Third Eye Blind Interview


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ABOUT A month ago, I woke up in my sleepy lil’ punk house in Oakland, California, put on my Thrasher Neckface shirt, walked into the kitchen and started making some coffee. Sitting cross-legged on the counter in my panties, I checked my DMs and there was a message asking if I wanted to be in a Third Eye Blind music video. Almost dropping my phone in the French press I replied, “How do I know this is real?!” Two weeks later I’m outside a sketchy liquor store in KC, Missouri, waiting for my girlfriend to buy us smokes while Stephan Jenkins sings me “Ways” over the phone, telling me, “You would be perfect for this video.” Fast forward and—boom! Thrasher helped find some Bay Area skaters for the vid and they asked me if I wanted to interview Stephan for the mag! Of course I said, “Yes please!” On the day of the shoot we filmed some skating at EMB and the Island and between scenes I chatted with Stephan about skating, the changing landscape of San Francisco and the band’s new album, Screamer. —Cher Strauberry

This interview was originally featured in the June 2020 issue and therefore critical current events are not addressed. 

TEB4Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind with Cher Staruberry.  /  Photo: Joseffer

What is your relationship with skateboarding and Thrasher?
I used to read Thrasher when I was a little kid. It felt dangerous and it matched my energy. It was more aspirational because my skating wasn’t at that level. It was like this world that I didn’t have access to but I could see. But my relationship to skating or skate culture now—I’m always attracted to cultures where people can make it on their own, they have their own agency and they’re kinda creating their own world. I love seeing that. It’s really beautiful. It’s like an act of identity. Like, look at all the people here today. Everyone’s cool. It’s extremely aggressive what you do with skating. There’s no strife or violence. It doesn’t even seem to be judgmental. I think that’s a uniquely incredible thing. I also love the obsessiveness of it. 

Oh my God, it’s so obsessive!
Like, there was this girl just missing this trick over and over again. And then she got it. It was just a tailside and but when she unlocked it after trying it like 500 times all she felt way joy. It wasn’t like, Why did that take so long? It was more like, Fuck yeah!

I try to tell people that, too. It’s like I get the same feeling landing a trick as I do finishing song. You know it’s done and that’s that. Then you’re just obsessively chasing that feeling like, I wanna land another one, or I wanna write another one.
The song “Ways” is kinda in the theme of the album Screamer, which is like, all these outward showings of consumerism and status disgust me and what I see as valuable is the energy and spirit that you bring to things. There’s no displays of wealth out here today. Fuck all that. It’s all about the energy that you bring.

I love that. Can you tell me what San Francisco was like when you started in ’93?
You know how things are at your house?

Yeah.
It’s just like that. It's basically the exact same. The only difference is that you could actually do it in San Francisco back then. Now, if you wanna try and make that pledge to creativity you get bumped outta SF because to do that you gotta have cheap rent. So you gotta make this vow of poverty in order to create the world in your own terms. And now I have friends who are in their mid 20s and they’re living five to a house and they all have jobs making $150,000 a year just so they can live in the city, and that’s not how it should work. And I think it robs the city of its biggest gift which is freaks. This has always been a place where people like me came to so they could live life on their own terms—like the beat poets and all the music scenes that came here and they just get blown out by the rent going up. But it’s still beautiful and people still figure out a way to get here so it’s still my home.

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Has it changed a lot like since you were cruising down Valencia in the “Semi-Charmed Life” video?
Not really. It's all kinda a blur. I still live three blocks from where that video was filmed. I walk by the bike shop every day. It’s still my bike shop. I’m San Francisco to the bone. And that’s just how it is for me—even when I’m pissed at San Francisco it’s still part of my fiber. It’s foundational to my identity.

Can you tell me about the piñatas and the crazy mosh pits? And also, is the crickets story true?
There’s just no way to make it un-true. There was a scene of crickets getting smashed in a piñata, ’cause it’s just, well, here's the thing—

I’m not after you for animal-rights stuff. I think it's cool as shit; I think it's fucking sick.
There was this moment where—all creative people know what this is—you’re trying to make it so you network or you’re on the hustle and you’re trying to get along with people. And at a certain point you realize that you’re actually subverting your own identity and it’s not what you think. You’re shmoozing or some shit and now you’re following someone else’s institution. And the reason I got into music, the reason why I wanted to do music since I was five was because I didn’t fit into any institutions. I wanted to make my world a product of my values and not just fit into anybody else’s shit. So, fuck—what were we talking about?

The crickets!
Right, the crickets. So there’s this moment when you’re going to some A&R company, so someone at the record company now has the keys to say whether you get to rock or not. And this is why music is so much better now because all you gotta do is put your shit up on the Internet and you are now rolling, you’re out there to a wider audience even though there’s no money in it. But instead, I’m standing there in front of somebody who gets to decide whether I get to rock or not, and that just makes me wanna fucking bite every hand that was considering feeding me. I think I’ll bite your hand before you even fucking decide, ’cause like, even though our music is not like punk—

I think it’s punk!
The ethos is. Just huck it out there and say it, and as long as you are being true then don’t get all worked up over the consequences.

