When Billboard calls Max Collins, frontman of turn-of-the-century alt-rock survivors Eve 6, on a weeknight in February, he’s just gotten through a long day of getting his cell phone of four years replaced. “I had to smash it with all my might to get it to type, and then it was typing words I wasn’t saying,” he says of the departed device. “And y’know, if you’re a Twitter star, you need to be able to be deliberate in your [typing].”
The social media celebrity Collins refers to is a notoriety that built slowly, then somewhat rapidly, at the end of 2020, for the frontman’s refreshingly self-aware Twitter account under his band’s handle. Offering unfiltered thoughts (or just sardonic punchlines) about his rock peers and tweeting at various celebrities to ask if they like “the ‘heart in a blender’ song” — Collins’ informal title for his band’s biggest hit, 1998’s “Inside Out” — Collins became a minor Twitter sensation, building a following of nearly 80,000 followers. “The guy from one of the least credible bands of the ‘90s has now become a semi-relevant cultural critic,” he quips about his unlikely comeback of sorts. “It’s just the kind of backwards that you’d expect, being alive today.”
It’s good timing, as Eve 6 is releasing the stellar new EP Black Nova this June — five tracks of the kind of lean, hooky, uptempo and slightly seamy rock that they traffic in now, two decades removed from major-label commercial demands and eight years since their most recent LP, 2012’s Speak in Code. But even with new music imminent, interviews with Collins these days are still more likely to veer into free-associative pop culture commentary, as when a highly enjoyable Vulture interview from February asked him to riff on a number of bands of the last 25 years, one at a time, to which he happily obliged. (Collins says he enjoys his new role, and that he’s available for any VH1-style clip shows who want to pay him for the privilege: “I mean, I need the money…. put me in the wedding cake, and I’ll pop out with a black, acoustic/electric Takamine [guitar] and y’know, get to it.”)
Billboard wanted to make the most of Collins’ pop/rock acumen and willingness to speak freely, by presenting him with a number of hit songs from history in roughly chronological order, and simply asking him the song is better or worse than his own band’s “Inside Out.” (Which, by the on-brand request of his team, will heretofore be referred to as “the ‘heart in a blender’ song.”) Below, Collins shares his thoughts about a wide range of pop and rock songs, with the “rigorous honesty” ethos he’s espoused since returning to prominence, while still maintaining enough sympathy and perspective to avoid coming off too callous.
“I have big respect for any band that has the fortitude to like, do it and make a dream a reality, including all the bands I deride,” he stipulates. “With the exception of Thirty Seconds to Mars.”
The Beatles, “Yellow Submarine”
Collins: That’s a f–king good one, man. All right. Geez, you’re coming out swinging. “Yellow Submarine” is worse than the “heart in a blender” song. It’s one of their worst songs, right? I mean, my kids love it. It’s a song for eight-year-olds. It’s like a silly little number. I’m a huge Beatles fan, but I’m also going to try to take the most polemic route here, so.
Billboard: There’s maybe about 220 or so Beatles songs – how many would you estimate the “heart in a blender” song is better than?
Just that one.
The Knack, “My Sharona”
Definitely better than the “heart in a blender” song. Also a novelty song, but a really good one. Really simple, gives you that kind of — look, it’s fun. Freedom. Party song.
I know you’re a big Fountains of Wayne fan – does that extend back to ‘70s power pop-type stuff?
Oh yeah. I mean… I guess my particular favorite bands that are in that milieu are more ’80s/’90s, but like, Big Star was the ‘70s, right? Yeah, I mean, that’s the stuff that just really gets me. Melodic guitar pop, smart-in-the-right-way, not too cerebral or anything. I like a nice juxtaposition of like, humor and sadness in a lyric. And I feel like power pop gets there a lot of the time.
Band Aid, “Do They Know It’s Christmas”
How does that go? Oh, [sings] “Don’t they know…” Yeah, uh… I like that song melodically. My girlfriend can’t stand it. Like, she really loathes it. Can’t listen when it comes on. I have a feeling that the lyric is probably like, offensively overwrought even though it was done for a good cause. I’m saying this, not really knowing the content of the song…
No, you’re pretty right on there. There’s stuff about “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you,” and “It won’t be snowing in Africa this Christmas…” It’s a little rough. But I agree with you that the production and melody of the song are top notch.
