All images courtesy of 616 undone.
When I initially started working in the Columbus music scene almost two decades ago, I didn’t know a lot about the bands or the music around town, but there was one band that almost every musician I met could agree on as being one of the best or most influential. That band was 616 undone., a group whose heyday was in the late 90s and early 2000s, but still have a global influence in 2021.
“I’ve had people from all across the world reach out to me about our record Love Lies Bleeding,” says band founder and drummer Steve Vaughan, pulling out his phone. “I’ve got a message here from a guy in Italy, I had someone from the Philippines reaching out… all the way out to Uzbekistan? I can’t even pronounce some of these cities.”
“Just recently, I had a guy send a message to me including his own cover of our song King. How humbling is that?? It’s almost like idol worship to me.”
You could tell that Vaughan was genuinely graceful about the attention when we talked about it, but he honestly had no idea how the band had such a worldwide reach.
“You have to understand, we were a band who would post our flyers around campus on those old metal trees,” he laughed. “I worked at Kinkos at the time, so we had plenty of fliers, but that was just here in Columbus. Now I’ve got people from Russia to Chile trying to find physical copies of an album that is 20+ years out of print.”
“Honestly, it’s mind-boggling,” he continued. “I don’t know if they realize we’re basically just a local band. We never even played outside of the United States – how are there metal-heads in Asia finding us?”
The band’s story begins back in 1994, when Vaughan was playing with founding guitarist Craig Steinfels under the moniker “Undone”. The two of them wrote the bones of what ended up being several of the songs on Love Lies Bleeding and tried out several vocalists, but he says none of them really seemed to fit.
“At the time, I was basically cherry picking the people who I felt were the best musicians from the scene. Alan Mauger (guitars) was playing in Matrix, Chris Cox (bass) was in Dominion, and eventually we just kind of fell into Aaron Wilson (vocals) through someone else we knew.”
The group recorded a cassete EP as Undone, which featured the original versions of Hope, Illuminate, Sore, Love Lies Bleeding and Essence. After Steinfels amicably left the group, they changed the name to 616 undone., which was something Vaughan had been kicking around as somewhat of an homage to Nine Inch Nails.
“I had initially wanted it to be more of an industrial thing. The original logo had the second 6 being backwards. But it was honestly just something that came to me,” he admitted.
The band (as 616) played their first shows in ’96 and quickly picked up steam around Ohio. They quickly found themselves opening for the likes of Limp Bizkit, Sevendust, Clutch and Incubus, and playing every show that came across their path.
“We weren’t making much money off of shows, and sometimes we’d play 2 shows in a night,” he explained. “I remember one night playing at the Alrosa Villa, packing up and going straight to the Kool Kat Club to do a late headliner.”
“We were playing just for the sake of doing it back then. We did it because we loved to play.”
Eventually, the band realized they had enough songs to make an album and got together with Joe Viers, who was down at John Schwab Studios at the time. Vaughan laughed when he recalled the list of influences they put in the liner notes of their first recordings.
“We had everything from Life of Agony to Busta Rhymes, and Aaron even used a Mariah Carey reference in a song! Craig was originally big into Prong and Rage Against The Machine; you can feel it on the songs he wrote. Alan loved Suffocation and Megadeth, Chris was big on Pantera and Rob Zombie. I feel like all of those influences meshed together for Love Lies Bleeding.”
You can immediately feel the Prong influence on Illuminate, the second track off of the record. Vaughan says that it was one of the first songs they ever wrote together, and it went through several incarnations before sounding like it does on Love Lies Bleeding. If you’re not already hooked by that opening bass riff, you might want to get your ears checked.
The album makes a lot of abrupt turns as you weave through the original 10-track odyssey, and that hidden Mariah Carey homage is on the third track King. If you thought a Mimi homage would make the song poppy, you would be sorely mistaken. The song has a chugging bass solo, and a guitar riff that wouldn’t have been out of place on Korn’s Follow the Leader record, which would not be released for another year.
“That riff is 100% Alan, but the song is what it sounded like when the four of us really came together to make a song,” added Vaughan.
The emotional side of Wilson’s voice and lyrics really shine on Fetish, which Vaughan says was inspired by the bands’ old practice space.
“We were playing in Cox’s basement at the time, it was too small, too loud… it was extremely frustrating. We put all of that aggression into the song.”
