"Whoa, wait, we just hit a deer."

Sponsored
Deck the halls with the Seattle Symphony’s joyous Holiday Pops concerts!
Join conductor Stuart Chafetz and Broadway star N'Kenge for this dazzling program full of yuletide cheer.

It's important to ask Dick Valentine if he's being serious. Especially when he's in a van, zipping up I-4 in south Florida, surrounded by wetlands and woods and a frisky population of whitetail.

Valentine chuckles when asked if he's serious. "Nope."

Of course not. He'd just been describing his surroundings as "Jersey in the sun." Valentine and his four Electric Six band mates have been in Florida for four straight days in the middle of their U.S. tour. When we caught up with the frontman, he was headed from a gig in St. Petersburg to Orlando, creeping toward a threshold of preposterousness. He forcefully repeats, "I am happy for those guys, for Nickelback," to emphasize a point about respecting artists who can move units. When a tangent led to the dissolve of Britain hype-fuls Test Icicles over personal issues, Valentine commented on E6's current roster thus: "We all eat dinner together every night. Even when we're not on the road."

A sense of humor certainly helps one pull through a rigorous tour itinerary, but you sense Valentine isn't totally kidding on either of these counts. Likewise, listeners need a sense of humor to appreciate Electric Six, even though the singer takes their music much more to heart than you'd imagine.

Last month, the band's sophomore album, Señor Smoke, was released on Metropolis Records. Like 2003's Fire, and its surf-slamdance single "Gay Bar," the new record is a hysterical caricature of '80s cock-rock excess. Pounding fuzzbox guitars and Valentine's hyperdramatic baritone extol dance parties and sex toys, slam radio vapidity, and pronounce the word "evil" like a horror-movie villain might ("EVE-ille").

Señor Smoke rocks tight and hits hard with an absurd lyrical wit ("If money talks, then I'm a mime/If time is money, then I'm out of time"), making for a fun set of songs you wouldn't mind getting stuck in your car's CD player. But also like Fire, it smacks enough of gimmickry that you'll wonder how long the band can keep the routine going. Perhaps critics who dismiss them as novelty and cheese might have a point.

Valentine bristles upon hearing the n-word. "I don't think a lot of people have really been on the fence about our band," he says in friendly-rant mode. "They either really don't like us or really do like us. We saw that in Detroit for five years, and now we see it on a bigger scale.

"I'm fine with people not liking the band or not liking the humorous element, but I don't like the word 'novelty,' because, y'know, this is pretty much what we are. There is no preconceived process of 'we should be doing this, but let's do this because we might make more money.' We did this for five years without making money and it was the same band. To me that's not a novelty. I'm a nervous geek and that comes out on stage."

This explains a lot. The calisthenics Valentine does during each performance ("I went to a show when I was in college, started doing pushups onstage with the band, and got a real positive reaction"), the seemingly random choice of which songs to cover in concert (he says their current take on Stevie Nicks's "Stand Back" came about because he heard it in the grocery store), and silly lyrics that seem to be saying something more.

Electric Six may lack depth, but maybe on some kind of Taoist level, Valentine feeling passionately about whatever—his music, his country, Nickelback—and delivering lyrics as directly as he knows how is deep in itself. Maybe beneath the kidding and absurdity, Electric Six are walking this balance beam between hearty satire and an understated, genuine sincerity.

Which kinda makes you think again about giggling over Smoke's opening crescendo: "Mr. President, I don't like you/You don't know how to rock!" But Valentine isn't rethinking, as he gets a good laugh when we bring it up.

Support The Stranger

"We play the shows on the East Coast, we get to that one line in the song, and I can safely hold out my microphone and everybody will shout it back," he recounts. "So we played in Ft. Lauderdale the other night and I held my mic out. It was just crickets."

With a deep, raspy chuckle, he adds, "That's why Florida has been so rewarding."

editor@thestranger.com