Twenty years after the release of their debut, Third Eye Blind is celebrating their self-titled record with a summer tour that will feature the entire album played front-to-back. Profoundly poetic lyrics with an equal balance of catchy, radio-ready hooks culminate in a record that is cherished and revered by casual and serious music fans alike. And that is perhaps the most impressive legacy of Third Eye Blind. It is a record with enough singles to make it a staple of popular culture, but also so nuanced and “punk” that it is also a necessity for those with more selective tastes.
It’s probably near impossible to find someone who is unfamiliar with at least two to three songs from the record. The most popular, “Semi-Charmed Life,” combines sickly sweet pop with an irresistible refrain that has saturated Thursday karaoke nights. Anti-authoritarian rock anthem “Graduate” and the heartfelt “Jumper” are also some of the most popular songs.
And while the adoration of these hits is more than justifiable, it is the deeper cuts—the painful and visceral “Motorcycle Drive By,” the desperate “God of Wine”—that elevate the album to fundamental-listening status and perch it high on many people’s favorite albums of all time lists.
I spoke with frontman and guitarist Stephan Jenkins before he departed on one last surf trip before the start of the Summer Gods tour where the band will play their debut in full and about the changing legacy of this influential album.
So when you go on these summer tours, do you get to surf in all these different spots?
Oh yeah, for sure. A few years ago we played in Asbury Park and I was surfing before the show. Super fun. So we’ll probably try to get out there if there’s any summer swells. When we play Holmdel on the 23rd, that’s right at the top of summer, I’ll have a board out for sure.
A lot of people consider the album a classic and it’s this seminal thing for them, has your perspective on the record or any specific songs changed?
Umm, no. Pretty much no growth for me, I’ve just been 27 forever (laughs). Pretty much stalled out there. Has it changed…
I know you’ve said in the past that “Jumper” has become a more positive song
Yeah, that would be an example. “Jumper” was a noir about me talking to a kid who’s already dead, but it’s kind of what I would say to him had this kid been alive. And people got that message, “I would understand.” Now it’s like when we play that everyone really sings it wholeheartedly. Like you can see their faces and throats relax and they sing out and I think there’s something exalted about that.
And that was a song about a kid who was gay and jumped off a bridge because he was bullied and I think there’s a kind of progress in a way beyond tolerance (which is a terrible thing, I hate tolerance), but into acceptance and inclusion and to be embraced that happens. So that’s the way that song has changed.
I also think I was hard on myself in everything that I did and I think artists are that way and I certainly was. I would look and half that record… we just don’t regularly play so I’m looking at songs like “Thanks A Lot” and I go, “You know, I wouldn’t be so hard on that guy, that’s a pretty good song.”
So do you feel like you’ve changed over the years? Are you less hard on yourself now?
When I started I was kind of hoping to be my indie rock heroes at the time and it would’ve been amazing if we sold 300,000 copies and I didn’t have those expectations of what was going to go on. And then I think I went through a long period of time of self-doubt, and that’s a kind of self-analysis, and that’s super not rock. Like really my healthy standpoint is that I’m vulnerable to the world. It makes a dent on me and then I sing out, huck it out there without any regard for the consequences, and that’s the mindset of [like] Jackson Pollack splattering the paint; there’s truth in it.
I’m much more back to that mindset now because I feel comprehended and like there’s a whole audience of kids who come up and can really get what we do. It’s easy to have a lot of confidence when you’ve got the audience that we do.
How’d you pick the demos/b-sides for the new release of the record?
Those were songs that were either never recorded or never properly recorded. We were in this little, shitty studio that actually has really great gear. They don’t have a couch, there’s nowhere to sit, but they have really good (gear). And because there’s no couch, it keeps you working. You can’t sit there and play on your phone. We said we should actually properly track these songs, but let’s do it in the way that we always did these songs—really fast, everybody in the room, like punch it.
Why didn’t you record those initially?
Well there’s already 13 songs on the first record. So we wanted to keep going and putting out more songs, but you’d have to stop somewhere and in choosing the songs I was trying to make something that has balance to it. And so although “Scattered” is probably a better song than “London,” maybe it’s a different kind of song, my intent was that people would be listening to the whole album and so that flavor is one that I thought was due in that spot.
So I wouldn’t consider you a pop band, but many people might see you as that because the singles are so popular. What do you think the expectations are for a pop band versus a rock band?
Well… I really had no sense of myself being a pop band, although I love pop music and I like the Andy Warhol immediacy of it, I think it’s great. But I always thought that I’m much darker, rock band that had this kind of weird combination that the bands who came before us… like [with] Jane’s Addiction, Nirvana—there’s still kind of a nihilism and my thing was more about a rage to live. It was more about my rebellion and like, “Punk rock is my vitality on my own terms. My aliveness on my own terms,” and that was a result of years of struggle and sleeping on packing foam and living in a cleaning closet, like really full extension into the risk of doing what I wanted to do and it came from a… I think we’ve always been punk, not in three-chord down strokes and fake British accents way, although I do have a fake British accent but that’s coincidental…
I think that how it was perceived as a sort of an instant success at the time and it’s like, “Oh wow, they’ve got these hits and these catchy tunes, he’s shagging movie stars,” that was the simple response to what we were about. And none of that matters now because all of that marketing… has completely disappeared and what’s left is a playlist and a new generation of bands who find it and it resonates with them. Part of what I love about right now is like these conduits, these chokepoints and these self-appointed arbiters of my culture have disintegrated. And so now I have as much pure exchange with my audience and it’s an audience that comprehends me.
Third Eye Blind will be playing at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ on June 23, Nikon at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, NY on June 24, and Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia, PA on June 25 as part of the Summer Gods tour. For more information, go to thirdeyeblind.com.