Stephan Jenkins On Third Eye Blind’s 25th Anniversary & Why There’s “Probably Some Misunderstanding” About Him Being Berkeley Valedictorian

Danny Nolan

Stephan Jenkins On Third Eye Blind’s 25th Anniversary & Why There’s “Probably Some Misunderstanding” About Him Being Berkeley Valedictorian

Danny Nolan

3EB's frontman discusses the band's summer tour, his indie rock bonafides, and the accusation that he lied about being valedictorian at Berkeley

Stephan Jenkins does not like to look back. Currently in Los Angeles for tour rehearsal, Jenkins and his longtime band Third Eye Blind are readying a 25th anniversary tour — Summer Gods: 25 Years In The Blind — with Taking Back Sunday and Hockey Dad. The planned setlist will be career-spanning, but Jenkins fully intends to play each track — current or classic — the way he’d want them heard today, in 2022.

Though the casual music fan might closely associate Third Eye Blind with the post-grunge era of the mid-to-late ’90s, via radio hits like “Jumper,” “Semi-Charmed Life,” and “How’s It Going To Be,” Jenkins is immediately dismissive of the idea that his band’s first few years (their debut self-titled album came out April 8, 1997, 25 years ago this Friday) should be the period that defines them. Since their follow-up album, 2000’s Blue, Third Eye Blind have released five more albums, their most recent one being 2021’s Our Bande Apart, and seen a whirlwind of new members. Across almost three decades, the only original members are Jenkins and drummer Brad Hargreaves.

A Bay Area native, Jenkins is trying out living in Los Angeles these days. “I’m still a little freaked out by the culture here,” he says over iced coffee. “There’s something about LA where I just don’t trust people.” As we chat, Jenkins explains that he is equally uninterested in addressing the rumor that he ever lied about being the valedictorian of his graduating class at UC Berkeley in 1987.

Still, we do clear some things up, as you’ll see below. (I also had a look at a preserved copy of Jenkins’ 1987 graduation program, and indeed his name is listed under “Valedictory Address.”) During our sit-down, Jenkins also goes into detail around Third Eye Blind’s upcoming tour, plans for new music, and his evolving feelings around one time Elektra labelmates Mötley Crüe.

So … did you see the allegation that you lied about your valedictory status at Berkeley?

STEPHAN JENKINS: I didn’t see it. I really just don’t want to participate in that narrative.

I’ve actually been shown your graduation program from 1987. Your name is listed under “Valedictory Address.” Has anyone ever called your credentials into question before?

JENKINS: It’s a first. I have dyslexia and school institutions have always been very difficult for me. Some of it was really gratifying that I could share with my mother. I know very well the hot, humiliating struggles of not being able to navigate the pedagogical path that everyone else is cruising down, and not being able to find a place for your — what you have to offer. I think Berkeley, for me, was a place where professors noticed me and could work with me. And I could work with them. It was a place where I felt respected and motivated. I still can’t spell worth a damn.

Do you recall how a valedictory status was determined in the Berkeley English department? Is it all determined by grades?

JENKINS: No, it’s just [decided by] professors. I think there’s probably some misunderstanding. There’s the citation winner, which has the highest grades, and I wasn’t even close to that. And then there’s the valedictorian, which was for the department. We don’t have school-wide graduations. It’s just the department. I wasn’t up against physicists.

Isabel Allende was the commencement address speaker. I got to meet her. [Another student] got the citation, which was the highest grade point average. And then there was me.

How did the department decide on you to give the valedictory address?

JENKINS: From a writing sample. I talked about institutions and collective idealism. I think that studying English, studying literature, is a really good way to figure out what you think. And to really have possession of your own thoughts.

I guess you could get some extra mileage out of [the honor], but I never used it on a job application or anything like that. Shortly after getting outta college, I decided that was one thing I didn’t want to do anymore. I’ve been in institutions all my life. I didn’t wanna do that anymore. I wanted to do things on my own terms. Which is to me, which is what being an English major is about. And I assure you, there’s nothing about it that helps you with, you know, getting on the radio or record deals or anything like that.

