Going strong for over two decades, Third Eye Blind has broken their own attendance records with 2019’s Summer Gods tour, with Jimmy Eat World and Ra Ra Riot. (Third Eye Blind has offset the tour’s carbon footprint by donating a portion of each ticket sold to a US-based carbon offset project managed by ClimeCo.)
The follow up to 2018’s EP Thanks for Everything, Screamer finds Third Eye Blind collaborating with Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells (“Screamer”), Ryan Olson of Marijuana Death Squad and Poliça (“Who Am I” and “Got So High”), and the album’s musical consigliere, Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan.
We caught up with frontman Stephan Jenkins to chat about their long-overdue return to Montreal, collaborations and what their name really means.
MR: So where are you right now?
SJ: I’m in Austin, we just played ACL, we had a huge crowd, we had at least 50,000 at our show. The field was empty, and then we played and it just filled! That is kind of a rare and effusive feeling to have when you see that.
MR: I’ve always wanted to go to that festival, it looks amazing!
SJ: It is cool, it’s really well run. We are playing both weekends, and we’re gonna be here all week. When I’m done with this interview I’m gonna head off with the band to a studio and work on stuff for a European tour, and also for Canada…
MR: Oh, you said the magic word, Canada! Are there plans to come back to Montreal? I was trying to find out when the last time you came here was. The most recent I could find was in 2000?
SJ: Yeah, we’re coming back! We have a date for Montreal planned, I’m not sure what it is but I’m looking forward to it! It’s cool, I like Montreal, I feel like it’s a unique city, it’s probably the most European-vibe city. It has kind of a small eclectic vibe to it; San Francisco is comparable as well, but I think there’s something singular and special about Montreal.
MR: Yeah its definitely unique! Do you have any specific memories of playing here with Third Eye Blind?
SJ: Yeah! We went into this pub, and they were like “we’re not f**kin’ around, you are gonna speak French in here!” So I’m like “OK that’s fine, I’ll speak some French!!!”
MR: And you can speak French?
SJ: I mean, I had 2 semesters of French in High School, you know? “Je voudrais une autre biere, s’il vous plait?”
MR: Nice, that’s all you really need to know, you’re fine then! Obviously the next time you visit will be in support of your new record Screamer. I’ve been able to listen to that actually…
SJ: Oh, you have? Great!
MR: It’s a fascinating listen, I noticed a whole different set of influences and sounds compared to your self-titled record which I listened to today for a bit of context and comparison. I noticed in Screamer there’s some definite screamo in those harmonies, and on The Kids Are Coming it sounds quite synthy…
SJ: RIGHT! YOU’RE THE FIRST ONE TO SAY IT! THERE’S F**CKING SCREAMO IN SCREAMER! And I never thought of that! What’s really funny is that my new keyboard player, who I wrote the song Screamer with, he was in screamo stuff… that’s hilarious! And I never thought of that! Now I’m like “oh my god, has my band been infected with screamo?!”
MR: Yeah it’s adopted now!
SJ: ARGH, It’s terrible! But you know, I really like the band Nothing, its straight-up screamcore, but there’s so much of it that it becomes sorta beautiful, because it’s just like pure distortion throughout, and I actually kinda like that part. But yeah, that never occurred to me, OK… it’s fascinating to hear your thoughts on the record!
MR: Yeah I have a regular office job so I was sat 9-5 with it in my ears all day, going round and round taking it all in, it was quite enlightening. 2X Tigers sounded almost contemporary urban hip-hop!
SJ: It was! OK, you’re on the money, you’re getting all the references, even the ones I hadn’t thought of! That’s the first song I actually wrote and recorded at the same time. I was in the studio in Barbados or something, in this really beautiful studio, just making some tracks, and things weren’t going well. I felt like the band wanted to be out by the pool or the ocean, more than they wanted to be in the studio, so I was like “OK you guys, get outta here!” So I kinda kicked everybody out. So I was in the studio with Brian and we’re just sitting there, and he asks “what are you into right now, what’s appealing to you?” And I’m like, “man, I like trap music!” So we made a trap beat, built a 4-bar loop, and I was just spitting ideas for like, 25 minutes. Sometimes I’d sing something I really like, Iike “don’t think, tick tick, I’m a time bomb, I’m exploding right now, you got the time wrong,” and I go YIPPEE! I kinda laughed because I thought it was so dope and I got so excited that I thought of that rhyme and landed it on the first try!
MR: So you were literally just making it up as you went along??
SJ: That’s what to expect, it is a freestyle about the state of things, it was written during the women’s march and I was so enflamed, thinking we weren’t gonna get outta this without a fight. It’s part of this call for passion and feminism and collective idealism, but also, action, you know? Raise your voice and be loud! I think in these really utopian times it does bring out something good in people as well.
MR: Thanks for the back story, there’s definitely a lot going on with this record! This is the first time you’ve worked with outside artists for collaborations. What was the reason for doing that now?
