As Stephan Jenkins once said during an appearance on MTV, "There's beauty in the struggle to make music." And although it might seem that someone whose band has sold 8 million albums since 1997 would know little about this concept, in fact the road to success for Jenkins and his cohorts has, like the course of true love, never quite "run smooth". And it is perhaps this comparison that explains both the struggle and success that add up to Third Eye Blind. For truly the quest to confound people with their music, to find something of their own while reaching out to others represents a genuine labor of love, a labor that has gone on to reap -- to many…perhaps even Third Eye Blind themselves -- surprisingly great rewards.
Third Eye Blind was founded in San Francisco in the early 1990's by Jenkins, a Berkeley University Literature Major (and Valedictorian), who quickly became the group's driving force as singer, primary songwriter and producer. And it was, appropriately, Jenkins ambition "to be a storyteller" that initially spawned the group's musical journey. "I see music and drama and poetry as all being connected to the same idea, which is storytelling," he has said. "I think that's the thing that has always compelled me the most. There's something about a four-minute song that creates this complete world you can step into."
Converting this concept to a tangible reality, however, proved a bit more elusive -- and much less romantic -- than the idea itself. Determined to see his vision through despite this daunting discovery, Joel Selvin of the San Francisco Chronicle said Jenkins actually "rented out his room and started sleeping in the closet…living on money he stole from his roommates…and writing songs. ‘I had a moral boundary,' Jenkins said. 'I wouldn't take anything larger than a quarter.'"
Fortunately for Jenkins -- and his roommates -- fate soon intervened in the form of Detroit reggae musician, Herman Anthony Chunn. Christening themselves "Puck and Natty", Jenkins and Chunn teamed up to create a demo tape that garnered the attention of music industry veterans Clive Davis and Irving Azoff, and earned them a space on the soundtrack album for the then hit television show, "Beverly Hills, 90210." Although perhaps not the end they'd sought for their artistic union, Jenkins and Chunn nonetheless embraced the "means" the opportunity provided. "You want me to do a song for your TV show that I've never seen?" Jenkins said. "No problem. It was $7800. I bought groceries."
Despite this minor success, the Puck and Natty endeavor proved relatively short-lived and Jenkins, along with his dreams of becoming a musical storyteller, moved on. But, building on the contacts he had forged and his growing recognition as a member of San Francisco's energetic and eclectic music scene, it wasn't long before Jenkins had found new opportunities. In addition to producing other acts, including the all-girl group, The Braids (whose cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" appeared on the High School High soundtrack and quickly achieved international success), Jenkins continued writing his own songs and eventually landed what was later reported as the largest publishing deal ever for an unsigned artist. And, of course, throughout this time Jenkins remained continually in the process of forming a new band.
After experimenting with various lineups, Jenkins was performing as a solo artist when bass player Arion Salazar discovered him in 1993. Immediately recognizing in Jenkins a rare talent, Salazar has said of that meeting, "Stephan is the only person I'd met on the [San Francisco] scene who was all about the songs. It was just about the song, not the genre or style. I walked into the club and his songs just grabbed me."
In light of such a positive first impression, it's not surprising that Jenkins and Salazar soon joined forces. And with their sights set on recording a six-song demo the pair called on Tony Fredianelli, an acquaintance of Salazar's, to perform the needed guitar work for "Semi-Charmed Life", a tune re-worked from Jenkins' Puck and Natty days. The result of this effort garnered the attention of Kevin Cadogan, yet another Bay area musician, who quickly began sharing guitar duties with Fredianelli and co-writing songs with Jenkins. After Fredianelli declined an offer to tour with the band, now called Third Eye Blind, Cadogan became lead guitarist, and the group used their ever widening circle of connections to at last score their first major gig -- opening at The Fillmore in May of 1994 for the Sneetches and Counting Crows.
Again, however, a promising start was followed by what one might easily call hard times. A dispute between Jenkins and engineer David Gleeson led to a reportedly less than friendly parting of the ways, and Jenkins' confidence as a performer was already garnering a negative image with certain members of the industry and press. With regard to this it has been stated, "Even opening for some s---band at the Paradise, the guy acted like he was at the Oakland Coliseum." Jenkins' response? "So? You ought to see me at rehearsal."
To the growing fan base, however, none of the comments mattered. As Jenkins has said about Third Eye Blind's live shows, "We have a direct conduit to the people who listen to our music that's not filtered through what other people say about it. When fans see us live, they see a dedication to reinvention and spontaneity. They are part of a physically demanding event…It's that human element that comes from the spark between the band and the people. The music ignites it. It's all about us live."
And although this mutual understanding between Third Eye Blind and its audiences had by mid-1995 raised them to a top three level among San Francisco's unsigned bands, still the fates -- not to mention music industry "suits" -- managed to conspire against them. And, at an event known as Cocky Pop I, it seemed that together these might have dealt Third Eye Blind a not only swift, but perhaps also fatal, blow.