What else brings you to LA these days? Other than clearing up old college rumors.

JENKINS: I’m really focused on music and getting this tour together. And then I just did an unplugged album that we’re mixing and gonna put out in a month or two. You’re the first person I’ve told that. As a part of this 25th anniversary thing, it’s, “Let’s do acoustic versions of these songs.” It’s just basically any song that I wanted another try at.

So I’m down here rehearsing for this tour this summer called the Summer Gods tour. And then actually I have a new EP that I’m working on as well. So we’re doing a bunch of stuff down here this week.

“Summer Gods,” and this year’s anniversary component, reminds me of Everclear’s annual Summerland tour.

JENKINS: Yeah, it’s actually very different. I’m fully engaged in now. I’m not really interested in participating in an era other than this one.

So you’re not interested in leaning into Third Eye Blind nostalgia.

JENKINS: No. And neither is Radiohead, as far as I know. They seem to get permission. It’s so weird to me that they get to be in an article and nobody mentions “Creep.” But luckily, at a certain point, I went, “I’m done.” It took a while.

At what point did you stop caring?

JENKINS: It’s a slow process. I think there are these little markers. Comparison is the enemy of joy. I think Teddy Roosevelt said that. There’s something very zen about it. That idea helped me a lot. Like, stop comparing yourself. What are you doing? What are you about? What’s your measure? And I think my measure is really about [the] happiness quotient. And to realize that I have an opportunity to be permeable to what’s happening now and be ignited by it. Let that turn into something. I’m living much more in the gratitude of that space. I mean, I hope that doesn’t sound like hippy-dippy, but like, that’s kind of what I’m thinking about.

If and when you get offers to explore the ’90s nostalgia of Third Eye Blind, is that something you’re open to? Outside of this tour?

JENKINS: Not really. No.

I mean, first of all, I don’t remember it. Secondly, I don’t have much to say about that. Jesus Christ, just be honest. Like, when we had the 20th anniversary, that’s a much bigger [milestone], as opposed to 25. So that’s the only time I’ve gone back and played the first album. And in interviews, I talked about it [and] talked about making the album.

What I’ve always been is an indie rock band. I’ve always been DIY to the bone. Our record covers are stuff that we make, or friends make. Being in the studio, I produced every record we’ve done. I’ve worked in recording studios since I was 15 years old. I really like it now that we bring in other producers, and there’s a more of a collective sense, but there’s never been any industry machinery on the actual making of our music. I’ve stayed in San Francisco. My aspirations were to be this Camper Van Beethoven with, like, dreams of Jane’s Addiction, even though that wasn’t [our] sound. But just the broader landscape with the lyrical illumination. That’s kind of where we’re at. I’m not saying we sound like those bands, that’s the [ethos]. It’s just so lucky that we have an audience that we can go out and play. We’re gonna, you know, go play arenas.

How are you planning to arrange your setlist this summer? Lots of career bands kind of save their biggest, best-known hits for the last song, or the encore. Is that something you also tend to do in the live setting?

JENKINS: Oh, totally. I’m not one of those “get it outta the way at the top.” They’re sort of peppered through the set list. To try to put together [a set] in two hours, that’s a toughie. I don’t think I can make a retrospective. I don’t think that I can account for myself. I just don’t think that what I’m doing right now is getting that done. We’re just gonna play a lot longer — songs [will] flow into each other, and you’ll feel how you feel about it.

Are there any songs from the first album that you want to change in a live setting, or improve upon, or tinker with? What would those be, if so?

JENKINS: “Narcolepsy.” I was never happy with that. That recording, the rhythm tracks on that bother me. So the way we play it live is the way I like that song to be. And “I Want You,” it’s just me and Brad [Hargreaves]. I like the way that song sounds, just the two of us. [And] I like playing “God Of Wine” with just a piano. [And] “Thanks A Lot” is kind of a Smashing Pumpkins rip-off. Billy Corgan knows this too.

I’m trying to go, let’s take stock of ourselves, here we are right now. So we’re like weighted towards things like Our Bande Apart and more recent stuff, stuff that we’re excited about.