It’s great melodically, and production-wise, but yeah. It’s funny, I didn’t know [about the problematic lyrics.] You can just sorta intuit that stuff sometimes. You can just kind of tell.
Paula Abdul, “Straight Up”
I’m gonna say it’s better than the “heart in a blender” song, but I’m not really down with it. The first records I ever got, they were for Christmas, they were cassettes – my parents had just gone to the record store and said, “We have an eight-year-old, what should we get him?” kind of thing. And it was Paula Abdul and Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits. And I think I listened to like, four seconds of the Paula Abdul tape, and was like, “This ain’t for me.”
Was it just a gender thing at the time, like, “Oh this is music for girls?” Or was it her specifically?
No, because it didn’t matter for me what… I just didn’t respond, as a kid, to pop music. Haven’t really ever, even though there are pop songs, top 40 songs that come along every once in a while that I’ll be like, “Holy s–t, this is magic.” But that hasn’t happened recently. Honestly, the last time I remember that happening was like eight years ago – that Ellie Goulding “Lights” song. That song’s brilliant, man, I don’t know. But yeah, I try to avoid situations where I have to like, hear top 40 stuff… this is where I sound [like a] predictable rocker, “Get off my lawn…”
Do you think you’d still feel that way if you came around 10-20 years later? Is that a generational thing?
I don’t know. I think what I responded to as a kid was just… I don’t think there were really any outside influences pushing me one way or the other, I think it was just sort of like a chemical reaction. Like the Tom Petty “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” I heard that on the radio when I was very young, and I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that I had a spiritual experience. Because I was just, I was transfixed, I was obsessed, I was like, “What is this?” It blew my mind. And yeah, so, from the time I was very young — I guess after getting those first cassettes — I was obsessed with rock and roll music, in its different forms and genres.
That’s where all my allowance money went — I played tapes until they f–ing wore out and warped, and those seminal records for me were like, Skid Row’s first record, the B-52s, the one with “Roam” and “Love Shack” on it [Cosmic Thing], R.E.M. Green, obviously like Appetite [For Destruction, by Guns N’ Roses], Motley Crue Dr. Feelgood. And then when I got a little bit older — I went to skateboarding camp between seventh and eighth grade and got introduced to punk music there… midway through high school is when I discovered like K Records, Kill Rock Stars, the Pixies… the real s–t. Like, more kind of avant-garde, but still, like actual alternative music, I guess you’d call it.
Live, “I Alone”
Oh! Dude. Definitely better than the “heart in a blender” song… a lot of radio songs from that era were like… that was a band and song that I would publicly deride, but when that song came on the radio, I was just like, “This is f–king good.” Come on… I mean, it’s so stupid. It’s sort of like arena rock under the guise of alternative music.
There’s a point in the “heart in a blender” song where you say “I alone.” (“I alone am the one you don’t know you need, take heed, feed your ego.”) Is that a subconscious reference at all, or was that just your vocabulary at the time?
Um, it totally could’ve been from that. I wouldn’t be surprised. I mean, that song was everywhere.
Matchbox Twenty, “3AM”
There’s one Matchbox Twenty song that I — again, I’m doing rigorous honesty here, that’s the ethos — that I like. And it’s not that one. That song’s terrible. I mean, most of their songs to me are just awful.
I’m trying to remember the [Matchbox Twenty song I like]. Oh, it’s, [sings] “Reach down a hand in your pocket, pull out some hope for me, it’s been a long day…”
Oh, the first one, “Long Day.” That one wasn’t even really a huge hit.
Yeah! That was the song before the song. And I thought — I mean, his voice always annoyed me. But like, melodically and stuff, I think that song kind of had something.
You like their earlier stuff better?
[In purposefully snotty voice] Yeah, you know man, I’m just into Matchbox Twenty’s earlier stuff. I mean, the first record was f–king killer, and they sorta went downhill. They sold out.