Having lost the latest of a succession of drummers shortly before the show, and with Jenkins reportedly suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the timing of an event for which record company talent scouts had been flown in from all corners of the country seemed less than perfect. Still, in their characteristic "knock 'em down" style, the band went on determined to give their best. Once onstage, however, they found themselves plagued by technical difficulties and facing a hostile crowd. The evening did not go well. One of the two additional bands also playing this gig "got signed that night," Jenkins said. The other "stomped us." In terms of the strides they'd been making within the industry, Third Eye Blind lost everything, including Jenkins' publishing deal. "The whole thing was on the verge of falling apart," Jenkins said. "It would have been a good time to quit."
But Jenkins proved one English major to whom quit truly is a four-letter-word -- and one in whose vocabulary this particular obscenity is definitely not included. As a result, rather than slinking away quietly to embark on more certain -- and arguably more respectable -- careers, he, Salazar and Cadogan simply picked themselves up and started over. They hired longtime friend Eric Gotland as manager and former jazz drummer, Brad Hargreaves, to assume percussion duties. And with the final member of their lineup at last in place Jenkins recalls that for the first time "everything clicked. We've never [since] looked for anyone else to come and change what we've got."
Armed with renewed optimism and confidence, Third Eye Blind once again brought their message and their magic to "their" people by playing a string of local gigs culminating in a November 1995 show at Berkeley's Lower Sproul Plaza. And in early 1996 they decided it was time to record a second demo and have another go at that elusive mountain called success.
numerous ups and downs they'd experienced thus far, by playing the Bay
Area frequently they had also cultivated a dedicated fan base, and
with the release of their latest demo a crescendo of positive buzz was
steadily building. In March of 1996, Third Eye Blind was asked to
headline the Fillmore sessions, and by this time they also had six
major record labels vying for the rights to their debut album. In late
March Arista President Clive Davis invited the band to do a showcase
in New York. Unfortunately, according to an article in the San
Francisco Chronicle, he got more than he bargained for when Third Eye
Blind took the stage with a piñata full of live crickets.
Still reeling from their unprecedented victory, the band learned that one of the many music industry players whose attention they had attracted was Elektra Records' president, Sylvia Rhone. As Salazar has said, at one time or another, "We got passed on by I don't know how many labels, five or six or more. We had so many so-called ‘big chances’ and each time we got rejected." But Sylvia Rhone was different. According to Rhone, she had been "haunted" by the songs on the group's demo tape and was "convinced they had hit potential". Based on this conviction, Rhone overruled the objections of her talent scouts and offered Third Eye Blind a contract, one that ultimately provided Jenkins with control over production of the band's albums, a publishing deal reported to be among the largest ever given a new artist, and a separate production agreement that would allow him to develop new acts. As Jenkins later said, "We made the deal we wanted."
And so began a new chapter in the history of Third Eye Blind. After rehearsing songs in a warehouse in San Francisco's Chinatown, the group entered the studio to create a 14-song self-titled effort, their first full-length album for the Elektra label. A work filled with dark subject matter and intense lyrical introspection, the music itself presented a converse image that provided an almost deceptively listener-friendly wrapper which defied categorization by the critics --and was ultimately given reviews that essentially ran the gamut from bad to worse.
Again, however, none of what was said seemed to matter to Third Eye Blind's already established fan base or the record-buying public. Even before the album's release, radio stations were playing its first single, "Semi-Charmed Life", and by August of 1997 -- only four months after the album had first hit stores nationwide -- the effort was certified Gold. Elektra subsequently sent the band on their first full-fledged road outing, aptly dubbed the "Put The Past Away" tour, which took them literally around the world, and earned them invitations to open for such heavy-hitters as U2 and The Rolling Stones.
Even in the midst of this unprecedented, and at times unbelievable, success, however, rumors and negative press continued to plague the band. In May 1998, a Music.com article explained Third Eye Blind's then recent break from touring as a means of settling growing unrest between Jenkins and Cadogan. And upon hitting the road again in June, Salazar and Green Day bassist, Mike Dirnt, became involved in a backstage scuffle that landed Dirnt in the hospital and sparked an extensive police investigation. Although ultimately no charges were filed in connection with the incident, it did little to dispel the negative image many seemed all too eager to attach to the members of Third Eye Blind.
Still, the fans continued to be unimpressed. By October 1998, just days before the band embarked on their "Campus Invasion Tour", Third Eye Blind was certified triple-platinum by the RIAA. And, not altogether unexpectedly, controversy (of both unwelcome and arguably invited varieties) continued to follow.
