Thursday, 26 February 2015 00:00

Electric Six: The Working Class Band

Written by  Steve Miller
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Being in Electric Six is like being an average Joe working the shifts.

Record the next record the first half of the year, put it out in the fall. Tour three months a year. Rinse and repeat. Might as well keep a home in the ‘burbs and buy a minivan.

Yea, sure, and in that minvan, crank the E6 oeuvre: Song titles like  “I Buy the Drugs,” “I Never F****d Her,” “Gay Bar” and “I’m the Devil.”

The Detroit band, which tossed around other names including Black Guy, Action News Sex Stars of 1977 and the Pretty Boys before settling on Electric Six, is recording studio disc number 11 this spring, a fertile output for a band that has only once hit the U.S. charts, whatever that stands for these days.

The idea is a steadfast collective output of excellence, which E6 is well on the way to.

The band I want to emulate is The Fall,” said Electric Six Singer Tyler Spencer, invoking the prolific British band that has cranked out 31 full-length studio releases in 34 years. “I want to put out one or two albums a year and have this massive catalog. It’s that kind of career I hope to have, and I’m doing pretty well.”

Electric Six wsg Avan Lava, Sexy Toxins
Louie's Trophy House, Kalamazoo
March 1, 7 p.m.
$13, $15 day of show, (269) 385-9359

I note that The Fall’s singer, Mark E. Smith, is known to be a cranky nutjob who, despite being 58, looks like he’s a very pickled 80. Spencer thinks on that one.

OK, well, I hope when I’m his age I look better than him.”

For now, he’s hit a comfortable, smooth patch in his creativity. No second guessing, Spencer says, because “at this point I never try anything I can’t do. I know what works for me.”

Which ends up being an output spanning a spectrum of endeavors.

He’s used his platform as the charismatic singer in an accomplished band to wedge himself into other efforts; self-publishing a noir-fiction eBook called Chinatown Reacharound, doing his own acoustic guitar troubadour tour to support his two solo CDs, and even playing a glam rock-based character in an advertising campaign for the California Milk Processing Board called White Gold.

Spencer, who once aspired to be a television weatherman, is an indie rock Renaissance man, despite being an incorrigible geek.

Example: an appearance on “Kids Interview Bands,” a charming set of videos in which two children, yes, interview bands.

We’re here with Electric Six," one of the two little girl interviewers of around 11 years old begins the segment, pointing to Spencer.

 “Electric One,” Spencer corrects, looking at the camera. “If you break that down fractionally, that’s two twelfths.”

More looking at the camera.

What’s your least favorite chore as a kid?” he’s asked.

Mitt Romney,” Spencer deadpans.

He’s a natural.

It’s been his band, though, that’s given him a home for the tweaky humor of his words and the music behind his on-stage push-ups.

The history line is your basic American music tragedy: Formed in the late '90s under the name Wildbunch, mixed amongst the burgeoning Detroit garage scene.

We weren’t a garage band, though,” Spencer insists. “I never owned a jean jacket in my life.”

They broke up in 2000, Spencer went to Los Angeles for a straight job. Hated it. He came back to Detroit and fired up the band again, this time called Electric Six.

In 2003, the band released its first LP, Fire, which contained the band’s signature single “Danger! High Voltage,” a trendy Euro-trash piece — with an uncredited Jack White on backing vocals — that was one of three charting songs off the release in the U.K. where the LP went gold.

Electric Six never achieved that level of commercial success again, but has instead delivered a steady patter of loud wit, combining Sparks-like charm and smarts with synth/guitar backgrounds.

It lands back to the routine, which is a creative circle of dressing rooms, guitar amps, scribbled lyrics put onto stages all over the world via plane tickets and van rides.

Electric Six, however, live the dream of millions: to play their own music for a living from sea to sea, before vodka-toasted kids in Russia and faithfuls across Europe. They hit stage in Australia and Japan and then come home to play private parties for wealthy fans.

Spencer can explain their appeal, no problem, as if anyone could do it.

We’re these very normal-looking guys with this bizarre overtone in our music and our lyrics,” he said. “And that’s what people are in some way. No one’s really normal, but everyone tries to project that in their lives.”

Cue the minivan. And how about a listen to an old Wildbunch favorite: “Naked Pictures (of your mother)”?

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