If dance rock is the kingdom, then Electric Six are the kings. Having invented the crunch-chord dancefloor scene with their debut album Fire back in 2003, the E6 pushed the limits of comedy in rock with “Danger! High Voltage,” “Improper Dancing,” “I Invented the Night” and the viral sensation of their “Gay Bar” video. Fresh Blood For Tired Vampyres is their newest release on Metropolis Records, and the E6 pours R&B, riff rock and breakbeats into a funky gumbo with all the rude silliness one comes to expect from their leader, Dick Valentine. We caught up with Dick on the eve of their fall tour kickoff show at Webster Hall in New York City this past September.
GAMV: Is it a challenge to you to continue to be faithful to the Electric Six sound and still make it fresh for yourself? What is different about this album than maybe the last few?
Dick: I think it’s more urban. As close as we can hit that R&B kind of thing. We found ourselves going through the recording process without a drummer. It was kind of clear that rather than audition drummers, we try to meet the deadline having it and we knew it is going to be a drum machine. That kind of lent itself to that sound. You know, you never really plan these things but it just turned out that that’s the style that we are writing this time around.
GAMV: How did you arrive with Two Headed Bob as your new drummer going forward?
Dick: The guy that is playing bass for us right now, Rob Lower, they were in a band together called Might Tiny out of Boston that supported us a couple of times. So we knew him and we played before and so he was pretty much an obvious choice for us going into the tour.
GAMV: I was just looking at some of your past sets in the past few months and stuff and it doesn’t seem that you started playing these new songs live yet. Is that right?
Dick: That’s correct. We don’t really— we are going to probably debut a couple in Toronto. We don’t really rehearse, so rehearsals are a sound check. That just comes from all the living in different cities, having kids and that kind of stuff. We don’t really rehearse in a traditional sense.
GAMV: Which songs off the new album are you looking forward to playing live?
Dick: We are doing “Skin Caboose,” which sounds incredible. We’ve already done that and sound checked a few times. “I’ll Be in Touch” and probably “In My Dreams,” those are the three that we are targeting right now. “Number of the Beast” might be very difficult to do. We’ll see if we can get to that at one point.
GAMV: Yes, I noticed some of the songs on Fresh Blood for Tired Vampyres are pretty complex, so I was wondering how you were going to achieve some of those live.
Dick: Well, the great thing is you don’t have to. When you have 12 albums you can fill up a 19-minute set and there’s a lot of songs that you can’t get to.
GAMV: Are you going to pull out any older songs that you hadn’t been playing live much in the past few years? Did anything sort of jumped out at you to revive?
Dick: You know, we do, we are doing a kick-starter campaign right now. And one of the packages that we sell is one where you choose the encore. So a lot of people do buy their way in forcing us to do songs that we have never done before. Some song from those encores sounded really good, so we kept them on the set.
GAMV: You’ve been doing some pretty interesting covers in the past, like “Cat People” by David Bowie, but you’ve been doing “Easy Lover” lately too. Can you talk a little bit about how you choose those covers?
Dick: One of the things we kick-started a few years back was called Mimicry and Memories. The mimicry part was us doing covers. Those two were songs that were picked by people to bid on in the Kickstarters. And those songs all go well live. If you’re playing an outdoor festival kind of thing, you’ll find that “Easy Lover” really works there because a lot of people maybe don’t know your band, but they know “Easy Lover.” “Cat People,” once you start doing that song, it’s kind of tough to stop doing it, especially since it’s an amazing song.
GAMV: Speaking of Bowie, people have been talking about 2016 as a record year for musicians passing away. Did any of those deaths mean something personal to you?
Dick: To be fair, David Bowie did kind of actually hit me hard. You know, if I’ve never met somebody, I usually do a good job of filtering out the fact that I don’t actually know them as a person, I know the media person. You know, a lot of times people pass away and I’ve never met them. But me and Bowie I always thought that it would actually meet him. I thought our paths would cross somehow, but that was a tough one for sure.
GAMV: I can see how you might connect to Prince as well.
Dick: Yeah I do, I love a lot of his songs. I don’t mean to sound weird but yes, for whatever reason, I feel the way I do because it’s not like I ever met him. Bowie hit me a lot harder. Let’s put it that way.
GAMV: I guess, I just mentioned Prince because your live show is such a big part of what people know Electric Six for, and Prince was such a formidable performer. With you being a front man, I figured somewhere within there, maybe you took a cue from here and there as most everybody did.
Dick: Yeah for sure. A lot of his radio hits are still catchy and he is an amazing lyricists. I’ve done “When Does Cry” at karaoke for the last twenty years. That’s one of my staples. And when you went to see him live any time in the past ten years, he’d do three hours set and he won’t touch any of those songs. He could just do about anything. He was more talented than anyone I know.
When I talk about people dying that I’ve never met. I just want to clear on that, that Prince is enormous and it’s the same kind of thing with Robin Williams and I know he was stuck with depression. I like his movies a lot, and I know his talent, but I don’t sleep over it. With Bowie actually I stayed up thinking about. It’s kind of weird because I wasn’t expecting it.
GAMV: What was it about Bowie that you connected with?
Dick: You accept him as successful, but he had an almost a decade of false starts, you know. He fronted of a lot of like bands, all these traditional kind of London bands. He had a decade obscurity and you know one day the difference paid off. The way he reinvented himself, he was a very unique performer and it’s definitely a career that I’m envious off in a lot of ways.
GAMV: If you had to pick one of the songs that when you were done with it, you thought, “That’s what I really wanted to put on this album,” which would it be?
Dick: Yes, probably two. You know “I’ll Be In Touch,” we went into that song and I thought, “I want us to sound like Pink.” You know, I wanted to get a radio hit like Pink. You hear them in the supermarket, you go to YouTube and her videos have a billion views. So I know, you know, neither of those things can happen for us but at least I wanted— that was a goal going into that song. You know, it is that kind of song I think. “My Dreams” — that’s what’s Electric Six is all about. That’s the song that I can’t wait to do.
GAMV: Last question, is there any misconceptions about Electric Six that you would like to clear up.
Dick: Yeah, I mean. We are— how can I say this. We are not meatheads. I think that there’s a lot of meatheads that come to our show and the students that were like them —just because they hear the lyrics and think that all we are interested in is drugs, partying and women. Nothing can be further from the truth. We played at a festival this summer and I got put in a sleeper whole by a meathead. That they assumed that, that’s what I wanted to be done with my body. It’s just horrifying. They are a lot of really dumb people out there. Some of America are bad. I want a more cerebral— I want like a wine and cheese kind of crowd at this point in my life.
GAMV: That’s very interesting because that doesn’t sound like the Dick Valentine from the first album.
Dick: I’ve never been that person. Again, I think you go into an album, you create a character. You try to have fun. In fact, the whole thing about the Fire album is trying to make people believe that you are somebody you are not. It’s a fun album. It’s a party album, but you know I’ve never been much a partier. I’m much more of a get-on-the-internet-and-play-nineteen-games-of-Scrabble kind of person.