Interview by Chris Leonard
Its a pretty cold, miserable, rainy and grey night in the big city of Monaghan and to be honest, I’m not too arsed about heading out tonight until I get a Facebook message just saying “He’s here” followed by a number of exclamation marks. So, to paint a better picture, here is a little bit about Monaghan. We are OK at GAA apparently….. Eh…..We are a real place and we do have a Dealz and a KFC, That’s kinda the best picture I can paint right now but its also the last place you would expect to bump into a man who has had a record hit the Number 2 slot in the UK charts and is also a friend of Jack White’s but in my local bar in Monaghan, the ever awesome McKenna’s, where you never know what is going to happen, one night you could have a trad session, the next night it could be lads playing air guitar on top of the pool table or nights like tonight when the lead singer from the band Electric Six, Mr Dick Valentine, just happens to be running an open Mic session…. yes its just that kinda place.
McKenna’s is the local hub for Unsigned acts and wannabe rockstars in the North East region and from further afield. They are ALWAYS there to help local bands get their first gigs under their belts before they set out on the road to stardom. Not only is the bar a great place for like minded people to go to listen to unsigned bands but also are behind the now legendary Harvest Time Blues Festival which happens every September but that’s a story for another time, tonight is all about Dick Valentine who is currently in Ireland promoting and touring his latest solo offering “Robocalls”. Before the show I got the chance to ask Dick a few questions.
As an unsigned band back in the 90’s, before you signed to XL records in 2002,what made you guys stand out from all the other bands in the Detroit area?
We stood out because we were not your classic garage band, we were the yin to the yang of that. Garage bands tend to wear Jean jackets with T- shirt’s and be skinny where as we wore leisure suits and were fat and had an ethos of trying to be entertaining, not be so serious and make the audience feel like they are having a good time and most of the time that worked as we were the only band in Detroit doing that. Of course, we took alot of heat in the scene because people thought “If this is a joke, I don’t get it” but whatever. As far as getting signed, XL seen that the track High Voltage was blowing up on a club level and it also helped with having Jack White on the track so it was easier for XL to take a chance on us.
Just before I was coming down to meet you tonight, my wife was listening to Kerrang radio and Danger, Danger (High Voltage) came on the radio as I was putting on my coat. How does that make you feel knowing its still getting played?
It’s nice to have a couple of songs that still get played and that people may only know us for the first record but its a nice combination because if we play a show then half the crowd are into our entire catalogue. Sometimes its kinda annoying having some people over analysing our stuff saying “well, this record isn’t as good as this record etc.” but in those kind of situations I kinda just like the person that just wants to hear Gaybar.
As a band you guys are ridiculous prolific when it comes to releasing albums. Next month sees you release studio album number 13 (How Dare You) as well as a Live DVD not to mention your Solo albums. Do you ever find that you get writers block or If you do, how do you over come it?
I’ve had writers block that might maybe last a day but I think the key is not to stress about it and just think that you are not doing anything terribly important. I’ve always wanted Electric six to be about no stress. I didn’t even want the name of the band to be that, sometimes I still cant believe that’s the name of the band but whatever this is…. I just want it to be about fun and not be over analysed.
What are your personal influences, what would you listen to on your iPod on the tour Bus?
Well, I don’t own an iPod, when I’m touring I don’t really seek out music as I’m so immersed in it. I hear music at clubs and with support bands and I enjoy them all but when I was in my late teens or early 20’s I would collect records but one day I woke up and realised that I didn’t need to do this as avidly as I was doing it and never looked back. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy music, I’ve had bands from that point of my life that have influenced me like The Pixies and Talking Heads but now I live in Brooklyn and I hear alot of Hip-Hop on the radio or coming out of cars as I’m walking down the street and I would get inspired to write a song. I’m definitely inspired by urban music alot. I might not know who the artist is but I would like to know.
Could we see an Electric Six album going down that Hip-Hop route?
The last albums was probably as close as we would come to that. But who knows? There is only so many hours in the day, I’ve got a kid, John Nash (Electric Six Guitar player) has a kid and we are running out of time ha ha but who knows, we’ll see.
For being so prolific, how do you guys actually fit so much into your day? You have so much going on with albums and erotic novels and not to mention your solo stuff and your family. How do you do it?
I think it starts from the fact that the songs we are writing are not Prog Rock songs. They are 3 minute Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge songs and I can write like 5 of them in a day. All I need is for a babysitter to come and watch my kid. To add to that, there are 5 of us in the band and we are all very capable of putting things down into Logic or Garageband so everyone writes music and I’ve got a billion lyrics on my phone right now so all I gotta do is copy and paste them into a track. I write lyrics all day long, like the drive up here, I was typing lyrics into my phone and I will go back to them when I need them
You guys play in Ireland alto where as alot of American bands would do mainland Europe and the UK and wouldn’t come to Ireland as it costs alot of money to bring staff, equipment, stage shows across on the ferry and taxes but what makes you guys keep coming back here? How does Ireland rate as a place to play?
Its incredible! Not just the Electric Six shows but what I’m doing now, going into towns like Monaghan, last year I did Slane and Kilkenny and places that the band would never, ever go but Ireland is an Incredible country and its been fantastic to know it doing these kinda shows.
If you could speak to Electric Six 20 years ago knowing what you know now. What advice would you give to your unsigned selves?
I’m the only original member left of the band and back then I was trying to tell the guys that its a marathon and not a sprint and that if you have a bad day, a bad show or even a bad review, its not the end of the world and I would try to make them realise that but it never really stuck but now I have good relations with one of those guys ha-ha, so that’s a win but that was a long time ago.
Is having a record deal such a big thing now in 2017 as it was maybe 15 or 20 years ago?
We are really thankful with our deal that we have with Metropolis Records and they have put out our records since Señor Smoke but our deal means the world to us, I don’t know how you go around getting ahead without a deal but we have been with Metropolis for a long time but it really helps to have someone helping to finance your music. We got sign to Metropolis as we were already established and they knew that they didn’t have to pump money into the band for touring and promotion. Of course they do promotion and they have their channels and networks but I’ve always said that any act putting out music just cant put it out as people need to be “led to the water to drink”… you cant just put out music and hope for it to go viral because its awesome. It just doesn’t happen.
Have you any advice for Unsigned or up and coming acts on how or what they should do to get seen?
Play as many shows as you can. Network, Socialize, be nice to everybody. That’s probably one of the things, if I could go back in time I would probably have not been as stand off-ish with some people. You should try to be nice to everyone in your local scene and even have relations with all the acts in your local scene even if they are Dweebz. But also, have a Plan B because its tougher and tougher to do this as a living and you want to make sure that you can pay your bills. Technology is such that everybody can home record and if you are good enough to have a local gig then that could be and should be enough…. If you get the chance to tour, just have fun with it
And finally, when will your Irish fans get to see you live again?
Oh yeah… we are back in February or March time. We just postponed the tour but we have a date in mind all ready for both Dublin and Belfast so stay tuned.
And with that, Dick Valentine, Officially the coolest and most humble rock star in the world is off to delight a crowded house of eager fans in Monaghan with a set of originals, Electric Six songs and a few covers including a hair raising version of Hey by the Pixies.
Check out www.facebook.com/upcloseandpersonalpromotions for more dates with Dick Valentine around the country.