JODY OBERFELDER PROJECTS — 4CHAMBERS: A SENSORIAL JOURNEY INTO THE HUMAN HEART
Arts@Renaissance, Garden Level
2 Kingsland Ave. at Maspeth Ave., Greenpoint
January 21 - March 22, $60 before February 1, $75 after, Thursdays at 6:30 & 8:00, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:00 & 8:30
Last summer, New York-based choreographer, director, and filmmaker Jody Oberfelder presented 4CHAMBERS on Governors Island, an immersive journey inside the human heart in which six dancers led twelve audience members through an abandoned, specially renovated former officer’s house, each room representing another chamber, incorporating film, interactive video, factual information, and plenty of physical contact. “You will be touched by the performers, both literally and figuratively,” we wrote back in July. Although it was her first site-specific installation piece, 4CHAMBERS is not the first time Oberfelder has delved into the nature of the human heart; she previously examined the blood-pumping, life-giving organ in 2012’s Throb. For more than two decades, Jody Oberfelder Projects has been addressing such emotions as love and the search for social identity in such works as LineAge, The Title Comes Last, Approaching Climax, and Sung Heroes. Oberfelder is now bringing back 4CHAMBERS, restaging the sixty-minute piece at Arts@Renaissance in Greenpoint, in a building that previously was home to, appropriately enough, a hospital. A few days before opening night — the show runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from January 23 to March 22, with bonus performances January 21-22 — Oberfelder discussed transformation, collaborating with her husband, people’s hunger for real experience, and more.
twi-ny: 4CHAMBERS was initially performed on a hot and sweaty summer weekend on Governors Island, and now it will be performed in what so far has been a pretty cold winter. Even though the performance takes place inside, do you think the weather will have any impact on the audience and dancers? Cold and heat do have very different effects on the heart.
Jody Oberfelder: On Governors Island, people came in from an outside temperature of about 98.6, matching their actual body temperature. There was something beautiful about this, since our piece has so much to do with getting under the skin, an internal experience. Thankfully, at Arts@Renaissance, we have our thermostat set to a comfy 72 degrees. It’s perfect. This time people will venture out from cold, nasty weather and to an inside space that is warm and breathing and atmospheric.
twi-ny: How did you find this new space in Brooklyn?
Jody Oberfelder: I’d seen Then She Fell at Arts@Renaissance in fall of 2012. The creators, Third Rail, did a tremendous job of transforming the space as a trip down the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole. A@R has a competitive open call for their three-month residencies. Lo and behold, my project was selected.
It was clearly a raw space with potential. After several site visits with my video collaborator, Jason Bahling, lighting designer, Kryssy Wright, set designer, Juergen Riehm, and a couple of dancers (Mary Madsen and Mercedes Searer), we found where each of our four chambers could live, figured out how to create passageways that would need to be created for arteries and veins, etc., and drew up a plan of how to site this particular work. At the time of our application, we’d not yet been given the Governors Island opportunity. Our first rendering was in an old officer’s house, with built-in metaphors of house as heart — with plumbing, walls, and corridors — whereas A@R is a former hospital.
Sited work is particular. It’s not like transplanting a proscenium work to a stage where you adjust the lights and wings and find out how many steps to the green room. We have transformed the entire floor level to a labyrinthian sensorial journey.
twi-ny: Did you have to make significant changes to the space to incorporate the main themes of the show, or did you make any changes in the performance to mold it to the space?
Jody Oberfelder: One of the challenges was to carve out the flow of traffic. We conceptualized this piece as a moving in one direction like the flow of blood, through four chambers. And each room has different needs in terms of architecture, lighting, technology, and space. The floor was too hard for the performers to really go for it, so we built a custom sprung floor and created specialized wall space. (I don’t want to give too much away.)
twi-ny: You mentioned your set designer, architect Juergen Riehm, who is also your husband. What is the collaboration process like between the two of you? Is it possible to separate the professional from the personal?
