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Third Eye Blind's Stephan Jenkins Talks "Ursa Major," Fierce Fans

August 11, 2009 2:03 PM ET

A surprising thing has started happening at Third Eye Blind gigs as the band preps for the release of its first album in six years, Ursa Major (due August 18th). Hordes of young fans have been flooding the shows, singing along to every note of songs from the band's earlier days. "That kind of freaked me about because we had our 10th anniversary show and everyone in the audience were like 15 to 25 year olds," frontman Stephan Jenkins tells Rolling Stone, "which means that they were five and 10 when our first album came out." Rolling Stone caught up with Jenkins as he was on the road to the Martin guitar factory, which he described as "like going to Willy Wonka" to chat about the '90s, his high-profile relationships and the band's return.

Why the long wait between albums?
I think rock music has to be demanded to be heard. It was kind of this combination of things — where the country is going the last two years has left me dumbfounded, so I didn't have some connection to my lyrics. I had to get a hold of the verses inside of me. I always want to do so many different things musically; it took me a minute to go, "Let's make a big rock record. Let's find the glory in that." I had been hitting it so hard with Third Eye Blind before. Then, we sort of had the demise of the record industry. It really just collapsed when we put out our last album.

So, this is an independent release?
It is. It's on our own label called Mega Collider Records. I really feel like I have my feet under me now. So we don't have to go out and ask permission and we don't have to have a committee and we don't have to have our image shaped and created for us by people who know better. So, it's really kind of a great time.

You guys have maintained a loyal fanbase over the years.
I think we're a band who has had its identity returned to it by a new generation of fans. There's something always a bit subversive in what we're doing. We got disassociated from our own image by all the layers of the machinery that was saying to us, "There's a lot of money in Third Eye Blind." Then, what happened was this whole new generation of fans found us from each other. And, why? Fans found songs that they cared about and spoke to their sense of identity. And, that's my short answer. Music is this identity generation device. I think the overriding energy about the lyrics is trying to make sense of things, trying to reconcile things, trying to come to terms with things. You know when you were 17 and you saw the Clash and you like went insane? I think it's that.

I want to ask you about the '90s revival.
I would like to politely opt out of being any part of a revival. I don't associate myself or any of my sensibilities with the '90s. That's not where my head is at at all. I'm interested in 2010. I know in '97 there was a real dent in popular culture, but most of our records have come out in the 2000s. I've never had any interest whatsoever in looking back. There's some music that I can't get over. Like, it's really hard for me to get past some of the 4AD bands like This Mortal Coil. I'm still a sucker for the Cocteau Twins. Led Zeppelin is still kind of exotic and kind of dangerous to me. But, I'm always looking for something new.

How old are you now?
I'm way younger than Madonna and in nowhere near as good of shape.

You had a lot of high-profile girlfriends like Charlize Theron, Winona Ryder and Vanessa Carlton — how do you feel about being a ladies' man?
Well, you're leaving several out.

Who did I leave out?
I'm not going to tell you and neither will any of them. Well, those are all three completely lovely people. I don't know — I love women. I'm inspired. But I'm not a big fan of the public relationship.

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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