Exclusive: Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins

Youthful Appeal

Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins is a global star and renaissance man, but considers himself a mere ‘minstrel.’ The lead singer of the acclaimed soft-rockers lunched with DA MAN recently while he was in Bali for the first anniversary of the Rock Bar at Ayana Resort and Spa Bali.

Interview: Ronald Liem

Hot on the heels of their excellent new album, Ursa Major, Third Eye Blind has been touring around the Asia-Pacific region this year.

While swinging through Indonesia again—for at least the third time in the last dozen years, including shortly after last year’s terror bombings in Jakarta—the band’s lead singer revealed himself to be a true man of the people; committed to his band’s “little world that we create” and his laid-back, anti-commercialization attitude.

Born in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, Jenkins, a Zen Buddhist, is the intellectual and moral backbone of Third Eye Blind, which has sold over eight million copies of four albums Third Eye Blind (1997), Blue (1999), Out of the Vein (2003) and Ursa Major, and is best known for the singles “Semi-Charmed Life,” “How’s It Going to Be,” “Deep inside of You” and “Never Let You Go.”

DA: Your audience is between the ages of 16 and 25, how do you still reach them?
SJ: It’s a strange phenomenon. I’m not saying that there aren’t older people who listen. There are people in their thirties who are still into it, but most of our audience is young. Whatever. It’s really a phenomenon with file sharing. It’s totally organic. Kids find music that they like and they share it with each other. That’s why we have the kind of concert attendance we do.

DA:  What do the younger fans like?
SJ: We just performed in South Korea, and our newest album wasn’t released there. There were kids who knew the words in the audience so I could see that it was permeating like when we played “Can You Take Me” and they were singing it. They were with it. So I was like, ‘Okay, they stole it. Good for them.’ That’s how we feel about it. We would love it if they buy the CD. If you’re not going to buy the CD, then we’d like you to download the CD. If you’re not going to download the CD, we would like you to steal the CD. Ultimately, just to have the music encountered is a good thing.

DA: Do you think that people downloading from the Internet helps your band?
SJ: I think so. And it also makes people more intense about it because they seek it out and it makes things more special and I like that.

DA: How do you get the crowd going when you perform? Any tricks?
SJ: I get excited. I think the challenge and purpose of making live music is how do you find a way for it to become spontaneous and authentic in the place that you’re in.

DA: Do you prefer small intimate settings or bigger concerts for interacting?
SJ: We find a real satisfaction in playing everything live and trying to make it different … we just did a festival tour in the U.S. where every band that was playing on that tour, even though they were like alternative bands, they had computers behind them. They had computers! They had all kinds of stuff. Some people love that, they think it’s great. That’s like Muse’s thing where they have these sequencers and stuff. We like it that there’s a certain “wild card” when we’re playing … where everything is possible. It could fall apart or it could just gel. You can see that with audiences, whether they know there’s a sequencer or not, they feel it and they know when you’ve said the same thing twice. It just sounds different if you’re repeating a script.

DA: So no two concerts are exactly the same then?
SJ: Well, you fall into rhythms. Things start beginning to get said that make sense in this place, so you fall into that but you also have to shake it all up. Like the last tour we did was great because we had a lot of other bands playing with us. We had a different set; I mean we’re never going to play the same set. So we always keep ourselves a little off-kilter. And that was really exciting for us, and that makes it really exciting for the audience as well. So that’s how we do it.

DA:  Have you ever considered doing collaborations … sort of like a random mash up?
SJ: Yes. When we play live, we always invite other people to come and play with us, but the thing about Third Eye Blind is we’ve developed in a way where we have this little world that we create and there’s something about that that is valuable. I love the idea of playing with other musicians. We did a duet with Kimya Dawson that I thought was really great. It’s totally possible. We did this tour of Japan with Hiatus.

DA: You’ve been to Indonesia and Bali several times, what do you think of this country/this island?
SJ: I love Bali, love the people. I think they’re so gentle. Their hospitality is real. It’s not forced. It’s really beautiful and relaxing, and to be able to spend a few days here writing an album is awesome.

DA: Last year, you guys performed in Jakarta right after the bombings at the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott, did you consider postponing it?
SJ: We were begged not to go. I loved the attitude of the kids at that concert. You see, terror is a choice. It’s an emotion. And if you choose not to be terrorized, well that’s the end of that. So, these Jakarta kids that came to see us wanted nothing to do with it. They were certainly not going to have ‘their thing’ messed with, because some group doesn’t know how to behave. I heard people actually tell me ‘those people have problems with behavior.’ Our agent DID NOT want us to come. A bunch of bands canceled. I hate that kind of thing. When we were there, people were dealing with it and moving on with their lives. They were really cool.

DA: Many people outside have a perception of fear about Indonesia, you didn’t. Why?
SJ: The whole American system, at least from the right wingers, is based on fear. So there’s all these reactions out of fear. I’m just not into all that fear.

DA: What else are you in to?
SJ: I’ve studied Buddhism for like five years, Zen Buddhism … very poorly practiced, mind you. There is this community in San Francisco, started in the 1960s by Shunryu Suzuki where they grow organic produce. They really have a great scene going on, and they supply some of the best restaurants in the city. That is where I learned and started studying Zen … I think it’s great that here in Bali, it’s an actively Hindu place, people haven’t lost that.

DA: You guys, Third Eye Blind, have stayed pretty much intact since the beginning. How?
SJ: It has a lot to do with our West Coast laid-back attitudes. I’m shocked when I see some of these bands from like England that are so uptight. I was just like, really? At the end of the day, we’re just minstrels, playing songs. DA

Photographs: Courtesy of Third Eye Blind