After a busy couple of summers on the road, Third Eye Blind is back with the new seven-song EP, We Are Drugs. I recently caught up with lead singer Stephan Jenkins while he was recuperating from the band’s most recent tour. We talked about the new songs, staying punk rock, and of course, that infamous show during the Republican National Convention this past July.
I last interviewed you last summer, on the day Dopamine came out. How have you been since then?
I’m feeling kickass. I really had a great run on Dopamine, and We Are Drugs is kind-of a component for it. What’s the word I’m looking for?
Like they’re connected almost?
Yeah, the names have a connection with each other. They’re of the same ilk, although We Are Drugs has some elements to it that I like a lot better. I’m really happy with it.
The recordings on We Are Drugs are much more free and confident. I really did not second-guess myself doing it, and that includes the lyrics. A lot of times, if I’m not feeling exactly right about a lyric, I will sit there and freak out over it for a long time, but I didn’t do that this time. I stayed in that state of willingness to just go with it. Swing that brush, you know? It’s like a calligrapher, the whole idea that you don’t think about the writing as you’re doing it. You just roll and that gives you that sense of freedom. That’s what makes it beautiful. I think there’s something rock ‘n roll about that too, you know?
Right. So how did you get yourself to stop worrying so much?
Well, one thing is that Dopamine did really well. I felt really comprehended. I felt like I could do what I wanted. So with We Are Drugs, it was like, let’s not get so worked up over it. There are seven songs on it, so that basically makes it an LP. But it’s coming out right after Dopamine, so it doesn’t have to be some statement of the times, like a great accounting of the band or something. That was the mindset that I got myself into. It was a great mindset, and one that I don’t want to exit again.
You’re just gonna have to keep turning around new music then!
Well, you don’t have to, I just want to. I want to be in a state of making music and sharing it, rather than being on this huge timetable.
Now the other thing is it takes three months to set up a record, and our record label really wants to do that. They want to be able to get it out to the press. We’re never in print media—we’re only in online stuff. We haven’t been on any of the TV shows because we put everything out super late and they have those really long lead times for new music. I’m going to finish the lyrics today for a song called “Weightless.” It’s a song that’s going to be on the record—I’m singing it today [September 13], and the thing comes out October 7. That’s just the level at which I roll. That’s not really good for promoting your band. But it’s super fucking punk rock and it’s a way, way higher happier quotient for me. Sitting on something for three months while the powers that be set it up and promote it—that is not for me. I don’t want to do that.
I mean, whatever helps you get motivated. Your fans are excited to get new music no matter what.
Right. The thing is, we don’t get the same level of promotion, and that’s an issue. But you know, it’s fine. It’ll be fine.
Well, you still manage to attract huge crowds of fans. There are old fans, and then it seems like there are new ones finding you every day.
It’s definitely been huge this summer. I mean, that happened. [Laughs] It was fucking crazy. It was the craziest summer I’ve ever had. We set attendance records at multiple different festivals. Coachella was first and I went on with The Chainsmokers. Did you go to that?
No, I didn’t, sadly.
Well, I guested with The Chainsmokers, and the tent just went off. I could see out, and it was like, wow. The audience out there was like, 16- and 17-year-olds. It was really young. I could just feel them being really present with everything.
And then we did Bonaroo and on the billing, we were sort-of down there in the alphabet. We were not billed as a headline, but the stage was packed, and then over-packed, and then over-packed. It just went off. And everybody knew every word of Dopamine. We had been playing our own shows, so we tend to be playing for just Third Eye Blind fans, and that’s kind-of its own culture. So when you’re playing to that wider audience, it was a shock to me to see how many people showed up.
And this just kept going all summer, to where, at Lollapalooza, we were on the second biggest stage and we set the attendance record of that stage. We just filled out. And then this kid—who was a quadriplegic and was about a football field away—got hoisted up in his wheelchair, and he crowdsurfed all the way up. He was about to go down into the pit, and I said, “Bring him up.” And he came up onstage and I said, “Look how you just lifted us up.” I think that’s what came out of my mouth. I felt so lifted by this moment. And that was my fucking summer, you know?
It was. It was one of the most fun summers I’ve ever had. Thanks, everybody!
I feel like Third Eye Blind is such a good summer band too. Your music is so perfect for those outdoor shows.
I think so too. I think about this when people ask me, “Do you ever get tired of playing older songs?” This fan wrote me and said, “Every time I hear ‘Semi-Charmed Life,’ it sounds like summer is coming and everything’s going to be perfect.” I love the verb tense. It’s not “Summer is here and everything is perfect.” Because that would be terrible. That would be smarmy and hot. It’s “Summer is coming and it’s going to be perfect.” It’s hope and need and longing.
I think that’s a perfect way to describe it. You said that people were receiving Dopamine well at the live shows too?
Yeah. I met these girls and I just loved them. They were like 17 and they were out for the summer. I don’t meet fans that much because you’re behind all the levels of security and stuff. But I met these girls, and they had gotten into Third Eye Blind from Dopamine and that was their record. And then they discovered older stuff backward from there. It was all just discovery from various different sites and things. I just loved that. I loved hearing their story. This is the music of their summer.
