Fanning the fire

Dec 25, 2002 at 12:00 am

“I think I just came to a point where I looked in the mirror and I didn’t feel fun anymore.” he says shyly.

Speaking is the good-looking dishwater blond who goes by “Dick Valentine.” He is wearing a rainbow-colored knit cap that he may or may not know is inside out. Valentine is quiet, and would probably rather be anywhere else.

“I wanted to be more fun,” he explains. “And I wanted these guys to be more fun too.”

As we cozy up to our high-top tables at the Third Street Saloon in Cass Corridor, the rest of the band is at ease. Drinking, eating and cajoling, they make one another laugh. The guys have names like “Surge Joebot” and “Tait.” They call the tall one “the Rock ’n’ Roll Indian” and the Fu Manchu-sporting drummer is simply “M.” The bassist, “Disco,” is a no-show.

A snowstorm makes the lazy afternoon boozing relaxed and warming. And Electric Six are, in a lot of ways, like a family.

Valentine, the front man and principal songwriter of the Electric Six’s unruly strain of trashy rock ’n’ roll, has a role outside the sphere of the group. He stares pensively at an ashtray, excusing his rectitude with, “I just ate a bunch of Mexican food. I think it’s a food coma.” His quiet is almost intimidating.

Valentine’s personality is in direct contrast to the man he is behind the microphone. With a presence like David Byrne, one that obliges push-ups and pelvic thrusts, he hardly seems like the same guy who is concerned about arriving late for his day gig as a bus driver.

And the men of Electric Six are all surprisingly normal guys.

Lead guitarist Surge Joebot has a voice like gravel. On stage, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call him a guitar hero. In suit and sunglasses, he sneers and appears inaccessible. In person, he’s funny. He smokes at the same clip as he drinks beer; his comments are often punctuated by a round of nodding heads and chortles from his band mates.

The Wyatt Earp-meets-Rick James M is smooth, with a pimplike polish. Live, he’s all sweat and mock-androgynous — lip-pursing, Keith Moon wild. At the table, he is oddly calm and laughs with self-effacing grace.

The Rock ’n’ Roll Indian sits at the end of the table and eats pizza. He is, of course, brawny. He flashes huge grins. From behind his wispy dirty hair, he’s more like “your daddy.”

The group’s newbie is keyboard player Tait. He has a mod mien and an unruly brown mop, and the band members seem protective of him. “I loved these guys for years,” Tait admits.

The band formed in 1996 as the Wildbunch. Because of a copyright issue, the band was forced to change its name. Reportedly, a New York DJ owned the rights to “The Wildbunch.” This DJ suggested charging the band a lofty six-digit figure for simply borrowing the moniker. Hence, Electric Six.

“We don’t want to be owned by anyone, so we just changed the name, rather than fight it,” says Joebot.

E6 consider themselves to be your standard rock ’n’ roll band. Their fiery shows trumpet ’70s grandiosity and flair.

“When we first started, we thought that everybody hated it (the music),” says the Rock ’n’ Roll Indian. “So we were sort of doing it for ourselves,” adds M.

The guys speak in rounds.

“It was designed to be a little annoying,” admits Joebot.

Valentine adds, “I just thought that when we started, we came off the way we did because so many bands didn’t really do anything on stage. We just wanted to express where we stood (musically).”

E6 play a brand of rock ’n’ roll that springs from the purest of sources. They dig Kiss and Nazareth. The band has also added — rather cheekily — an element of disco to the music. With a foundation of all the basics that make rock ’n’ roll visceral and primeval and dolled-up with a touch of the faboo, E6 create one of the most customized styles to come out of Detroit in a long time. You can dance to it, you can play air guitar to it and, most importantly, you can screw to it. The music transcends boundaries. Truly.

The new single, “Danger! High Voltage” (due for stateside release in January) has already garnered loving nods in the UK; it’s a hit both in clubs and on MTV2 Britain.

The tune features a guest vocalist, long-rumored to be resident musical Rasputin Jack White. E6 have this to say about said rumor: “At this time, we can assure you, that we can neither confirm nor deny that Mr. White appears on this song.” (Though the hilarious red herring may cock a few heads and raise a few brows, any slightly familiarized ear will know that White did contribute.)

With the help of British producer Damien Mendis (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Aaliyah), E6 have been locked up for long hours at Detroit’s White Room studios to finish their full-length LP, Fire. Already earmarked for success, it touts a collection of rerecorded faves like “I Have Lost Control (of my Rock ’n’ Roll)” and a simply kick-ass version of “Danger! High Voltage.”

Things are getting more big-time by the moment.

The band recently returned home from a UK tour that saw them playing standing-room-only shows. The full-length video for “Danger! High Voltage” was produced by the edgy Kuntz and McGuire. Valentine, the lone band member in the video (his fellow mates are represented by bizarre paintings in the background), puts on, as David Lee Roth would say, a show.

Set in an English carriage house, amid roaring fireplaces and walls covered with products of taxidermy, the vibe of the video is pure (and, yes, the term is used loosely) sex. Sex with an older, no ... old woman. Illuminated erogenous zones juxtaposed with Valentine’s riding pants and ascot and his lady friend’s S&M leatherwear, the tongue-thrusting and dry-humping waver somewhere between depravity and brilliance.

The response to the video ranges from turned heads to outrageous laughter to unsettled psyches.

“We had some 13-year-old girl say that her life was totally changed by it,” says the Rock ’n’ Roll Indian, laughing.

The remark triggers another group guffaw.

“I swear to God.”

“And then some architect e-mailed us, and said ‘I am a normal guy … but this video is making me want to grow a pencil-thin mustache.’” (A reference to Valentine’s affectation in the video.)

The E6 guys appreciate the fanfare, but are aware of the absurdity of it all. They just want to make records.

The members of the group, it appears, are all industrious; each could have easily chosen a variety of career paths.

“It’s nice to be in a position where you don’t have anything to lose,” says Joebot.

“Look at us, we’re idiots.”

“For free.”


Catch the Electric Six with the Detroit Cobras and Peelander Z on New Year’s Eve at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward, Detroit. Call 313-833-9700 for more information.

Eve Doster is the Metro Times listings editor. E-mail [email protected]