Interview: Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind – “The Inclusiveness Of It All”

Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind

Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind

Yesterday Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind was kind enough to chat with the LA Beat between sound check and his pre-show bike ride.  What follows is an engaging, meaningful discussion with someone who takes the fans and the music very, very seriously.

Hi Stephan, thanks for taking time out of your schedule to talk to me.

I really do want to talk to you because I want to let people know about the rescheduling of this gig in Irvine meadows. Did you hear about that?

Yes, I was there.

When do we have a flash flood? Why?

I think the last time that must have happened was in the 40’s. It’s so completely random and unlikely. I was very impressed by the resolve of your fans in the face of all that rain. Most of them didn’t have umbrellas with them because nobody here owns one.

Or ponchos….

People were standing out there in the rain, and they just didn’t care. They were ready to get soaked and go to the show dripping wet.

I know! And I am so with that mentality!!! We went out and saw the path that they were going to have to walk over, and it was under 6 inches of water. You couldn’t get wheelchairs through, and then while we were sitting there watching it, the house cancelled it.   And later that night I thought…man!

Yeah, it’s a bummer, but just judging on the basis of all those people, it’s not going to matter, it’s just going to increase the buzz and demand.

I hope so. We were really looking forward to that gig. We were shooting a documentary about the tour that night and instead we only got to shoot the rain.

I’m sure it will work out. I have a lot of questions I want to ask you if you’ve got some time.

Sure! Let’s talk.

It’s been six years since your last album. Did the legal action by Tony Fredianelli cause you to shelf previously written material and go back to the drawing board? Were you really hurt by his departure?

No. I don’t feel hurt by it at all. I feel relieved and ignited, and I really like the people who I’m playing music with. I’ve got people around me now who are healthy and aspirational and who inspire me.

You recently did a cover of “Mine” by Beyoncé ft. Drake, which I thought was very interesting. I wanted to know how Beyoncé and her fan base received the effort.

Well, she had to like it in order for us to be able to put it out on iTunes, and she did and it’s been great. It’s been a love fest.

Do you think you’re getting a whole new crop of listeners as a result?

I don’t know. I think my audience is more…. multi-ethnic. I think it’s a wider swath now, which I really like. I looked at it when we were in Miami and there were LGBT kids there, and there were girls there with gauged ears, and these were their songs, and their relationships! There were these cute 20 year olds and lesbian couples and they were just feeling it! And I was like “OK, that’s what I want, that creed…. The inclusiveness of it all”.

I was reading the production notes on Dopamine and you’re listed as either writer, co-writer, or producer. How much of this is the Stephan Jenkins show? Do you have or feel you need to have complete creative control? Is it more collaborative than I’m thinking?

I’ll typically write a song, and then I’ll bring it to my band mates, and they will embellish it, and then we go from there. It’s not a situation where I’m explicitly telling everyone what to do. As a producer what I try to do is create an environment where everybody can do their best work. That’s my feeling; everybody gets creative and just kind of takes off.

We’ve had co-producers on some of these tracks too. For example we had Chad Copeland. We went out and worked with him in his studio in Oklahoma and we took a song that I felt was kind of like a B-side (Back to Zero) and we just got into the studio.  When we were in Oklahoma I really liked that moment where everybody just put their title down and just let that spirit come into the room and everybody goes and sees what comes up. So much creativity came up on that song, in that atmosphere.

The production of your new album Dopamine sounds very tight, are you perfectionists? Do you have to do multiple takes to get it that perfect?

I’m not a perfectionist because I never think it’s perfect. So maybe I am a perfectionist….

Maybe that’s the hallmark of most perfectionists, they never think it is perfect.

Yeah…..I do care about it. I care about how you feel when your body is hit with that music.

That’s evident in a lot of your lyrics. It seems that lately the music has really taken on a more serious tone from your earlier work and it seems to me more relevant today.

Well, I love this interview! Screw the bike ride! I’m not nostalgic at all. I kind of always think that wherever we are right now, those are the good old days, and I’d just rather be vulnerable and speak to that. That’s kind of where I’m at.

It’s quite an accomplishment. For a lot of bands it’s hard to stay relevant, let alone become even more relevant to the fans over time. That’s quite an impressive feat.

I look out over this audience and I see such a young audience and they’re really moving me.  I even see Gen-Z’s, people who are 16 or 17 years old and they are so active about what we are all about. Seeing all these kids in their teens and 20’s really being ignited by this really motivates me! It gives me energy and spirit.