SJ: There’s this image that got stuck in my head, from Jack White. He said “I really like it when everybody takes off their hats – you’re not wearing the engineer hat, the guitar-player hat, the producer hat, or anything else. You just open up the room and let God come in!” And there was something else someone said, that no matter what we do, it’ll sound like Third Eye Blind. So I thought, I just wanna have an open-door policy on this record. I’m still the producer, I’m still putting it into its shape, so there’s really no harm, that it will dilute my message or anything.
MR: Do you think having all these collaborations opened it to all those different sounds, or did you always envisage that your next record would sound so diverse?
SJ: For sure. Without that really wide set, there’s a kind of spaciousness and chaos that comes from Colin’s contribution to the production on the song Screamer, that is something that I wouldn’t have done, but I’m happy to be part of that, enhancing that idea.
MR: I guess it’s all part of the evolution.
SJ: Yeah, and you know, we put two versions of the song Who Am I onto the record. One of them is a classic “me” song, sitting on the edge of the bed moping; some of my songs sound kinda late-night-in-a-dreary-kitchen! But we couldn’t get it to lay down, so we got some help on that, and it just totally came together. The acoustic version is my version of the track, that’s the one at the end.
MR: How long did it take to record the whole thing?
SJ: The bulk of it was recorded in about 2 weeks, at Sonic Ranch, a studio in Texas. It’s actually on a working pecan farm, and these Mexican ladies come up and make taco’s, it’s delicious! And that’s kinda what you need! You just focus on music, and it’s an amazing studio, up there in the middle of agriculture near the Mexican border; pretty cool. We tracked some of the songs in various different spots. I didn’t finish the vocal until the opening day of the Summer Gods tour for this album! We had sold out the Greek Theatre in Hollywood, and I was a mile-and-a-half away at a recording studio finishing a vocal! Finished that, sound checked, did the show!
MR: Wow, yeah I went to the Greek Theatre with my wife once, it’s one of the nicest venues I’ve ever seen! There’s a song on the new album, Ways; who is that a duet with, who’s doing the vocals with you on that one?
SJ: That’s Carlie Hanson, she’s this really feisty singer from Wisconsin. That was actually the last thing I put on the record, her vocal! Ways was just missing something; it sounded good but it shouldn’t be just me singing it. There needs to be somebody else. I was thinking about Brodie from The Distillers; it turns out she’s a fan, and I love that ‘cos I love her, I love The Distillers, I love her voice. It’s just murderous! She wasn’t there, and I thought, “we need somebody, they have to be here!” And I was with Mitch Allen, and he says “how about…”, and anyway, we did it, and there she is!
MR: Yeah I was trying to figure it out, I couldn’t tell if it was Alexis Krauss or K. Flay…
SJ: Yeah I always like to do some duets, K. Flay did one with us on a previous record, we’ve done several duets over time. Alexis Krauss… I was doing the vocals for Screamer, and I was screaming it myself, and Colin asked me “what do you want it to sound like?” So I’m like, “I want it to sound like Alexis from Sleight Bells if she was leading a group of Japanese cheerleaders!” And he says “well why don’t you call her man?!” And I was all “oh my god…”, I went all fan-boy, “I can’t call her!” But we did it through our agents, she was super-cool, and we did a video together, you can see that, that’s out now. We totally became friends. We almost got to do a tour together, I know we’ll do a tour together one day.
MR: That would be a fun tour!
SJ: Yeah, I love her so much! She was gonna just do that first part on Screamer, but I said: “let’s just make this a straight-up duet, come on, sing the whole thing!” Screamer has this immediacy, there’s all these different currents going on with this record. It can inspire escapism; we need escapism. Music can be refuge, clothes can be refuge, but there’s another aspect, that it can also ignite you. It can bring a different kinda passion, a different kinda joy. And part of it, I see a new zeitgeist in women, being part of politics, about their sexuality, their voice and their bodies, and it’s inspiring, but its also up against judgement, and part of Screamer is saying “this is ours, and it’s part of what we are, and what we are protecting.” And it all kinda combines into one thing, you know? Alexis is a screamer, I’m a screamer. It’s kinda punk! Well, I gotta go to the studio man…
MR: Perfect! Oh wait, can I ask you one more question, please, that I’ve always wanted to ask…
MR: What does ‘Third Eye Blind’ actually mean? I can never find a definitive answer when I look it up…
SJ: It’s about poking spiritualism in the eye, like *doink*! It’s kind of a smart-ass name.
MR: Thanks!!! Its seems like one of those things that’s so interpreted when you look it up on the internet, I can actually just ask you a straight-up question about it now!
SJ: I know! At the time there were bands like Camper Van Beethoven, I loved their smart-ass name, I wanted a smart-ass name like that too. It doesn’t mean anything, you know? If I had to do it all over again, I would have named it something else!
MR: It’s a bit stuck now!
SJ: Yeah, I wanted to name it Whipping Boy but it wasn’t available!
MR: Well thank you so much for taking the time to do this, much appreciated!
SJ: My pleasure, we’ll see you in Montreal, looking forward to it!
MR: I can’t wait, I’ve never been able to see you in all the time I’ve been listening so it’s one on the bucket list for sure.
SJ: I hope we don’t let you down!
Interview – Simon Williams