Jody Oberfelder: Fun question. Let’s just say we have a rule. We set up appointments to talk with each other about the piece. Otherwise I’d be bugging him first thing in the morning, at every meal, etc. There is crossover, of course. It’s great to have a production stage manager (Katie Houff) as intermediary. On the upside, Juergen Riehm knows me, and is very sensitive to my needs, won’t let me go the way of kitsch, or schlocky, catches my abundant imagination and helps me hone.
Thankfully, there are other key collaborators. Video artist Jason Bahling has been part of this piece almost from conception. And visual elements figure in prominently. Sound is now a major factor — since Governors Island, Sean Hagerty has come in and worked some magic.
twi-ny: On Governors Island, the performers did multiple shows in one day. Will some of the dancers again be doing back-to-back shows? The performance is extremely physical. Is there any special training involved?
Jody Oberfelder: The dancers do two shows a night. Physically, dancers are athletic and endurance poses no problem. I look for dancers who are unique, not cookie cutter, whose “technique” is present and ever felt. What takes energy in 4CHAMBERS is a discreet attention to audience members. It’s like being in a relationship for a night. The ratio is 1:2. We call the performers “docents” — we guide the audience, as a museum docent might, and encourage audience members to be in their bodies — to connect. That’s an evening of intensity.
twi-ny: There is a lot of interaction between those “docents” and the audience members, whom you refer to as “guests,” including a lot of touching. Were there any surprises for you regarding how that relationship between guest and performer played out on Governors Island?
Jody Oberfelder: We’ve found that people are hungry for real experiences. That putting away multitasking for an hour and slipping into a present dilated moment is something we all are craving. The performers are instructed to try to meet guests where they are and guide. We don’t have a “toolbox” of techniques for this but have practiced and learned each guest is different. It’s individual. The most intellectual people living in their heads also have a body under their necks, and once you crack that code, the rest is porous and smooth sailing. Yes, some guests are self-conscious at first, but that goes away. That’s why we’ve chosen to do it this intimately. There are no outside voyeurs. It’s intimate.
twi-ny: What’s the most significant thing you’ve learned about the human heart during the whole 4CHAMBERS project?
Jody Oberfelder: Everybody has a human heart. The body is a container for this vital organ. We often do a drive-by of living, plow through life, with our heart doing its job of keeping us alive. I’ve learned that the heart and the mind work together. 4CHAMBERS gives people a sense of being alive.
4CHAMBERS runs January 21 - March 22 at Arts@Renaissance and is performed by Megan Bascom, Zachary Denison, Rayvawn Johnson, Joey Kipp, Mary Madsen, Shane Rutkowski, Mercedes Searer, Lonnie Poupard Jr, and Lily Bo Shapiro, with set design by Juergen Riehm, lighting by Kryssy Wright, sound by Sean Hagerty, and music by Matt McBane, Richard Einhorn, and Jonathan Melville Pratt. Film and video feature appearances by Ishmael Houston-Jones, Edward Einhorn, Dr. Wendy A. Suzuki, Dr. André A. Fenton, Sarah Trignano, Lonnie Poupard Jr, Christina Noel Reaves, Jake Szczypek, and Jessica Weiss.
BERNARDÍ ROIG: THE MIRROR (exercises to be another)
513 West 36th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Through January 11, free, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
The centerpiece of Spanish artist Bernardí Roig’s latest exhibition at the Claire Oliver Gallery in Chelsea, “The Mirror (exercises to be another),” is the all-white title work, a sculpture of two men on a platform facing each other as if looking in a mirror, a bright fluorescent light both blinding and dividing them. Cast in polyester resin and marble dust, the men stand barefooted, their bellies hanging over their unbuttoned pants, one of the figures with his fingers in his ears, the other having apparently just ripped off part of his face, including his mouth and an eye. It’s a wry comment on one of Roig’s primary themes, people’s inability to communicate in contemporary society, slyly referencing the iconic “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” trope, while also engaging in a search for truth and reality, as one man is a distorted version of the other. In the far corner, “The Invisibility of Memory (La invisibilidad de la memoria)” features a similar white figure (though with a third arm), his head downtrodden, his body defeated, hanging from a metal frame that holds a video screen showing unclear images that eventually fade away. Roig also includes fourteen charcoal drawings, inspired by Ingres’ “Portrait of Monsieur Bertin” and Federico de Madrazo’s “Portrait of Gertrudis G. de Avellaneda,” which, like the sculptures, examine identity through the subject, the viewer, and the artist.
