I recently had the chance to sit down with Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins after the band’s tour stop in Covington, Kentucky. We had a short amount of time to chat before he had to go greet fans, but in that window, we got to talk about Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, politics, and why he is glad to be out of the tabloids. Here is what he had to say.
I think it suffices to say that anyone reading this knows who you are, so I can skip the customary introduction.
So first off, how would you say that everything has been going on the road so far? You guys have been on the tour pretty consistently for much of the past year now, right?
Stephan: Well just now we have been on the road now for six weeks, and we did two weeks before that where we had South By Southwest and did some shows in Texas and stuff like that. Last year we were out playing and recording Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. We recorded it as a double album – it’s like 28 songs.
That’s one of the things I was going to ask you about, since I have seen some conflicting reports. Is Ursa Minor a b-sides album, or is it truly the other half of a double album?
Stephan: It’s really not a b-sides album - it is the other half of a double album. The problem with double albums is where you can actually put it in a store. That just becomes very difficult. It is a lot of music to take at once. So we will put out the first one, and in short order, we will put out Ursa Minor.
So when is Ursa Major coming out? Is it June 23rd? Is it August?
Stephan: (Turns to Mimi on the bus sitting next to us) So what do you think? Should he be the first? Mimi: Up to you! Stephan: You’ll be the first person we tell. This is breaking news - August 18th is the date.
What are the plans then for Ursa Minor? Will that still come out in 2009 or will we have to wait until 2010?
Stephan: I think it will be in ’09, yeah. The thing is, the album is done, and I would like to put it out now. And I think that is what we are moving towards. And that is why I love the online music community and the movement. A lot of people talk and whine about where the music business is going, but I can’t wait for the day when there is no one with the title of “Chairman” involved in music at all, and your website is this ever-evolving album. Someday we will be in the situation where we have a new song, we’ll record it, and we’ll put it out. And that’s that. Then when we have 12 of them, we can put some sort of collection out, and then you have the album. That’s pretty exciting, but we aren’t there yet. I still love albums, and I still love vinyl, so we are going to be putting out vinyl on August 18th as well.
A lot of the bands we tend to cover on our site are a lot of the newer, younger bands that probably listened to you growing up. Was it a weird experience playing with some of those bands at Bamboozle?
Stephan: It was weird to us about a year and a half or two years ago when we had the tenth anniversary of the band, and we played San Diego and 11,000 people came to the show. That’s more people than have ever come to see us play. They were 15 to 25 year olds. That was really something big. It’s because of the online music movement where Third Eye Blind has become a playlist and all of the marketing and layers of obfuscation don’t get in the way of who we are with our audience.
(A loud noise distracts Stephan and he trails off)
Stephan: By the way, Steve, that sound is the sound of Chrissy putting ice on. It is Low vs. Diamond’s first night, and there will be alcohol! (laughs) Okay...where was I?
Talking about the online music movement.
Stephan: Right. I mean, we have 4 top ten singles that we didn’t play tonight.
That’s pretty incredible, I’d say.
Stephan: We played a lot of pretty obscure stuff. And we are going to play a different set tomorrow, so it’s not going to be the same thing. That song “Another Life” is a hidden track on a song – that’s the one I was playing drums on - and I could everyone singing. They found it. It’s just on some playlist they traded with each other, and I find that to be more authentic and vital. The Bamboozle audience was probably 11-18 years old, and our audience is maybe 15-25, so they aren’t really much younger. Did you go to the Bamboozle show?
No, I wish I had.
Stephan: I was playing that thing and I was thinking, “We need more security. They’re going to break the fence, this is going to go off.” I don’t want to see people get hurt, but there are a lot of things I like about rock shows…well, it is my life’s work. I love that feeling where there is that sense of community, where people sort of de-individuate in some beautiful way, I think it’s great. I love to see that. And the best part about rock shows, are where it’s all about to fall apart – it’s all on the cusp of falling apart. You’re about to fall off stage, you just barely make it. That’s the sort of thing that I love.
You’re not sick of it yet?
Stephan: You know, I’m not. Bob Dylan’s not sick of it, and neither am I.
Good, I am sure a lot of us hope you never do.
Stephan: Thanks man.
