Where 2003 Artists Are Now – Billboard

Where 2003 Artists Are Now – Billboard

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This week, Billboard is publishing a series of lists and articles celebrating the music of 20 years ago. Our 2003 Week continues here as we catch up with some old hitmaker friends we might not have heard from in a little bit — Lumidee, The Ataris, Eamon and Electric Six — to reminisce about old times, and see what they’ve been up to since we last spoke.

If the clap-clap-clap-clap beat of Nicki Minaj’s latest single “Red Ruby da Sleeze” gives you straight-up 2003 vibes, there’s good reason: the song leans heavily on a sampled hook and riddim from Lumidee’s breakout hit “Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh).” No one was more surprised by the request from the Queen of Barbie Tingz than Lumidee herself.

“It was random! It was an email I got. They need a rushed approval,” the Harlem native explains. “I do get these emails a lot through my administrator. But I’m reading and I’m like, ‘Oh wait – Nicki Minaj?’ Obviously I’m excited! Like, who’s not a Nicki Minaj fan?” 

She adds, “I got even more excited because I have a 14-year-old daughter and she’s a Barb! She goes to war for Nicki Minaj. So I’m like, if this happens, you know all the cool points I’m gonna get?”

The solid-gold staying power of “Never Leave You” can be chalked up to the combined appeal of the then-18-year-old Lumidee’s sincere pledge of devotion in the lyrics, the song’s hypnotic “Uh-ohhh! Uh-ohhhh!” refrain and the early-2000s popularity of the Diwali Riddim employed on the track. It was one of three songs to utilize the very same dancehall beat and hit the Hot 100’s top 20 between the spring and summer of 2003. 

Here, Lumidee explains the humble origins of her evergreen smash that first dominated the airwaves two decades ago.

Who she is: Lumidee Cedeño, who was raised in New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood and dreamed of being a performer from an early age.

“I always was inspired by people like Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliott growing up,” the singer, who is of Puerto Rican descent, explains. “And Missy with her wordplay, the words were so simple and relatable, but then fun.”

“Never Leave You” sprung out of an entirely different track altogether: “I was a year into recording music with this DJ [Tedsmooth] from my neighborhood who worked a lot of clubs,” Lumidee recalls. “We had a record already called ‘Honestly’ and it was a little more slow-paced. It’s also on Almost Famous, my first album [which would be released later that year]. It got some club reaction, but it’s not a club kind of record. So in my mind I’m like, ‘Let’s do a remix’.”

Enter the Diwali Riddim: Jamaican dancehall producer Steven “Lenky” Marsden crafted the beat heard on  “Never Leave You,” the above-mentioned “Get Busy” by Sean Paul and Wayne Wonder’s “No Letting Go,” a No. 11 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. All three were released in 2003.

“I didn’t really like the beat they built around [‘Honestly’] at first,” Lumidee explains. “So one day I’m in the studio and this Diwali riddim is hot at the moment. So the guy I’m signed to is like, ‘We gotta jump on this.’  [I was] having problems in my relationship. I wasn’t in the mood to write, but I was like, ‘Never Leave You’ would go to this [beat] on the remix. My producer places it on there and it’s a little bit off. He tweaks the beat a little bit and it kind of just sat in there. We both were like, ‘I think it works!’ That’s literally how it happened.”

The relationship that inspired the lyrics: “It was a guy I met in my neighborhood, just walking by. We had some friends in common. We hung out a few times, but he kind of just disappeared. I didn’t have an ego, but I had pride and I wasn’t going to call him if he wasn’t going to call me. We ran into each other again and we were together [from there]. So ‘Never Leave You’ was pretty much about the back-and-forth between us. It really was a genuine love song.”

She continues, “I wanna say my whole first album and the second album were based on this guy. I have two kids from this guy! It’s weird what time will do. Now it’s 20 years later and the relationship is over, but it’s not sad. When things end it feels weird, but it’s always a new chapter. Every lesson comes with a little bit of pain, a little bit of struggle.”