Do you have a theory as to why so many bands from that era, including your own, have numbers in their name?
I mean… those like, zeitgeists are so strange. Sometimes you sort of really feel it, how you’re part of something greater than yourself. And I don’t mean to say that there’s any import whatsoever to bands with numbers in their name, but… I don’t know. Do you?
Well, that was around the time that Internet passwords were getting to be a very big part of everyday life, and you had to have a combination of like, words and numbers. Maybe that was just sort of on the brain of people at the time?
That’s the best theory I’ve ever heard. I mean, it’s not something I’ve really pondered too much... I’m trying to think if I would have known about Matchbox Twenty when I named the band. We would watch an episode of The X-Files after every recording session, that was just like our thing, on VHS. And there’s an episode called “Eve” where there’s 10 eves, just like clones basically, and “Eve 6” is the most f–ked up, basically, the most interesting.
Yeah, it definitely got its tentacles into the scene.
Korn, “Got the Life”
Can’t. Can’t deal. It’s just an assault on the senses. And I like heavy music. I’m a Slayer fan, I like hardcore — I like Minor Threat in the morning. And I’m not equating Korn with them, because obviously it’s a different thing. I’m just saying, it’s not all power-pop for me. But.
Was there any of that nu-metal moment that you kind of f–ked with? Anything you think is a keeper?
Yeah, 100%. That Papa Roach song, “Last Resort.” F–king classic. It’s just… that riff, the tempo, his performance in the video I think is amazing. Yeah, that song felt to me like an inspired moment.
Backstreet Boys, “Larger Than Life”
[sings] “And that… makes… you larrrrr-ger…” Yeah, good song. Better than the “heart in a blender” song.
Do you have any fun memories of interacting with the TRL titans of that era?
I had a f–king hilarious moment with one of the guys from LFO. Who might be — I think one of those guys died [Ed. note: The group’s Rich Cronin died in 2010, and their Devin Lima passed away in 2018] — but we were at the same hotel somewhere in Florida, appropriately. And we just kind of met in the lobby and stuff. And he was like, “Man, you know that Uncle Kracker song? The one about ‘Swimming through your veins like a fish in the sea’? That song’s about drugs, man!” [Laughs.] It was fun.
And that was the same day or night when I was reading [Kafka’s] The Metamorphosis — a copy that the singer of Citizen King, “Better Days,” had given me at a festival. He was like, “Dude, you gotta read this book, here.” And he gave it to me, and I was reading it in that same hotel in like Orlando or something, in my hotel bed. And I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, some movement on my comforter. And I just reacted. And it was a roach, it was a f–king cockroach. And I just reacted and killed it with the spine of The Metamorphosis. And then freaked out. Like, I remember calling my friend, like, “What does this mean?”
The Strokes, “Last Nite”
I mean… definitely better than the “heart in a blender” song. I love The Strokes. I think they’ve got a lot of good songs. Like, that one’s not one of my favorites… but it was welcome. God, at the time? Like, s–t, man.
There’s a line on your new EP about, “I like your jokes and that you hate The Strokes” — where did that come from?
It just rhymed.
So it wouldn’t actually endear another person to you if they didn’t like The Strokes?
It may, but it would have to depend on a lot of other factors. Yeah, that’s just totally taking license for a rhyme. Even though not everything in that song is in it just for a rhyme. But that one is.
And you’re not worried about starting any kind of faux-beef with Julian Casablancas?
Oh man. That’d be the least of my worries right now.
Plain White T’s, “Hey There Delilah”
Can’t stand it. It always felt to me like a crass sort of co-opt of the Lemonheads to me. I’m a huge Lemonheads fan. Something about where it lives melodically… I could be totally off about this. If I listen to it I could probably pick out the [Lemonheads] moment to it or whatever. But way too, like, cutesy and I-don’t-believe-you, and who cares.
The story was that this song was actually about this Olympic swimmer who the singer had interacted with but never really knew, and it maybe freaked her out a little. Did you ever hear from the person that inspired the “heart in a blender” song?