In November, while playing Siena College, a Catholic university in Loudonville, NY, Jenkins decided to make a statement with respect to the administration's decision to prohibit the organization, Lifebeat, from distributing free condoms. Dismissing the school's assertion that such an action would promote sex among the student body, Jenkins told the audience," The powers-that-be of this university believe they know what's best for you, so they've made the decision that MTV can't distribute condoms. However, I can do whatever the f--- I want, baby!" Following this pronouncement, he threw 1000 condoms from the stage. Jenkins later noted that in returning to the area just before cleanup not a single condom could be found.
Needless to say, this event did little to dispel the most negative aspects of Jenkins' growing image as an arrogant, perhaps even out-of-control rock star as purported by his ever-present detractors. Asked about this image Jenkins seems ambivalent, alternating between annoyance and resignation. "I never felt like I was part of a crowd at all," he says. "I always felt like… I was on the outside of the glass somehow. And that's what I write about, and I write for people who feel that way as well…I'm sure I'm pegged into all kinds of images. But what's really real is that we go out and we have this opportunity to kick joy with five or ten thousand people a night, and that's something I don't take for granted -- it's actually very humbling."
Armed with this philosophical attitude, not to mention a string of hit singles and a now very large and fiercely loyal fan base, the band's success continued. They wrapped up nearly two straight years of touring at the end of 1998, and began plans for a new album. Early 1999 saw their debut release certified platinum for a fourth time, brought them a second year of multiple California music awards, and offers to include their songs on various film soundtracks.
And again, struggle ensued. Shortly before the scheduled release of their second album, Blue, controversy arose over a song they'd planned to include featuring graphic lyrics to underscore an anti-violence theme. Misunderstood by Elektra executives and unequivocally deemed "too violent", it was strongly suggested that the song be cut from the album entirely. Jenkins fumed. "The song was written three years ago in part as an ironic comment on a culture that glamorizes violence and suffering. The tumult that that song has caused is a sign that we're on the right track. I think music can be a way to address issues like gun violence without being didactic."
"I believe in gun control," Jenkins later continued in an interview with Launch magazine. "Charlton [Heston] can kiss my a--. He's just the most well-spoken idiot I've ever seen in my life, and has no understanding of the Constitution of the United States. The British aren't coming, you fool."
Not surprisingly, Jenkins refused to entirely back down. Rather than cutting the song, he instead fought for -- and won -- the right to merely alter the arrangement to make it largely instrumental, with the most controversial lyrics removed and the chorus being repeated throughout the song.
That matter resolved, Blue was released in November 1999 to an expected swell of fan support, and the added surprise of grudging critical acclaim. Exploring themes that included domestic violence and unplanned pregnancy along with continued exploration of the inner workings of the animal called Man, Jane Ganahl of the San Francisco Examiner described Blue as music that "sizzles with dark sexual overtones and open-veined emotions. Earthy and haunted, it's a midnight ride through the human heart."
But the ride
for Third Eye Blind was far from over. In an attempt to quell growing
rumors of tension between Jenkins and Cadogan, and to resolve once and
for all misplaced allegations of Jenkins' tyranny within the band,
just before year end Cadogan refuted a scathing article by Joel Selvin
with a published piece of his own. In "Does Anyone Care to Read an
Expose Behind the Business Aspects of Third Eye Blind?" Cadogan said
Selvin spoke only with Jenkins' enemies and "not even his best ones at
that". He also took issue with Selvin's pronouncement, "Make no
mistake; Stephan Jenkins is Third Eye Blind." Cadogan
responded, "I find this statement particularly irresponsible since I
co-wrote ten of the songs on the first album and six on the second.
[Bassist] Arion Salazar co-wrote two on the second album and did just
as much producing as Stephan did. [Drummer] Brad Hargreaves produced
his drum tracks, and I produced my guitar. Jason Carmer, a local
producer and engineer, helped all of us with these tasks."
Unfortunately, while the rumors of Jenkins "soulless corporate owner[ship] of Third Eye Blind" eventually fizzled, those centered around the crumbling relationship between Cadogan and his bandmates could not be so easily dismissed. Finally, following a private show at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Cadogan was abruptly fired in accordance with a reportedly unanimous vote among the remaining three members. Claiming wrongful termination, Cadogan subsequently filed a lawsuit alleging fraud and breach of contract. Although the matter was indeed later dealt with in court, few details surrounding it have ever been released to the general public.
With a tour already in the works and an appearance on The Tonight Show scheduled for the next night, the band again turned to their old friend, Tony Fredianelli. Gamely accepting the challenge, it's been said that Fredianelli learned the guitar parts of "Never Let You Go" during sound check and actually played the song with the band for the first time live on the show itself. Shortly thereafter he embarked with them on the first of two tours that would run throughout almost the entire year.
