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Third Eye Blind Rules, Doesn't Care What You Think

3EB boss Stephan Jenkins on Kanye, Bowie and how they're gonna crush Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza.
Third Eye Blind's Stephan Jenkins © Daniel Nolan
By Elliott Sharp

Third Eye Blind still rules.

If you stopped listening after the San Francisco band’s self-titled debut album, which came out in 1997 and delivered generation-defining hits like “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Jumper” and “How’s It Going to Be” and “Graduate,” you made a big mistake. Big one.

“Third Eye Blind” is one of the greatest albums to survive the fall of alt-rock nation. But it was only the beginning for a band that isn’t simply running on fumes along the nostalgia tour trail like so many do. Third Eye Blind continues to release solid albums, like last year’s “Dopamine,” and they continue to earn invitations to rock coveted stages like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, two of the festivals they’re playing this summer.

There are a ton of people who didn’t make that mistake, who never stopped falling in love and falling out of love and laughing and crying and living their lives to the music of Third Eye Blind. In March, I stood on the roof of a Whole Foods in Austin, Texas, during SXSW 2016, with hundreds of 3EB diehards for the 23-year-old band’s awesome, pre-thunderstorm performance.

It was impressive how frontman Stephan Jenkins and Co. didn’t do what you’d expect. They didn’t just play the hits. They played songs from their most recent album, and they even played a new tune from an EP that’s due out this year. And the fans loved it. They danced. They roared. Nobody cared that 3EB didn’t play “Semi-Charmed Life” or “Graduate.” The only song from the first album they played was “Jumper” and it was great.

Jenkins, 51, is still cool as heck. A lifelong rocker dude, he was wearing all black clothes and black sunglasses and he swaggered such that you could tell he knew all eyes were glued to him. They were.

During the set, Jenkins called Kanye West a “f***king genius,” specifically for the way the rapper dropped updated tracks from his “The Life of Pablo” album even after it had been released. The band also played a medley of four David Bowie songs — “Young Americans,” “Heroes,” “Modern Love,” “Ziggy Stardust” — and shared with the crowd how Bowie was a huge inspiration for “Dopamine.”

Following Third Eye Blind’s Whole Foods set, I sat down with Jenkins backstage. While sipping some tequila — Jenkins' drink of choice, he even took the time out to explain the different types — we talked about Kanye, Bowie, being in a “cult” band and how they’re gonna blow minds this year at Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza.

On the craziest show Third Eye Blind ever played

“We played the very first Fuji Rock in 1997, with Foo Fighters, and it was during a typhoon. It was warm, but there were 90 mile per hour winds at the base of Mount Fuji. We were the last band that played before they shut the whole thing down. It was horizontal rain and pretty cool. In America, they shut a show down if anything happens, but they just kept this going until the last second.”

On the best part about being a musician

“It’s what I wanted to do but I never thought it could happen. In 2000, I was in Japan and I said to my bass player, 'Two years from now, we could be doing something else, so we have to really enjoy these moments right now.' That was 16 years ago. I love the connection that we have, the gathering moment that happens for people around music. It is essential and timeless and I care about it and I want to be there in that moment. It brings me some sense of alive-ness that I value very greatly.”

On being a “cult” band and refusing to just play the hits

“That’s not what happens with Third Eye Blind. Our audience is young and they weren’t even around during the MTV stuff. We’re a cult band. We don’t get Grammys, we’re not on Pitchfork, we’re not on Stereogum. What we get is a culture of people who find something in themselves and they use that to find each other through our music. Our music is a meme, a graph for a whole culture of people — that’s the space we live in. It’s a liberating space to live in because we don’t give a f**k, I assure you.”

Kanye West at World AIDS Day in 2014
Kanye West at World AIDS Day in 2014 © Debra L Rothenberg/WireImage

On Kanye West

“The guy says what most people think and he does this stuff with no profit motive. It’s just pure expression. So his record, if he wants to change it, he changes it and puts it out again. That melody I was singing earlier during the set, I wish I had thought about it when we were making the record, but it's too late, unless you’re Kanye. I would welcome that change [of being able to alter a song even after it has been released]. Munch painted “The Scream” seven or eight times. It’s not good for commerce, but there’s not money in records anyway, so f**k it.”

David Bowie at Isle of Wight © Jo Hale/Stringer/Getty Images

On David Bowie

"He was such a reference point for me. I’m not nostalgic about music at all; I’m always seeking for what is now. But Bowie always feels fresh and modern to me. In the song 'Exiles' I sing, ‘Ziggy Stardust played in a karaoke bar’ and to me that says it all. It was the first time in my life that I openly wept when a musician died. He doesn’t paint the same picture over and over again. He was the most prolific artist of anyone but maybe Shakespeare, if you go from 'Ziggy Stardust' to 'Let’s Dance.' The 'Thin White Duke' stuff just blows my mind."

On growing as a person and a songwriter

"I sing less about myself and more about others now; I have become less fascinated with myself and more fascinated with others. That has to do with my taking more ownership of self, and I think I’m a person who has been very lost most of my life, and scarred the way most artists are. I’m an emotionally damaged person, and that exploration of self has led to possession of self. I have more of an outward view. Somebody said, 'as we get older, we get less interesting and more interested.' I agree."

View From Bonnaroo's What Stage © Joe Gall

On owning the big festivals this summer

“We might be the only band there that doesn’t play to click tracks or play along with a computer. We’re a rock band. We’re an unrepentant guitar rock band. Straight up DIY from the beginning and to the end. Most bands are literally playing along to their own tracks. We can move it and take it wherever we want to go during a show. It’s the only chance you have to transcend, otherwise you’re just standing in front of your own record. We’re gonna knock the s**t out of these shows.”

Third Eye Blind © Stephen Albanese
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