Vaughan sounds like he’s about to rip his drum set apart on this song, which feeds right into Sore, arguably the most “nu-metal” of the songs on the album. The band forks off into another direction on Blame, where Cox and Mauger sound like they’re bending the strings straight off of their guitars. It’s not hard to see why metal fans would fall in love with a sound so abrasive and aggressive.
“I didn’t think we had something special at the time,” admits Vaughan. “I asked a lot of friends after we released it, and we generally had positive reviews. But it’s hard to be detached from something like that – we were just making music we liked.”
The title track to the record is a 7-minute epic that feeds straight from the vein of bands like Deftones and Bloodsimple. Wilson literally sounds like he is willing himself to get each word out of his body as his band-mates rattle their instruments.
“I love how emotive Aaron is with his lyrics,” says Vaughan “and this was the song that I KNEW we had to play when we opened for Clutch. That was probably my favorite show that we ever played.”
There is no relenting on Love Lies Bleeding, with feedback and primal screams on Two for Flinchin’, grinding gears and incongruous riffs on John’s Problem, and an entire roller-coaster of monumental sound and emotion on Essence, which checks in at a hearty 12:17, approaching Tool’s linear trajectory.
“I don’t know if we started out to make a 12-minute song, but sometimes that’s just how she comes out,” Vaughan explains. “It was more about writing what we liked. Craig and I had an idea and we just kept building on it. We wrote what we wanted to play.”
Nine minutes into the track, there’s even a fun little rap interlude about monkey’s jumping on the bed(da). Vaughan says when they digitally re-released the record earlier this year, he also included a version that excluded the monkeys.
“When we originally wrote it, that part wasn’t there. I’m not sure if we just did that live once or something, but we did have a lot of fun with it,” he says.
“It helps to break up the emotionality of Essence, but I wanted people to hear the pure version of the song too, so I included an edited version this time around.”
The album even includes a hidden track, which was originally referred to as Old McDonald, but which Vaughan says is actually called Neil and Bob.
“We weren’t even going to put it on the album, because it was never really mixed properly,” he admits “that’s why it ended up being a hidden track. It started as some jazzy drums and blues guitar, so we called it Neil Diamond and BB King. Somehow that got shortened down to Neil and Bob, and we just went with it.”
The initial run of the record was less than a thousand copies, but it did afford the band a sold-out release show at the legendary Alrosa Villa and a trip to New York to meet with a few label scouts. Although things didn’t work out in the Big Apple, the band persevered playing shows, festivals, while still being met with critical praise and adoring fans.
Eventually, like many local bands, the lineup started turning over and the band’s popularity started fading. Vaughan admits that he was ousted from the band at one point, which he says hurt at the time, but he also understood.
“We were young and we were all doing stupid things at the time. I had my own issues that I needed to deal with, but the 616 name never really retired.”
The band has played a handful of shows in the last decade, but nothing quite like their prosperous run in the 90s. Vaughan says he barely talked to Wilson in that time frame, but that it was the singer who reached out to him about getting back together last spring.
“We probably hadn’t even spoken for 3 years, and he hit me up completely out of the blue about doing a show with all original members,” Vaughan recalls. “I had just been thinking about what it would take to have a vinyl pressed for the record. Things started coming together pretty quickly from there.”
The 2021 digital re-release of Love Lies Bleeding was met with renewed enthusiasm and immediately the band’s name started popping up on nu-metal and rock playlists across Spotify and Apple Music. The band’s online following doubled in a matter of months, and Vaughan says he took the opportunity to do something he had always wanted to do with the band.
“All of these years, and we had never had any shirts! Now we have an entire merch line!” he beamed. “That’s going to be the real catalyst, too. The more merchandise we can move, the more we can put towards recording new music.”
The band has started rehearsing again, but the pandemic and the distance between the members has been a slight hindrance. Vaughan says they’ve had to make some concessions, but that the quartet is definitely pushing forward.
“It’s been tricky, because Alan, Cox and I still live in Ohio. But Aaron is married now and lives out in Washington state these days, working on a solo project called Narrow Pines,” he adds. “We do have some new stuff we want to put together, and once we can get a solid recording of the instruments done we’ll send it over to him for finishing.”
“We just want to keep releasing stuff that people are excited about. As for a reunion show, we’re probably looking at late fall or early spring.”
Whatever the band ends up doing from here, it seems as though they have already captured a slice of nostalgia with old fans, and are gearing up to treat ears both old and new with some special surprises.
You can buy the digitally re-released version of Love Lies Bleeding here. If you’re looking to purchase their shirts or other merch, they have several designs available that can be found through their Facebook page. You can also follow the band on Instagram.