Third Eye Blind's Stephen Jenkins may be credited as the band's singer, but
he's a storyteller at heart. More accurately, he's a storytelling guitarist, armed with a penchant for musical hooks.
The hook, you see, is Jenkins' secret weapon -- it's how he ropes listeners in to his tales from the dark side, he said. And it's precisely how he and his band have managed to launch their debut single "Semi-Charmed Life," an ugly tale of speed addiction, all the way to #4 on Billboard's singles charts. And a second song, "Graduate" (RealAudio excerpt), is getting major airplay on Modern Rock stations across the country.
"If you've ever had speed, it's a very shiny, bright drug," the 28-year-old
Jenkins said. "It sounds kind of like the song ("Semi-Charmed Life"); that's the reason why I wrote the music like that. It mirrors that sense. It's about a lot of things."
There's an allure to the bohemian drug-infested lifestyle that comes with heavy consequences, he added. This song is about the decline of a relationship because of speed addiction, Jenkins added, told in an "explicit and raunchy way." It's pure Third Eye Blind.
"... I think you can relate to it not in the sense of just being a drug addict," he said. "It's a song about wanting, about desire, about always wanting something else. And that in itself can be a crushing mentality. I'm not a speed addict; it's never been a problem in my life. But it was written at a time (1993) when speed came rolling into San Francisco, and all my friends suddenly seemed like they were fucked up on it."
So far, this gutsy songwriting strategy has paid off for San Francisco-based Third Eye Blind. Their self-titled debut album is the first in a three record contract with Elektra (with options for more discs later). Now the band is on its way to Asia for a month long tour (including a set at Japan's massive Mt. Fuji fest), before hitting the European festival circuit.
Although the singer has trouble pinpointing a year for Third Eye Blind's
formation, he said that guitarist (and occasional songwriting collaborator)
Kevin Cadogan joined in 1994. All four members (who in addition to Jenkins
and Cadogan include Arion Salazar on bass and Brad Hargreaves on drums) of the band were already playing in Bay Area clubs with various bands by age 15.
For Jenkins, music must be exciting, if it's going to work. The bottom line in a band's maintaining its musical integrity and inspiration rests with artistic control, he added. "As soon as that goes away, I quit. But with that said, I want to take that around the world. I'll go anywhere and talk to anybody about what we do."
As seemingly confident as he is cocky, Jenkins said part of what makes Third Eye Blind work is the band's belief that it has something to say to people. "We always thought that we were special, that we had something to offer. That's why when we were this little band that didn't have a record deal and we opened for Oasis (in March '96), we weren't intimidated at all. We were just like, 'Oh, come on -- bring it on.'"
It's clear that that tackle-anything-that-comes-my-way approach is how Jenkins goes about his songwriting as well. Nowhere is this more evident than on "Semi-Charmed Life" 's down-on-the-street follow-up, "Graduate." "I've never been completely homeless," Jenkins said, "nor have I been a male prostitute. None of those things ever happened. But I think the metaphor is . . . everyone's worked at a job, everyone who's tried to achieve something -- just sort of the humiliation of it. There's something beautiful about struggling, but it also turns out to be this sort of . . . we're all up against The Man. It was sort of a metaphor for the band. 'Can I graduate?' was like, 'Can I break in and have a life?'"
And while "Graduate" is yet to be released as a single, Jenkins noted that it
was the track most added to radio playlists throughout the country in the
past week. "We don't really have a choice" about whether it's the next
single, he said. "It is."
Now that they have been thrust into the media spotlight, with recent appearances on shows such as David Letterman's The Late Show, Jenkins has found himself explaining on one hand that Third Eye Blind's meteoric rise was not simply handed to them, while at the same time refusing to dismiss the group's success in the name of street credibility.
"This is our debut record, and OK, it's gone gold in 12 weeks," said
Jenkins, sales stats at the ready. "That's amazing that it's connected to people the way that it has. But that is not to say that we haven't paid every due there is to pay."