Stephan Jenkins on Music and Politics
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 do you expect from Obama?
Jenkins: I think that I have been quite inspired by Barack Obama and what he’s been able to accomplish and I think that I feel very hopeful and optimistic about what America can do now. I think the last eight years have been utterly shameful and that the next eight years can be utterly transcendent and glorious, and I want to participate in that as a citizen and a patriot and in those kinds of ways of doing the things that I personally can do. I’m moved to do that but I think that President-elect Obama has probably got the whole government thing handled and I just kind of leave that up to him.
Question: What issues stand out for you?
Jenkins: I think how we define ourselves as a people is a primary issue to me. I think that we need to see the triumph of smart in this election. George Bush is an embarrassment as is Sarah Palin, as is John McCain, sadly, that he was co-opted into their kind of non-think nonsense. And as Americans, I think we have to start looking at [folksy being all folksy] as probably a real bummer because we were founded by very smart people, we were founded by guys who knew French and Latin and Greek and agriculture and architecture and studied government and held themselves accountable to a standard of applying their minds to it and there wasn’t this, you know, calling it the internet and this sort of smug I know a thing or two about a thing or two, they’re just like me. I hope that one of the things that we will return to is the sense of ourselves as we’re the people who brought you penicillin, the computer chip, the Martini and Barack Obama, that would be great. So four years from now when someone like Sarah Palin comes along and says, “We’re going to cut funding on fruit flies as I kid you not,” which is a pretty much direct quote of her, when fruit fly research is something that is developed by people at Duke and Harvard which makes it American and is used for the study of special needs diseases which makes it pro-American, somebody who is interested in special needs education which was the source of her entire conversation should know that. And we as a people should hold political candidates to actually knowing something, that’s what I’m hoping we achieve with Barack Obama. Personally, I’m interested in taking the energy that is created in a generation through engaging music and making one of the benefits of that, one of the products of that social action. There is a group called Kick Start, they are interested in ending poverty in sub-Saharan Africa through better water irrigation. It is such a simple, simple solution that they’re interested in doing. I’m interested in what they do and supporting them and so it has something that doesn’t have anything to do specifically with the United States but it’s something that we as Americans can do to reach out to the world community. That’s an interesting thing with technology that this interview that we’re doing right now is not an American interview, this is a world interview, this is the world getting much smaller, this is a community of everyone and anyone who wants to engage it and that means that we can also reach out as we find sort of common values and goals, so that is what I’m thinking about.
Question: Can music change the world?
Jenkins: I don’t believe that the music that we make can specifically bring about changes. What I felt provoked in good ways and bad ways and what I’m looking to do is amplify that kind of provocation and leave it up to other people to do with it what they will. We’re not Fugazi. I think that Third Eye Blind’s album is a more extroverted record. I think it’s more outwardly political record, but it’s still dealing with the emotional, sub-rational encounter, yeah, that’s where we’re still at, we’re still at the place where it resonates based on feeling not thought. And thought comes after that, that’s great, but I am moved by music because of how it makes me feel, not of what it makes me think. So it’s funny, the producer, Joe Chiccarelli, said to me the other day, I said, “You know, I’ve just like… I’m like, I’m still working on these lyrics for the album,” and he said, “There’s no thinking in rock and roll, don’t think just feel it and write it.”
Stephan Jenkins lays down a few of his priorities for the next president and talks about the role of music in affecting change.
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