Yeah. Yeah I did. She was like my high school love. And totally broke my heart and stuff. And then after I became like a rock star, we went on a couple dates and talked about it and stuff. She’s all good. We’re not super-tight or anything, but we’ll message every once in a while.
The 1975, “Love It If We Made It”
S–t, how does that go again?
It’s kind of listing a bunch of things and quotes and moments, and the chorus is just, “I’d love it if we made it.” It’s sorta “We Didn’t Start the Fire”-y…
I don’t think I’m familiar enough with it. I know I’ve heard other songs of theirs.
I think it’s supposed to kind of feel like reading a Twitter timeline. I’m curious if you have any feelings about songs that kind of take that approach, of like, approximating what it’s like to live in the information overload of modern society.
Yeah, I like that when it’s done well — which I guess is kind of a copout of a caveat. But “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is like the only Billy Joel song that moved me as a kid. I know it’s like the novelty song. And I sort of fancied myself someone who doesn’t really get Billy Joel. But then recently I like Shazamed a song that was in a movie or something, that I thought was great. I’m not gonna remember what it was, but… it was Billy Joel. It must have been a deep cut or something, because I’d never heard it before. I was like, “S–t, maybe I’m wrong about this.”
The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights”
Did he do that one at the Super Bowl?
Yeah, it was the last one he did.
OK, then, I love it. ‘Coz I… I’m pretty sure every song I’ve heard by him, I’ve f–king loved. So yeah, he’d be in that category of Ellie Goulding for me, a top 40 artist that absolutely shuts me up. And I think his voice is f–king magic, and his melodies are insane, and his phrasing is insane. And I think that performance was f–king incredible! I really did. I thought the sound too — I know that everyone was like, dogging the sound — it sounded live. It sounded like air was moving. You know?
I do find myself watching live performances sometimes hoping for some kind of malfunction, just to…
To remind you that they’re not literally AI! Yeah. I thought it was great. And I expressed that on Twitter, before I looked at what the world was saying. And I’m glad that I did, because it gave me chills.
Eve 6, “Black Nova”
Oh, I mean, hands down, better than the “heart in a blender” song. I mean, “Black Nova” sorta hits all of the notes, figuratively, for me, that I need from rock and roll. And it might be funny speaking of your own song that way. I’m not saying we in any way reinvented the wheel with it, but it’s honest, it’s got just enough craft, but not too much, it feels like it could veer out of control, good BPM… I’m a simple man.
Would you say on the EP it’s 5 for 5 over the “heart in a blender” song, or are there any songs you think it could go head-to-head with?
No, 5 for 5. 100%. I really like “Can We Combine,” we’re gonna put that one out next. People who have heard “I Wanna Bite Your Face” have reacted to that one. And yeah, speaking of like zeitgeist stuff, I guess there’s like – the woman I spoke to from Vulture was telling me that there’s like this whole thing where people on Twitter will, like, @ Cate Blanchett or whoever…
“Run me over with a mack truck” kind of stuff?
Yeah! Which I wasn’t aware of, but… for me, it was just like, to really communicate romance and make it real and not just posture, make it visceral… I feel like, it’s like the Morrissey lyric, “If a ten-ton truck killed the both of us, to die by your side…” Because so many songs that kind of claim the mantle of love song aren’t really [love songs], I don’t think, in practice. I feel like they’re trying to be sort of what they think either the subject of the song would want to hear, what the audience would want to hear — as opposed to, this is the kind of complicated, true complicated turmoil of the experience. With all of its confusing joys. I haven’t really written a lot of love songs, if any, actually. So in order for me to do it, it had to be in that way.
If you could go back and replace the “heart in a blender” song’s reputation with another song from that album, would you? Or are you fine with it being the song from that moment to represent you guys?
Yeah, I don’t think any of the other songs from that record would’ve been hits. Maybe, who knows, maybe the band would’ve had a better career if we’d never had a hit. Maybe we would’ve had no career. Maybe we would’ve broken up six months later and I would’ve started a band called something else, and who knows, right? The counterfactual thing is pretty masturbatory. But no, I knew when I wrote that song that it was something special. And it is. Regardless of my mingled emotions around it. Sorta can’t argue with that fact.