You may recognize Max Collins as the tattooed, redheaded singer from Eve 6. While still with that band, Collins has ventured into a solo project. With his first album, Honey From the Ice Box, on its way, we spoke to him about the past, present, and dark comedy of his music.
Patrick Emmel: Max Collins is coming back to start a solo project. Before we get into that, we have to deal with Eve 6. How did you become the bassist and singer? Bassists always have a bad rap in the band. So were you the lead singer that had to pick up the bass because you didn’t have a bass player or are you more like Sting, or Fat Mike from NOFX, where the bass was your thing and you just happened to sing as well?
Max Collins: Believe it or not, I started out by playing the bass. My dad, when I was a little kid and we drove around listening to the radio, he would always point out the bass line: “You hear that? You hear that low bit there? That’s the bass.” So I guess I had kind of a curiosity about it. There was something about it that was just kind of cool to me about the instrument of the member of the band that’s sort of holding it down. And it probably suited my kind of natural disposition.
The singing thing actually happened perfectly conversely to the way that you described it. One of the first garage bands I was playing in, the singer was trying to sing something, and I suggested: “Why don’t you try singing it like this?” And I heard myself sing and I was like, “Huh. I sort of hit a couple notes there.” Soon after that, I had gotten enough moxie up to try and write a song, and that became it. The bass became totally secondary.
Patrick: So did you pretty much kick the lead singer out and that became Eve 6, or was it a couple bands after that?
Max: You know, Jon Siebels, the guitar player for Eve 6, was definitely [there]. I don’t know if you could even call what we were doing at that time a band. We were just kind of jamming with friends. So yeah, maybe you could say that was a very early incarnation of what would become the band.
Patrick: Have you ever walked into a place where a cover band was playing, and they just so happened to be playing “Inside Out?” I know it sounds too coincidental if that would happen, but you never know.
Max: I try not to darken the doors of too many karaoke establishments, but I probably have. Back in the day when I was a big fan of, uh… beverages alcoholic, I would often find it hilarious to sing my own songs at karaoke bars. I remember doing “Here’s To the Night” or something at a karaoke bar once and I was forgetting the words. It was a pretty pathetic, albeit hilarious display for myself and my buddies.
Patrick: Now, was that one of those private karaoke bars where you rent out a private room, or were you out in the audience for everyone to see that Max Collins can’t sing his own songs in karaoke?
Max: Oh yeah, this was a good, old-fashioned everyman’s karaoke bar. Nothing fancy.
Patrick: Did anyone try to follow you up and sing [the song] again?
Max Collins: I don’t have much of a recollection of that night except I know that much happened, but [laughs] yeah…
Patrick: The beverages alcoholic….
Max: [laughs] Yeah…
Patrick: Is it flattering that bands play your music like that or is it almost insulting that they think they can play it as good as you?
Max: Oh, no. It’s totally flattering. It’s totally strange and wonderful. You write the song and people like it and then people want to play it. It’s great.
Patrick: So how did you decide to branch off just a little bit from Eve 6 and do Max Collins in… Max Collins?
Max: As Eve 6, we’re still doing shows. We’re doing a tour this summer and I still love those dudes and enjoy playing loud rock with them. I just feel, creatively, I’m in that place where I sort of need to be completely kind of selfish and uncompromising and follow my whimsy wherever it goes and not really concern myself with other people’s expectations or opinions or anything. I was in this band, Eve 6, for basically my entire, not just adult life, but young adult, teenage life. So I guess I just have this burning desire to just kind of totally do it my way and shed any perceptions and create these strange little pop songs, record them the way I want to with my friends and make weird videos and put it out into the world. And I intend to continue doing that for as long as I’m around.
It’s been a really gratifying process for me. To have both things is cool for me. I’m nothing but grateful for the fact that Eve 6 has given me kind of a platform, a fan base, a listenership, devoted people who care about my songwriting . And I’m happy to give them Eve 6 songs when I’m with Eve 6, and I’m thrilled to get my new stuff out there as well.
Patrick: I’m guessing the tour you’re talking about is the Summerland Tour, obviously, this summer?
