The Electric Six with She Wants Revenge and Rock Kills Kid at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Thursday (February 9). $15. 416-532-1598, 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
The Electric Six are funny, and it seems that every time a band is funny, people accuse them of being a novelty act. You can't have a sense of humour and be serious at the same time. Some idiot decided it was against the rules.
Part of the novelty-act business might stem from their cover of Queen's Radio Ga Ga and accompanying video. They were practically forced to record that song by Warner UK.
"At the time, we were trying this cover or that cover, and when we went over to the UK we were doing Radio Ga Ga and they just kind of seized on it," says frontman Dick Valentine on the phone from Ann Arbor, where he has just eaten "a nice organic meal."
"We were always resistant to the idea of recording a cover. You don't get any publishing money first of all, and, you know, you want to do your own stuff.
"But it became obvious that it was never going to stop and they were always going to put a lot of heat on us to record that song, so we decided the best thing to do was get it over with."
Seems like the band's always getting label pressure. They used to be called the Wildbunch, but they changed their name because they were told they had to if they wanted a shot at the big time.
Why the Wildbunch was a bad name and the Electric Six is a good name for the big time isn't entirely clear. Rejected names include: Fuxedo, the Turkeys and Goober and the Carrots.
The record company that told them to change their name was XL. On it they released their debut, Fire, which included the fantastic tracks Danger! High Voltage and Gay Bar, for which they made a couple of fine videos.
XL dropped them, and they got signed by Warner UK, on which they released their second record, Señor Smoke, two years ago, which is finally being released here on EMI. They had to wait for Warner UK to drop them before that could happen.
"We were kind of signed on the premise of building momentum in the UK," says Valentine, "and Warner U.S. saw that our first record had only sold, like, 50,000 copies, and wasn't really interested in promoting a band of that, uh, ilk."
Read the bio on the Electric Six website and you might get the impression that they're a leetle beet pissed about the way they've been handled by record labels in the past.
"Oh, we're not pissed off. The furthest thing from it," says Valentine, who used to write ad copy for K-Mart. "We're realists when it comes to the record industry, because we realize it is a business. On that Love Monkey show (on CBS), it's kind of funny to see this idealistic A&R guy who stands up in the middle of a board meeting and says, 'Wouldn't it be great of we did this for the music and not to sell records?' And I wonder, how'd that guy get hired in the first place? That's not how it works."
Valentine's a Captain Beefheart fan. Not that Fire or Señor Smoke sounds anything like Beefheart. It's kind of a hard rock dance new wave AC/DC in the disco inferno kind of thing. Señor Smoke includes a track called Jimmy Carter that sounds freakishly like the Crash Test Dummies' MMM song but steals the chorus from Backstreet's Back.
"I guess it does sound a little bit like that song, but not on purpose."
Anyway. Valentine doesn't wanna talk about Señor Smoke any more. It may be new to us, but for him it was years ago. The Electric Six is hard at work right now on a new album in Ann Arbor. It's is gonna be more rock, a drive-around-in-your car kind of record, says Valentine.
"Less dark than Señor Smoke and less juvenile than Fire. You just try to do different things."
As for all the label business, Valentine's not gonna worry about it.
"We look at ourselves like Guided by Voices. That's the level of success we might have. We're sexy realists. You meet so many whiny musicians who complain that they're not number one, but we realize you can't control that. We just worry about what we can control. We've got a real yeoman's work ethic. Wait? What's a yeoman?"
Uh, a ceremonial guard of the British monarch?
"Yup. That's our work ethic right there."