The first time she heard “Never Leave You” on the radio: “I was in a car with [DJ Tedsmooth],” she recalls. “I had a couple of records that they would play on mix shows. I had a few moments like that. But this one was different because the first time it played, it was like, “OK. Cool. Then it played again and the reaction from the DJs was like, ‘If you don’t have this song in your back pocket right now, you’re crazy!’ It was in clubs and then people started calling the radio and requesting it.”

Her big break: With “Never Leave You” growing organically out of club and radio play, major labels came knocking. Lumidee eventually signed with Universal Records. Being a teenager at the time, however, she admits that she was green as far as how the business side of the industry worked. And when it came down to it, she only had two weeks to cobble together her first LP, Almost Famous.

“Pretty much, the album was just the first songs I’d ever written and recorded. We really didn’t do anything new for it,” she explains. “At this time, ‘Never Leave You’ is already blowing up everywhere. I’m doing two or three shows every weekend and things are taking off. All these record labels are calling, and I’m just going wherever they lead me, because I had no clue how the record business worked. I was signed to this DJ [Tedsmooth] and I was just being guided. I went wherever he took me and that’s what it was.

“People are like, ‘Why would you do that?’” she continues. “They don’t have a clue unless they’re in it. And you’re so excited as an artist, and it’s that thing of — you don’t wanna lose this as an opportunity. It’s now or never. So you wind up signing things maybe you should read over. But I have to say, even with all of that, it still has been such a tremendous blessing. I haven’t had to do anything but music since. Even with the not-so-great deal, I still got mine in there and it’s great.”

What happened next: Free from her deal with Universal Records after Almost Famous, Lumidee found herself in high demand outside of the States as a featured vocalist.

“The best thing that happened for me after [my first album] was going overseas, doing these shows and working with other artists,” she says. “I just kept getting a lot of bookings. I signed with a German label the second time around. We did this record, ‘Sientelo’. It was a reggaetón track with Sir Speedy and it was a No. 1 record in France. It was actually with another Puerto Rican artist, but it was a No. 1 record in France. The randomness of it all! Then we did the FIFA World Cup song [“Dance!” with Fatman Scoop] in 2006.”

Lumidee put out her second LP Unexpected in 2007 and followed it up over the next few years with mixtape releases.

Her recent output: Lumidee stayed productive during the pandemic and dropped her third album, 1013, in 2021. It’s a melodic set, lush with smooth, synth-heavy cuts that find the 38-year-old singer exploring musical territory outside of the R&B genre, thanks to a new collaborator.

“I got with this producer [Ibra-Heem] and was just using him as an engineer. I didn’t realize he was a good producer until one day he [said], ‘Let me play you something’,” Lumidee recalls. “So the first record we did was a Christmas record called ‘Slay Ride’. I’d had the song written, but nobody could get the beat right. So I did it with him and he just locked right in with it. We just kept working. We called [the album] 1013 because we were both born on October 13th. We’re both Libras.” 

The singer makes sure to point out that she’s exactly where she wants to be, creatively. “This is the type of music, to be honest, that I listen to; that I vibe to on my own. Even though it’s still very much me, Lumidee, it’s a little more grown and a little more evolved.”

Enter Nicki Minaj: After receiving the request to sample “Never Leave You” from Minaj’s camp, Lumidee wasn’t sure when “Red Ruby Da Sleeze” would actually arrive. 

“Obviously it has to go through a lot of different approvals, and I’m waiting to hear back,” she says. “Then I got a random call at 3:00 in the morning from a friend of mine, and he’s like, “Listen, b–ch — you need to go online right now! Nicki Minaj just posted this!” It was a visual of her doing the record. I was like, “Oh, shit! This is really happening.” I definitely woke up my daughter at three in the morning like, look at this! She’s like, ‘Oh my god — this is so good for me! I mean, it’s good for you. But it’s also good for me!’”

On her 20-year journey since “Never Leave You”: “I gotta say, I feel lucky. I feel blessed. But I’ve definitely been through some s–t,” Lumidee laughs. “And no one has made it easy for me in this business. But I’ve noticed that if you stick to your guns and you keep going, you start seeing the blessings. I went through a lot of shit with this record, you know, and a lot of beatdowns. But at the same time, people loved it and I feel like the people that loved it — they’re still out here. It’s still surviving through them.”