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Photos from Cher Strauberry
 
Okay, so let’s talk about the new album, Screamer. What’s your biggest inspiration for it?
I think the album deals with a bunch of themes. It’s currently taken as a given that we’re already living in dystopia. Climate crisis, we’re already living in it. We’re already living in a lawless state and in a place where nobody has access to these point of identity, so fuck your Gucci and your Prada, that kind of aspect of it. It also deals with post-patriarchal relationships in dystopia, which sounds way too Cal Berkeley, you know? But the way that people interact with each other is changing. I think that Screamer means that some people are kind of escapists and they wanna slip away from it, which is fine. I like escapism. But then there’s this other part of me that says, No! In times where I feel challenged I come alive. My aggro better self steps out there, like a Screamer.

Why did you decide to do this video for “Ways” here at the legendary EMB with local skaters and me?
I love San Francisco and this moment here is gonna last. All of this is gonna be gone someday and this is beautiful. It’s this moment in time and I wanna capture it. This whole thing is gonna be underwater, dudes!

I don’t not believe you.
Well, the song “Ways” itself was promoting spirit and energy over status. So the kid in this video is like, “You always call me dude. You never call me by my name.” It’s like, “You don’t even know who I am, but I’m heading for the legends.” I make up my own vibe and I’m making my own legend, and when a friend of mine sent me your Instagram, I don’t even know why, but I saw it and I was like, She is heading for the legends! She’s making up this world on her own terms, and I love seeing that. And the song itself uses skate imagery: “Trying to land that trick.” I went by a skatepark on Dubose Street and I saw this girl fucking it up trying to land a trick over and over again. And the sun was going down. We were losing the moment and I think there’s something poignant about that, so I wrote that in my journal and all my music comes from journal writing.

That’s exactly how I write songs too.
I didn’t even know I wrote it. It’s just like, “Trying to land that trick,” and then I wrote “Pop up, yeah that’s my shit.” And I surf and when you tuck in it’s like trying to tuck into a barrel, and then you when you pop out you claim it, so “Tuck in and claim that kick.” And then I just made the rhyme: “Now lemme see you talk shit.” Let’s see it, you know? So the song is saying, “I’m a California rude boy.” We have our own rude boy culture in California and it’s rebellious, so I was like, Why can’t Cher be the rebel?

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I feel very lucky. When I got the news I called my big sister and we freaked! Okay, so I’m gonna be a nerd on some fan-girl shit. On the 20th-anniversary release of your self-titled album there’s a demo of “Slow Motion” included. That song is amazing. Why was it excluded from the album’s original release?
The record company wouldn’t let me put it on because the lyrics were too gnarly for them. They were like, “You can’t put this on here. We can’t have these lyrics.” And I was like, “Yeah, but that’s actually what I write.” “Semi-Charmed Life” is about snorting drugs and cum facials, but that’s cool because it goes “doot, doot, doot”? But like, “Slow Motion,” they can’t have it. “Slow Motion” is like, you want violence? I’ll give you violence and I’ll serve it with honey. I’ll sing you to sleep with a lullaby of the most violent shit ever. It was a challenge.

In 2016, lots of people were upset when you were billed to play a GOP fundraiser in Cleveland. Yet you did it anyway and used the show to condemn right-wing ideologies to an exclusively Republican audience. What led you to make such a difficult yet badass decision?
We were lied to. We were told it was not a GOP event, that it was for a charity called Musicians on Call. And I support Musicians on Call. It brings musicians to sick kids’ bedsides at hospitals, and I’ve done that many times so I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do that.” But it turned out that all the GOP turned out to it, like we were turning into the entertainment for the 2016 Republican National Committee Convention. And you’ve seen the people on my crew. They’re not okay with that. And then when I walked to the stage I didn’t really know what I was gonna do. And then somebody said, “Just keep it non-political.” And at that point, that was just the one grain too far and I said, “Do you fucking know me? Why did you book our band?” And then I got on stage and I changed the setlist. We played “Non-Dairy Creamer” which is just like super gnar-gnar lyrics. And I found these guys who were in their blazers, the kind of people who think they have it all figured out, and I just looked at them and held the mic stand so they couldn’t smash it into my face and sang to them the whole time. And then I just told them all what I think of their whole platform and the place went, “Booooo!” and started freaking out. That’s what happened and then when we got home it just went viral. I used to play punk when I was 15 and people can get really intense and that energy is something I’ve always held onto. And I will fight for my mic and I’ll fight for my amp. And I’ve always just had that mentality.

“Jumper” came out 23 years ago. It really changed so many people’s lives and it’s a really amazing song. Do you think it was ahead of the curve in terms of opening up the conversation about mental-health awareness ?
It was about a friend who jumped off the Coronado Bridge because he was gay and getting bullied. I don’t write songs about politics; I don’t make essays. Everything to me has an emotional impact. Sometimes it’s the outer landscape and I try not to judge what that is about. If it makes a dent on me emotionally then it shows up in my journal and turns into a song. So when I heard that story I was like, This is what I would say to that kid. But he’s dead, so it’s kind of noir. Like I’m talking after death, so it’s really dark. But it has become this lifted-up moment because the message of it is that we have more understanding for each other, that we have more ability to embrace each other than we give each other credit for. And that’s the simple message of the song. Was it ahead of its time? The record company was like, “Does it have to be about being gay?” Uh, yeah. It kind of does, actually. That’s the point.
 
 
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