Fresh out of high school, you record your first album for a major label and, out of nowhere, it catches fire, selling more than 1 million copies and yielding a pair of monster modern-rock hits.
How would you feel if you were Eve 6?
Drummer Tony Fagenson feels just fine, thank you, and so do his band mates, singer-bassist Max Collins and guitarist Jon Siebels.
“It would freak anyone out to all of a sudden be in that position,” Fagenson said during a recent tour stop, “but I feel like we’re a real band now. We’ve been touring for quite a bit, and we’ve got our groove going on. We’re in a good place right now, and if we can do this for 20 more years, we’d be totally happy.”
They’re well on their way with their second – and far more cohesive – RCA album, “Horrorscope” (released July 25), and their first single, “Promise.” The album debuted a few weeks ago at No. 34 on Billboard’s pop chart, and “Promise” recently peaked at No. 3 on the modern rock tracks chart.
No sophomore jinx here.
Fagenson says they learned a lot from their 1998 experiences with their self-titled debut album (which included the smashes “Inside Out” and “Leech”) and the nonstop touring that went with it.
“On the first year and a half of touring for the first record, it was this crazy whirlwind, and we didn’t really know how to balance it,” he said. “When we came home, we took some time off before starting the new record. We were able to learn that we had a life outside the band, and we had to nurture that.
“By doing that, it made us go into the new record with more of a positive attitude. We were able to focus more on making the album. We grew up. I always like to think of our experience with the first album and the tour as our college; that was our equivalent of college. We were able to get out there and be on our own and learn responsibility, but it still wasn’t a real job yet. It was this magical thing, and we got lucky.
“Now we’ve put the work in, and here’s the real life. This is after college now, we’re making our own way into the world. Our perspectives are more mature. We know more how to balance ourselves and keep everything in perspective.”
Hence, “Horrorscope” – produced by Don Gilmore – is infinitely more upbeat than their debut album, from the songs on down to the comic-book-styled drawing of a female superhero for the cover art.
“There’s just as much energy, if not more, as the first record,” Fagenson said, “but the songs aren’t all about heartbreak. It’s a lighter-hearted album, it’s a funner album.
“We went in there wanting to make a great record. When we were recording, we tried not to think about all that ‘sophomore slump’ stuff and just have fun with it. And it worked. We feel proud of the record, and we’re happy with how it turned out.”
Collins and Siebels, with another drummer, formed Eve 6 while in high school in Los Angeles and were signed to RCA after the label saw potential in their showcase performances. Rather than rush them into the studio, RCA let them find their musical direction on their own and finish high school.
In the meantime, Fagenson came along and took over on drums.
“I came in a little later, like right before we started working on the first album,” he said. “I had been in a hundred bands before, but none of us ever thought this would happen. We were never shooting for having a platinum record; we just wanted to get as many people to our club shows as possible. We had very short-term goals, and that’s what I think led to the success of the band. We weren’t always out there searching for a deal and all that stuff. We took our time getting our act together live, and that got us to where we were.
“RCA gave us time till the guys actually finished high school, and I was going to USC for a semester. That allowed us to develop musically. I think if we had put the record out right when the band was signed, I don’t know if we’d be having this conversation right now. We definitely weren’t ready.”
Fagenson had no trouble seeking advice on various career moves. He had the infinite wisdom of his father, Don (“Don Was”), to fall back on. Don Was led the Detroit R&B group Was (Not Was) in the 1980s and later became a prolific producer (Bonnie Raitt, The B-52’s, Willie Nelson, Iggy Pop, Paula Abdul).
“We’re making our own way in the world,” Tony Fagenson said, “but I sought his advice for big business decisions, like getting our new manager or picking a producer for the album. He’s been through it all; he knows all the pitfalls, and he knows where the traps are, so he’s been invaluable about that. He showed us different things in different lights; he made us realize that there’s two sides to every story and we always have to be on the lookout for people who have their own interests beyond ours.
“He never made phone calls for us; we did it on our own. Max and Jon, with another drummer, got signed to RCA before I joined, and then I joined soon afterward, so they had the deal before I entered the picture.”
Growing up in such a musical family was bound to rub off on Fagenson, but it happened naturally, he says.
“I didn’t think about it too much,” he said. “Being around music was par for the course. But I did my own music; I never really did anything with my dad musically. I might have done a couple of things on sessions just for fun, but I always made my own path for music. I had all my various band incarnations in high school, jazz trios and, of course, Eve 6. I went and did my thing, but I think he was always there as a subconscious influence.
“He was shocked that we had all this success so early. He thinks it’s so great.”
Fagenson, though, wouldn’t mind following in his father’s footsteps into the studio and producing others.
“Definitely, it’s something I want to do,” he said. “On both of our records, I was very hands-on with it. I did it just on an amateur level with various people up until Eve 6, producing friends’ demos and stuff like that. That’s something I’d like to get into even after the run of this record, signing an act to produce. That’s really where my love is, just the craft of making records. I love it, and I’m looking forward to making the next Eve 6 one, too.”
He’s also looking forward to buying his first house, one of the fringe benefits of platinum success.
“We have three weeks off in October, enough time to get all my ducks in a row before I go to a real estate agent,” he said. “I’m not a millionaire yet; I was just want something in a nice area that I can afford for me and my girlfriend. I’ve never been the kind of guy dreaming about a certain type of house with all the fancy trimmings. All I know is: I’m ready to be a homeowner.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “I had stuff that my dad gave me, but the first one I remember having a real impact on me was Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ I listened to it all the time. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. It’s a great record.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “I remember going to an Ozzy (Osbourne) concert when I was real young, probably at Irvine Meadows (Calif.) and I thought it was the shit. I think I was 6, and my dad took me to it; he wanted me to see it, and he had me listening to Twisted Sister when I was 5. That concert’s what started me off on my rock thing. I got into the metal bands and Metallica. It was so bombastic, with the lights and stuff. It was a huge, orgasmic sensory explosion, and for a young kid to see that, it totally had me hooked.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “Eminem, which I love. He’s one of those few artists that’s being brutally honest, telling it like it is, and he’s a brilliant craftsman at the same time. He’s rock ‘n’ roll, he’s what rock ‘n’ roll’s all about. I like that he’s scaring the masses a little. I don’t agree with his views, but I’ve got to respect his fearlessness and his artistic expression.”
BWF (before we forget): Scope out Eve 6 on the Web @ www.eve6.com.