Electric 6 are a hard band to classify.
Not just because their eight albums seem to be crafted out of a pastiche of late ‘90s Detroit garage rock, synth pop and disco theatrics, but because they have been, and remain, so aggressively audacious in whatever they do.
Now, 10 years since their debut album Fire, featuring the ubiquitous dance floor fillers Danger! High Voltage and Gay Bar, it remains unclear whether Electric 6 is a playfully irreverent band lampooning the absurdity of 21st-century rock ‘n’ roll, or just another glittery cog in the wheel of the mainstream pop machine. Whatever the case may be, lead singer Dick Valentine doesn’t really care how you classify them.
“Look, I put bands in boxes, I put other things in boxes, I put everything in a box,” he said. “If we were just known as the Gay Bar band, which we are to probably half the people that come to see us, that’s fine. I’m OK with that box, it doesn’t really affect me.”
Electric 6 grew out of Detroit’s burgeoning garage rock scene of the late ‘90s — the same one that catapulted the careers of The White Stripes into critical and mainstream success. (It’s widely believed that the Stripes’ Jack White lent vocals to Danger! High Voltage, although Valentine and his bandmates remain adamant that it was an auto-mechanic named John S. O’Leary on the track.) Valentine, né Tyler Spencer, credits the Motor City’s strong music scene for his band’s early success.
“Detroit always has been a place where local music has great support. If you’re a local band playing a local show it’s a big event and people are always up for it,” he said. “It’s a great place to be a local band because you feel like you’re doing something even if you’re not leaving town. It was very supportive and that’s what kept us going for five or six years without a record deal.”
After signing with XL Recordings for their debut, Electric 6 received a lot of early attention, especially in the U.K. where Fire went gold. The initial success was spurred mostly by their two charting singles and resulting music videos, both of which exemplify the band’s mischievous tone. (The popular video for Gay Bar features dozens of oiled-up Abe Lincoln clones pumping iron with their shirts off.) Valentine, who has remained the band’s primary songwriter and sole original member over the years, hasn’t strayed too far lyrically from the early jocular hijinks that characterizes most Electric 6 songs.
“It’s not forced. (Using humour) is the easiest way for me to write songs; it’s not contrived, it’s not a novelty, it’s the path of least resistance for me,” said Valentine. “We never take straight line paths from A to B ... We try to be vague and not write songs about anything in particular.”
Valentine went back to basics in May, with the release of his first solo effort, Destroy the Children, an acoustic album that he characterized on the band’s website as “the ultimate indulgence of a man who hates music, but loves himself.” The record was a departure from the busy sound on Electric 6 albums of the past; a necessary move for Valentine.
“I don’t think it’s healthy to do the same thing with the same group of people for 10 years … It’s a way to keep it fresh and take a different approach once in a while,” said Valentine, who’s planning to release a second solo album this spring.
Electric 6 are continuing their fevered pace with the launch of a Kickstarter campaign last month to fund a live concert DVD Absolute Treasure and they’re also currently writing material for their ninth studio album in 10 years.
“It’s definitely going to be more guitar heavy than the last one. We did kind of a synth record last time around, so we always try not to repeat what we did,” said Valentine. “We got some pop nuggets, we got some other nuggets. It’s an album of nuggets.”
Dig up some of those nuggets Monday (March 11) at the GLC. Doors are at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 at the door or $15 in advance at the GLC, Billabong, Showcase or online at www.clubzone.com.