Tracking Down is a Stereogum franchise in which we talk to artists who have been out of the spotlight for a minute.
Most people at the onset of middle age rarely have think about themselves at 18. But that’s not the case for Eve 6 frontman Max Collins, who, perhaps to his chagrin, kickstarted a career around songs he wrote well before even graduating from high school. He audibly squirms when recalling the tongue-twisting lyrics to Eve 6’s first hit single, rock-radio trophy “Inside Out,” which memorably topped the charts in 1998 and gifted pop culture the gruesome phrase, “Wanna put my tender/ heart in a blender.”
“When I hear ‘Inside Out’ on the radio, I hear a kid singing about kid things,” he admits during our conversation. “That doesn’t take away aspects of [the song] that are good and true and entertaining, but at the same time it lives in this weird, compartmentalized place to me, where I have mingled emotions both pride and embarrassment about it.”
Even so, Collins will soon revisit his band’s inaugural self-titled album this fall when Eve 6 kick off a reunion tour, where they’ll perform all 10 songs, some of which they haven’t played live in years. “When those were the only songs we had to choose from we played them, but [we stopped] once record #2 [2000’s Horrorscope] came out. We were 16 and 17 years old when we wrote [Eve 6], and it sounds like it.”
Personal feelings aside, Collins says that, even to this day, fans still approach him wanting to know what “Inside Out” is about. The answer is typically teenage: “For that whole record, I was pretty much writing it at this one girl who cheated on me and broke my heart,” he says. “My muse would have been that relationship and that girl, and not really having the emotional equipment to know how to deal with it.”
Below, Collins delves further on making of his debut record, transitioning from playing local clubs to festival audiences of 80,000, and, at one point, being told by A&R that Eve 6 was destined to “fall through the cracks.”
STEREOGUM: Between your newer projects and Eve 6’s anniversary tour in the fall, you seem pretty busy lately.
MAX COLLINS: Yeah. The Eve 6 run is in December. I’m doing this thing called Fitness, [my] other band. Then we have the Alt Nation tour in October with Big Data. So, we’re going out with them for a month. We just did a month with this band Wild Moccasins.
STEREOGUM: When touring gets that hectic, do you got into the same sort of “just-do-it” mindset that you might have when Eve 6 was at its height?
COLLINS: I think so. I think you kind of just go into that mode, sort of like survival mode. I think the harder part for me is acclimating back to not being in that mode, just when it comes to … I don’t know, like, I need to renew my license. I’m driving with an expired license. The tricky part is actually coming home and dealing with the mundane tasks of life.
STEREOGUM: As far as the anniversary tour goes, what prompted the initial decision to get the guys back together and hit the road?
COLLINS: It’s the 20th anniversary of Record #1. A lot of those songs we’ve never really played live. I mean, I’m sure we did probably leading up to the release of the record. We probably played all 10 or whatever. When those were the only songs we had to choose from we played them, but once Record #2 came out, a lot of the songs on that record … It’s like this weird thing where we were 16 and 17 years old, Jon [Siebels] and I, when we wrote that record, and it sounds like it. So I think I’m at a place now where, maybe because of Fitness, because I have this other outlet and it’s starting to be well-received and stuff like that, it’s like I’m looking on that record and Eve 6 in general a little bit more gently. I’m able to see what’s good about it, and I think the prospect of playing these songs that we haven’t played in many, many years, at least the lion’s share of the record, to our fans that love them, is interesting and will be cool.
STEREOGUM: You guys really were babies when your first record came out. I think I read something somewhere about the record label wanting to wait until you had graduated from high school to officially release any music?
COLLINS: I still wonder how it all kind of happened. But yeah, the part of the record label waiting, I think that was less altruism on their part and more like, “Let’s see if these guys turn into something that we can sell.” The band at the time before getting signed, our first band name was “Yakoo.” There happened to be an A&R person for an independent punk label called Doctor Dream at one of our high school shows. She saw the show and liked it and gave us a card and said, “We’d love to have a meeting with you guys.” We drove down to Orange County. It was a cool label. A couple weeks later, we signed a deal with them, and started to make a record for Doctor Dream with Steve Soto from Adolescents, who just passed away.
During those sessions, Doctor Dream had coordinated a syndicated radio live performance thing with this radio show called Radio Asylum. The woman whose show it was, her name’s Jennifer Herald, really loved us and knew Brian Malouf at RCA. She sent him this live recording that we’d done for her radio show. He really liked it, and he and Bruce Flohr, who was also then RCA A&R, flew out and saw a showcase at this rehearsal room in North Hollywood.
This is where I’m mystified. It was the worst. We were so terrible. We really didn’t know what we were doing at all. I remember our drummer dropping his sticks mid-song, and we’re playing for these two high-powered label guys. But I guess they saw something, and I think saw that we had the potential to turn into something.
So, yeah. It was basically like it was a record deal, it wasn’t a production deal, but in practice it was kind of a production deal. It was like, “Okay. Keep going to high school. We’ll give you your advance in the form of monthly stipends.” Which was amazing for us, we got 300 or 500 dollars a month to be in our band, and got to pick one less period at school because we could write it off as a work experience thing. It was amazing.
We just continued to play little all-ages shows, wrote a bunch of songs. But even still, right before going in to record the first record, I remember we played the songs that we had for our A&R guy at a little rehearsal space, and he took us to lunch after at Musso and Frank Grill after and I’ll never forget him saying, “Yeah. I see you guys falling through the cracks. I don’t think you’ve got the songs. I don’t think you sound like anything that’s happening right now.” He’s like, “I’m going to give you a little bit of money to get these songs off your chest.” That felt so condescending.
