[12 June 2014]
PopMatters Music Reviews Editor
Maybe it’s “Your heinous highness broke her hymen / Hey man try to quit your crying / I know she broke your heart / But try to come try to come, try to come down,” from Horrorscope‘s “On the Roof Again” in 2000. Or perhaps it’s “Pardon me sir / Can I ask you a favor / Make me a cowboy like my next door neighbor / Pardon me sir / Can I use your eraser / To remove my brain of
unconventional nature,” from “Tongue Tied” that appeared on his band’s self-titled 1998 breakthrough.
Whichever lyric it is (or, for that matter, whichever lyrics they are), Eve 6 singer Max Collins isn’t going to tell. Not today at least. Yet as he reflects on some of the most tedious tasks he has confronted in recent weeks while holding up his end of the PledgeMusic campaign that helped fund his recently released debut solo set, Honey From The Icebox, one thing becomes clear very quickly: he’s done a lot of work he wish he could take back.
“The most time consuming was all the hand-written stuff,” Collins says, referring to some of the objects fans paid for during the campaign. “Especially back when those first couple Eve 6 records, there were like 9,000 words per song. I’ve kind of realized, just looking back at that stuff, some of which is really hard to ... .”
He gathers his thoughts.
“You know, it just really makes me kind of bristle. I’m like ‘Oh My God, that’s just so bad.’”
“Oh man, I don’t know,” he responds with laughter. “To me, there are a few good songs on each of those records and then there ... I’m one of those people who are pretty critical of myself and I was so young when I wrote a lot of that stuff. I sort of didn’t really get melody. I didn’t really have singer chops. I didn’t really write super-melodically, so I feel like I was kind of not apologizing for that, but sort of compensating for that with cadence and rhythmic lyrics. There are songs that are just crammed with words.”
Wait. So, does this mean there might be songs Eve 6 might never play again live? Like ... ever?
“Yeah, totally,” Collins admits. “I was doing this chat yesterday with a fan and he told me that he loved the song ‘Red & Black’ which is sort of a B-side thing that was released on the Speak In Code record. For me, a lot of that song is really strong, but there’s one lyric that I feel like I sort of settled on. ‘Tomorrow’s a new day’—that’s such a cliché lyric. Every time I hear that, I just ... I can’t handle it. So, we’ll probably never play that song. I mean, there’s a bunch we’ll probably never play. But I don’t mean to diminish the song’s relevance for anyone who likes it, obviously. What I feel really is kind of inconsequential about it. I did it, I put it out there. So, it’s sort of hypocritical and weird in a way to knock the stuff, but I don’t know. I’m kind of crazy I guess.”
Max Collins can be forgiven if he’s a bit apprehensive about his work with Eve 6 at this point in his career—the bulk of his focus these days is elsewhere. With Honey From The Icebox out this year, the singer has long been ready to embark on a new chapter. Signing his first record deal at age 17, Collins essentially spent his formative years growing up underneath the type of spotlight a hit single can bring once “Inside Out” took off. That light’s heat-index then doubled two years later when high-schoolers adopted his band’s “Here’s To The Night” as the unofficial theme song of proms everywhere.
Two more full-lengths and one three-year hiatus later, and Collins is eager to talk about his new-found passion for his new-found direction. There’s nothing wrong with Eve 6, he insists (they’ll be appearing on this year’s installment of the Summerland Tour alongside Everclear and Soul Asylum), but as far as he’s concerned, there’s never been a better time to step out on his own.
The 10 songs that make up Honey prove his point. Far more relaxed and invariably more mature than his other band’s work, the set sounds a lot like how the last few chapters of a coming-of-age story should read. Gone are the aggressive hooks and quirky melodies that make up the bulk of Eve 6’s catalogue and in are the acoustic textures, hushed vocals, and slide guitars best seen from other rock band leaders-turned-solo-artists like Butch Walker and Mike Doughty.
The latter, in fact, is whom he likes to call his “humble little reference point” for how to succeed in the solo world. It’s easy to draw the line between the two, Collins notes, because of the similarities between Soul Coughing’s trajectory and that of Eve 6.