Up next: Lumidee is scheduled to perform in Las Vegas on May 6 during Usher’s Lovers & Music festival. 

The pandemic not only sidelined punk rockers the Ataris from performing for a long stretch; frontman Kristopher Roe found himself hospitalized with COVID-19 in 2020.

““I got it in March 2020 for five weeks and then I got it again in July 2020 for five weeks, just by being in the same room as my now-ex-wife for 15 minutes,” Roe notes as he discusses his band’s 2003 major label breakthrough album, So Long, Astoria. ”She works as a doctor, and it was just one of those things where she was around sick people a lot.”

A few days later, however, Roe is happily on the phone describing “a warm-up show” he and the current lineup of The Ataris performed near Eureka, Oregon in early March. It was his first time on stage in nearly a half-decade. “Overall, for not having played together in the same room since 2019 and just jumping right on stage, it was really good,” he says.

A few weeks later, the 2003 lineup of The Ataris reunited to commemorate the two decades that have now passed since So Long, Astoria with live performances of the full album at Los Angeles’ Wiltern theater (on April 7) and House of Blues in Anaheim, California (April 8). Ahead of those, Roe discusses the Gold-certified LP and unexpected success of the band’s cover of “The Boys Of Summer” 20 years ago.  

Who they are: The Ataris, a band formed in Anderson, Indiana by Kristopher Roe during his teenage years in the mid-1990s. “I would record all my own music in my bedroom in the small town of Anderson, Indiana, where I grew up,” the singer and guitarist recalls. “We’re talking about from age 13 to about age 17 or 18.”

How they first got signed: “I would go to shows around the midwest, but specifically at Bogart’s in Cincinnati, Ohio,” Roe explains. “I remember it was Friday the 13th of September in 1996. I went to a show with my friend. It was The Queers, The Vandals, the The. Mr. T Experience — old Lookout Records bands.”  

Roe’s friend chatted up a roadie that evening who informed them that Joe Escalante and Warren Fitzgerald, of California punk outfit The Vandals, were forming their own label called Kung Fu Records. “I always had my demo tape with me and I would give it to bands that I would see,” Roe says. Some time later, he received a letter from Kung Fu, who subsequently flew the young musician to California.

After the release of debut Ataris album Anywhere but Here in 1997, Roe added band members Marco Peña on guitar, Mike Davenport on bass and Chris Knapp on drums. John Collura eventually replaced Peña, and that lineup would six years later record So Long, Astoria. “We just went out and toured. You know, we got in the van and did it like the bands that we loved, DIY-style. We would just do the weekend thing and play every place we could.”

From an indie to a major: Sensing that The Vandals and Kung Fu had “kind of given up” on his band, Roe convinced the label to let The Ataris record an EP to be released by Fat Wreck Chords. The song “San Dimas” was included on a free mail-order compilation by the rival indie label. “That was the first gateway to The Ataris for most people,” Roe points out.

He adds, “We had a three-record contract with Kung Fu and we were still kind of hampered by the fact that the label always suffered good distribution. We would be on tour and people would be like, ‘Man, we can’t find your records’. So people would mail-order them.”

After cultivating notable buzz from years of touring, other labels, including Columbia Records, began to talk to wine and dine Roe.

“I asked my friend Glen Phillips, who was in the band Toad the Wet Sprocket, what his experience was like on Columbia,” Roe recalls. “He was like, ‘Dude, I gotta tell you, for a label that just took what we did and nurtured it and let us do our thing, they were great’. There were definitely labels that were throwing bigger money around, but I really wanted to just go to a label that would let us continue to do what we did and let me have full creative control to do my thing.”

Covering “The Boys Of Summer”: Though first So Long, Astoria single “In This Diary” brought the band alt-rock radio success, it would be The Ataris’ cover of Don Henley classic “The Boys Of Summer” that launched them into the mainstream.

“I recorded that song because it was a tribute to my grandmother. I would go down to Florida to visit my dad’s mom and dad when my parents got divorced. So my mom saw me to the gate and put me on a plane, and then my grandmother met me at the other side. It was really rainy, so I couldn’t get out and do the things you do as a kid. I was stuck inside my grandparents’ little trailer park home in Largo, Florida. My grandmother, being the great woman she was, said, ‘Let me take you out to the local department store. You can pick out one record and listen to it while you’re here’.”