Patrick: Are you going to try to hijack the whole tour and do the Max Collins solo project before Eve 6 goes on stage? [laughs]
Max: [laughs] Yeeeeeah, I don’t think that would go over too well. You know, [the solo stuff] is pretty different in a lot of ways and the people coming to this tour want to hear Eve 6 music. They don’t want to hear Max Collins music. What I might end up doing, depending on whether or not we go to Triple-A radio with the single “Sports Bar,” [is] some little radio appearances and playing my new solo single and stuff like that. I’m doing a residency here in LA at the Viper Room in May with Jody Porter, the guitar player of Fountains of Wayne. He and I have been friends for a long time. And he has a record coming out, too. I do plan to do some solo touring hopefully in the Fall, but I’m kind of keeping busy with local stuff, and I have a solo show in Oakland June 3rd as well.
Patrick: Now you say residency. Every time I hear “residency” I think of doctors.
Patrick: Does that mean you have a weekly gig at the Viper Room?
Max: That’s exactly right, yeah. It’s every Monday night. My friend Jody, he has a record coming out called Month of Mondays. He’s doing that and he came down and saw a show of mine I did last weekend and was like, “Why don’t you play on mine?” and I said, “Sure.” It’s just going to be me and an acoustic guitar and a percussionist. I made this video for my single that’s kind of weird and dark. To me it’s funnier than it is scary. Some people love it and a lot of people, it makes them angry. Dave Navarro saw the video and loved it and had me on his “Dark Matter” show to perform it and, of course I write everything on the acoustic guitar but, I hadn’t performed publicly these new songs with just a guitar and percussion. We did that there and it just felt really good.
Patrick: The video you’re talking about, obviously, is for “Sports Bar?”
Patrick: When you played that on Dave Navarro’s show, did you happen to have anybody in animal outfits in the background?
Max: No, but you would almost expect there to be. No, it was just myself and my compatriot, my brother in rock Brian Young, who is also the drummer for Fountains of Wayne and now The Jesus and Mary Chain. It’s just me and him and we just rocked in there.
Patrick: Who came up for the idea of that video? In a strange fashion, I liked it, but I like strange videos across the board. It’s a very odd (Max laughs) contrast: you playing acoustic guitar up on the stage and you have these random people in animal costumes that are accosting you…
Max: I came up with the idea, and here is the short version of the events that provided the idea. My friend Thad Bridwell, who directed the “Sports Bar” video, he was shooting a short film a few months back. He was riding shotgun in the director’s car. The director of the short film was driving a BMW and he was bragging about the car and saying people in Kuwait drive these things because they can handle any terrain, and right after he finished saying that he hit a rock or something and like, killed the car.
So the car is not running anymore and they’re stranded in the middle of the desert without cell reception, not in walking distance of any sort of civilization and there’s no traffic or anything.So they’re there, just like, “F#%k,” you know? “What’re we gonna do?” and Francis, the Native American man in the “Sports Bar” video happen to be driving by, got their car towed and fixed their car himself.
Thad stayed in touch with him and became friends with him. When we started talking about wanting to do videos for this record, namely for “Sports Bar,” Francis told Thad that he had built a fully-functioning, Old West-style saloon on his property near Joshua Tree. So we went and saw it and were just like, “Okay, we have the location. Now we just need the idea.”
I think it was in a Days Inn or some s#*tty hotel somewhere for an Eve 6 one-off or something, and I just had one of those waking dreams. It just kind of came to me. And I even saw people with animal heads and, down to specifics, the guy with the bulldog head pushing my forehead. I just saw that and I knew I wanted to have Francis, the Native American man, set up to be a hero so the audience would be convinced he was gonna save the day and then completely dash those expectations and just knock the wind out of the viewer. Thad’s really talented and was able to execute that and illustrate it in a way that’s really funny and chilling at the same time. We were going for Monty Python meets David Lynch.
Patrick: Well you definitely got the David Lynch theme down, and the darker angles of Monty Python.
Max: [laughs] Yeah, with the blood squirting thing, we were thinking of the Holy Grail scene with the knight disembodied and, “it’s just a flesh wound.” We wanted lots and lots of blood.
