Blurred Culture Speaks With Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins Third Eye Blind Keeps It Fresh ... And Weird ... With "Screamer"
LOS ANGELES, CA- Coming off of their successful Summer Gods tour, Third Eye Blind recently released their newest album, Screamer. Prior to heading back on the road for a solo tour, lead singer/songwriter Stephan Jenkins spoke with Blurred Culture about their new music and the band’s longevity.
Jenkins explained that his goal for Screamer was to create a rough and wild sound, and he repeatedly described his desire to “keep it weird.” Of the album’s feel and synth-heavy vibe, he made it clear that he was pushing back against homogenization and any smoothing process:
“I don’t want to take the rough edges… off… I don’t want a balanced mix… As you go through the production process, there’s always this desire to take… the pegs [that] are standing up and pound them back down, you know? And I didn’t want that.”
Throughout our conversation, Jenkins described a series of fortuitous meetings and partnerships that culminated in the new album. There was a spiritual feel to his descriptions of the openness and process of letting go that drove his creative energies. While he claimed repeatedly not to be very good at self-reflection, he continually described the album with passion and vision:
“I started working with Colin CreeV… I just thought he was weird and cool, and we did a songwriting camp… that generated the song ‘Screamer.’ It just felt chaotic and spacious in a way I really liked, and I thought about these quotes from Jack White, who was saying [that his] favorite thing to do is just [that] everybody takes off their hat — their guitar player/producer/engineer hat — and they just let god come in the room. And that idea stuck with me. I think I’ve always been kind of sequestered, and so I was looking for change, and it presented itself. So that positive experience with Colin — he actually ended up joining the band, and that idea of having an open-door policy made me change up what we did.”
Of the title track, Jenkins explained that he had originally sung a portion of the vocals in a high voice inspired by Alexis Krauss of the band Sleigh Bells. He described an initial “fanboy” hesitation to reach out to her to see if she would sing on the track. With prompting from his bandmates and coordination by their mutual agency, however, the artists linked up and added Krauss’ hypnotic edge to the song’s trippy sound.
While Third Eye Blind’s collaboration with Krauss took place long-distance, their work with Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan evolved more organically. Their partnership grew out of a backstage conversation at a concert hosted by Los Angeles alt-rock radio station KROQ. Unlike Krauss, Corgan doesn’t sing on the album but rather functions as the album’s “musical consigliere.”
Jenkins never hesitates to be political or to speak his mind, an attitude that echoes throughout our conversation. The Summer Gods tour with Jimmy Eat World was carbon-neutral, and he hints at another upcoming as-yet-unannounced project that will relate to oceans and plastics. A planned TikTok collaboration fell through due to the platform’s censorship of Tibet-related content.
His passion for advocacy, however, comes through most clearly during our discussion of his favorite track on the album: “The Kids Are Coming (To Take You Down).” He described the “shoegaze punk element” of the song and the influence of bold and unapologetic teenage activists.
“I was really inspired by Emma Gonzáles and David Hogg and Greta Thunberg… I’ve been disappointed by… the inability of the left to come up with any kind of clarity. I don’t think you could think of a single sentence any of these [politicians] have said to what is just clearly a criminal enterprise that’s taken over our government. And then you’ve got these kids — Emma and Greta — and they don’t care how you feel about it. They’re not trying to protect your feelings or your vote. They’re just looking at the truth out there and saying it… and they’re doing it under threat, and so they have things to lose, and that is that rebellious, punk-rock spirit that inspires me.”
This inspiration mixed with the sounds of an impromptu jam session with then-keyboard/guitar player Alex Kopp to form the track. Jenkins emphasized the ways in which he felt that “The Kids Are Coming (To Take You Down)” captured the emotions he wanted to convey:
“Getting mixes back always tends to be really disappointing [and] lonely because you have all these hopes for a song, and they kind of fall apart. I heard it, and it was late at night, and I think I was tired, and… I put it on in the kitchen, and I just felt comprehended. I felt like it transferred.”
It’s this passion that inspires Third Eye Blind fans to continue coming out in force. Jenkins emphasized that ever since they first exploded onto the airwaves, the band’s music has never fallen out of radio play. Referring to Blurred Culture’s local alt-rock station, he points out that:
“KROQ has played… our songs on rotation for 22 years. They’ve never come off. They’ve never gone out of rotation. That is mind-boggling to me…. We’ve been on KROQ for 22 years straight, and I think that that is… what’s the word for it? Remarkable.”
While the disruption of the music industry has transformed life for musicians, Jenkins sees positives in the new order. He described the ways in which streaming allows listeners to go beyond the dictates of industry tastes and to discover all sorts of music that appeals to them. As an artist, he sees new possibilities:
“It’s freeing to me. I don’t live or die by a record label. I don’t have to get their permission to do what I want… There’s just much more direct engagement that I have with my audience. And it results in making a lot less money in record sales and having a much larger audience touring… My audience is as young as it’s ever been, and my tour last summer was probably the biggest-grossing tour I’ve ever done. And we didn’t have Screamer out yet. And when I played ‘Wounded,’ which has never been played on the radio, they know every word.”
Jenkins, too, discovers inspiration online and from a variety of sources. Beyond the prominent musicians and teen activists who inspired or collaborated on the album, he described unexpected influences. His desire to write an academic artist’s statement, for example, grew out of his appreciation for fashion vlogger Bliss Foster. YouTuber Foster, who describes his work as aimed at the “menswear nerd audience,” appeals to Jenkins with his literary style. In fact, it was clear throughout our talk that Jenkins searches for an erudite and esoteric approach to his art.
Ultimately, he highlighted the importance of his relationship to the band’s fans. He discussed the ways that Third Eye Blind’s music appeals to fans old and new, whether interested in the biggest hits or the deep cuts:
“We are actually an underground cult band that has a camouflage of catchy tunes that the larger public knows. And there’s a whole other generation and culture of fans that came to us through other music, and that’s the music that appeals to them… Before we went out [to perform at Austin City Limits], the field was basically empty. That’s a big, empty, massive space, and when we walked out on stage, there were 50,000 people out there. They were there to hear ‘Jumper,’ and I was happy to play it for them because you could see it reflected back in their faces. It’s this exchange I keep talking about — this exchange with an audience that ignites me and keeps it fresh.”
Third Eye Blind fans will find that freshness in Screamer. With an almost hallucinogenic, groovy vibe, it does what Jenkins promised: it keeps it weird.