Roe’s album of choice that day was Don Henley’s Building the Perfect Beast. He recalls, “I’d always tape songs off the radio with my little jambox and I loved the melancholy of [“The Boys Of Summer”]. When my grandmother passed away in 2001 I just thought, ‘Man, I really wanna cover that song as a tribute to her’.”

The single that almost was: “My Reply” was originally intended to be the second single released off So Long, Astoria.

“It was a real personal song about a girl who had written us a letter and had been in and out of the hospital,” Roe explains. “We had this treatment written for the video and everything, and one of the heads of radio at Columbia had gotten wind of some shake-ups starting to happen at the label. He thought, well, [‘The Boys Of Summer’] is already gonna be a hit, because it was a hit before. So he thought he took that song to radio behind our back. We were like, ‘Can they do that?’ We were green to that. Of course they can!”

How he views “The Boys Of Summer” now: “It’s a great song. The rest is history, and I’m honored that people related to it and liked our version of it. [Los Angeles station] KROQ still plays it to this day. It’s surreal. I think it was the only thing in my career I had no say in, but I’ve learned to embrace it. You can’t fuck with the writing team of Don Henley and Mike Campbell.”

What happened next: Roe and his bandmates pushed to evolve their sound for their 2007 follow-up, Welcome the Night. “We just wanted to continue doing what we felt was our next organic step,” he says. “There were a lot more effects pedals. We were incorporating a lot more of those big, atmospheric echo-y kind of breakdowns in the instrumental parts of the songs. Jawbreaker always did that in their songs.”

Unfortunately, the band’s creative process collided with Columbia, and every other record label fighting an uphill battle against illegal downloading at the time. “We were recording Welcome the Night, and we started to see more and more of our crew at Sony being let go or going to other jobs,” Roe says. “That was the time where they were trying to figure out new ways to get people to continue to buy CDs. But we had this really amazing thing happen where we talked to the head of Sony and they ended up letting us go.”

The Ataris moved over to U.K. label Sanctuary for the release of Welcome the Night, but the band experienced déjà vu. “The same thing happened to them about six months after the album was out,” Roe explains. “We toured, but the album never really got a chance. Sanctuary folded and decided they were only going to do back catalogs because putting out new records wasn’t lucrative for them anymore.”

The Ataris now: For the next 10 years, Roe steadily remained on the road with a newer lineup of The Ataris.

“Pre-pandemic, I would go out for two or three months at a time,” he says. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to balance that out. The good news is I’ve always maintained friendships with everyone, and that’s why we were able to come back around for the 20th anniversary of So Long, Astoria. I feel like that album was really the first time I was able to be aware of what my strong points were as a songwriter. I feel like I was able to really dig a lot deeper and write these descriptive stories. I’m proud that I was able to make this time capsule of this period of my life.”

When Eamon’s expletive-riddled debut single “F–k It (I Don’t Want You Back)” dropped on the masses like one giant F bomb in late 2003, one thing was apparent: You did not want to be the one to do the 20-year-old Staten Islander dirty in a relationship. In just under four minutes, smooth crooner drops the king of all four-letter words no less than 21 times during the crass breakup ballad.

“The label had me go with the angle that I was heartbroken. But the truth is, I was a smart-ass kid who was always into shock value for entertainment purposes,” Eamon, now 39, admits. “And also, I was a dirty dog as a kid with the girls. I was always on the other side of heartbreak — the kind of guy that I pray the Lord keeps far away from my daughters! Anyway, I flipped the script and wrote it from the heartbroken perspective. So technically it’s not a true story.”

Finding a direct avenue to distribute his music wasn’t an easy road for Eamon in 2003. He recalls, “As far as labels, every single one — and we went to tons of them — told us the same thing: ‘We love the songs, but this music has no shot at radio. It’s impossible’.”

In the end, all it took to turn the tide was for one influential New York DJ to give the song a spin on air.

