It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since Third Eye Blind’s last album, Ursa Major—and even more difficult to comprehend that the band’s self-titled debut (the one that housed hits “Semi-Charmed Life,” “Jumper” and “How’s It Going To Be”) came out a full 18 years ago.
But Dopamine, the band’s new (and, according to frontman Stephan Jenkins, final) album, has a vibrancy and spark that feels distinctly 3EB without retreading territory the San Francisco-based band explored nearly two decades ago. En route to a show in Toronto the day before Dopamine’s release last week, Jenkins chatted with AP about the band’s current summer trek with Dashboard Confessional, his tendency to tinker with new songs and how his early hits resonate with him today—along with answering some burning questions submitted by your favorite bands.
So tomorrow is the big day.
[Surprised] Oh, yeah … our album comes out tomorrow. Tomorrow the faucet is finally open instead of just trickling.
You’ve done this four times in the past. What are you feeling?
Oh, I don’t have any anxiety about how it’s going to do or anything like that. I don’t think those days really exist anymore. I don’t know what this album will do, but it doesn’t have to do a certain thing to be a success to me. It will be a success if people just get their hands on it and it becomes part of their culture. That’s my measurement of success.
At what point did you look at things and think you had a record ready to go?
Well I never feel it’s done, and I never feel it’s ready to go. I think Steven Spielberg said this about his movies: “I’ve never finished a movie; I just released them.” I’ve always loved that quote, and I think it actually helped me with my stuff. It doesn’t have to be done. Just release it, man. So there’s a bunch of songs that didn’t make the record, and we will put those out in different ways. I’ve said I’m done making LPs, and that’s true. After this I’m going to just start posting songs as I have them.
I read a quote from your drummer [Brad Hargreaves] that said you’re experimenting with new arrangements and vibes for songs on this tour. I imagine just by virtue of playing songs for years on end, there’s a natural ebb and flow of creativity.
Exactly, right. Why does it have to be all set? Why does one recording of a song have to be the definitive version? I’ll take songs that I don’t think I did a particularly good job on producing, like “Blinded,” and apply my sensibilities to it now. I like how we play it now better than how we recorded it.
You also do a fair amount of road-testing new material. Do you ever become concerned that as things change, people’s favorite parts might get edited or removed?
[Laughs.] Totally. That’s the AP fan– that’s what they do. If I play a song live, AP fans will be like, “Do not change that. Change it back to those original lyrics.” They’re quite vocal about it. I never get it back to where they say, “You know, I’m quite happy that you changed the lyrics. It’s much better than the old way.” Never happens.
Well wasn’t the song “Dopamine” this idea that eventually got split into “Everything Is Easy”?
That’s almost right. It was “Everything Is Easy” first, and I just fiddled with it endlessly like an idiot. I hope I stop doing that. I changed it so much that I changed it to “Dopamine.” Missy, who runs our record company, said, “Please, I’m begging you. Just give me your initial first impulse, which is ‘Everything Is Easy.’ You can do what you want with ‘Dopamine.’” So “Everything Is Easy” and “Dopamine” are really the same song in a way—they grew out of that same impulse. It’s a very New Order, Cure kind of vibe.
Removing the concept of the LP probably cuts down on the amount of tinker time, then.
Dude, Edvard Munch painted seven different versions of The Scream. He painted one and went, “Meh, I’m going to paint it again.” Why can’t we do that? Exactly! I don’t actually sit there with a song being belabored in the studio. It’s more like … most of the songs that are on Dopamine … once I’ve settled on the song, the process of recording is confident and fluid. I hate belabored-sounding records—I’ve done those in the past, but this is not that.
“Exiles” is my favorite song on Dopamine, and I think a top-five song of yours. It reminds me of the first time I heard “Motorcycle Drive By,” just an immense rush of conflicting emotions—and the Bowie reference, too. What’s the story behind that one?
Thank you; I really appreciate you saying that. I co-wrote that song with Andrew Dawson, who is an engineer and producer who works mostly in hip-hop. That sensibility works much better for me because I have hip-hop ingrained in me. We got together, and he played part of the hook. I really liked it; it reminded me of Joy Division.
We were nervous around each other; we had just gotten into the studio. To be creative, you have to have a certain vulnerability and some empathy. We weren’t really even looking at each other. He didn’t know if he would like anything he was playing, but he looped this part and I pulled out my journal and just started singing along as we went. I went on and on and on and on, and it basically just showed up. I took it back to the band and we got into it, then I added that pulsing part in the bridge, the building part. That was basically it.
You’re out with Dashboard Confessional now, and you and Chris Carrabba both have such a strong connection with your respective audiences. What was your opinion of that emo wave Dashboard came up in around the early ’00s?
Love it, love it, love it. There’s so many things I like about Chris. First and foremost, I respect him as a songwriter. I think he writes from a genuine place. Secondly, that guy is straight-up underground, and he’s underground on his own terms. He’s not a radio guy; he’s not a major-label guy. He’s his own thing, and he’s always kept that integrity. When they asked us about playing together, I was fine with it. It’s really been a joy being out together.