Having proved with the success of Blue that the phenomenon called Third Eye Blind may not be the fluke their critics had once hoped after all, the band seemed to spend much of the time that followed its last supporting tour adjusting to this realization themselves. And, rather than using their newfound wealth and influence solely to their own advantage, while working on new material for their third album, Jenkins, Fredianelli, Salazar and Hargreaves also sought out ways of sharing their blessings with those less fortunate. With respect to these efforts Jenkins has said, "I want to do something lasting…I want to share…with other people. And one way that that happens is to use philanthropy and…you know I always noticed…this makes me feel good…you know? I enjoy it. I like it."
In 2001 the band fed this "like" by participating in numerous charity events, including concerts for The Tiger Woods Foundation and Breathe, the latter of which promotes breast cancer awareness and which Jenkins (whose mother is herself a breast cancer survivor) actively helped organize. They also turned a concert at California's Tulare County Fair into a free event following the September 11 terrorist attacks, asking only that attendees donate their refunded admission price to The Red Cross.
the band's members individually began to embark on various side
projects -- including Jenkins' exploration of a “second career” in
acting -- and worked collectively to build their own studio in San
Francisco (which was completed, and featured on TechTV, in early
2002). And, of course, they continued to not only create music, but
to bring it to their people. In December 2001 the band played the
first of several private shows in intimate settings, and in 2002
launched a full-fledged summer arena tour with the Goo Goo Dolls and
Vanessa Carlton, to give fans a first glimpse into the work they'd be
sharing on their next album. They also participated in various
television events, including a tour of Jenkins' apartment aired on MTV
Cribs, as well as performances for the Nascar Winston Cup awards
ceremony on TNT in December 2002 and Dick Clark's ‘Rockin' Eve
celebration to close out that year – at the same time ringing in one
that would become another landmark in the history of Third Eye Blind.
Still, another of those obstacles that have so long both defined and refined Third Eye Blind, as they squarely face -- and ultimately conquer -- all opposition, once more reared its ugly head in the form of mainstream radio. Embracing only one song from the album (“Blinded”), and that in arguably lukewarm fashion, again rumors began to emerge that the band was “washed up”, or that their “time” had somehow passed. And, again, Jenkins response was both sagely resigned and passionately optimistic.
“Radio is a nasty little creature”, he wrote in an October 2003 internet journal entry. “We are an alternative band and there is no format for us right now. So what. I love playing with these people and I am so looking forward to going out [again] and playing [with them]. I am grateful, as always, to you all who have found so much in our band, and hope I don't let you down. See you at the shows, and together we will rock the back yard and the big line. Cheers.”
2004 proved a much quieter year with only limited appearances, as charitable endeavors and side projects once more occupied the band’s “down time”. Jenkins became involved with “Work To Ride”, an equine-centered program for at-risk youth, while Hargreaves wrote the score for a short film and served as drummer for the band Year Long Disaster. Jenkins also co-wrote and produced Vanessa Carlton’s sophomore album, Harmonium, released in Nov., and both he and Salazar played in Carlton’s band for her 11/15 performance on The Tonight Show. And, in early 2005, they offered fans a downloadable recording of The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” as a belated Christmas gift.
brought additional TV and film appearances – including Jenkins’ roles
in an episode of MTV’s Punk’d in April, and the former teen
band Hanson’s documentary, Strong Enough to Break. Always
mindful of their connection with the fans, 3eb also performed a
limited tour schedule, the most recent shows of which have included
several new tracks being considered for the band’s fourth album. As
of this writing a title and release date for that work have yet to be
determined, a subject Jenkins touched on in a late September interview
for the Seton Hall University newspaper. “I’m trying to mix it right
now. The members of the band hate me because I’ve been so
unproductive this year it’s terrible…I’m going to try to do better
To anyone present on that night, it’s clear that the dramatic saga of Third Eye Blind continues to unfold, and fans are already sensing a buildup of anticipation as they look toward more exciting times ahead.
No wonder. For, truly, it's been a long and interesting ride so far. And in looking back over it all with the benefit of hindsight, Jenkins muses that early on, "People thought I was crazy. I probably was. I'm more quiet inside now. There's that whole thing in Western mythology that for a man to feel good he has to have gone out and slayed a dragon. To some extent, [we've] done that.
"But the journey doesn't stop. There's no sense of arrival with Third Eye Blind… In the beginning, the band was very lean and hungry and dying to be heard. Now I get pretty much everything I want, and now I have to deal with the temptations of the devil every day… [But] I think we can grow. I don't feel like [we've] arrived. That doesn't mean I'm not happily inspired by the journey."
And so the journey continues. And, more than likely, that journey will for both Third Eye Blind and their legion of loyal fans, continue to be characterized by more of the same struggle and "knock 'em down" attitude that has united them thus far -- a journey resplendent with all the ups and downs so fitting for those living a truly "semi-charmed kind of life".