How about when you see people in the audience who are baby-boomers? I saw a lot of people who were waiting to get in to see you who were easily in their 50’s, people who are probably just as touched by your music.

Yeah, I like the whole wide swath.

I’ve heard rumors that Dopamine may be your last “formal” album.

After this we might grab a few songs and make an EP, or we might put out a bunch of songs and then put out the album post-facto, but this is the last time we’re going to save up a bunch of stuff from the studio and pick songs from that and then put it down into being like a 12 song EP.

Is this more to do with the current musical landscape, or is it the length of time needed to produce?

It’s a combination. It’s clearly about using the tool that’s available for distribution, which has gotten faster, and also kind of the happiness quotient. It’s going to make me happier to just be able to put out music just whenever I do, instead of just working and working it.

Do you think the fans will permit it? Maybe they will want vinyl, something they can hold in their hands?

We’ll put out vinyl, it’s just going to be after the fact, not before.

Let’s talk about your videos. They seem a lot better thought-out than your average video. How much work do you put into these? How much thought is put into the production?

I direct a lot of my own videos and some get more effort than others. The song Everything Is Easy, didn’t really get that much effort at all.   The song starts taking off on the radio and we’re like “we need a video and we need it right now, so let’s get on with it. So we come into the studio while we’re working on our stuff and record it.

But then a song like Get Me Out Of Here, that one is a pretty thought-out track. I wrote a script for it, was the crew, producer, etc. Everything I had went into that.

So is this a pleasurable part of the process or a necessary part of it?

I enjoy it. I studied film making, and I like narrative, so I like the workman-like aspect of creating film. And me being a person who likes to work in ideas, I like to get together with groups of people and make something. I think when you have that kind of mentality and that kind of mindset it’s not hard for it to transfer into different kinds of things.

I think it’s a great approach, compared to the approach people took in the past. When people just did some live shots or strung together a bunch of meaningless clips. It’s obvious that your artistic tendencies show in your videos. Do you still experience any writer’s block?

I get that pretty severely, and it’s hard for me. I struggle with it…..

I had heard that you found a way around it in the past with a “life swap” with a fellow musician, does that not still work for you?

It did work for me at the time. Mostly I just try to get myself into a mindset and just think, “don’t be too hard on yourself.” I’ll just be kind to myself and not engage in any self-recrimination.

Two minutes.

Is that how much time we have left?

Yeah, these guys want to go on a bike ride.

Ok, I’ll try and wrap it up. If it’s the lyrics that give you writers block, and not the music, how about writing instrumentals, or not putting so much emphasis on lyrical content?

No, it’s not really an option…..

I have a question for you that’s Rock Hall related if you don’t mind. In a few years, you’ll be eligible for induction. Is it something you think about or care about? Do you think your genre is under-represented, and what are your thoughts on the Rock Hall?

I don’t really know what my genre is and I’ve never called my music a genre. I’m influenced by British riff rock like Bowie and Led Zeppelin. I also like hip hop and singer-songwriter stuff. I just make the music I make and I don’t really feel connected to a specific genre.

Will we be inducted into the rock hall? I really don’t know. I think to talk about it might sound a little smug. I kind of think we probably would be. I’ve driven by it and I’ve been in Cleveland….I don’t know (laughs).

I mean, I like Cleveland, and I liked looking at the costumes (laughs).   I don’t know.

I find it very cool that the music of Led Zeppelin influenced you. Which one of their songs did it for you?

Oh, I just love Jimmy Page. I just kind of think that Jimmy Page is like the beginning and the end. He’s the alpha and the omega.

I can’t say I disagree with that… I’m willing to bet that when your time does come for induction you’ll get in on the first ballot.

It’s been 18 years so far. We’ll see how time articulates. It’s really not in my thoughts because I’m about what we’re doing now and what we’re doing next, and that’s just the state I like to live in.   It’s been a pleasure talking to you but we have to run. If you can make it back out on Monday, I would be happy to play for you.

I’ll be there; I’m looking forward to it! See you on Monday and thanks for taking the time to chat with us at The LA Beat! 

Ivor Levene

About Ivor Levene

Ivor Levene likes to interview musicians, write about music and musicians, play music, listen to music, read about music, photograph musicians, and anything else you can think of with music. He has been involved with the music scene for over thirty years and his posts have appeared all over the place! Ivor says "I'm going to write about music as long as I have something to say".
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