Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
0000017c-60f7-de77-ad7e-f3f739cf0000Arts & More airs Fridays at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.Theme music: "Like A Beginner Again" by Dan Barry of Seas of Jupiter

Electric Six Makes Decades Long Career Out Of "Not Being Cool"

Dick Valentine of Electric Six
Cortney Armitage

It’s been 16 years since Detroit rock and disco band Electric Six released the hit single “Danger! High Voltage.” The band’s front man, who goes by the stage name of Dick Valentine, attributes the band’s early success to Jack White of The White Stripes — who sang on the single. But while White may have opened the door, Valentine says the band has kept it open. 

After more than two decades, Electric Six still plays packed shows and tours around the world. The band is coming to Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo next Saturday, March 24th.

Humor Is A Big Part Of The Band

Electric Six is about as well-known for its catchy tunes as it is for its over-the-top and humorous lyrics. The band also has a theatrical presence on stage. Valentine will often wear a suit, singing and talking in a unique vocal style. Valentine says he went through a lot of trial and error in developing his voice.

Dick Valentine of Electric Six
Credit Cortney Armitage

He says he's embarrassed to admit that at one time he sounded a lot like the singer of Barenaked Ladies.

Later on, Valentine says he started to get into Captain Beefheart.

“Wanted to sound like Beefheart — which I sort of do. But yeah, it just worked for me one day and you know our band the Wildbunch when we started in ‘96 was pretty over the top with the rock and everything. So I needed a singing voice to fit in with that,” he said. 

The Wildbunch was the original name of the band. Valentine says Electric Six doesn’t take itself seriously — and that’s the point: 

“I’ve never understood people getting angry about music that we’re making or having serious opinions about them when I still go on Facebook and I see full-grown adults ranking albums — and I don’t understand that at all. I don’t think they’re meant to be ranked, I think they’re meant to be enjoyed. To me there’s no concept of this music is better than that music. I just think that some music is more fun music than others I guess. I’ve looked at music as an outlet, not as something necessarily that important.”

Not Top 40 Pop Stars, But Making A Living

Valentine says the band has a good work ethic and stays humble — which is probably what’s helped its members to make a living for more than 20 years.

“I’ve seen a lot of bands go by the wayside because they need to be in tour buses or every member has to have his own hotel room kind of thing, whereas we’ll put four people in a hotel room and some nights you sleep on the floor," he said. 

Valentine says it's worth it. He says he loves to travel and talk to people that maybe have no idea what Electric Six has done for the past two decades. 

"I go to all these places and have friendships everywhere because of this band,” he said. 

Valentine says Electric Six may not the kind of band that plays big arenas, but he says crowds relate to them.

“Just the concept of posing for pictures and looking cool — it’s never sat well with me. I don’t want to be cool, I don’t want this band to make me cool," he said.

"I’m not cool and I’m not cool in a ‘you’re not cool therefore you’re cool.’ I mean I’m not cool in that I’m not cool — I’m one of the least cool people ever. So I think a lot of people identify with that."

Hear a longer interview with Dick Valentine

On Making A Whopping 13 Albums

This track is off of the band’s latest album — their 13th — called “How Dare You.” Valentine says, for them, being this prolific is actually pretty easy.

“The people in our band are very talented musicians and then also just with the advent of home recording bridging the gap of what studios can do," he said. "So everybody writes music, I write lyrics all the time. It’s not that hard to come up with 12 songs a year, at least for us.” 

Valentine says taking four years to make the perfect record isn’t really his style anyway.

“I can’t speak to everyone in the band, but I recognize I’m an extreme of just the notion that we’re here today gone tomorrow. I’m not a collector of material things at all and so I think I approach music that way," he said.

"I enjoy writing a song in the moment, I enjoy playing it live. But as far as the actual recording is concerned, it doesn’t affect me the way it affects a lot of people who listen to music.”

Electric Six’s fans don’t seem to mind paying for a new album almost every year. In fact, fans have funded six of the band’s albums through Kickstarter campaigns — including its upcoming release, a combined live acoustic record and Christmas album.

“I thought three campaigns ago people would be fatigued by it, but we just have a fan base that enjoys being connected with us that way," he said. "We do creative things, like I’ll give you a back rub for 15 minutes or I’ll play racquetball with you or that kind of thing — and people enjoy getting to do that.”

Valentine has also released several acoustic records on his own. He says he likes singer/songwriter music and it’s a lot of fun for him. Plus it gives him a chance to play an instrument every once in a while.

“I’ve really lucked out in the last few years. I’ve been able to go to the UK and Ireland and do like three or four weeks at a time over there just like going into pubs. I’ve been all over Ireland now in some really small villages and stuff just like playing a show at the pub — and to me that’s just amazing.” 

You can catch Electric Six at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo next Saturday, March 24th. 

Related Content