Stephan Jenkins is lead singer and guitarist for the Third Eye Blind, a San Francisco-based alt-rock group Jenkins founded in the early 90s. Although diagnosed with dyslexia as a child, Jenkins showed an early aptitude for music. He went on to attend UC Berkeley and graduated as valedictorian of his class with a BA in English Literature. Third Eye Blind’s first self-titled album won Billboard’s Modern Rock Track of the Year in 1997 for “Semi-Charmed Life.” Jenkins has advocated strongly for a digital release model as an alternative to album-dependent music releases and has allowed open-source online remixing of Third Eye Blind material. Jenkins has also had acting roles in Rock Star and Art of Revenge.
Question: What did the 90s mean for you musically?
Jenkins: The ‘90s were kind of this great period of liberation. I felt very constrained by the ‘80s and I, and large part didn’t like the music of it. It really wasn’t, for the late ‘80s, it wasn’t until Jane’s Addiction and most influential [on me], Camper Van Beethoven that I felt like there is this great new change available. I’ve gotten out of college and I had been in these institutions my whole life. In the ‘90s, suddenly I’m living in a squat and I’m… I’ve gone off and I’m backpacking across Europe and I have thrown off all of the… [locks that] paradigms that I was supposed to operate in, and in the ‘90s, I was able to begin to create those on my own. So that’s most of what I think about in the ‘90s. And then, in the late ‘90s, again, it seems like these changes in decades, I was in the whole major label system and our band who never expected to have a big hit got this big hit song with a very improbable “Semi-Charmed Life.” Since lyrically I never thought that that would get on the radio and it still shocks me that they play it and then we began to deal with issues of image and, you know, how somebody else wants to market you, so then, again, we were in a kind of another kind of institution, but then, again, it was great to go on tour with U2.
Question: What is alternative rock?
Jenkins: I would like to think that alternative rock means people who are making music that demands to be heard, that have a kind of eroticism in the way that they play that says, “We are going to step outside of the dominant paradigm and we’re going to provoke and we’re going to challenge and we’re going to do things on because it matters to us and it’s vital to us.” I would like to think that that’s what it is but I think it, you know, very quickly becomes something that somebody can make a buck on and it, like any other form of commercial music, it becomes something that people figure out ways to [slot] in market so that they can sell products to young boys.
Question: How has hip-hop affected Third Eye Blind?
Jenkins: I think that hip-hop has a huge influence on what Third Eye Blind does. A lot of the lyrical cadence comes from hip-hop. There’s some combination of like Bob Dylan and then A Tribe Called Quest and the ability to take a, you know, a four-bar measure and flip around with timing… to flip timing so that you could get more set and that was very useful for me since I’m sort of an overly wordy kind of writer.