Blind-sided
Publication Date: Friday Jun 6, 1997

Blind-sided

Gunn High School alum Stephan Jenkins and his band, Third Eye Blind, bust right out of the gate and hit the top of the charts with 'Semi-Charmed Life'

by Jim Harrington

It's refreshing to find that, even after one huge hit, Third Eye Blind vocalist Stephan Jenkins is still acting somewhat like a rookie rock star.

For instance, it doesn't appear that he has been at the game long enough to grow weary of the multitude of phone interviews from the media. If he has grown weary--if he finds it necessary to force his enthusiasm--then perhaps he should be an actor, not a rocker.

Jenkins comes across as likable, easy-going and friendly. He opens up and spills forth opinions, stories and other data casually, seemingly unconcerned about how the quotes will appear in print. That is unless you want to talk about his past.

Getting information from Jenkins about his boyhood and teen-age years in Palo Alto is difficult. But he does freely offer his opinion about the current state of affairs in Palo Alto--and it's not pretty.

"It's terrible what's happened to Palo Alto," said Jenkins, who laments that it is no longer the type of place where kids can roam around barefoot on their bikes. "I'm sort of blown away by the influx of cash."

Jenkins, a Southern California native who moved to Palo Alto when he was six, returns to the Peninsula on Friday, June 13, to perform with his band as part of the multi-act Live 105 B.F.D. modern music festival at the Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View.

Knowing that he's talking to his hometown paper, Jenkins still sidesteps questions about his time spent in Palo Alto the way kids dodge balls on a playground. Since Jenkins wasn't talking, we went looking.

A little archival research showed that the mysterious one was part of the Gunn High Class of 1983. Looking through his senior yearbook, it doesn't appear that Jenkins was involved in any sports, clubs or school-sponsored musical endeavors.

The only real insight comes from the space next to his senior yearbook picture. There's a Lacrosse symbol, a drawing of a guy surfing, nods to ska music and the Police (the band, it's safe to assume, not the badge-carriers), as well as the slogan: "Success--all it takes is all you've got."

That may not be enough information to quench the curiosity of Jenkins' rapidly increasing fan base. Still, if you want to gain more insight into the vocalist's Palo Alto days, all you need to do is listen to the band's recently-released, self-titled debut.

"A lot of the record is actually written about people in Palo Alto," Jenkins admitted during an interview.

And so when record buyers are singing along with the lyrics, they are, at times, actually singing about Palo Altans. They are singing about real characters such as two particular sisters, who shall remain nameless, that attended Gunn with Jenkins.

"They were big influences on me," Jenkins said of the two sisters.

Whatever the influences are--they are working. Third Eye Blind (3EB) is a hit. In three weeks, the San Francisco-based quartet's debut has been selling as many as 16,000 copies a week. The album's catchy single, "Semi-Charmed Life," has spent four consecutive weeks as the most played song on alternative radio. And, perhaps most importantly, radio stations are now playing a number of other different tracks from the album.

"It shows we are dealing with a whole album," said Brian S. Gross, a publicist with Elektra Records, 3EB's label. "We are not just dealing with one song."

No they are not. The most surprising aspect about "Third Eye Blind" is its consistency. From the grinding guitar and bouncy vocals on the opener "Losing A Whole Year," the pop-filled "Semi-Charmed Life" and the pretty, acoustic guitar-driven "Jumper" to the full-fledge rocker "London" and the griping lyrics on the slow closing songs "Motorcycle Drive By" and "God Of Wine," there are simply no throwaway tracks on the album.

That's a very refreshing change in these days of one-good-song-per-disc alternative rock bands. One-hit wonders are so prevalent that any time a new band scores a lot of radio play with its first offering, it is--usually safely--thought that is all the band has to offer.

"Semi-Charmed Life" has been such a phenomenon that 3EB has already come across people that assume--at least until they listen to the whole album--that the band is destined to be a quick flash-in-the-pan. Jenkins says he's not concerned. He believes the band--and the album--are built to last.

"It's just what people think. And we have never thought that way about us. We've never thought that 'Semi-Charmed' was the big song on the album," he said. "I don't have any anxieties about us being a one-hit band."

If you really press him, Jenkins will tell you that his three favorite songs on the album are "Narcolepsy," "God of Wine" and "I Want You"--but he does so begrudgingly.

"I really like them all. These songs are our little babies," he said. "We put 14 songs on this (one) record because we couldn't make a double album. We had no intention of putting any filler on this album."

Prior to signing a contract with Elektra--in what the San Francisco Weekly reported was the single largest new-band contract ever generated out of the Bay Area--3EB had already played several high-profile gigs. The band grabbed coveted opening slots for the Bay Area's own Counting Crows at the Fillmore and for British-rockers Oasis at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. (They also opened for Heavy Into Jeff at an Earthwise Productions show at the Cub, a.k.a. Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto, back in early 1995.)

The Oasis gig is the most notorious. The band's task was simple, just warm up 8,000 die-hard Oasis fans. The legend goes that the band was warned that, like English soccer fans, the crowd might throw objects at them. But instead of just serving as target practice, the band won the crowd over big time. Brit-pop fans crowd surfed and even called the local heros back for an (gasp) encore. In a cover story on 3EB, BAM magazine reported that Jenkins and the boys were so impressive at the Oasis show that they were paid double their original fee agreement for performing.

Third Eye Blind has even struck up a friendly rivalry with the infamously disagreeable Oasis boys. This is not the type of ruthless--and ridiculous--name-calling affair that Oasis has with fellow Brit-poppers Blur. It's more like barroom bravado.

"It's sort of our soccer team is better than their soccer team," Jenkins reasons. "There is no rift between Oasis and Third Eye Blind."

After the Shoreline gig, the San Francisco rockers will meet the British wankers again at yet another mega-radio show for the powerful KROQ in Los Angeles. When asked if he is looking forward to seeing Oasis again, Jenkins can barely contain his enthusiasm.

"You bet I am. I can't wait," laughed Jenkins, reserving special attention for the notoriously troublesome Oasis lead singer Liam Gallagher. "I'm going to pick Liam up and spin him around."

The L.A. stop is the last in what has been a successful, seven-week headlining tour that wasn't even supposed to happen. The national trek was supposed to feature 3EB in an opening slot for the more-established British band, James. When James pulled out, the tour continued anyway. And so the band is selling out venues in cities like New York. Third Eye Blind is simply making the best out of what is potentially a very stressful situation.

"The mantle of headlining has just been thrust on us in this very early stage in our career," he admits.

Playing live is the fun part. What's scary, Jenkins says, is having to completely open himself up in the songwriting process to find lyrics that ring true for millions of listeners. Coming up with a song like "Motorcycle Drive By," with the plaintive cry "And there's things I'd like to do that/You don't believe in/I would like to build something/You know it's never going to happen," doesn't put Jenkins in the safest of places.

"That is me, unsheathed and open for judgment," he states. "And it's a position that not many people find themselves in."

Not many people find themselves on stage in front of hordes of screaming teen-agers either, but that aspect of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle doesn't seem to bother Jenkins at all.

"The great thing about playing live is that I have no fear at all," he said. "That's a great feeling."

What: Live 105 B.F.D. modern music festival, featuring Third Eye Blind, the Cure, Blur, Social Distortion, Echo and the Bunnymen, Erasure, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Space, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and more.

When: 3 p.m. Friday, June 13

Where: Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View

How much: $15

Information: (408) 998-BASS 

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