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February 2019 - Electric Six

Relentless Detroit Rock 'n' Roll Builds a Dedicated Electric Following

Story by LCC Radio Reporter Sarah Spohn

Electric SixElectric Six’s front man Dick Valentine doesn’t describe the Detroit-based rock band as a serious contender in terms of the ‘perfect sound.’ He does, however, credit their seriously devoted cult-following fan base as an integral part of the band’s longevity.

Outside of the rock ’n’ roll show, Dick Valentine, 47 goes by Tyler Spencer –his actual name, and resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and children. Donning suits, and dancing on stage is all part of the show – a memorable live show that has kept loyal fans filling dance halls and venues for nearly 20 years.

Prior to Electric Six, Spencer founded the original lineup of The Wildbunch, in 1999. Members all attended Berkley High School, and considered themselves a Detroit-based band. Before that, Spencer found himself trying to be a rock ‘n’ roll drummer, and failing at it.

“In third or fourth grade, I got a drum set,” Spencer said. “Trying to be a drummer, I would drum along to albums I bought. I don’t think I was ever in a band until high school.”

“I started drumming with my friends in a band around the age of 16 or 17, and eventually kind of got weeded out as a drummer. It’s tough to be a rock drummer that’s for sure. So when it was clear it wasn’t in the cards for me to be a drummer, I became interested in singing and songwriting. I figured if I can’t drum for anybody’s band, then I’ll start my own band – and I’ll never be kicked out.”

While studying English Literature at the University of Michigan, and working at the campus radio station WCBN, Spencer’s musical tastes broadened. “I got into Captain Beefheart, The Pixies, and things like that. I got into poppy – verse, chorus, verse, chorus rock ‘n’ roll – which is what our band does.”

Spencer taught himself how to play the guitar, and began writings songs during college. During the late ‘90s, The Wildbunch was part of the garage scene, alongside The White Stripes, The Detroit Cobras, and The Hentchmen.

“We could gig every weekend if we wanted to, and all the bands were very supportive of each other – more so than a lot of places I’ve been,” Spencer said. “It was a very tight local music scene. Local music was very important, and support for local bands was kind of unparalleled, at least then.”
Electric Six Live
Music as a career was never a conscious move made by Spencer, but rather, decided for him. Electric Six received a record deal with XL Recordings, and that’s when sparks really flew for the rock band.

“At no point before that, was I banking on it – so that was the right place, right time, got lucky kind of thing. We went from zero to having a #2 single in the UK basically overnight,” Spencer said. “From there, we understood we had a cult following, and we understood that if we kept touring and kept touring, we could actually turn it into something.”

Think the Grateful Dead’s cult following, just several rungs down that ladder – that’s where Spencer describes Electric Six’s fans. “We don’t have a million fans out there, but we have 20-30,000 out there and that’s enough to sustain you,” he said. “Everywhere we go, you can count on us putting 200-300 people every night, sometimes more. It’s a living. We’re not millionaires. We’re making a living doing this. We look at it as doing our job, and it’s a great job.”

Because of those fans, the band has played nearly all the major festivals: Coachella, Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, Austin City Limits, etc. They’ve also managed to do multiple Kickstarter campaigns over the years for live albums, projects, and the mockumentary, “Roulette Stars of Metro Detroit,” filmed in the Motor City, because of the fans. The idea was to do a fake reality show, and the band never took themselves too seriously – a key component of what makes up Electric Six.

“For me, that’s everything – having a good time,” Spencer said. “I don’t ever want to lose sight of that. Some of the lineup changes we’ve had in the band – just because initially, they get in this band and they enjoy that kind of idea that this is a party – we’re out there to have a good time. Then I’ve seen a couple people who want to get serious about music again, and they’re kind of in the wrong band at that point ---- because I just want to have 9 cocktails in me, and get on stage.”

“There are people who want to be good in music, and I want to have fun with music,” Spencer said. “Having the perfect sound or perfect guitar tone has never been that important to me, as opposed to just having fun and writing a song I like.”

Being based in Detroit might prove to be problematic for musical groups’ identities, given the diverse range of sounds that the area is known for. Some might associate Detroit as Motown Hitsville USA, others associate garage punk rock bands of the ‘90s, still, others describe it as the birthplace of techno. Throughout 14 studElectric Six Liveio records, Electric Six has never worried about what people think of their sound, as varying as it is from album to album.

The band released their latest record, Bride of the Devil, in October 2018. Their 14th record was home-recorded and self-produced by keyboard player Chris Tate, and bass player Matt Thompkins, in Hamtramck, Michigan.

The release sees the band going back to its rock ‘n’ roll roots -- a perfect concoction of upbeat pop, mixed with dark, devilish themes.

“If we want to make a country record, we’ll make a country record, or if we want to make a synthesizer record, we’ll make a synthesizer record – and it’s just not more difficult than that as far as I’m concerned,” Spencer said. “As long as I’m enjoying it – we’ve been fortunate to have other people enjoy it, and sustain us.”

Perhaps ‘80s English ska band Madness’ lead singer Suggs said it best, in describing Electric Six’s strange charm. While backstage at one of Electric Six’s first Redding Shows, Spencer recalls meeting the British rocker. “He said, ‘I just want to say, there’s something to be said about having vaguely intellectual lyrics.’ That wasn’t advice, but that was kind of like this guy understands where I’m coming from.”

With fourteen records and a cult following, it appears thousands of people understand where Spencer and Electric Six are coming from – and we’re oh so proud it’s from right here in the mitten state.

Nice coming back to the Pig & Whiskey Festival every year in Ferndale because the free show draws the crowds.

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