notorious for the whole “Rock ‘n’ Roll” lifestyle and it’s easy to find yourself surrounded by it all.

Not really, as I see that it can turn people into assholes and I don’t want to devastate my friends and loved ones so it’s been easy for me. I’ve never really gravitated towards it all. I like to drink but as far as like cocaine or acid, mushrooms or PCP, downers, uppers or luds or quasars, I haven’t really went for. I mean things could change; maybe I’ll go through a mid-life crisis.

Well, I’m sure that will be an interesting experience for you.

Totally, I’m sure a little acid in my life would be great.

So, fan question number 2 – does Two-Handed Bob actually have two hands?

He’s right over there, you can judge. He’s using two hands to wipe his face – spread the word.
Definitely two hands there!

How many volts is a dangerously high voltage?

How many? I don’t kno- four? I’ll say four.

Why do you keep starting fires?

Well, you know, to write off the properties and collect the insurance. It’s all about the bottom-line, isn’t it?

Of course, of course – we’ve all been there. Well, thanks for answering those as you’re sure to have eased some minds and delighted some fans. We’ve covered all that I had as well so I hope you guys have a great Thanksgiving and show tonight.

Well, we love our fans. Without our fans, we are literally nothing so that’s fantastic and I’ll answer all the questions. Tell you what, I’m going to have one more bite of soup then we’ll squeeze in one more question if you have anything else you want to ask.

Thank you. I do have one more question actually. At New Hellfire Club we work with a lot of independent bands at different levels – some of which are just starting out, some on the cusp of turning it into a career and some who do it full time. After your all of your experiences of the ups and downs, what would you advise to any bands looking to take the next step?

The only thing I ever advise to younger up and coming bands is to always have a Plan B. Don’t assume that just because you’re a good band or have a good idea that it’s gonna work out because it’s not always like that and in fact rarely ever does. I mean that sincerely – we got very lucky and got put in a unique situation. I’ve seen lots of good bands, really good bands, not make it and I’m getting into my forties now and see quite a few people that I was very good friends with still think they are going to make some day and they’re getting well into their forties and fifties and it’s hard to watch. These are people who never had a Plan B and have to move back in with their parents and stuff. I don’t mean to criticise or anything like that but I think always have a Plan B. Do music because you like it and not because you want to be a star. If it works out and you make a career out of it then great but it doesn’t always work out. Always have a Plan B, a Plan C – make money and don’t burden the people in your life just because you think you’re a rock star. So, there you have it.

What a great note to end on and words of wisdom. Thank you again for your time and all the best for the rest of the tour.

You can check out Fresh Blood for Tired Vampyres here: https://metropolisrecords.bandcamp.com/album/fresh-blood-for-tired-vampyres