Who he is: Eamon Doyle, purveyor of tunes in the genre of Ho-wop — aka “doo-wop, ‘60s and ‘70s soul and hip hop.”

His early influences: “Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers were by far my biggest inspiration,” he says. “I can go on and on about various ’50’s doo-wop acts and ’60s soul acts that influenced me so much. Especially since I was just coming out of singing lead with my father’s doo-wop group [The Elations] and performing alongside many of the legendary ’50s and ’60s groups. I recorded much of my first album when I was 16 and 17. My first single was written and recorded when I was 16, but didn’t get my record deal until I was 19. The oldies and hip hop heavily shaped me as an artist in my teen years.”

But doo-wop wasn’t the only genre that caught the singer’s ear while growing up. “Being a proud Staten Islander, I was heavily influenced by Wu-Tang,” Eamon notes.

On the use of explicit language in lyrics to his early songs: “As an Italian-Irish teenager in Staten Island, I was just writing how we communicated,” says Eamon. “I will say, though, I was telling my producer Milk [Dee] at the time that it was crazy he had so much faith in [‘F–k It (I Don’t Want You Back)’]. I believed it wouldn’t hit like he thought it would because of the language. I didn’t have the vision that him and Mark [Passey, who co-wrote the song] had.”

His big break: While Eamon was between the ages of 16 and 19, his team trotted the singer’s music out to dozens of labels, including Jive Records, who he eventually signed with. But Jive wasn’t ready to bite at first.

“Their reaction was, ‘The music is great, but we can’t see the vision of how this is gonna work’,” Eamon explains. “So, the CEO of the production company I was signed to, Nat Robinson of First Priority Music, had a relationship that went back a long time with Troi Torain, also known as Star from The Star & Buckwild Morning Show on [New York City station] Hot 97 at the time.”

Initially, Robinson played Torain the clean version of Eamon’s song — “for radio purposes” — but got a pass.  

“But before Nat left the meeting, Star looked at the CD demo and asked, ‘What’s the dirty version sound like?’” says Eamon. “He proceeded to play it in the meeting and flipped out. He went and did his own edit, which consisted of loud beeps over the expletives, and told Nat he’d break it the next morning. The next day rolled around and the request line was so out of control that he played it eight times. Almost every label that turned us down called us and wanted to talk about a deal. The rest is history.”

Eamon’s grandmother was beside him when he first heard the song on the radio: “My parents were at work, so I was downstairs with my grandmother in her apartment – which is so sentimental because I just lost her a couple days ago,” the singer reminisces. “[She was] my second mom. Star introduces the record with an incredible introduction, as only Star could do – and the chills, the goosebumps and of course the hollering was heard through the whole block. Like I said, he played it seven more times in a four-hour radio program! So it was a feeling of ecstasy because I knew we had something special on our hands.”

“F–k It (I Don’t Want You Back)” was so special, in fact, that it hit No. 1 in over a dozen countries, including the UK, Australia, Germany, France, Italy and Sweden. Stateside, the song peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped propel Gold-certified parent album I Don’t Want You Back to No. 7 on the Billboard 200.

He got an “F.U.R.B.” response: On the heels of the global success of “Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)”, fellow Staten Island singer Nicole Francine Aiello, aka Frankee, claimed to be the cheating ex-girlfriend Eamon lyrically admonished on his hit song. In 2004, she released sound-alike answer single “F.U.R.B. (F U Right Back)”, which proved to be just as packed with colorful language. It played out like a poetic pop soap opera. However, Eamon insists he had no idea who Frankee was.

“I’ve never even met the girl,” the singer says. “It’s funny, because I thought the song was really amusing when I first heard it. But then the whole ordeal got really annoying … So many interviews had the question, ‘What is it like to have your ex make a rebuttal song?’ That was frustrating, because I wanted to talk about music instead of a lie that had no foundation in truth whatsoever. It is what it is, though. I made money off of it, because it’s no different than Weird Al re-doing a song.”

Frankee started a trend: “There were rebuttals from all around the world,” Eamon recalls. “So many different countries had girls putting out rebuttal songs saying that they were my ex. The best by far though was a girl from Philly. I got to speak to her once and she was good people. I wish I could find the song, because it was the best rebuttal out of all of them.”

What happened next: Eamon found that his sophomore LP, Love & Pain, didn’t receive the same push as its predecessor. “At the time, I was extremely disappointed,” he explains, adding that it “kind of sucked that they put ‘F–k It’ as a bonus song on the CD release, when that was just extremely successful only 18 months ago. They never even released the album in America. There’s so many layers to what happened there, though.”

Eamon also found himself in an extremely dark space in his personal life. “At that point I was self-destructing because I was so empty,” he says. “I believe the Lord let me destroy myself with isolation and addiction for that period of my life and the next four years that followed. It truly brought me to my knees four years later. I just [barely] got by handling success as a 19 year old. I don’t know what would’ve happened if it happened again a couple years later for the Love & Pain album. I might not be here today.”

He turned his life and his music around: After locking himself in a hotel for a year to “cut off the world,” Eamon was at peace with a decision to quit music in 2011. Then he was offered a deal with an independent label. It proved to be another setback “because of [a contractual situation].”.

“It didn’t end well, because of situations I won’t get into. It kept me stagnant for a few more years,” says Eamon. “Finally in 2017, I dug back into that time in that hotel room and a multitude of other experiences, and released my first album in 10 years, Golden Rail Motel.”

That LP, as well as its 2022 follow-up, No Matter The Season, saw Eamon return to the doo-wop music that inspired him at a young age. “These albums are my proudest work, my best work by far in my opinion and the happiest I’ve ever been with making music,” he says. “It’s truly me. If something were to happen to me, heaven forbid, I would want people to be able to go back to [No Matter The Season] and experience what my soul was screaming out. My goal in the new chapter of my career is, every time I record something, I impact you in ways you didn’t think was possible.”

What’s next: Eamon has recorded a Christmas album that he says will see a release in the fourth quarter of this year. “It’s an incredibly special record that my late grandmother had been pushing me to do for years. It hurts that she won’t see it come out, but I’m grateful I got to play it for her and she heard what she inspired me to do. Other than that, I’m always recording. I’m putting together songs little by little in hopes to make the greatest album that I’ll ever make in my career. The genesis of it is off to an amazing start.”

Detroit rockers Electric Six shook the disco’s rafters with their debut single “Danger! High Voltage” and, in the process, landed at the lofty heights of No. 2 in the U.K. Blocking them from crowning the chart in early January 2003: Girls Aloud, the wildly successful ‘00s pop act who were enjoying the tail-end of a four-week reign with their own first outing, “The Sound of the Underground.”

“I know it wasn’t close. I think they had like triple the sales,” Electric Six frontman Dick Valentine recalls. “But to debut at No. 2 like that, I’ll take it.”

To be fair, Girls Aloud had the strength of a full season’s exposure on U.K. TV series Popstars: The Rivals behind them. But Valentine and his bandmates had their own secret weapon in tow on their first major release: uncredited vocals by fellow Michigan native Jack White, who often rubbed elbows with the members of Electric Six in their respective late-1990s salad days in Detroit’s now defunct Gold Dollar Bar.

“Our guitar player had the idea to call in Jack to do a call and response kind of thing. It was before [the White Stripes] had blown up,” Valentine laughs. “I really, really doubt, had they already gotten big, he would have done it.”

Following “Danger! High Voltage,” Electric Six’s comedic punk romp “Gay Bar” became yet another top five smash in the U.K. and further fueled the band’s cult following in the U.S., though the band never found major chart success in their home country. Below, Valentine looks back on the year that put his band on the global map.

Who they are: Dick Valentine (real name: Tyler Spencer) initially formed Electric Six with gents from his former high school, including Cory Martin (drums), Anthony Selph (lead guitar), Joe Frezza (rhythm guitar) and Steve Nawara (bass). Since 2003, the band has undergone several lineup changes, with Valentine remaining the sole constant member.

“The band started when I was 24 in 1996,” he explains. “I graduated from the University of Michigan and moved back to Detroit, kind of aimless. I had a copywriter job at an ad agency. Doing the band was more of an escape for me. I didn’t realize at the time that I lived in a city with such a vibrant rock scene.”