“He’s managed to forge this solo career,” the singer explains with respect. “He’s not headlining Coachella, but he has a loyal fan base that allows him to do his particular thing and have a career doing it. I feel like that’s what I need to be doing, just as an artist.”
It’s been working so far. Having met 134 percent of his goal through the PledgeMusic campaign, Collins plans to market “Sports Bar”, the album’s lead single, to non-commercial Triple A stations throughout May. He’s looking at the project with the long view fully in tact, describing Honey more as the first step in artist development than anything else. He just wants to get the music out there in whatever way possible, the singer contends, which might include a fall tour once Eve 6’s Summerland stint ends.
Oh, and about Eve 6 ... fans shouldn’t worry, he asserts. Going solo doesn’t mark the end of the band he cut his teeth with, despite his curious decision to bring on the group’s guitarist, Jon Siebels, to produce his debut set. The move might be confusing to longtime fans, Collins concedes, but to everyone else, the decision makes all the sense in the world.
“Even though he was involved, it was a very different dynamic than the band’s dynamic,” the singer notes, referring to Siebels. “He played some guitar on it. He co-engineered it. He sort of helped bring it all together—found the studio, rented the mics, handled the stuff that I don’t know anything about. He was my collaborator on it.”
Fair enough, but did it ever begin to feel as though the songs could have made up the next Eve 6 record?
“No, not at all,” he answers quickly. “I think Tony’s involvement in the band is very profound. There was no desire to make an Eve 6 record. It was my vision, for lack of a better term, and he was sort of helping me realize it. I’m completely technologically inept. I don’t have any studio chops or gear. I knew how I wanted the record to sound; Jon is great with all that stuff. So, if that makes sense, and maybe it doesn’t, it was a very different dynamic than the band’s dynamic, even though two-thirds of the band were involved.
“Where we’re sort of at now with Eve 6 is, we all love playing loud, live rock together and doing the few shows a month that we average,” he continues. “We’re still an active, working band and still doing the live thing with regularity. And I definitely wouldn’t say there will never be another Eve 6 record. I just kind of feel compelled to do my thing and put records out consistently as a solo artist. I’m pretty excited about that.”
Another source of excitement for the singer: his sobriety. When Eve 6 effectively broke up after the poor sales of 2003’s It’s All In Your Head, Collins found himself at a personal low. No exception to the common tales of teens who achieve a lifetime’s worth of success before even reaching the legal drinking age, Collins has made no secret of his past struggles with alcoholism. In fact, he’s stated more than once that among the most imperative hurdles the singer had to clear before reuniting the original lineup of his band and subsequently releasing 2012’s Speak In Code was his bout with addiction.
Now sober and married, he ponders the effect the presence of both has had on him as an artist with a long moment of silence.
“I almost feel like I’ve become a songwriter,” he concludes. “I actually feel like I’m sort of qualified to call myself that in the last two years. Being sober, you find yourself with more time on your hands to do things that are sort of productive and artistic. For me, I spent a lot of time learning Beatles songs, learning Elliott Smith songs, learning Crowded House songs, learning Fountains Of Wayne songs. I’ve been kind of eating my pop-songwriting vegetables and just kind of exploring the craft.
“Would I have been willing to go there if I was still drinking?” he eventually asks. “I don’t know. Probably not. That was the thing with me. Because when I was drinking, drinking was the priority. The music, the writing—not that I didn’t write any good songs in that period—but I feel like it often suffered for it. Some people write amazing shit and they’re all screwed up forever and good for them. Hat’s off. For whatever reason, I became sufficiently miserable with the way I was living and had to kind of make a change.”
Which brings us back to where we began. Does that lifestyle change cut deep enough to effect any possible future regrets about the songs that make up Honey From The Icebox? Are there any of the 10 songs from his debut set that he feels like someday he won’t ever want to play again?
“I can honestly say,” Collins answers with his signature baritone voice. “No.”
“Maybe it goes back to that sobriety thing,” he adds with a tiny laugh. “But with my new record, I feel like the songs hold up.”