Stephan Jenkins discusses the Third Eye Blind renaissance and playing Belly Up Aspen

Alan Sculley
Special to The Aspen Times


Who: Third Eye Blind

Where: Belly Up Aspen

When: Friday, Dec. 27 & Saturday, Dec. 28, 9 p.m.

Tickets: Sold out

More info:

A couple of years ago, Stephan Jenkins, frontman of Third Eye Blind, announced the group would no longer make full-length albums. It’s a thought that’s occurring to plenty of music acts these days, given the way the major label music industry emphasizes singles and how streaming encourages putting out music in small batches.

Jenkins was ready for the EP to become the primary format for Third Eye Blind music — that was, until the band’s next helping of music began to come together.

“Isn’t it funny, because I said I’m not going to make LPs anymore, and here I am about to put out an LP,” Jenkins said in a recent phone interview. “So yeah, it’s really (saying) I don’t want to be limited to LPs, but this one did turn into an LP.”

That LP is “Screamer,” and it was released in October and brings Third Eye Blind to Belly Up Aspen for a sold-out, two-night run Friday and Saturday. Embraced by critics and fans, it’s been hailed as a latter-career revival for the 1990s hitmakers.

“We’ve had them at Belly Up many times,” said the club’s David Goldberg. “But to have them during this renaissance is amazing.”

Jenkins, the band’s singer/guitarist, had actually hoped the album would be ready before Third Eye Blind’s summer tour with Jimmy Eat World, but that didn’t happen, and the group was actually still putting finishing touches on “Screamer” in the last weeks leading up to the June launch of that tour.

“It’s the last 10% that is like the 90% most difficult part every single time,” Jenkins said.

On a musical level, he feels “Screamer” is more raw than other Third Eye Blind efforts – no small statement for a band that has often rocked hard, even though its songs also have boasted considerable melody.

“Nothing’s safe, no smoothed-out edges, nothing like that at all. It’s like the whole thing was keep the edge, keep it weird,” Jenkins said of “Screamer.” “I just feel like everything is so safe and like so much music, it sounds like artists don’t want to have their choices impugned, or like they’re relying on something that works. I don’t give a f–k what works. I want to make what makes a dent.”

“But I also think I’m always looking for something that’s revelatory,” he said. “I’ve come to learn that I’m kind of always doing two things in songs. One is I’m trying to create this landscape that you can live inside, but that doesn’t matter without that revelatory moment. You have to have something in there, in the song, where you are telling a truth that was uncovered. There has to be something where you are permeable, where you are vulnerable and that’s what rock and roll is, the courage to put that out there.”

The lyrics for the songs on “Screamer” have moments that are timely, provocative and also quite personal — ingredients that meet Jenkins’ standards for Third Eye Blind music.

“This is kind of an album about passion and friction and vitality and aliveness in the space of dystopia,” Jenkins said. “I see us moving into this really kind of dystopian world, but at the same time I’m so inspired by the energy of so many people, just really the young activists right now are the things that give me the most hope. So I see somebody like Emma Gonzalez (a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, and gun control advocate) or Greta Thunberg (young climate change activist), David Hogg (also a survivor of the Parkland shooting), and I’m like ‘All right, all right.’ I don’t write anything political. I only write from an emotional standpoint. But there’s a song called ‘The Kids Are Coming to Take You Down,’ and that song is kind of inspired by them. So yeah, I realize that that’s kind of like part of the energy, the narrative energy, of the record. But it’s still mostly what I do about internal politics, the friction between, the impact human beings have on each other.”

Jenkins began his journey into creating meaningful rock and roll in San Francisco in 1993, when he teamed up with songwriting collaborator and guitarist Kevin Cadogan. With bassist Arion Salazar and drummer Brad Hargreaves completing the original Third Eye Blind lineup, the band released its self-titled debut album in 1997.

That debut turned the group into stars. Fueled by the hit singles “Semi-Charmed Life,” “Jumper” and “How’s It Going To Be,” “Third Eye Blind” went six times platinum. The 1999 follow-up, “Blue,” while not as popular, still moved more than one million copies.

Since then, however, Third Eye Blind has had its ups and downs. The first big episode came after the release of “Blue,” with the firing of Cadogan, who sued for wrongful termination and back royalties. The suit was settled out of court in 2002.

Further lineup changes have followed, and Jenkins and Hargreaves are now the only remaining original band members. And the band has been somewhat sporadic in releasing new music, with only three full-length albums following “Blue” (the most recent being “Dopamine” in 2015), and four EPs interspersed between those records. Despite having gone without a top 20 hit at any radio format since the 2003 song “Blinded,” Third Eye Blind has managed to sell 12 million albums overall and remain a reliable concert draw. The fact that the band played amphitheaters over the summer with Jimmy Eat World (and Ra Ra Riot as the opener) says something about Third Eye Blind’s continued appeal.

Jenkins said fans that see the band on the club tour coming through Aspen can expect to hear Third Eye Blind — which currently also includes Kryz Reid (guitar), Alex LeCavalier (bass) and Colin CreeV (keyboards/guitar) — emphasize newer material, along with a cross-section of songs from the back catalog.

“This one is about just moving forward,” he said.

The forward-looking focus of the tour is a shift from the group’s 2017 outing, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of Third Eye Blind’s debut album. The hits from that popular debut figure to remain in the set this fall. Despite that record’s age, Jenkins said, the debut remains relevant not only to newcomers to Third Eye Blind, but long-standing fans as well. But he can only guess about why that 20-year-old-album continues to resonate today.

“That is such a perplexing question. I don’t have an answer. I only have a theory,” Jenkins said. “I’ll give you a theory. I think we use music, the reason why it’s so energized in youth, is because it’s this identity generation debunked. Somehow in, something in the rhythm, in the narrative, in the landscape of what we’re doing, people find that (album) as this lattice work for creating identity and developing that sense, and that’s also finding community. So you see kids who are at our shows who are 17, 20 years old, and this isn’t something old for them. This is right now for them. It’s an amazing thing to see. It really keeps my music alive, and it allows me also to push forward into the future. It gives me that kind of confidence. I need that confidence or otherwise I’ll doubt myself.”

Andrew Travers contributed to this report.