Roig, who was born in Palma de Mallorca and had the first show in this space back in 2002 — he’s been with Claire Oliver for fourteen years — recently said, “Images are like the foam of the subconscious mind.” Although his sculptures are instantly engaging, extremely pleasing to the eye, they are loaded with deeper meaning, inviting those who gaze upon them to go well beyond the surface. “It is gratifying to see the response to his work from curators, critics, and collectors alike; we have watched him grow as an artist and are proud to represent his works,” Oliver told twi-ny. “Working with the artist is a pleasure; Roig is highly intellectual but remains grounded and humorous as well. His thought process is deliberate and the works produced, without exception, are of the highest quality.” A provocative thinker with a strong art-historical bent, Roig discussed language, dialogue, running out of ideas, and the human body while staying in New York City with his family during the run of the show, which closes January 11.
twi-ny: What was your initial impetus behind creating all-white sculptures cast from real people? Do you have favorite models?
Bernardí Roig: I started by casting my father’s body, which was what was closest at hand, to address the symbolic figure of the great castrator. It was a big, heavily built body . . . and then afterwards there came other similar ones, always bulky and always people connected to me. Once positivized, they are white for two reasons: firstly, to gain in visual lightness and refute their affirmative and statuary quality so that they are simply images and, secondly, to help me detain the moment. Sculpture is an instant trapped in a form. All Goethe’s Faust can be reduced to one single sentence: “Time stands still! You are so beautiful. . . .” Only then does one understand that the moment is white. This brooks no doubt. And in all certainty it is white, because light, once stilled, coagulates. We might then say that the gaze has been submerged in a glass of milk, and in this glass of milk we recognize the annunciation of a form of knowledge where the signifieds have still not copulated.
twi-ny: These white figures, especially when bright light is projected onto them, are a kind of blank slate, setting up a potentially wide-open, complex dialogue between object and viewer. While some of your regular themes involve blindness, death, and the individual’s uneasy search for identity, there is something inherently aesthetically pleasing about your sculptures; people immediately react with happiness upon seeing them. Is there an intended contradiction there?
BR: I’d say that the intentions are contradictory because they are made of opposites, just like our thoughts. The themes my work engages with are by no means strange; they are embedded in the medulla of all thinking people. I’m not very sure of people’s relationship with my work. It’s hard to really tell, and I imagine that the spectrum of readings is as wide as the number of individual spectators. The images we make come from deep down, from far back, and they rise like foam to the surface of the unconscious.
Language was invented to try to bridge the gap of noncommunication, but it obviously falls short. I also accept that a convulsive image can produce a feeling of happiness, something that also happens with Surrealism.
twi-ny:The exhibition at Claire Oliver also features charcoal drawings, including several based on Ingres’ “Portrait of Monsieur Bertin” and Madrazo’s “Portrait of Gertrudis G. de Avellaneda.” What struck you about those two portraits?
BR: I started out from two historic paintings to make this new series of fourteen large drawings which I’ve called “Je est un autre.” Seven male portraits reinterpreting the “Portrait of Monsieur Bertin” by Ingres (1832), housed in the Louvre, facing seven female portraits reinterpreting the “Portrait of Gertrudis G. de Avellaneda” (1857) by Madrazo, on view at the Lázaro Galdiano Museum in Madrid. The title of the series, “Je est un autre,” is a celebrated sentence from Rimbaud’s Lettre du voyant (“Letter of the Seer”) to his friend Paul Demeny, where the poet accepted the loss of identity and splitting of the self through negation.