What’s your relationship to your previous hits in the general sense?

JENKINS: Okay. I saw these girls [while playing out] in Florida. They were really beautiful. Like, they were just these young, butch lesbian[s]. They had really beautiful shaved heads and they were in the audience and I started playing “Wounded.” I saw them just go into their own. It was the soundtrack for their present tense. And I take energy and inspiration from that. So I will take a song [like] “Jumper” and I’ll see somebody in the audience. They’re really feeling effusive, and I will kind of switch places with them. So, I become them. I’m playing it back to myself as them. And that’s how I keep the song alive.

I know you’ve addressed Third Eye Blind’s “cameo” in Hulu’s Pam & Tommy, saying you never actually ran into Mötley Crüe in the studio and everything. Given your feelings around ’90s nostalgia and everything, how does it feel if and when a TV show name-drops you or your songs to best represent a certain year, in this case, 1997-ish?

JENKINS: Why not? Sure. I think what I’ve come to realize — okay. So, years ago we got offered $250,000 or something to have “Graduate” in a Toyota commercial. And we said no. And now [it’s like] let him have it… Like, I was in that same kind of mindset of “It has to go here in order to be received.” Now, there are some limits obviously. But we have this really bizarrely young audience — and I mean teenagers — and this is their music. And they find it in some weird-ass fuckin’ ways. And I’m done trying to judge how they do it. So if it introduces — if it makes a bump, then fine. That’s kind of how I feel about it.

It didn’t happen [that way] in the show [but] whatever. There was actually some connection because we were coming up and I think Mötley Crüe was mad that they weren’t getting radio promotion resources on a record. And supposedly somebody in the band said, like, “We built Elektra Records.” Because they weren’t getting their stuff. But they never met us. So, you know, there was something like that, of being on the same record label.

My drummer [at the time] loved Mötley Crüe. And I, indie rock snob, didn’t want anything to do with it. But I didn’t know them. I didn’t hear them. And it was years later that I heard a song and I didn’t know what it was. But I [was like], this is fucking killing. And it was, like, “Who’s playing the drums?” It’s like [motions playing drums]. This is so banging. And that was Tommy Lee. That guy has got a fat groove. It’s really trippy how forward it is, but it’s so solid. And I kind of became a fan.

//

TOUR DATES:
6/22 Troutdale, OR @ Edgefield
6/23 Auburn, WA @ White River Ampitheatre
6/24 Bonner, MI @ KettleHouse Ampitheater
6/25 Sandy, UT @ Sandy Sampitheater
6/27 Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre
6/29 Council Bluffs, IA @ Stir Concert Cove
6/30 Kansas City, MO @ Starlight Theatre
7/01 Prior Lake, MN @ Mystic Ampitheater
7/06 Newport, KY @ OVATION
7/07 Indianapolis, IN @ TCU Ampitheater
7/08 Chicago, IL @ Huntington Bank Pavilion
7/09 Sterling Heights, MI @ Michigan Lottery Amp
7/12 Columbus, OH @ KEMBA Live! Outdoor Amp
7/13 Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE
7/15 Philadelphia, PA @ The Mann Center
7/16 Mansfield, MA @ XFINITY Center
7/17 Wantagh, NY @ Jones Beach Theater
7/21 Uncasville, CT @ Mohegan Sun Arena
7/22 Holmdel, NJ @ PNC Banks Arts Center
7/23 Columbia, MD @ Merriweather Post Pavilion
7/26 Atlanta, GA @ Cadence Bank Ampitheatre
7/27 Franklin, TN @ FirstBank Ampitheatre
7/29 Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
7/30 Del Valle, TX @ Germania Insurance Amp
7/31 Irving, TX @ The Pavilion
8/01 Oklahoma City, OK @ The Zoo Ampitheatre
8/04 Phoenix, AZ @ Arizona Federal Theatre
8/05 Inglewood, CA @ YouTube Theater
8/11 San Diego, CA @ Cal Coast Credit Union Amp
8/12 Las Vegas, NV @ Virgin Hotels Las Vegas
8/13 Irvine, CA @ FivePoint Ampitheatre

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