COLLINS: But, he did. We hired this producer, Don Gilmore, who had a hit or two then done. Not any records that had sold anything, but a couple records that we really liked. He flew down from Seattle. We recorded three songs, all songs that the A&R guy had heard and sort of not been to pumped about. When he heard them in that context he was like, “Oh. OK. This sounds like something. I’m going to give you guys a little bit more money to finish it.”
STEREOGUM: So this guy eventually changed his mind about you guys? What changed?
COLLINS: Yeah. [Thanks to Don], “Inside Out,” the song that would be our big one in the rehearsal room, had longer verses. There was more fat on it, and there wasn’t a bridge yet, the “I, alone, am the one you don’t know you need,” that part hadn’t been written. There wasn’t that big chorus over the bridge chords thing at the end. Don definitely had a huge hand in refining our stuff. I think once he’d heard it having gone through Don’s process, it was easier for him to kind of sell it.
STEREOGUM: Yeah. Still, to just sit you down and say that stuff to basically a bunch of kids. I mean, that could be soul crushing.
COLLINS: Yeah. It was soul crushing. I just felt … I still identify that as one of those moments. You know? It just felt like you could literally feel this visceral sensation of weight on you. It sucked.
But, you know, at the same time I get it. It’s not charity. It’s like, yeah, we were kids, but it was sort of, “Now we’re competing with people who aren’t kids.” There we were. There are worse things. I probably did inform the recording of those three songs with a little extra spit and spite that maybe helped. Who knows?
STEREOGUM: Well, if I were hearing a song like “Inside Out” for the first time, it wouldn’t occur to me that you were barely 18. “Inside Out” has some really snappy wordplay, even if the lyrics don’t make a whole lot of sense.
COLLINS: Yeah. Well, thank you. When I say I sounded like a kid that’s probably not the best way of putting it. I sound like a kid trying not to sound like a kid. The stuff that I listened to would probably seem unlikely if you’re going off the sound of the Eve 6 record. I mean, Jawbreaker’s Dear You is still one of my favorite records. I know that’s sacrilege to Jawbreaker fans who think that’s their major-label sell-out record or whatever.
I was listening to them. I was listening to a lot of K Records, Kill Rock Stars stuff. I wasn’t listening to radio rock when I made this huge radio rock record. I think I was just trying to emulate people that I thought were good. Not in a way where I was plagiarizing, but Jawbreaker lyrics sounded smart, I wanted to sound smart. You know?
It was sort of when I was just discovering putting words together playfully and just really going on instinct. In hindsight I look at the songs on that record and there’s melody, but there’s not melody. Most of the stuff around that time that we get lumped in with, from Third Eye Blind to, I don’t know, take your pick, it was a lot of really strong melody. With the Eve 6 stuff, it was like more phrase. The chorus of Inside Out is one-note, almost. I didn’t have a comprehension of melody really, but I did love playing with words and the rhythm of that came kind of naturally to me.
STEREOGUM: I gotta say, I was always a sucker for “Open Road Song.” And because I like to nerd out over great movie and TV song placements, I always appreciated how that song opened — and ultimately set the mood — for Can’t Hardly Wait.
COLLINS: Completely. It’s funny, I’ve seen kind of recently, just noticed a bunch of memes and stuff from that movie. It kind of does occupy that space, I think, for ’90s kids that the John Hughes movies did for ’80s kids. It’s that perennial coming-of-age story, and it’s well made.
STEREOGUM: You could even argue this was a coming-of-age record for you.
COLLINS: Yeah. It definitely, definitely was. It’s appropriate, kind of meta.
STEREOGUM: What was it like at the time pivoting from playing tiny clubs among your high school peers to audiences with probably thousands of people?
COLLINS: Absolutely insane. We were booked on our first festival, in Atlanta. There were 80,000 people there and we had a later time slot. I just remember being behind the stage about to go on and just thinking, “What the fuck is happening? I don’t know what I’m doing.”
All of those imposter syndrome [feelings], just flooding of the mind, just adrenaline surging. That moment, I think, was one of those milestone things, like, “Oh. This is crazy.” I don’t remember much of the actual show. I think it was kind of out of body. You go in to some altered state.
STEREOGUM: I read somewhere that, with this tour kicking off and everything, you’d be open to writing new Eve 6 music. Do you still think that’s in the cards?
COLLINS: Yeah. I mean, Jon and I are still very close friends. He’s my best friend designation, for sure. He also co-manages Fitness, this thing I’m doing. The original drummer of Eve 6 [Tony Fagenson] left a few months ago, and we now have the drummer of Fitness playing for Eve 6.
When it comes to new music and where I put my creative energy now, it’s going into Fitness. I think the idea of doing a whole record with Eve 6, the chances are probably pretty slim that that’ll happen in the near future. But a single or something would be cool. We’ve also talked about doing a five-song covers EP. Just doing, I don’t know, stuff that we love, maybe a Kinks song. I don’t know, stuff that I’m not even totally sure our audience would get. Maybe that sounds patronizing, but basically something for us to just do for fun as a way to kind of whet our appetite with it again. Not have it be having to fit into any specific parameters.
STEREOGUM: Well, a covers EP, come to think of it, might be better received than one would think. Look at Weezer and Toto.
COLLINS: No, it’s true. If done well. Yeah. [Weezer] did it so brilliantly because they took themselves out of it completely and did an almost, you almost can’t tell it’s a different version, it’s so close. Which I think is awesome. Yeah. That’s a good point. I do think if we chose the songs well, yeah, I think it could have some appeal.