These fourteen drawings play with the superimposition of reflected identities, revealing how any representation of identity contains the latent experience of its opposite. “Monsieur Bertin” is a frontal depiction of a bourgeois man, opulent, arrogant and powerful, even more powerful than the emperor himself, while Gertrudis de Avellaneda is an enlightened, cosmopolitan Spanish poet, born in Cuba, who represents female resistance to the hermetic, masculine, and oppressive academic world in Spain in the mid-nineteenth century.
twi-ny: For “Instante Blanco,” which is currently at el Museo Nacional de Escultura, you placed your white sculptures among the institution’s polychrome works, creating a kind of intervention. Are you pleased with the way it turned out? Do you plan on doing more of these types of installations?
BR: The use of polychrome is in search of realism, to bring the carved wood closer to the truth, to try to produce belief through a whole itinerary marked out by the palpability of the flesh. Most of the works in the Museo Nacional de Escultura were originally devotional religious images whose contemplation held out some kind of guarantee. What I proposed was an itinerary of whispered dialogues with the space itself and not so much with the works.
When you work with historic museum spaces you expand the boundaries of experience. Each exhibition I do has to produce the unforeseen. Though my works hit you immediately as sculptures, I work above all with places and for each place I pose different questions. But I don’t try to answer them. I don’t believe that the purpose of art is to come up with answers but perhaps to hone the incisiveness of the questions.
I’ve already done these kinds of interventions in the Cathedral of Burgos, in Cà Pesaro Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna at the fifty-fourth Venice Biennale, and at the Lázaro Galdiano Museum in Madrid, and at the current moment I am working on a project for the “Intersections” program at the Phillips Collection in Washington.
twi-ny: You’re often quite critical of your own work. You recently said, “I have the feeling that I am always repeating the same ideas and that I am incapable of saying new things. . . . Every time you want to delay more the moment of showing anything, but you have to do it.” Is it difficult for you to let go and open a new exhibition? Is it hard for you to accept praise? The general public, and critics, seem to take pure delight in your work.
BR: It’s true that I find it increasingly more difficult to add something to what has already been said. . . . The edges of words are more and more frayed all the time. That said, it is equally true that you are part of a chain of images from which you can’t escape, and that’s why it is better to get them out of your head before they explode inside it. These images are often only leftover scraps that the head spits out; other times they have the necessary density to guarantee the meaning of the work, just at the moment when the unforeseen appears. That would be the most fertile ground. As Guido, the character played by Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini’s 8½, says: “I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it all the same.”
twi-ny:You just spent the holidays in New York, and now you’ve gotten to see the city blanketed with snow, in a way emulating your sculptures. How are the holidays different in New York than in Mallorca?
BR: There’s one big difference: right now in New York there is a major exhibition of an artist who, in a place infested by banal low-intensity images, makes you believe again in grand Art: Richard Serra. It is worthwhile living in a world where an artist can still produce a shiver in the gaze.
LOCAL COLOR — ZIPPER: CONEY ISLAND’S LAST WILD RIDE (Amy Nicholson, 2012)
136 Metropolitan Ave. between Berry St. & Wythe Ave.
Wednesday, October 30, 9:30
This past August, Amy Nicholson’s compelling, bittersweet documentary Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride opened to wide acclaim during an extended run at the IFC Center. Winner of a Special Jury Prize at the 2012 DOC NYC festival, Zipper follows the fate of Eddie Miranda’s Zipper amusement park ride as a microcosm of the controversial rezoning and commercialization plans that threaten to change Coney Island forever. In her director’s statement, Nicholson, a longtime marketing creative director in New York City who has taken the film, her third documentary, all over the country, explains, “I have two ambitions for Zipper. First, to expose how and why the ‘poor people’s Riviera’ became the prize in a fight between a billionaire developer and a billionaire mayor. Second, to remind the world of Coney Island’s true character, so that other great cultural icons might be valued more for their sense of place than for their real estate.” Her next stop is Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, where she’ll take part in a Q&A following a special “Local Color” screening on October 30 at 9:30. As an added bonus, each attendee gets a free Coney Island beer. In anticipation of the Nitehawk event, Nicholson recently discussed with twi-ny the Zipper, the advertising business, the future of Coney Island, and more.
twi-ny: What was the genesis of the Zipper project?