Patrick: Now, I have to ask you about another theme in the evolution of Max Collins: the hair. Way back in the day you had the hair really short and showed that you’re a redhead. I’m a redhead, too, so I feel your pain.
Max: [laughs] Yeah, totally man, we have to stick together.
Patrick: But later on, like in the video “Think Twice,” you had that curly mop going on. And now you’re back to short again, at least in the “Sports Bar” video.
Max: Yeah, well, the curly mop, that was an unfortunate phase and thankfully it was only captured on celluloid. It was still unfortunate in the “Think Twice” video but it got so much more unfortunate after that because, during the tour for “It’s All In Your Head,” the Eve 6 record, we were sort of like a traveling band of bums. There wasn’t a lot of bathing going on. It was sort of dark [laughs] and I had [these] inadvertent dreadlocks that formed [at] the back of my head just because I was never washing my hair. So, yeah, it got ugly. But I think I’m going to start growing it out a little bit. I think I’m going to start growing the top out a little bit but keep the sides under control. I’m feeling [inspired] to change it up a little bit. How do you do your red hair?
Patrick: Aw man, I’ve gone through a massive amount of phases. I had the gradual bowl surfer style in the ’90s …
Max: So you have straight hair…
Patrick: Yeah, the only curling I have going on is in the back when I know I need to cut it. I get that hockey mullet thing going on.
Max: That’s what’s so great about the shaved head. It’s just so low-maintenance.
Patrick: Yeah. You changed things up a little bit with the facial hair!
Max: Yeah, that’s true. Much to the chagrin of my wife. She’s totally not down with it. I have such a contrarian personality that when people start saying, “You should really shave that moustache,” it just strengthens my resolve to grow it out.
Patrick: So Honey From the Ice Box, the solo album, comes out May 6th?
Max: Yeah. I got the title from a novel I read a few months back, and one of the characters is speaking to a friend of his and wants to…thinks his sister’s hot, and he says, “She’s honey from the icebox. Cold sweets won’t spread.” And I just liked the way that sounded. So yeah, it’s coming out May 6th, and I’m pretty excited about it.
Patrick: It’s just a digital release at the moment?
Max: Well, I did a PledgeMusic campaign to fund the record, so people who pledged will get their CDs as well. We’re shipping them out to correspond with the release date. I am manufacturing CDs but they’re limited in number. For the most part, it’s digital. I’m doing vinyl, too, but again it’s a pledger thing for the most part.
Patrick: So this was pretty much pledgers and you putting money into this album.
Max: Yeah, entirely. No label involvement or any other money.
Patrick: Was that stressful? I mean, obviously you get full control over your work, but then you have to deal with everything else that you normally wouldn’t have to deal with.
Max: Yeah, it was stressful, and I learned a lot from it. If I do it again, I think I’ll be better about it. I’ve definitely had a lot of cramping in my hand from writing innumerable “Thank you” letters and handwritten lyrics, but it’s been fun. One of the things I did was matching tattoos. So I got a matching tattoo with a fan. I have one more of those to do. We have a trip to Medieval Times with a pledger. We tried to keep it sort of ridiculous, keep it interesting.
Patrick: Who got to choose the tattoo? You, or the pledger?
Max: I’m definitely open to the creative process between myself and the pledger and, of course, I get veto power if someone says, “Let’s get matching Tazmanian Devils on our… whatever.”
Patrick: So there’s a discussion to it.
Max: Exactly. So, in this case, we [the fan and I] happen to have both read this novel The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin, and we both really liked it so we decided to get an apple. So I got half an apple and she got half an apple.
Patrick: Wow. What did your wife think about that one?
Max: My wife is so cool. She wouldn’t be my wife if she weren’t. We’ve been together for a long time now. It just takes a special kind of girl to deal with having a boyfriend/husband that’s a touring musician.
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Patrick last interviewed a more current member of Nine Inch Nails, drummer Ilan Rubin, on his new project The New Regime, and helped comedian Doug Stanhope make some beef stroganoff while interviewing him about dark comedy.