One of the things that gets tossed around in the press, especially surrounding this tour, is that it’s just a giant nostalgia event, which I think really marginalizes what your bands are doing.
It’s so reductive, right? When I hear that, I just don’t want to deal with it.
But it’s also not like you’re going out there and playing the new album in full, so there’s a give and take there.
We’re playing probably six songs, so half the record right now, which is a lot to ask of people who haven’t heard it yet. And then we play old songs that continue to resonate with people. Third Eye Blind’s trajectory is very strange, because we always thought we were going to be an underground band, an indie band, and we got that concept hijacked by pretty-sounding songs. But we’ve been doing what we have for a very long time, and now this audience has engaged us. They’ve found music through alternative means and have shared it with each other. My belief is that people come to our shows to feel alive now, and they’re so young that I don’t think they’re going there to be nostalgic. It’s a little bit like saying, “Those ’90s stalwarts Radiohead are going on tour so fans can hear ‘Creep.’” Some of them do, but I think there’s more to it than that. Some of our audience wasn’t even around for our MTV stuff.
You want to honor where you came from without being trapped by nostalgia and halting progression.
Exactly. I’m grateful there’s a whole generation of music who keep our music alive, but they have that on a playlist. It’s flat. There are songs out there live that are as big as anything we have, like “Wounded.” That’s an essential song. “Slow Motion” is a song that has to get played. Those songs have the same need-to-be-heard impact as the MTV stuff. It doesn’t have a date stamp on it. People don’t know when a record came out, and they don’t care. They love the music because it makes them feel alive now.
What do those “MTV” songs—“Semi-Charmed Life” or “Jumper”—mean to you 18 years later when you’re playing them every night?
Well, “Jumper” started out as a noir. It’s a song about a kid who jumped off a bridge and killed himself in San Diego because he was gay. It was a friend of a friend, so I never got to talk to him, but in some sense it’s what I would have said … it’s a more talking to the dead song. When it started, it has this plea to it– a melancholy feeling. Those were things we talked about early: bullying and self-acceptance. Now, I look out in the audience and see a whole generation who are living out a creed that we espouse. I played it at Jones Beach [last night], and there’s 10,000 people out there. Now it feels really redemptive and joyous to sing. I mean, the chorus is, “I would understand.” I feel like LGBT couples out there, girls with stretched earlobes and tats on their shoulders and necks, are just feeling that song and feel open and welcome. I like that. It feels really positive.
You should know you’re quite revered in this scene. We asked bands for testimonials about how your music has impacted them, and a question they’d like to ask you.
I love it.
Ryan Key from Yellowcard wants to know: What were the underwater microphones used for?
Those were used for recording “The Background.” If you listen to the early parts of the track, we took microphones and put them in plastic bags in tubs of water next to the drums and the guitar [amps]. We just wanted to get that sense of being in the background, being underwater. It’s basically the musical amplification of the idea that when you’re really present with somebody, you’re in the foreground and you feel like the world is your oyster. When it ends, a part of you is lost and now you’re in the background. I think the background is almost like being underwater. We just tried to get that sound. That’s a great question, and Yellowcard—those guys can have it. They’re welcome to give it a try.
The next one is from Vic Fuentes from Pierce The Veil, who I know was in the video for your cover of Beyonce’s “Mine.”
Yeah, he’s in the “Mine” video, and I think he’s got 800 million [Twitter] followers. He’s such a massive, huge star that the biggest thing about making the “Mine” video was that Vic was there! [Laughs.] He was just at a party! I really think people can smell a fake, so I like to just be authentic. The video is literally just a party.
He asks: “Stephan, I hear you love to surf, and I know you've referenced it in your songs as well. What’s the greatest place you’ve ever surfed, and what do you love about the ocean?”
I love everything about the ocean. I love how raw it is. I love that you can step right off the shore into the wilderness. I love that something wild is right there. I love that the power of the sun creates wind, and this wind knocks something that is 3,000 miles away and turns into a sine wave that manifests itself in physical matter. And it travels. The absolute apex of its rise is presented right there to you. You have this moment where if you’re in the right place—physically and emotionally and in terms of your courage—if you are eligible to connect with that moment, that’s a connection with the universe. It’s in that moment for me that I’m not thinking about anything but the absolute purity of connection. It makes surfing foundational.
What’s my favorite place? It’s really some secrets spots up there in Northern California. It’s cold; there are gigantic sharks; it’s rocky. The locals are pretty fierce and grumpy. That’s my home. It fills me with that raw energy that I really love.
John O’Callaghan from the Maine wants to know: “Each release has seen varying amounts of time elapsed until the next. I was wondering if with each passing year it becomes more and more difficult to decide on a final track listing—or does clarity find you easier with the passing of time?”
Really, really good question. Hi, John. The answer is both of those things are true and opposing. I think initially you have time to really second-guess yourself; I second-guess myself a lot, which is a very creatively destructive thing to do. Over time it probably gets worse, but what I’ve done is finally rebel against that. That’s why I said I’m not going to make LPs anymore; I just want to put out songs. I want to live in that space of having an impulse and not evaluating it—just fulfill that creative provocation. Stay out of the way of it. Don’t let your own critic get involved.