Amy Nicholson: Believe it or not, I was looking for the Jumble in the Daily News when I came across an article about the Zipper leaving Coney Island and my heart sank. I loved that ride as a kid; it’s the quintessential crazy carnival contraption and the perfect symbol of all that’s great about a place like Coney Island. Originally I was just going to do a short homage to the Zipper, but I got sucked into the politics of why Eddie Miranda and a lot of other small operators were leaving. The more I looked into it, the bigger it got.
twi-ny: What kind of personal connection did you have with Coney Island prior to starting the project? How would you say it has changed since then?
Amy Nicholson: I have lived in New York since the late ’80s and my best friend and I would go down to Coney Island on hot summer nights and just hang out and people watch. It’s really the best place in the world to soak up that beach/carnival/melting pot atmosphere. As Joey says in the film, “Once you get the sand in your shoes....”
(Sidebar about riding the Zipper in Coney: Eddie’s Zipper was an older hydraulic model, which meant it used a lot of oil. If the temperature was hot during the day — and cooler at night — the Zipper would spin a lot more aggressively as the oil cooled. The loader, Freddie, and I made a pact to ride on the last night after the very last shot, but when he chickened out, so did I. Apparently the conditions were perfect for making the Zipper spin like crazy that day and he said there had been a lot of barfing!)
twi-ny: How would you say it has changed since the late ’80s?
Amy Nicholson: Coney Island is a really addicting place for so many reasons. I can never sum it up as well as the guys do in the last scenes of Zipper. But I can tell you for certain that’s been the biggest change. The complexion of the place is very different now and not in a good way. There are still a few of the old guard there, but the rest is either an empty lot or new construction that feels soulless. The new rides are nice, but Coney Island is well on its way to being sterilized.
twi-ny: Has anything changed in the rezoning/development fight since the film was released?
Amy Nicholson: When the film leaves off at the end of 2009, Bloomberg was just reelected to a third term. A deal was made with Thor Equities to purchase about half of their property for around $100 million, and the city leased newly created parkland to a single operator. Since then, Thor has built one retail building and Central Amusements International has brought in new rides, primarily in areas where there were rides before the fight began. There have been some nice improvements, but there are still plenty of empty lots and none of the promised affordable housing or hotels have materialized. Nor is Coney Island year-round — the reason the public was told the rezoning had to happen. We are also coming up on the one-year anniversary of Sandy, which did some horrific damage, but almost all of the rides and games survived. The final super[title] of the film that states what the resolution was after all the years of battling still stands.
twi-ny: How do you think documentaries like yours can make a difference in such battles?
Amy Nicholson: I think documentaries like mine not only serve as a record of history, but I hope they exposed the truth about how politics and the constant need for growth can change cities far too quickly and not necessarily for the better. As a regular citizen, you would have had to follow the story for six years, digging around, attending meetings, and asking questions. It’s a lot to ask for a busy public, and in the end, the public process is pretty much a joke. So on the most basic level, you can watch Zipper and see the whole story unfold in seventy-seven minutes and at least walk away with a basic understanding of why there’s an Applebee’s in Coney Island now.
twi-ny: You’ve shown the film all over the country. How do audiences in other cities react to such a New York story? Coney Island has a unique legend, but most of those people have probably never been there.
Amy Nicholson: The film speaks to people everywhere because there has been such an increase in development like this where cities decide to proactively stimulate economic growth with developer incentives. The easiest way to do that is to change the zoning. Right now, Los Angeles is doing exactly what New York did with a huge zoning overhaul. It hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention that small businesses everywhere are being displaced by chains.
And then there are the sweetest older people everywhere we go who attend the screenings and they just want to relive a little bit of their Brooklyn childhood. When we get compliments on how well we captured the feeling of the place, that’s when I think we’ve been successful. That’s the best.
twi-ny: You’ve spent a lot of years in advertising. What kind of impact do you think that has on your filmmaking style, as well as the film’s promotion?
