3EB was my first ever concert. It was 1998 and I was a freshman at Cal (aka UC Berkeley) and saw 3EB perform on campus at the Greek Theatre. I totally dug them even more since lead singer Stephan Jenkins was a Cal alum, and an English major as well.
As many of their biggest fans and defenders claim, their self-titled debut album is absolutely awesome – fierce hooks leading up to four final masterpiece songs – “I Want You,” “The Background,” “Motorcycle Drive By,” and “God of Wine.”
I always felt like none of their albums matched up to their debut and primarily because Stephan’s bandmate and collaborator Kevin Cadogan was forced out of the band.
But their recent release Ursa Major captures much of the pop sparkle of the debut, especially in the gorgeous song, “Bonfire,” which mirrors my favorite 3EB song “I Want You.”
Back in the ’90s, Stephan moved up a notch when he dated Charlize Theron, one of my favorite actresses, who met him backstage at a 3EB concert. Stephan seemingly references their relationship in “Forget Myself” and “Palm Reader.”
Sadly, it was not to last, but I found an interview they did together for Interview Magazine, September 1998 edition.
Sight, sound, subversion
by Charlize Theron
It’s not often that you buy a debut album and listen to it over and over, never once feeling that the songs are repeating themselves. But in April 1997 just such an album was released: Third Eye Blind, by the band of the same name.
Cowritten and produced by the group’s lead singer and guitarist, Stephan Jenkins, the album has a melodic diversity and lyrics that are intense and heartbreaking. It features characters who are outsiders messing up in life and trying to find their place in society, though sometimes they are simply taking drugs and having sex. Jenkins’s songs tell stories about people we love and hate at the same time – characters who are both flawed and beautiful.
Since its release, Third Eye Blind has passed the double-platinum mark and won many awards. The band, which includes Arion Salazar, Kevin Cadogan, and Brad Hargreaves, has spent most of the past year on the road playing soldout shows across America. I spoke with Jenkins while the band was still on tour.
CHARLIZE THERON: Where did you grow up?
STEPHAN JENKINS: Oh, Charlize, you know where I grew up. I was born in Southern California and lived briefly in Wisconsin before we moved back to California. My dad was a college professor for a while, and that brought us to the Palo Alto area and Stanford. It was a good place to grow up – you could ride your bike everywhere, and there was the computer industry and the whole Stanford faculty community.
CT: Were you interested in music as a child?
SJ: Year. I started playing when I was five, pulling out pots and pans. During the year that I was in the process of failing first grade, I certainly played a lot of music. But I didn’t do well in band. They gave me a trumpet, but reading the notes didn’t work out very well. Everybody said I was pretty much unteachable.
CT: You were always playing music around the house, though.
SJ: Yeah, I got a drum set very early, when I was around nine.
CT: Your family encouraged your music.
SJ: Well, I have a terrible attention span, but my family gave me a certain focus.
CT: When you were a kid, did you have a vision of being a rock star?
SJ: Yeah, but I also had all the Jacques Cousteau books and I wanted to be a marine biologist as well.
CT: But at some point there was the desire to be onstage.
SJ: Yeah. I wanted to be a storyteller, and that’s how I still see things basically. I see music and drama and writing and poetry as all being connected to the same idea, which is storytelling. Even songs that aren’t directly narrative still create some sort of atmosphere.
CT: So why don’t you write books of fiction or poetry, even though songs are poetry?
SJ: Music was always the thing that compelled me the most. There’s something about a four-minute song that creates this complete world you can step into.
CT: Do you remember the first great song you ever wrote?
SJ: I think most songwriters would say that whatever they’re writing next is their favorite song while it’s in process. And then once it’s done it’s always disappointing, I’m sure you feel that way as an actor. The project you’re working on is just the greatest thing ever. And then it’s like, What have I done?
CT: What was the first song you wrote on the album?
SJ: Probably “I Want You.” I’ve always been part of a songwriting team, which develops this kind of codependency. I have a really good writing relationship with Kevin [Cadogan], who cowrote ten of the songs on this album.
CT: Did you have any idea that your debut album would be so successful?
SJ: Yeah. As a band, we had really worked for a long time to get to this point. And this is important: We got all the things we didn’t have before – the tools, the studio, the microphones, the time. the budget to buy food – to go in and make the record we wanted to make. And we didn’t have a record company on our backs; we were like kids playing. For me that’s what the recording process should be.
CT: So you actually felt like you produced it?
CT: Whereas if you’d had another producer come in, he might have told you what to do.
SJ: Yeah, we were worried what it would sound like if somebody else had produced it.
CT: And you’d had that kind of experience before you were signed, where you made demos of songs and they would tell you to change them this way and that so they would be hits?
SJ: Yeah, I had been through that in previous bands. I’ve certainly sold my soul in the past. I’ve gone down paths of not following the initial impulse that comes from the real place of making music. I think I’ve whored myself out before, and part of what Third Eye Blind are about is: We’re not doing that. That was part of the impetus of starting the band. That’s what the song “Graduate” is talking about: “Gonna get my punk ass off the street.” When we started the band, we had a sense that we were going to be rad. Bands are very juvenile organizations; they’re like gangs. So our gang had to be kick-ass. It’s those crude-rock bands that are all such posers and can’t say what they really mean. Which is why I hate them.
CT: That’s why you hate them?
SJ: I’m kidding. I don’t hate anybody. But I do believe that mentality is bullshit for the most part. We’re not trying to be a cool indie band. I think indie rock is nonsense, even though it’s probably the school we come from. I hate that mentality. It’s conservative. It sits around and judges itself. It has nothing to do with what rock music is about and what art is about, which is supposed to be this liberating, rebelling force. Crud is a mentality that sort of closes down on emotion and whimsy.
CT: I’ve seen you perform numerous times on your last tour and your current “Bonfire” tour, and you put a lot of energy into your shows. Do you get your energy from the fans?
SJ: In part, but I don’t think it’s fair to require that from them – although there’s a certain erotic quality that’s part of live theater.
CT: You’ve been in and out of the studio recently – participating in the Clash tribute album, writing new material, and producing numerous things. What’s more satisfying to you: writing the material, being in the studio, or performing live?
SJ: There are different kinds of experiences that have meant different kinds of joy. Creating has a process of discovery that you don’t find live, but playing live you have this opportunity just to go off. I love that intoxication.
CT: “Jumper” is your next single. It was used as a public-service announcement on MTV. Was writing that song a cathartic experience?
SJ: It was an experience editing it, because there were so many lyrics involved. The song is about a man jumping off a bridge, killing himself because he’s gay. Basically we all have demons; not one of us grew up without being scarred in some way.
SJ: I’ve just never met anyone who wasn’t. Although this is a story about a man who is repressed because he’s homosexual in a society that hates gay people, I think the song travels to other people. People who come up to me and say “Jumper” means something to them have had all different kinds of experiences. So it doesn’t matter where the song comes from. It’s a song about giving people a break.
CT: Do you remember an experience in the past year that moved you profoundly or changed your life?
SJ: No, not one experience. It’s been a million little epiphanies.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Brant Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning