[31 May 2012]
PopMatters Music Reviews Editor
“Here’s a toast to all those who hear me all too well.”
Those were the words of Max Collins, the deep-voiced, alliteration-loving frontman of Eve 6 all the way back in 2000. Coincidentally, there indeed were a lot of of people who happened to hear his words all too well. The irony, though, was that what those people were hearing had little, if nothing, to do with that particular line, or, for that matter, the particular song that particular line came from.
Instead, Eve 6 fans were latching like leeches (get it?!) onto other, more obscure lines from the band’s catalog. “Promise that forever/We will never get better/At growing up and learning to lie,” from 2003’s “Good Lives”, for instance, is one refrain that sticks out to many an Eve 6 aficionado, regardless of how much a commercial disappointment It’s All Your Head was. “Your heinous highness broke her hymen/Hey man, try to quit your crying/I know she broke your heart/But try to calm/Try to calm down,” is the tongue-twisting stanza from Horrorscope that stands above even the aforementioned line referenced in “Here’s To The Night” even though both tracks appeared on the group’s second album. And only if “I loved you while he was in you in the shower/Did, in joy and ecstasy, your eyes begin to water?” from “Showerhead” on the band’s 1998 debut is a proclamation that stays with you longer than any line about a tender heart in a blender can you truly claim Eve 6 as a musical act of your affection, most fans would say.
And that’s why they still matter. Having already removed themselves from any ‘90s nostalgia conversation by maintaining that acutely loyal fan base, the California trio recently reunited after a few years apart in time to release Speak In Code, the band’s first new album in nine years. Teaming with Don Gilmore—who, by the way, was conspicuously absent from It’s All In Your Head after manning the boards for their first two releases—Speak In Code returns to the kind of fun(ny) pop vibe Horrorscope highlighted so well. It’s as polished, word-y, and poignant as anything the band has ever done, and according guitarist Jon Siebels, it also marks a new day for the older and notably wiser musical entity.
“We wanted this record to be fun,” Siebels said recently while checking in between tour rehearsals in California, “and that’s how it shaped up. We were extremely fortunate to be able to work with Don again. We thought it wouldn’t be an option to do the whole album with him, actually. At first, we were going to use multiple producers and we were just hoping Don would agree to do a couple songs with us. But when we went to him to ask him if he would be interested, he actually said that he would only do it under one condition, which was if he could do the whole record.”
A near split between old and new songs, Speak In Code is the sound of a band re-energized. From the upbeat, sugary pop disco vibe of “Victoria”, one of the album’s first singles, to the punk bass influence that defines “Curtain”, to the Chili Peppers-esque funk of “Downtown”, Eve 6’s latest effort proves to be as candid and revelatory as anything the guys have written in the past. And considering the trio’s recent history, the album’s palpably confessional spirit should come as a surprise to absolutely no one.
In 2004, amidst reports of Collins’ drinking habits becoming a growing problem within the group, and after It’s All In Your Head failed to eclipse the 200,000 mark in sales, Collins, Siebels and drummer Tony Fagenson decided to put the band on hold as each took time to pursue other projects. Of the three, Siebels stayed the most musically active, forming the experimental Monsters Are Waiting and keeping busy behind the scenes by doing session work and helping other artists pen their own songs. Collins and Fagenson, meanwhile, teamed up to form The Sugi Tap, an outfit that produced one punk rock-inspired EP before disbanding, ultimately returning to the name Eve 6.
But Siebels wasn’t having it. Content with the other musical endeavors he was exploring, the guitarist opted against immediately jumping into the reformation of the group. Instead, Collins and Fagenson recruited Matt Bair to step in during Siebels’ absence. Three years passed and with the exception of a few off-hand appearances and “mini-tours” as they would call them, Eve 6—and all of its subsequent projects—remained considerably quiet. All of that changed when Siebels only recently decided to return to the fold, thus dawning a new day in Eve 6 lore.
“I think we had to go through our own little trials. We had to let our own little wings spread a little,” Siebels said gently when asked about the hiatus. “I needed to get my own head space while I was working on those other projects. The split was necessary for us. We were so young when the band took off, that after a while, we began to realize that we knew nothing else. You go away to understand how special it really is.
“I sort of had an ‘A-ha!’ moment when I was thinking about the way things were when we first started and the way things are now,” he continued. “There were so many things that didn’t even exist back then—like Facebook. We never had the opportunity to utilize Facebook and stay connected with our fans. There are so many more ways to hear music now, and I wanted this band to be able to use those things. Then, once we got back and started playing together, it was like riding a bike.”
A key element in getting back on that bike was finding a home for the Eve 6 brand. After spending the majority of their career on RCA Records, Siebels, Collins and Fagenson recently decided on the Fearless imprint as a label they wanted to work with. The choice itself was a bit of a surprise, considering Fearless Records has made its name off such Alternative Press-friendly acts as pseudo hardcore rockers Mayday Parade, ska outfit The Aquabats, and even the current buzz band du jour, pop-rockers Breathe Carolina.
The move was a good one, the guitarist said. After putting out feelers to see who might be interested in taking on Eve 6 as an act, Siebels said Fearless Records was the one label that “made sense for the band.” Despite its track label as an imprint that has helped launch careers of up-and-comers, everyone in the group thought that working with them would be the logical next step.
“It’s funny, because now we are finding that all the bands on that label grew up listening to Eve 6,” Siebels said laughing, “but we felt that Fearless would be a good place. A major label would focus on just one song, but with these guys, yeah, if we have a hit, we are all high-fivin’, but it wouldn’t change the commitment they have for us. Here, we know we can always be a priority and we will always be able to get an all-around push.
“We did think about going it alone,” he added. “It was an option and a thought. But Fearless is really the best of both worlds. It’s really hard to do everything yourself and on your own. None of us want to be glued to our laptops, checking the latest sales trends. It’s a tough thing to do. Finding a label was something we felt we needed to do. It’s a strength in numbers thing, too. The more people you have, the less you are bogged down.”
So, now what? A few million records sold. A nearly 15-year career that has seen its fair share of ups and downs. A “hiatus.” Countless nationwide tours. And, probably most importantly, a set of fans that refuses to give up on—or forget about—the three California boys that burst onto the popular music scene in 1998 with songs about open roads and beautiful oblivions. What more could Eve 6 want to accomplish with this makeshift comeback?
“We all hope that this is just the beginning of the second phase,” Siebels said with an amount of enthusiasm that bled sincerity. “After we tour, we are going to go right back in and get another album done as soon as possible. With Speak In Code, we now have something that’s not just thrown together. This is our full-time job, and this record is not just a vanity project.”
But what about making making toasts to the masses, who hear you all too well?
“The music industry now makes me appreciate the era in which we came out,” Siebels added. “The industry in recent years has suffered. Back then, it was really easy to slap a 20 dollar price tag on a CD that only had one good song. Creatively, though, there has been a lot of really good progress, and I think the model now calls for more sustainable careers. But with this record and our new label and our new management, we now feel like we have the stability we need.
“Whether we have the hits or not,” the guitarist said with confidence, “it’s not going to stop us from being a band.”