It’s cool because people always lump you in with ’90s bands, but it’s like, you’re so far past that now. There are all these fans who are getting into your music now.
When people do that, they’re just dated and that means I can get out of the interview really quickly. Like, “Oh, okay, well I gotta go! Hey, I know what we should do…let’s skip this!” [laughs]
I have to ask about the RNC show that you played this summer. [At a charity concert in Cleveland, Jenkins refused to play almost all of the hits for the GOP crowd and made comments like, “Raise your hand if you believe in science.”] I loved how you handled the backlash but were you worried about losing fans?
You know, some people are not willing to step up for basic principles, at the expense of like, “Oh no, your inheritance tax might go up.” Some people, it’s just too intellectually boggling for them to understand that you could be against police brutality without being against police. Just because that’s the case, it doesn’t mean that you don’t stand up for the right thing. It doesn’t mean that you don’t be present for your values. I think that’s deplorable. And I mean, we’ve always been this way. This isn’t anything new. We’ve always been punk rock in sensibility. Not necessarily sonically, but we’ve always had a sense of fight in us. I think it would be very easy to misunderstand what that means, because people say, “Oh, you’re not punk!” But we’re actually punk as fuck and we always have been, in our way.
But I’ve also got a lot of Republican fans and I’m not in the business of hating on people. It’s more about saying what we’re about. That’s what I was afraid of in that moment: people think we’re just gonna be nice and allow ourselves to be fodder for their agenda, and it’s just like, totally wrong band. We’re never fodder for someone else’s agenda.
I know, that’s why I was surprised that people were so shocked. I guess they just didn’t know much about you, but like, what did they expect?
I know! I felt the same way.
Well, it was fun for me anyway, and it was fun when Hillary Clinton said she believed in science too [in her speech at the Democratic National Convention].
I know! So I’ve heard back now that she was actually quoting us, which is cool. She’s got a bunch of twentysomething hipsters on her staff who saw how that went viral, so it went into her speech. But they never contacted me. I’ve got no affiliation with her. Which I get, because I think we’re just a little too saucy for a political campaign.
Well you’re fighting it in your own way. Going back to a little bit earlier, I read an article last summer where you ranked your albums and you put Out of the Vein last, and Blue first. Where does We Are Drugs fall in there for you?
The whole ranking thing doesn’t work for me. But I think I’m going to have to put We Are Drugs first now, since that’s what I did most recently. The process of making We Are Drugs was the way I want to make records now. It was about completely getting rid of any preconceived notions, rulebooks, you know. No one is allowed to say, “This is not really a Third Eye Blind song.” Oh yes, it fucking is. That was the way we made this record and I just love doing that.
I noticed that “Isn’t It Pretty” sounded very different. It’s cool to hear you guys trying some new stuff.
Yeah, that song was so much fun to record. In the process of making that track, I said to everyone, “Don’t think that you have to wear some particular hat. Just be musical and start with anything from any direction that you like, and then move forward from there.” I think it started with just the beat. I had pages of lyrics and I said, “You know, this feels like ’70s, late summer sun, smoggy, heading towards twilight, urban, walking up the street…” and people were nodding their heads. And then I was like, you know, I really want to get away from the two and four backbeat. I wanted to make more room in the track. We were listening to all kinds of music, and I think you can hear Drake in there. And then I took those lyrics and I just started talking, and talking turned to song. And so it all just happened organically in a day. I really enjoyed that process. I think that I’m just trying to keep more of a focus on joy, or the happiness quotient, in making music. That’s why We Are Drugs is my favorite.
Hey, nobody wants you to be miserable to make new music, so it’s good that you’re enjoying it. Do you think having the new band members has changed your process too?
For sure. Brad’s [Hargreaves, drummer] kinda changed his role—he’s been doing more keyboards. And you know, the makeup of the band, it comes and goes, but we’ve all been relying on each other. We just toured from May of last year to September of this year, from summer to summer, and everybody was in alignment with that, that moment of making music happen. I love that and I feel like I can really rely on everybody. The way it changed for me is, it’s less like I gotta go give my Braveheart speech to everyone and go “C’mon!” It’s more like I’m just part of it.
It’s funny to see how people change. Like Alex Kopp, our keyboard player, he kinda wants to be the band leader. And I’m like, fine with me! I love it. [jokingly] “I don’t want to be the band leader! I always just wanted to be the drummer!”
Being in Third Eye Blind, we call it the circus. With both the band and crew, we have very high standards but nobody tells anybody what to do because everyone takes care of their own thing. So you’ll see us rolling through an airport and everybody knows that this is different, it’s something. We’re like this whole different entity rolling through the airport and it’s usually sorta funny and mischievous. So yeah, it’s a good time to be in the band and I feel like part of that is being focused on being happy.
Do you think you’re going to continue to do EPs like this in the future?
Well, I want to. But we’ll see what Missi, our manager, says. I mean, she wants these things earlier. But I really enjoyed the way we just did it.