Eye to Eye

Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins on ‘living life with an exclamation point’

NH Weekend Editor
June 14. 2017 12:57PM
Stephan Jenkins is lead singer of the multi-platinum alternative rock band Third Eye Blind, which released the EP “We Are Drugs” in 2016 and is on the road on a 20th anniversary tour of its debut release. 
If you go...
WHO: Third Eye Blind

WHERE: Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion, Gilford

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday

TICKETS: $29.75 to $73.50

INFO: 293-4700; banknhpavilion.com

Stephan Jenkins is aware of how it sounds. The guy known for penning the 1997 hit “Semi-Charmed Life” about seedy sex and crystal meth addiction is talking about the importance of keeping his concerts upbeat.

“I get the irony, I know ... I get the irony,” said the outspoken frontman of Third Eye Blind, letting go with a laugh.

He had been explaining how he likes to draw a line between his stage life, where the focus is about drawing people together through music, and his personal life, in which social and political activism play a big part.

“If you put a microphone in front of my face and ask me about politics, I will say what I think, without worry about where that goes, because that’s kind of like my punk-rock concept,” said Jenkins, a vocal critic of the current administration. “I’m a patriot so I care about what I’m talking about.

“But when I’m on stage ... I believe it’s about emotion, it’s about fellowship and about people coming together around music,” he said.

Jenkins likes to pause during a concert and ask everyone in the audience to turn around to a stranger and say hi.

“There’s something about it that is joyous and sacred,” Jenkins said of the energy and camaraderie of their shows. “It’s one simple piece of magic that we offer, that you’re not alone. That’s it. That is a sacred kind of space ... that’s like church. I have separation of church and state.”

Third Eye Blind (certified six-times platinum in the United States by the Recording Industry Association of America), is marking 20 years of music with a show that Jenkins calls the “first and only time” the band will perform its eponymous debut album, including the hits “Semi-Charmed Life,” “Jumper” and “How’s It Going to Be,” in its entirety. The Summer Gods Tour, with opening acts Silversun Pickups and Ocean Park Standoff, will play the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 20.

Third Eye Blind formed in San Francisco in the early 1990s around Jenkins and lead guitarist Kevin Cardogan, and in 1998 the group earned the Billboard Music Award for Modern Rock Track of the Year for “Semi-Charmed Life.” Lineups over two decades have varied, with the current members being Jenkins, Brad Hargreaves on drums, Alex LeCavalier on bass, Kryz Reid on lead guitar and Alex Kopp on keyboards.

Speaking their minds

Over the years the band has reveled in a cut-loose rocker mentality with a social, environmental and political conscience. Its latest release, the 2016 EP “We are Drugs,” continues controversial conversations with the track “Cop vs. Phone Girl,” which suggests racism and brutality and alludes to the Black Lives Matter movement.

There’s clearly a message on many of the group’s songs. For example, “Jumper” off the group’s initial studio album, is told through the voice of someone trying to talk a bullied suicidal gay man off a ledge.

And in conversation, Jenkins talks earnestly about issues from global warming and the Paris Climate Agreement to the recent terrorist attack that killed 22 fans leaving an Ariana Grande concert last month at the Manchester Arena in London.

“These are children, and that first (concert experience with a favorite performer) is precious and it’s innocent,” Jenkins says. “Ariana Grande is a marvelous vehicle for those passions. She’s singing about independence and vitality and freedom ... when she’s saying she’s a ‘Dangerous Woman’.

“Those ideas become powerful when seeded in the hearts of the youth,” he adds. “The people going to those shows are girls. I see this as not just an act of terrorism but a form of misogyny.”

In the case of his band’s signature hit, “Semi-Charmed Life,” the catchy hook and bouncing beat lull a listener into thinking this is a breezy pop-rock song; it’s actually about tripping and crashing from drug use, among other things.

“I think that’s how we walk down these roads of self-destructiveness that are always paved in sugar. You’re kind of left with emptiness, the empty calories,” Jenkins said of couching dark lyrics within light melodies. “I never thought it would get played on the radio at all (initially) because it’s about snorting drugs and (sexual acts). It’s pretty far along. It would sort of be like the category of a racy novel.”

Two tracks that were written but never used on the band’s debut album also will be played on this tour. “Scattered” and “Alright Caroline” both nod at the band’s roots in ’90s angst rock.

“Scattered” was written after the 1994 suicide of Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of the iconic grunge band Nirvana and someone Jenkins dubbed “The Prophet of Our Discontent.”

“Kurt Cobain, Alice in Chains, Jane’s Addiction, Soundgarden” — they were all before us, and their rebellion was almost a kind of nihilism,” Jenkins said. “There was sort of a death cult in some ways.

“But I think (my motivation) was that I’m going to live with an exclamation point, on my own terms,” he said. “I think it’s a very different response. If you look at the lyrics of ‘Scattered,’ the song makes a little more sense (in that context).”

Meanwhile, he describes “Alright Caroline” as “an anxiety daydream after a pregnancy scare.

“It’s kind of overwrought, a melodrama ... my tender-hearted fantasy, that’s all,” Jenkins said.

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