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Friday, February 15, 2002
Copyright Las Vegas Review-Journal

Musical Diversity

Third Eye Blind's influences range from Lou Reed to Queen

By DOUG ELFMAN
REVIEW-JOURNAL

 

Third Eye Blind's singer and sex symbol, Stephan Jenkins, is a massive Lou Reed fan, and he thinks it shows in his work. This idea might be hard for some rock fans to wrap their brains around. On the one hand, you've got Reed, the classic singer-songwriter downer of the 1970s. And on the other, there's Jenkins, the aspiring hip-hop/pop/rock poet of the late 1990s. But compare.

Reed talked-sang once: "Valium would have helped that bash. She said: `Hey babe. Take a walk on the wild side.' I said: `Hey, honey. Take a walk on the wild side.'

"And the colored girls say: `Do. Do-do. Do-do-do-do ...' "

Jenkins sang much later: "She said, 'I want something else to get me through this semi-charmed kind of life.' Do-do-do. Do-do-do-do-do ..."

" `Semi-Charmed Life' is `Take a Walk on the Wild Side,' " Jenkins says, then sings Reed's "do-do-dos."

Each song immerses itself in a "culture and gets subdued by it, and that's something that resounded within me."

Certain Lou Reed songs were "about heroin, although the band's always denied it," Jenkins says. "Semi-Charmed Life" "was about becoming a speed freak."

Other Third Eye Blind hits similarly delve into dark subjects. "Jumper": "I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend." "Losing a Whole Year" observes, "When you start talking, I hear the Prozac." And "How's It Going to Be" wonders: "How's it going to be when you don't know me? How's it going to be when you're sure I'm not there?"

Jenkins would like to meet and perform with the man who has inspired him. But so far, he has not. He has, though, sat down with Reed's wife, the avant-garde performance artist, Laurie Anderson. Jenkins confessed to her.

"I've had dinner with Laurie Anderson, and I've said, 'I've made a career out of ripping off your husband,' " Jenkins says.

Contrasting the Reed-influenced pensiveness, though, is Third Eye Blind's generous up-tempo rhythms and its layers of catchy melodies, which are descendents of the 1970s operatic rock band Queen.

"I'm always in sort of in a state between something of Lou Reed's punk rock and Queen. I want (songs) that have these complex arrangements," Jenkins says.

"These things are kind of at odds with each other. One of my favorite bands was the Sex Pistols, and the Sex Pistols were there to destroy Queen!"

As you can see, Jenkins' taste in music is all over the map. He grew up in San Francisco listening to hip-hop, a lot of Prince and also T. Rex, the "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" rock band of the 1970s.

And when he pieced together last October's Breathe, a fund-raising concert for impoverished breast-cancer fighters (his mom is a breast cancer survivor), he lined up pop-rocker Nikka Costa, rapper Lil' Kim, the hard-core Deftones and singer-songwriter goddess Liz Phair.

Phair, as it turns out, "was a fan of our band," Jenkins says excitedly, and why wouldn't he be thrilled by this news? Maybe the coolest moment of Jenkins' whole life was then dueting with Phair on her song, "(Expletive) and Run."

"Liz Phair is a musicians' musician. Everybody who wanted to play (at Breathe) wanted to play with Liz Phair. Scott Weiland was going to play. Before (he) pulled out, his prerequisite was to play with Liz Phair."

"She knew all the lyrics" to Third Eye Blind songs, Jenkins says. "She wanted to do 'Motorcycle Drive By,' but she did 'Jumper,' " instead.

As you can also see, Jenkins' life is charmed. He was one of People magazine's sexiest people of 1999, although he doesn't think he's hot. ("If you knew me, ha ha ha ha, it's not so hot.") He travels the world. He has dated beautiful starlets (Charlize Theron, Winona Ryder).

But happy as he is to reap the rewards of celebrity, he doesn't think anyone should envy the glitz he sees.

"I'm not complaining at all. I feel completely blessed, and I've had a really good time so far," he says. "There are aspects, or things, I really love about celebrity, (such as) the access to really anything. I have access to really anything. There really is that sense that all the curtains are open."

But?

"The last couple of years, I have really corrupted my soul in some way," Jenkins says. "I think luxury and glitter is a complete bore. It's just dull. And I think that being able to make records and make music part of the culture, and to tour is just the greatest thing ever. I love it, and really cherish it, and value it. So it's just something I want to keep doing. I want to keep doing it on my own terms."

What's dull about the glitz?

"I'll give you an example. I have to go to Paris as a guest. I went there to go to be a part of a fashion show, because they want celebrities in the front.

"So there I am (with other celebrities). ... And we're all sitting next to each other at this fashion show, and we're staying in a luxurious hotel. It's the best. But is this bed really more comfortable than my bed? No. Is the food better? It's foie gras, but is it better than a cheeseburger? No.

"The people (living that lifestyle), that's not really fun. Whereas, like, you know, roaring my motorcycle down North Beach is fun!

"I'm glad I get invited, but there's a sense of being remote about your own life."

Jenkins also has learned from watching other rock stars ascend and descend. For one, he he saw the pop-rock band Eve 6 turn all rock star while that band opened for Third Eye Blind a few years ago.

"It was really funny," Jenkins says of Eve 6. "The (tour) bus catching on fire and burning to the ground. A pick-up line I will never forget. A lot of girls were on tour, and one of the band members came up to a girl and goes: 'I'm a slut. What do you say?' "

Third Eye Blind has since put one of their own favorite bands on their opening band slot, an indie outfit called the Muffs, but the Muffs never broke out.

"The fans were like: 'What the (expletive) is this? Where's my hit?' "

Third Eye Blind is still pushing the Muffs. Third Eye plans to put their cover of a Muffs song, "I'm a Dick," on a to-be-released all-covers album someday. They'll also probably lay down a cover of the Police's "Next to You," and maybe a rendition of the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go," which they played at Tiger Woods' charity event here last year.

For now, though, Third Eye Blind is recording its third album of original songs. They've written about 30 tunes in a new studio the band built in their hometown of San Francisco, Jenkins says.

Many of the new songs are wrapped around complex song structures, he says, and once again the music will not fit into any contemporary radio categories, especially since modern-rock radio is "in the hands of the infidels," he says.

"I listen to alternative radio, and it sounds like .38 Special," he says. "What was alt rock has become metal rock for suburban, teen-age boys.

"No Doubt figured out not to even try to be a rock band anymore," Jenkins says. "They're playing urban-rhythm radio to have an audience.

"All I'm trying to do is record songs."