The band’s original name: The Wildbunch. Alas, a collective of British DJs had staked their claim on the name by the time Valentine and his bandmates signed a deal with indie label XL Recordings. 

“We were forced to huddle and come up with a new name pretty quickly,” says Valentine. “We had like two months to get it done and we were bickering back and forth. Electric Six — somebody said it. Nobody knew what it meant, but nobody threatened to quit. It was so neutral and so harmless. And it doesn’t mean anything. It didn’t offend anybody and that’s why we kept it.”

Their big break: “It was really easy for us to get gigs around [Detroit] and it took off pretty quickly, locally. That said, we kind of struggled to get out of Detroit,” notes Valentine. “We never really toured – we didn’t really have the money or the means or anybody putting our stuff out to make that happen. Then five or six years later, the White Stripes happened and we were totally in the right place at the right time. And not just us; pretty much every other band in Detroit got looked at or got signed.”

The initial spark of “Danger! High Voltage”: Despite their local success and the cadre of promising songs in their set like “Gay Bar,” Valentine briefly split from his bandmates. He explains, “I took a job out in Los Angeles for about a year. We took a hiatus. I came back around Y2K and we wrote ‘High Voltage’. We had a riff that had been lying around and I just put the words to it.”

Along comes Jack White: “Fire in the disco! Fire in the Taco Bell!” thunders Dick Valentine in the opening lyrics of “Danger! High Voltage.” The next three minutes of the dance-rock jam wind up being a musical duologue between the Electric Six frontman and one “John S. O’Leary,” aka Jack White. 

“He came in and had a good time doing it,” Valentine says. “He didn’t wanna sing anything about Taco Bell at the time. He didn’t want to be affiliated with anything corporate. But he came in and did the song and that was that. I don’t know if it was the fact that he was on it or if it was that it had that sound that everyone was looking for, but it obviously became the lead single.”

Devo helped the band whip together another hit…sort of: For follow-up single “Gay Bar,” the innuendo-crammed video saw Valentine playing a multitude of writhing Abraham Lincolns in various states of undress. And the lyrics, by his own account, were a breeze to write.

“The repetitive guitar riff, I’d had for a while. We were at our local bar one night and the song ‘Girl U Want’ by Devo came on the jukebox. I’m drunk and it’s loud and people are talking. I couldn’t really hear the lyrics that well. I thought [Devo singer Mark] Mothersbaugh was saying ‘It’s just a girl, just a girl in a gay bar!’ But it’s actually ‘girl you want’. I misheard the lyric, so I was like, I’ll write a song about a girl at a gay bar. It’s not a very complicated piece of songwriting. It wrote itself in about a minute.”

What happened next: Electric Six moved from indie label XL to Warner Bros. for their 2005 sophomore LP Señor Smoke. Valentine recalls, “That was a situation where the guy who signed us left the company shortly after. We got left in limbo. There was a lot of, ‘We want another ‘Gay Bar’.’ And there wasn’t another ‘Gay Bar’ on that record. We had songs like ‘Jimmy Carter’, and they’d be like, ‘No, no, no — you can’t be a serious band. You have to be a funny band’.” 

Eventually the band found a home on another indie, Metropolis Records, where they remain signed to this day.”We’ve put out like 14 records [with Metropolis] and it’s just been a lot easier to turn in whatever record we want and go out on tour, sell them at the merch table and be more of a touring band.”

Twenty years later, Valentine and the current lineup of Electric Six have steadily remained on the road. “Other than Covid, the only time I had a sizable break was between Fire and Señor Smoke,” says Valentine. “It was different then because the thought was like, ‘You’re gonna write more hits. You’re gonna go in and you’re gonna duplicate what you just did’. Then that didn’t work out on the second album. We became much more of a DIY band, just home-recording, and that’s really worked for us. We’ve kind of built up a cult following that way. That was a weird time because it was the last time there was pressure to write a hit — which we’ve never had since then. And it feels great.”

Coming up: Electric Six will tour in Canada and the UK in June and July. “Then I don’t think we go out in the States again until like September or October,” Valentine says. “And our new record Turquoise comes out on Metropolis in September.”



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