"I think back in the day there was pressure from management and record companies asking why my hair wasn't slicked back. It was because I didn't want to, you know? It's exhausting to do something like that. It's not my style either. I've met lots of people in music or in performing who love to be in character. They loved to be in their suit 24/7 and get people to believe that they're actually like that. "
My hair is slicked back. I'm wearing a sports jacket with bandana placed proudly in the front pocket. I think about my outfit and immediately turn red. If Dick Valentine, frontman and creative force behind Electric Six, notices he doesn't let on.
"To this day I get emails from fans, and they mean well and everything, but their way of ingratiating themselves to you is by saying: ‘hey guys, I just did a body shot while I bought the drugs with the dance commander! LOL!’ It's like: you actually think we sit around thinking about this all the time?"
"Sure, thank you, makes sense," I reply, and for a second neither of us says anything. It's not like I had planned on doing Jaeger Bombs or dropping ecstasy before the show, and it should be noted that Dick said all these things in a laughing and lighthearted tone, but after those comments I can't help feeling a little tense. It's like I've just noticed the emperor isn't wearing clothes: It's Kiss without the make-up or GWAR without the costumes. Later that evening Valentine has a nearly sold out audience shaking their collective asses and hanging on his every word, but here in the back of the bar he's just a guy. I don't know what I was expecting exactly, but it certainly wasn't just a guy.
Various incarnations of the Electric Six have been playing music for almost twenty years. The band came to fame with 2003's nearly perfect Fire, featuring the standout hits "Gay Bar" and "High Voltage," and briefly capturing the attention of mainstream audiences with their outrageous music videos and constant touring. In that time Electric Six developed a fiercely loyal fan base, and while the group have failed to repeat the commercial success of their debut, they've continued to produce a stream of solid records and gained a reputation as one of rock's best live acts with their eccentric on stage behaviour and tight musicianship.
That reputation, combined with the fact that my only point of reference for the Dick Valentine is the research for this article and Electric Six's music videos, is why his normalcy catches me off guard. It's a lesson that I learn time and time again—not all musicians live their art—and chatting with Valentine it's clear that, while he appreciates his fans and is undeniably entertaining on stage, being a singer and frontman is his job.
"I've always loved doing this, and I had shitty jobs before this happened so I've always been motivated to keep this going because A) I make money and B) I get to travel. A lot of people end up doing things that have nothing to do with their degree. Before [this] I was doing work that you vaguely needed an English degree for. This is the best job that I've ever had, both financially and in terms of how much I enjoy it."
There is a part of me that recognizes and respects this distinction. After leaving the confines of higher education, I've discovered that making a living creatively is hard and I can't begrudge anyone who is able to provide for themselves with art they believe in and enjoy. There is another part of me, however, that desperately wants Dick Valentine to be the larger than life singer I've seen on my computer screen or heard about from a friend. It's why I'm drawn to his work in the first place, and it's the reason I'm overdressed for the interview.
As the two of us carry on our conversation we discuss the business side of being in a band, before briefly touching on the Electric Six's latest album, their tenth full length, Human Zoo, due out later this year.
"We need to have a product to keep us out on the road, but also we really like writing songs. It doesn't feel like we're pushing way too hard, it feels like the time January comes around we just want to do a new record. I mean everybody writes, everybody does demos on the road and stuff. So if everyone contributes two or three ideas a year that's a new album and something for people to buy."
I haven't dealt with a lot of singers who are as self-aware about the monetary aspect of what they do, or maybe I just don't have a lot of interviews that end up going in that direction. The whole thing is confounding: I admire Valentine's efforts even though they undermine what I wanted from the singer, and ultimately from this article.
The bands performance that evening at Toronto's Legendary Horseshoe Tavern was one of the best concerts I've seen this year, and reflecting back on it as I write this I've come to this realization: it doesn't matter what I wanted Dick Valentine to be offstage, because onstage he was better than I could have hoped for. The songs off the new record sounded great; the band played their hits perfectly; and the banter was wildly entertaining. Developing a commanding stage presence is something which takes a lot of effort, and in many ways that's much more impressive than going in front of a group of people and just acting like yourself. So maybe Dick Valentine isn't like that all the time, but it's enough that he's like that some of the time, and aside from all that I still think my sports jacket looked great.