Amy Nicholson: Well, in this case it gave me a fairly keen understanding of the attempted branding of both Coney Island and Brooklyn. (In the case of Brooklyn, the city has been far too successful!) It definitely gave me the radar to know when I was being sold something. I could feel it in the interviews, and twice I found “talking points” left behind in the rooms we were in. As far as how it applies to the marketing of the film, I can’t take all the credit. Coney Island was the most amazing place visually. And I had help. That best friend who I went to Coney with on hot summer nights is also an amazing designer. We just did our best attempt to bring it to life.
twi-ny: You’ve previously made Beauty School and Muskrat Lovely. Do you have any plans yet for your next film?
Amy Nicholson: I have to recover financially from this one first (we could not get funding), but I have a few ideas rolling around in my head. Stay tuned....
When Hilly Kristal, owner and founder of CBGB — Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gourmandizers — passed away in 2007 at the age of seventy-five, a year after closing the club following a highly publicized rent dispute, Wives bass player Mary Zadroga posted an online tribute, writing, “When I first met him and started working with him, I was so scared and intimidated. I loved his voice, though, his deep, low baritone voice. He took good care of us, touring, practicing in CB’s basement, and coming up with all kinds of crazy schemes and plans for us. . . . We lost touch over the past eight years, but I would stop by, now and then, with the kids. Last time I saw him, he called my five-year-old a little monster (which she was), and he had that lovely smile on his face when he said it.” Kristal managed the Wives, which recently reunited the original lineup, with Sue Horwitz singing, for its twentieth anniversary, from 1996 to 1999. Zadroga will be playing this year’s CBGB Festival with one of her other bands, the fast and furious Futurex (which stands for Future Ex Wives), with Susan Horowitz on guitar and vocals and Paul Andrew on drums. They’ll be at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn on Friday night, along with other bands and crew members that have CBGB connections, including Drugstore and Brunch of the Living Dead. Zadroga, who has also been in such groups as Jane Lee Hooker, Celebrated Cherry Sisters, and Browniehead, recently discussed the seminal punk-rock club with twi-ny.
twi-ny: How did you feel when you first heard that CBGB was closing?
Mary Zadroga: Even though CBs was well past its prime, I felt nostalgic and sad. The floodgates were open once CBs was gone, of EV clubs disappearing. Hilly was sick by then, and I was worried it would do him in.
twi-ny: When you were in the Wives during the late ’90s, Hilly was your manager. What was that experience like? Was the Hilly who ran CBGB different from the Hilly who managed the band?
Mary Zadroga: He wasn’t nearly as grouchy with us. He liked our music, and us three as people: drummer Tracy Almazan, singer Zu Leika (Horwitz had moved on), and me. He sounded kind of addled sometimes, but he really wasn’t. Just round about how he got things done.
twi-ny: Who are some of the groups you either saw or played with at CBGB?
Mary Zadroga: New Bomb Turks, Iron Prostate, Wig Hat, Lunachicks, Sex Pod, Patti Smith, Tub, Molotov Cocktail, Ff, 7 Seconds . . . I don’t know, I have a terrible memory. Lots of bands: Helldorado, the Lone Wolves, Sea Monkeys, Rats of Unusual Size, Maul Girls, Sisters Grimm.
twi-ny: What is your favorite CBGB memory?
Mary Zadroga: My favorite memory was of Joan Jett standing right in front of me while we were playing. I remember she was bald? I may be way off on that one.
twi-ny: How about your least favorite?
Mary Zadroga: The years of calling [CBGB booker] Louise [Parnassa Staley] to get a show. It was nuts. “Call me back in five.” “Call me next Tuesday.” “Call me after four.” Then, finally, we’d get a show! I was like a pit bull; I very literally would call exactly when she said.
twi-ny: Futurex will be playing Hank’s Saloon on October 11 as part of the CBGB Festival, with other CBGB survivors. How did that come about?
Mary Zadroga: Jme Gorman [guitarist for Brunch of the Living Dead] and his wife, Ellen, have been booking nights there for years. They both worked at CBs. Jme was sound and knew Wives. These Hank’s nights are amazingly good, a local underbelly of the scene, older bands. It’s interesting to see it dressed up as a CBs Festival night.
Are there any other venues out there that come close to capturing the spirit of CBs, or is that just impossible?
