By Sarah Bennett
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This is the point when the DANGER! signs start to flash:sure, your band scored a one-off indie dance hit, thanks to a lot of campy cleverness, a frantic get-down vibe, and some borrowed underground credibility courtesy of a guy named Jack White and a spot on one of the übercool mix collections assembled by 2 Many DJs.
But you're actually a real band underneath the novelty and the hype—with a knack for Devo-inspired weirdness and classic-rock riffs—and after laboring in near-obscurity for six years in Detroit, you'd kind of like to pack in that day job as a bus driver and make a serious go at this whole rock thing. So now what?
If you're Dick Valentine, the frenzied front man of the Electric Six, you find a new lineup as road-ready as you and hook yourself up with a U.K. label (Rushmore/Warner) that can finally make good on the following you've amassed overseas—with your song "Danger! High Voltage."
But you also give yourself the pep talk—about how your sound can't be summed up with just one song, no matter how catchy or cheeky it was. And you put some of the many other songs you've written into a new album, Senor Smoke, which will be released in the U.K. this month. And if all goes well, you work out a way to get that record out in the U.S. somehow, and then you just keep hand-jiving along from there.
"We kind of see ourselves as, like, the heir apparent to Guided By Voices, really," says Valentine, calling from his new home in New York City. "I mean, we're just going to put out the albums that we want to put out and, hopefully, put them out more frequently—it's been a year and half since the last one, and we don't want to keep doing that. And we are kind of a touring machine, so we want to keep that going."
The band's new songs don't have quite the same funny factor as such oldies but goodies as "Naked Pictures (Of Your Mother)" and "Gay Bar" (from their 2003 debut Fire), but they still owe more to new wave than to the garage-rock tradition of their Detroit hometown. And for Valentine, that's staying true: "I've always said that however Jack [White] feels when he hears Son House, that's how I feel when I hear 'Metro' by Berlin," he says
But those who first fell in love with Electric Six because they were awed by Valentine when he dropped to do pushups onstage or sported just one creepy black-leather glove at a live show—or because of the band's outrageously over-the-top music videos—needn't worry. They haven't cleaned up their act too much. They just finally got the guts to put things in the right order: first the music, then the camp.
"Back when we were a local band in Detroit, we were able to get away with doing some outrageous stage shows just because we had, like, you know, maybe two months between shows," Valentine says. "And you could build a cardboard robot, you know. But when you're doing six shows a week in different towns, it doesn't lend itself to that. We're kind of happy now just to do a straightforward rock show. That's kind of all we ever wanted to do, anyway."