5 Questions with Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind

Jim Miller

, Below The Fold

Audience.

It’s a word and a concept that comes up again and again during a phone interview with Stephan Jenkins, Third Eye Blind’s co-founder, lead vocalist, and force majeure.

As Jenkins explains, whether it’s older fans going all-in with the band’s newer music, or newbies discovering the band’s hits from the ‘90s, he’s overjoyed that there are enthusiastic and engaged listeners out there who enable the band to continue to play, tour, and record new music.

A little more than two decades ago, such a dream seemed unattainable for Jenkins. Living in a shared apartment in San Francisco with other struggling 20-somethings, he had dropped out of graduate school to pursue a full-time career as a musician.

It was years of struggling with little income, making do on coffee during the day and lots of cheap spaghetti dinners.

“Ramen noodles,” Jenkins says with a laugh. “Spaghetti dinners were for special occasions only!”

That special spaghetti dinner was surely on the menu the night the band signed its deal with Elektra Records, which led to a debut album that not only drastically changed the trajectory of Third Eye Blind, but featured songs that would define the late ‘90s.

“Semi-Charmed Life,” “Jumper,” and “How’s It Going to Be,” all hit the Top Ten, and the album itself remained on Billboard Hot 100 for two years.

The success shocked everyone involved. Particularly Jenkins.

“I come from the DIY, indie ethos,” he says. “That was always my mindset, and I was always surprised when anything other than that happened.” 

In advance of Third Eye Blind’s Wednesday, Oct. 11, show at The Queen, Jenkins, who is now 53, spoke to us about those early days, about the music business right now, and his metaphysical take on the spirit of the season.

Here’s what he had to say:

O&A: In a way, it’s kind of a trope: the starving musician who scores a hit album and suddenly becomes famous. But that really is the story behind the band, isn’t it? Or is that oversimplifying it?

Jenkins: Yeah, it does simplify it, because I spent years trying to get bands together to no avail. There was always a revolving set of musicians and trying to get studio time, with year in and year out, nothing to show for it—except that I was constantly developing as a songwriter and a producer. ?

By the time I actually had a record deal, I had developed real chops as a producer, enough so that a lot of my demos became songs on the first record, and I got to produce my first record. So, the time actually was well-spent, but it certainly didn’t feel that way when I was coming along.

O&A: From when you were first starting—and struggling all those years—to when it finally hit, how does it look 20 years later?

Jenkins: Time is always a blur. I still have lots of friends in San Francisco. I mean I have some who are 26 and 27, who are still living six or seven people to a flat and one bathroom, and just trying to make it all work.  That’s where I was [at their age]. And I’ll still come over and sit in the kitchen and make spaghetti. All of that is still something that I know.

But I also have all kinds of different access. Looking back on it, I think [whoever] I was at that time evolved and changed. I can look at that person and be more empathetic to who I was at the time than I perhaps I was for myself when I was actually living it.

O&A: From where you started to where things are today, the music industry has changed so dramatically. In 1997, you were there at the end of an era in terms of the big record companies. How do you compare the way things were to the way they are now?

Jenkins: Well, you were a lot more controlled [then]. There were a lot more gatekeepers [who] had a lot more control over what could happen. There was also the opportunity to actually make money selling records. And now there’s a lot more freedom and a lot less money.

I kind of prefer it now. I think these are the good ol’ days right now.  [Back then] I wanted to bite the hand that fed me, and I didn’t like it that you had to be on MTV—or that you had to be on radio—to reach an audience, [Or] that the record company could tell you what kind of music video to make.

Those things bothered me because, however it may sound, I actually am an artist. I’m not a song-and-dance man and I’m not there to fit into somebody else’s mold. I think I measure things more in terms of a happiness quotient now. I’m definitely a lot happier now.

O&A: Your last record, Dopamine [released 2015], got good reviews. And you’re a band that’s still touring 20 years after releasing its first record. How does that feel? I mean there aren’t a lot of bands from the ‘90s who can say that.

Jenkins: No, not very many. I mean there’s… [pauses to think] Green Day, Foo Fighters, Chili Peppers, Weezer and us. That’s about it. I mean, it’s great. I’m grateful. But I had nothing to do with it. It’s our audience that does that. I have an audience that keeps our music alive. The music resonates with our audience and illuminates as they are living now. And that’s probably one of the most beautiful, best-feeling gifts that I’ve ever received being a musician.

We have a bigger audience [than we did in the ‘90s]. We have a more dedicated audience. You just can see it at the shows. There’s an intensity, and we are comprehended in a way that is beyond what it was before.

O&A: This last question might sound like it’s coming from left field, but for this October edition we’re talking a lot about ghost stories and the paranormal. I’m curious: Have you ever had an experience that you would say was paranormal that you’d like to share with our readers?

Jenkins: What first comes to my mind is something different, which is that Sept. 22nd is the equinox. And October is the period of the equinox, and that’s a time, according to folklore, when witches’ powers are at their greatest because the day and night are evenly split. Anything can happen.

It’s this sense of ambivalence: witches’ powers come up at midnight and the crossroads. It’s all these kinds of things that I can actually feel. So it’s like your own magic, witchy powers become more available. This is why it’s my favorite time of the year because I have this sense that anything could happen. Magic could happen.

So I think it’s important for people to tap into their own sense of that. Because we are, in part, moved and influenced by the movement of the planets. It’s not a joke that when you got a full moon that you feel a little bit more crazy. And you didn’t even know it was full—you’re just acting that way. So, I invite everyone to celebrate their own magic powers.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.