Mary Zadroga: CBs by far had the best sound system, and you could record your set and get a decent tape out of it. There were so many places to play: Spiral, Brownies (loved Brownies!), Space at Chase, Acme, Continental, Nightingale (my favorite!), then later 269 and Otto’s. . . . I never played Lakeside or Banjo Jim’s but loved going there. Um, now I don’t know great places to play. Wives just had a reunion at Delancey and that was decent. Fontana’s . . . Arlene’s . . . Nothing compares to CBs. Well, you know which does? With layout, and sound, and overall great vibe? The Shrine up in Harlem. It isn’t punk or rock n roll; it is more blues, soul, reggae, but that club has it going on.
For nearly fifteen years, unpredictable Detroit band Electric Six has been having a blast, playing wild and crazy live shows and releasing such intoxicating albums as Danger! High Voltage, Señor Smoke, the splendidly titled I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me From Being the Master, and Heartbeats and Brainwaves. Although they’ve gone through numerous personnel changes, Tyler Spencer, aka Dick Valentine, has always been front and center, the group’s primary songwriter and lead vocalist. On their new record, the galloping Mustang (Metropolis, October 8), Valentine, guitarists Da Ve and Johnny Na$hinal, bassist Smorgasbord, drummer Percussion World, and keyboardist Tait Nucleus? take listeners on a rollicking journey through multiple genres, from the opening blast of “Nom de Plume” to the yearning ballad “Iron Dragon” to the Nick Cave/Roxy Music-like finale, “Cheryl vs. Darryl.” Electric Six brought its “Save the World, Save the World” tour to the Bell House this past Wednesday and will next be at Bowery Ballroom on September 29 with My Jerusalem and Les Sans Culottes. While in town, Valentine discussed with twi-ny the new record, Adam Levine, and the misspelling on the cover of Mustang.
twi-ny: Mustang explodes out of the speakers in a burst of heavy metal, punk, funk, hard rock, prog rock, black metal, disco, dance pop, and other styles. What is your songwriting process like? Do you set out to tackle specific genres in advance?
Dick Valentine: We just knew that having just done a synth and drum machine record for our previous studio release, we wanted to have a lot of guitars on this album. And live drums on every track. I have to say of all the albums we’ve done, this was the one where I came with the least amount of concrete ideas and finished songs on my end, so the rest of the guys, especially John Nash, really stepped up and got it done.
twi-ny: On “Adam Levine,” you tell the Maroon 5 frontman and “The Voice” coach to “burn in hell, motherfucker”; tell us, how do you really feel about him? Are personalities like Adam Levine good or bad for the music industry?
Dick Valentine: This song is not actually about Adam Levine. . . . That’s a popular misconception. It’s about feeling awful and then feeling worse because you know it will just continue. I’ve never met him, but he seems like a fine example of a human being. A human being who grew up in Beverly Hills. As far as his impact on the music industry, you’d have to ask Donny Osmond because that’s where this shit started.
twi-ny: In the past, you’ve said that your songs are “about absolutely nothing,” so should we not read any political metaphors into “Late Night Obama Food,” especially when you say, “We are starving, but we’re eating more than we ever did before”?
Dick Valentine: Yeah, that’s right.
twi-ny: Going back to “I Buy the Drugs” for a moment, what actually happens if you send a self-addressed stamped envelope to P.O. Box 900, Los Angeles, CA 90212?
Dick Valentine: I have heard it has something to do with FOX broadcasting. That was not intentional, but that makes sense as I believe that ZIP Code does in fact cover Century City and Westwood.
twi-ny: In “Gimme the Eyes,” you say, “When you come to New York see what your money buys.” You played the Bell House on September 25 and will be at Bowery Ballroom on September 29; what do you spend your money on when you’re here in the city?
Dick Valentine: Diapers. In a Park Slope parent way, not in a David Vitter way.
twi-ny: We can’t let you go without asking about the cover of Mustang; what was your initial reaction when you saw that the band’s name was misspelled on the back of the woman’s jean jacket?
Dick Valentine: We were elated.