Finally, Derek Sanders from Mayday Parade asks how you want to be remembered.
Oh. [Pauses.] I guess it would be “He saved us all from impending world destruction. We’re so glad we named so many middle schools after him.”
I imagine it’s what you mentioned earlier about having your art still resonate with people.
You know, I feel really, really good about it. For example, in talking with you, I feel comprehended. When we go to radio stations or big media conglomerates, people come out. I really feel like people get what we’re about. When you talked about “Exiles,” it’s resonating with you in a way that feels connected to me. That’s a really good feeling. alt
TESTIMONIALS: Members of Yellowcard, the Maine, Pierce The Veil and Mayday Parade share their thoughts on Third Eye Blind.
Ryan Key, Yellowcard:
I remember the exact moment I became a Third Eye Blind fan. I was a junior in high school. Up until that moment I had only heard “Semi-Charmed Life” on the radio. I wasn't sure how I felt about it and hadn't gone out to get the record. Then the moment happened.
I had gotten into a massive, dramatic high school argument with a close friend. So in an attempt to apologize, I bought two tickets to see Oasis, her obsession at the time, in Orlando. The show was amazing. Afterwards we were sitting in the parking lot in the car and she said something like, “I know it’s probably not a band you'd be into but you have to hear this one song.” She played me “Motorcycle Drive By” and I was done. I was completely hooked immediately.
After that I bought my own copy of Third Eye Blind and wore it out. It is probably one of the records I have listened to the most in my life. As I got older and more into writing music and making records, I became aware of just how insane the production on that record is. I read somewhere that they tracked [“The Background”] with a microphone underwater in a fish bowl! The sonic quality of that album still crushes.
I am a huge fan of Blue as well. I absolutely love the song “Wounded,” but the self-titled record will always be a musical landmark for me. I guess I can use this as an opportunity to say thanks to one of my all-time best friends, Kelli Galloway, for playing me that song in the parking lot when we were 17.
Vic Fuentes, Pierce The Veil:
I was laying on the floor by the bed next to my prom date. The room was pitch black. My best friend and his girlfriend were cuddling above us. On the opposite side, another couple laid tight between the wall and the mattress. We spent the night laughing and talking in the dark until the sun came up. As our chatter died down, the words “I’ve never been so alone, and I’ve never been so alive” floated over our heads until, one by one, we each fell asleep.
This is one of my favorite memories from growing up and being in high school. And it was also the first time I had ever heard the band Third Eye Blind. Since then, I have had a very strong personal connection to their band, and more specifically, Stephan Jenkins’ radical and poetic lyrics. They are unsafe, audacious, raw and often impure, but he paints a picture more beautifully with words than anyone I have ever heard. I have always been inspired by the way he can be overdramatic, but at the same time speak to the listener as if they were having a normal conversation face to face. It’s a very intriguing dynamic.
I recently had the pleasure of working with 3EB’s drummer, Brad Hargreaves, on a new song for our upcoming album. It was so much fun writing with a musician that I have been listening to, and been inspired by, since I started playing guitar. And for my best friend Curtis, whom I mentioned before, and me, it was a somewhat surreal experience for both of us– and a long way from that bedroom with our prom dates.
Jared Monaco, the Maine:
Of all the things I cherish about growing up in the ’90s, I think one thing above all else had the most impact on the course of my life. That thing in particular was Third Eye Blind’s self-titled debut album. I was nine years old when it came out in ’97. I don’t remember much about being nine. There are bits and pieces, but it was all pretty long ago.
One thing I do remember is how I would sit on my bed next to my stereo with a blank tape in the cassette bay, listening intently to the radio and waiting for a sign that “Semi-Charmed Life” was about to play. I remember how excited I was when I finally captured it on tape. I would ride my bike around the neighborhood, listening to it over and over. Lyrically, it was way over my head at the time, but sonically, melodically, everything else clicked with me. It felt so new, like nothing I had ever heard. It was my first step into the alt-rock world, and I didn’t even realize it.
That album went on to have five undeniable singles, and remains one of my all-time favorites front to back. I think it definitely made a lasting impression on me and the way I write music. From Blue to Out Of The Vein to Ursa Major, I have found something to connect with on each album, and now that I’m older and in a band myself, I strive to emulate such consistency.
Derek Sanders, Mayday Parade:
Third Eye Blind is the best band ever. I know that might sound extreme, and to say a band is the best is subjective and hard to define, but if our criteria for the best is the band that have consistently put out beautiful, creative and inspiring music for decades, then I have to give it to 3EB. I don't believe there is a single song of theirs that I'm not into, and considering they've been a band for over 20 years, that's pretty impressive.
Their debut album was one of the first 10 albums I ever bought, and I've made sure to buy every album since. There are very few bands able to retain the magic that gave them life throughout a long career, but 3EB are certainly able to pull it off. We've had the pleasure of playing a handful of festivals with them over the years, and watching them live is always fascinating. With unbelievably catchy songs, incredible musicianship and brilliant lyrics, Third Eye Blind is the whole package.