It’s a little hard to overstate just how massive Third Eye Blind’s debut was when it appeared twenty-three years ago this March. The self-titled album produced five singles, each more inescapable than the last, and three of which (“Jumper,” “How’s It Going to Be,” and the era-defining “Semi-Charmed Life”) cracked Billboard’s top 10. In an era before streaming, Third Eye Blind spent more than one hundred consecutive weeks on the Billboard Top 200, ultimately going platinum six times.
With one sextuple-platinum album to their name, most musicians would be content to lay back and collect their royalties. But in the years since Third Eye Blind’s gargantuan debu — and, in particular, recently — the San Francisco group led by singer Stephan Jenkins has proven to be willing to work hard to remain relevant. In the last year alone, the band released a new album (2019’s surprisingly inspired Screamer), a podcast (Pod of Wine), toured with Jimmy Eat World, and collaborated on a music video with Bay Area trans skate icon Cher Stauberry. The song, “Ways,” Jenkins says was inspired by an evening watching the skaters at SOMA West Skate Park.
“The sun was going down and there was this chick, and she was trying to land something over and over and over again,” Jenkins says from his home in the Mission. “That yearning to do this one move on the concrete was so compelling, just that driving energy she had.”
With its syrup-thick rhythm and chorus lyric of “that’s my shit,” “Ways” is a late-career highlight — one that somehow overcomes the absurdity of it’s other chorus lyric “I’m a California rude boy,” and manages to stick the landing.
When the Bay Area entered lockdown this March, Third Eye Blind were poised to begin a tour with emo band Saves the Day. When that tour was postponed until June (and is likely now to be postponed again), the band instead recorded and released So Alone, So Alive, a benefit EP for Crew Nation, Live Nation’s relief fund for touring crews.
“I was glad to do it,” Jenkins says. “Those guys tour because they love it, but the whole job is tour-to-tour. There’s no stability, even though their skills are so particular, and they’re so good.”
The EP, which was released in both audio and video formats, was performed and recorded simultaneously at each member’s home, almost like a real show. It’s a little loose, and the tones don’t always match up to the records (“what are you playing on, cardboard?” Jenkins asks drummer Brad Hargreaves at one point), but it still sounds like a band playing live. No small feat, these days.
“I hadn’t seen those guys in a long time, so it was super spirited when we played,” Jenkins says. “Even though we were playing on shitty sounding instruments I think it sounds really good, just because we were so pumped to play.”
Since mid-March, Jenkins has also been livestreaming weekly “Quarantine Kitchen Sessions” on Tuesdays, where he performs requests, mixes cocktails, and more or less hangs out.
“I’m kind of just holding space with people while they’re keeping in place,” Jenkins says. “There’s a kind of public service element to it. Often though, when I get asked to play something I have no idea how to play it because I don’t usually play it on guitar.”
This week, Jenkins says he’ll be playing some of the band’s more recent songs, as well as a number of lullabies for the babies of first responders.
“I’m fucking stoked to sing lullabies,” he says.
But the Kitchen Sessions won’t last much longer. Twenty-three years after his band’s debut, Jenkins remains restless, already thinking about the next album, the next tour, and whatever comes after lockdown. Of one thing, he’s sure: there’s going to be a lot of people who need to blow off a lot of steam.
“If you ever wanted to get drunk and grind up against somebody at a bar, just wait until this is over,” he says, “because it’s going to pop off.”
Catch the next Quarantine Kitchen Session live this coming Tuesday on Third Eye Blind’s Instagram.