Kiss Without the Makeup

Jumping jacks with the Electric Six

I go on the record with that guy: That guy's a total jackass," says Electric Six singer Dick Valentine (a stage name in the grand tradition of Bobs Darin and Dylan). "The further away from me he gets, the better."

We're speaking over the phone, and Valentine's Cracker Barrel food coma seems to ebb at the mention of the polarizing topic of Ted Nugent, who is moving from Michigan to Texas. The E6 are from Detroit, but Valentine cuts the Nuge no slack as a homeboy. "I think it's time (for him to go), man."

Comedic contrarians par excellence, the Electric Six have had a rather chaotic couple of years. Upon releasing their dance-rawk opus Fire in 2003 on XL Recordings (the British home of the White Stripes, Dizzee Rascal and many others), the E6 met with near-instant success in England and, after losing three original members, almost broke up before even touring on Fire.

"I don't know what they thought this thing was gonna be, but having been in this band for five years, I guess they all of a sudden decided that it was something different than what it was," Valentine says of the departure of Surge Joebot, Disco and the Rock and Roll Indian. "They weren't having fun; they didn't like it, so, they left." They were subsequently replaced by Frank Lloyd Bonaventure, The Colonel and Johnny Na$hinal.

You'll note the penchant for goofy names. Valentine explains: "We don't worry about (the names) too much. You know, when the Colonel came up with his, I was like 'What are you gonna call yourself?' and he just said, 'I think you guys need a Colonel.' So there weren't too many questions asked. We all spent about two seconds on our nicknames; it's not a very important part. It's one of those things that you do when you're 22 and 23, and then regret it when you're 33."

So despite the success of Fire and the hits it spawned ("Gay Bar," "Dance Commander," "Danger! High Voltage!"), the E6 were dropped by XL before releasing a second album. This in turn led to their signing with Warner, a partnership that's left more than a little to be desired.

"Our bass player is a producer, and he had previously worked with the guy who signed us. ... And then he actually left Warner after the 'Radio Ga Ga' (a Queen cover on the E6's new album Señor Smoke that was released as a single last year) thing came out, so we were left, uh, we're basically right now signed to Warner without an A&R guy," says Valentine, who is circumspect about the Warner situation. "The actual release of the record in the U.K. definitely didn't go according to plan. I understand those are the risks with signing with a major label these days."

Señor Smoke, titled in tribute to Aurelio Lopez, the closing pitcher for the 1984 World Series champions the Detroit Tigers, is thus far only available as an import in the United States. No one seems certain when it will be released here (it was released in February in England). But the preview copy I received indicates that it's forged from the same raw material as Fire was, despite the lineup changes. Namely, this is an album for lovers of dumbrock who want to dance (and then later, fuck). "Rock and Roll Evacuation" seems like the kind of song Spinal Tap might have written in the disco era. "Dance-A-Thon" panders in the way one should expect from a band Valentine has described as "Kiss without the makeup." There's even a sensitive ballad (with tongue planted cheekward) called "Jimmy Carter" that sounds a bit like Crash Test Dummies, if they weren't Canadian and had a riotous sense of humor.

Ironically, their manneristic metal-isms--the big, bawdy ridiculousness of their sound and how they play--have earned them a place in the British metal pantheon such that they won a Kerrang! (a British heavy music magazine) Award in 2004. "That's the weirdest thing. Kerrang! was solidly, solidly thumbs-down on this new record, but I couldn't believe they were into Fire, and I almost think that we pulled one over on them," says a rather amazed Valentine. "It was very strange how we're considered a hard band over there. Whatever the U.S. equivalent of Kerrang! is (Metal Edge? Guitar Player?), there's no way in hell they would give us any ink. So, yeah, we took that ran with it."

Out of nowhere, I ask Valentine about the picture of him and William Shatner on the Electric Six Web site. "When I was in L.A. to do the 'Dance Commander' video, I got a call from the record company saying that there was some Irish puppet show that was filming episodes out there in L.A., and they wanted me to be on one of the shows. And the other guest for the show I was on was Bill Shatner. It was totally random and totally mind-blowing.

"If I could tell you a little bit about the show--you're like in a chair and you're flanked by a puppet bear and a puppet rabbit, and to watch Bill Shatner be interviewed by two puppets--it was amazing, I mean, he didn't miss a beat. I learned a lot about being in an interview that day. He's tremendous. He took control of the interview, and that's what you have to do. I'm not taking control of this one, because I just ate at Cracker Barrel and I'm a feelin' a little (pfft!) ... but I understand, especially on television, you really gotta take control."

No discussion of the E6 would be complete without addressing their live show, an important facet of the E6 experience that frequently involves calisthenics on the part of Valentine. "(I do) the full calisthenics thing. I got that when I was 20 years old," the singer tells me. "I was at the University of Michigan, and Rob Tyner of the MC5 came to Ann Arbor and played a show. ... He was playing all new stuff with his new band, and nobody was getting into it or anything, and then he finally does 'Kick Out the Jams' at the end, and the place just goes nuts. I've never seen a place go from like zero to 60 like that. All of sudden people just jumped out of their chairs, everybody was just dancing onstage, you know, right in front of him. And I didn't know what to do, so I started doing pushups right at his feet. And ever since then it's been kind of my homage to the MC5."

The band encourages all manner of dancing, and in fact, it's nearly a requirement at their shows. Calisthenics, however, are optional.

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