I wanted to ask you about the Red Star EP. You guys have always had some subtle references to politics, but nothing so overt and direct as the lyrics on “Non-Dairy Creamer.” Is that a direction you see the band taking on, where you become more of an activist, or was it something that you just got swept up in, with everything that was going on with the election and everything?
Stephan: I think it was more of the latter, getting swept up in the moment. I’m not really interested in writing…the only thing I am interested in writing about is to evoke some emotional condition. I am having an emotional response to the life that I lead and the lives that I see. And in that instance, I was having a bit of an emotional response to the political frustration and the political change that has happened. We are not turning into Fugazi! (laughs)
You guys are not turning into Rage Against the Machine?
Stephan: I love them. Whatever they do, I am like instantly Che Guevara. (laughs)
At least on our site, for every amount of support for “Non-Dairy Creamer” and its message, it seemed like there was a corresponding amount of backlash. I guess that is to be expected when you put yourself out there like that, but were you surprised by any of it?
Stephan: If rock music isn’t going to provoke…I want to create the same sort of provocation that I feel. If you’re just going to be lulled by it, then you should just quit. You might as well just listen to something else. Just sign up for American Idol then! I think as long as it’s coming from a real place and as long as it’s not cheap, then I like that provocation with somebody chucking a rock at the window. I think that our audience is very wordy…they’re an interesting kind of people. They’re sort of literary types. We don’t have very much irony in the United States, so if you sing the line “Young gay republicans” a lot of people automatically think, “He’s anti-gay!” and it’s really just not getting it.
I guess I was surprised by how many people refused to dig any deeper into the lyrics than taking them at face value. It’s not like your lyrics have ever been purely surface level.
Stephan: Yeah, the intended meaning is quite often different than the stated meaning. But you know, we played it tonight in Covington, Kentucky.
That’s ballsy! (Laughs)
Stephan: It’s not the liberal headquarters of the world, or anything. But I have in-ear monitors, and I couldn’t hear myself singing because the crowd was singing that much louder. I get this energy where they get it and we are having this really authentic exchange, you know? There is something really cathartic and connected about that. What did you think of “Non-Dairy Creamer?”
Well, my initial impression was that the lyrics were really bizarre. But the more I dug into it, and coupled with the fact that you guys were going on tour in support of Obama at the time, it seemed pretty clear the sort of message you were trying to convey.
Stephan: It’s really just a song about being real versus being fake. I started thinking about all these words that people like Donald Rumsfeld would use, like “enhanced interrogation technique” or “detainee” or “threat level orange.” All these words, it’s like George Orwell wouldn’t be able to keep up with it. It’s just so fake! And these things just keep getting stuck. I just said that one day – all of these things are like non-dairy creamer. It’s not cream, it’s powder!
It’s funny you mention that about Rumsfeld, because I was just reading an article the other day where it talks about his tenure in office. It shows the reports he would distribute, and it would have a photo of the Iraq war on the cover page, with a biblical passage quoted beneath it. Like some warped idea of a crusade.
Stephan: I know, what did we do to ourselves? Jeez. We look back at that now. I guess, though, I don’t think that belongs on a record. “Why Can’t You Be” is going to be on the album – there’s a studio version of that. But “Non-Dairy Creamer” got played more at college radio more than everything on our last album combined. It was #1 at BRU for 5 weeks, so Brown students liked it!
(Chrissy comes in and tells Stephan that they need him for a celebration they are throwing in honor of a fan’s 100th show, and that I have time for one more question)
Okay, so being gone for six years out of the public eye, I know for a while, your personal life was all really out there in the open. Are you happier now to be a bit more back in the shadows, and free to focus on the music again?
Stephan: Oh yeah, I want nothing to do with that at all. I want to go as deep as we can musically, like, tomorrow night. We are going to play The Riviera in Chicago, and the show sold out like three weeks ago. I just want to bleed out – that’s what I want. The other side of it is just silly to me.
Well thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to me. I know you’re a very busy man.
while i didn't agree with non-dairy creamer, i respect him a lot for putting out such a political song at such a politically-charged time, but i'm ecstatic to hear thats not the direction they're going. can't wait for these albums.
it's also very refreshing to hear a band play different set lists every night. now if there are two shows close, i'll go. there's nothing more annoying than hearing the same set list over and over again for a year. how boring