Oct. 13 2017 10:53 AM

Dick Valentine talks music, touring and origins

The Electric Six
Courtesy Photo

Perhaps it’s good fortune that the Electric Six will be playing in Lansing the day after they released their brand-new album, “How Dare You,” on Oct. 13. Lansingites can breathe easy, knowing that their favorite Michigan-founded six-piece band doesn’t have bad luck to contend with, right before the start of the band’s international tour.

I caught up with the band’s frontman, Tyler Spencer, better known as Dick Valentine. We talked his origins, the band’s and about its busy schedule.

Are you excited to be performing the day after the release of the new album?

We’ve actually been selling it on tour, so people who’ve been coming to the shows have been able to get it. A lot of critical acclaim for this album, we’ve finally got it right. A lot of critical acclaim for this album. The adulation and the praise, it just keeps rolling in and I couldn’t be happier about it.

In interviews before, you’ve mentioned Electric Six doesn’t really write songs about anything. With a title like “Dark Politics” on your new album, are you breaking new ground here?

That one, maybe it’s just about a general mood that the protagonist in that song might be feeling, but those are just some words I’ve strung together. I think it’s a good song. The final song of the album is just clearly a man in over his head in the oil and gas industry who may have seen something he shouldn’t have seen and finds himself at a podium at a fundraiser and he’s trying to weasel his way out of it. Other than that, I’m fairly confident that it’s another Electric Six album that really takes you on a journey to nowhere.

It seems like a lot of fans want to go on that journey, though. You’ve got a bit of a break before the international leg of your tour begins. You’re playing in a lot of spots.

That’s not until February, which for us is a huge gap. We haven’t had a break this long in 12 years. We’ve never taken three and a half months off before, so a lot of us are pretty excited about that. We do love touring and it’s fun to be in this band, but this is going to be my first Thanksgiving at home in 11 years. We’ll be more than ready to hit it in February, we’re going to some pretty cool places.

We start in Germany, we go to Russia, we go to Holland. It’s fun to play those places. We’re already talking about our next album, our 14th album. We’re going to be doing this at least one more year. The whole time we’ve been doing this, we’ve never thought, ‘Well we’re going to be doing this for another decade,’ it just kind of happened. We approach it year by year.

Are you still based out of Detroit?

I’ve been in Brooklyn, New York, for a long time, but my wife is from Lansing. I’m in Lansing pretty much every Christmas and my brother in law and my two nieces live there as well. I’m in Lansing at least two or three times a year.

You’re a really prolific group, you’ve released an album every year pretty much for the last decade or so. How do you do it?

Speaking for myself, and I think the other two people who have been in the band for last 15 years with me, we just realized how lucky we have it to be able to tour and play shows. I think we were lucky that we got our record deal in our early 30s as opposed to our early 20s and had the entire decade of our 20s to work really shitty jobs and have perspective and realize that no matter how ‘bad’ things get on the road, it’s really not that bad compared to some shitty jobs we’ve been in. I think that’s what keeps us going.

Because your band has been around for a while, how do you deal with switches your lineup and maintain your steady stream of songs? Are you the only original member of the group?

If you look at what the band started as, The Wildbunch, then yes, technically. But there are six people in the band and three of us have been together for close to 13 years now. I’ve played 10 times as many shows with the current members as I did with the original lineup, so it’s kind of an unfair question at this point. It’s just that with a band that’s gone on as long as we have with six members, you’re going to have lineup changes. Sometimes people leave amicably, sometimes people leave under bad terms, it is what it is. We ultimately would like for it to work out, but because the first lineup imploded so seamlessly laughs, I kind of saw the value in not having contentious relationships within the band. If you’re going to spend your time in the band being a dickhead, then I don’t want you around.

How did you get involved in Wildbunch?

It was in 1996. I was 24 years old then and Detroit as it is now, it’s a great place to be in a local band because there’s so much local support. When I was 24, I was working office jobs or maybe in a coffee house, something like that, and the band was just kind of an outlet for working in shitty jobs, so that’s how I approached it. I just wanted an outlet, and that’s what it was for me for six years.

When you released “Danger! High Voltage,” it catapulted you into the international spotlight. Did that change how you approached your band early on?

Yeah, it was different. It was different than what I was used to, but at the same time, I’m always speaking for myself, but I’m a fairly grounded individual. So, I understood that having a hit on the radio — lots of other bands have done it. I didn’t look at it like, ‘Now I’m entitled to be a dickhead or something like that.’ Laughs. I looked at it as an opportunity for our band to have a career. I always think it’s funny when people say, ‘Oh, they’ve got a 13th album and they’re trying to recreate the magic.’ There’s nothing further from the truth. I know we’re not going to have another radio hit, we have a fan base that can enjoy our music and they sustain us. So as long as we can keep putting out music and enough people buy it, we can keep doing this.

Ultimately, we’re just trying to have fun. That’s always been the goal of this band, to have a good time. You don’t come and see us and say, ‘Wow, they’re trying to be too serious.’ We’ve always tried to take the approach that you can have fun watching us for an hour and then go back to whatever’s causing you stress. We want to be a stress release for you. The other thing I’ve noticed in the 15 years of doing this, there’s never been a band that aspires to be Electric Six. We have the market cornered in being Electric Six because no one else wants to be us.

Where did you get the name Dick Valentine?

It took about two seconds. I had a different stage name at first and I didn’t really like it. I thought it sounded kind of like an old-timey crooner, a guy who leads, like a big band or a swing band — that kind of thing. Harking back to a different era.

Were you always musically inclined as a kid?

My parents bought me a drum set when I was 9 years old and I fancied myself a drummer for pretty much all of middle school and high school. What I learned when I finally got into a band, was that I wasn’t very good. The first band that I was in, they kicked me out and replaced me with a better drummer — that was in high school. What I learned from that was that it’s probably in your best interest to be able to write your own songs and do your own thing, rather than be at the behest of someone who can fire you. Laughs.

That was my inspiration. I learned over the course of three or four years how to write lyrics and how to work a guitar well enough to do chords and write melodies and stuff like that. That was the beginning of it. Then I went to the University of Michigan and I played in a couple of bands there and once I graduated, I moved back to the Detroit area and it was kind of aimless and directionless, so it was a good time for me to start a band because it gave me a sense of purpose at the time.

How did you find out you can sing?

It was a very slow process. Guitars have an effects pedal and synthesizers have hundreds of sounds, so I discovered that if you use a different accent or different voice in every song, it’s kind of like having a guitar pedal. It’s an effect that you can do. I can sing falsetto, I can do a low register. I’m a big proponent that anybody can sing, it’s just getting over yourself and being confident enough to do it. That’s where a lot of people get lost. But I think anyone can carry a melody and do it well.

The Electric Six

Saturday, Oct. 14

8 p.m.

Tickets start at $12

The Loft

414 E. Michigan Ave.,

Lansing

(517) 913-0103

theloftlansing.com