NO ONE ever accused Third Eye Blind's Stephan Jenkins of being a bad interview. Cocksure, verbose and opinionated, the 32-year-old singer-songwriter for the San Francisco-based rock quartet tends to think out loud, answering questions posed and unposed in long-winded but often quotable fashion. (The band was to appear at the Capital Countdown at MCI Center Friday, but the show was canceled Wednesday.) Jenkins recently spoke by phone about a variety of subjects, including one of his favorites -- the alternative rock press.
"It's dead," he pronounces flatly. "What's important in America is the ego of the writer. He or she has to prove they have you figured out."
If Jenkins sounds defensive, he is. After all, he says, despite enormous commercial success -- 3EB's 1998 self-titled debut album has sold 4 million copies and spawned such hits as "Semi-Charmed Life," "Jumper," "How's It Going to Be" and other radio staples -- the band was all but dismissed by the rock press, especially in the early going.
Jenkins attributes at least part of the blame to his record label, Elektra. "The record company publicity said, `We fought to get this band and we think they are going to sell a lot of records. It's a big priority for us.' Well, all of those things are the kiss of death to the alternative media. There's a mentality there that espouses a band like Pavement that's the exact opposite of those things. It allows the media to find you."
The marketing strategy, says Jenkins, wasn't just ill-conceived, it was misleading. "Our band came together without any outside help. My manager was my best friend and still is. We didn't let any outsiders tell us what to do. There's a purity with Third Eye Blind that's totally uncut."
When "Semi-Charmed Life" suddenly put the band on the pop map, Jenkins discovered that the press initially viewed 3EB as "one-hit wonders. Then we became five-hit wonders and something changed. The media began to talk to me, but our record wasn't really listened to. So you had all of these people in editorial meetings and someone would say `Third Eye Blind' and someone else would say, `Oh I don't like them.' Well, have you heard the record? `No.' "
Although the band's new album, "Blue," is garnering good reviews, Jenkins still takes a dim view of the alternative press, faulting its judgment and questioning its power. "Later on, during the first album's cycle, there was this turnaround. People discovered that we could help sell magazines. But by then, we didn't care. We actually found that being ignored was a blessing because we achieved this direct conduit to the public that wasn't filtered through media hyperbole."
"Blue" marks something of a departure for 3EB. More soulful but less catchy than its debut effort, the album was the product of an unusually collaborative studio atmosphere. Bassist Arion Salazar co-wrote two songs with Jenkins, and guitarist Kevin Cadogan and drummer Brad Hargreaves also played expanded roles.
"In the past there's been a lot of discussion that Third Eye Blind is all Stephan Jenkins," say the group's frontman. "Like I was trying to hold onto the control, but that's not really the case. There's a real joy about playing with a group of people you really respect."
Not so joyful, however, was the run-in Jenkins had with Elektra over the lyrics to the new song "Slow Motion, which now appears on "Blue" as an instrumental. The label found the song, which Jenkins describes as "anti-gun violence," more provocative than they would have liked.
"It was a big, big problem," Jenkins admits. "The compromise was that we wouldn't put the lyrics on now, but we would release a seven-song EP with it later on. The whole issue was that you have all this gun violence now and we live in a post-Columbine world. The song was written before Columbine, but it parodies gun violence in general and how consumers gobble it up."
The upshot, says Jenkins, is that fans won't have to wait another two years for the band's next release. "We're calling the EP `Black,' to go along with `Blue,' and we'll put it out as soon as we can."
Still, he adds, reaching an agreement with the label wasn't easy. "We see ourselves in the band as moral people and we're not going to second-guess ourselves. Nor am I interested in being defanged for the protection of my audience. When you look at fan reactions to the songs on the Web site, I'm amazed at how clearly the lyrics translate."
If there's one subject that Jenkins won't discuss at length with a journalist, it's his relationship with actress Charlize Theron. When the couple recently attended the VH1 Fashion Awards, Jenkins suddenly found himself thrust into the tabloid spotlight. "You won't read about me discussing a personal relationship in the media," he insists. "What's that British expression? `It's just not done.' "
THIRD EYE BLIND -- To hear a free Sound Bite from Third Eye Blind, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8125. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)
WOW, you do appreciate a good trivia quiz, don't you? Or maybe it was the swanky prize. Whatever the reason, the person in charge of checking the entries in our millennium entertainment quiz is just now recovering -- although we suspect he'll never completely be the same. A total of 935 of you took part, and there were 413 submissions with every answer correct, with the winner drawn from those.
Here are the answers:
1. The woman who in 1939 held an audience of 75,000 enthralled while singing on the steps of a particular memorial in D.C. was Marian Anderson, and she performed at the Lincoln Memorial.
2. The second question was also a two-parter. The easier part of the question was naming the group, the Beatles. The second, tougher part, was naming where they had their first ever live U.S. performance on Feb. 11, 1964. It was at the old Washington Coliseum, thus our hint to remember that this was a Washington-centric quiz. The Coliseum had different names through the years but we went with the name in use at the time of the show.
3. The official historic landmark, built in 1924, that once housed vaudeville shows and then operated as a movie theater before becoming a home to live performances is the Warner Theatre.
4. The D.C. stage that had the premiere of "The Great White Hope" with James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander before its 1968 Broadway opening is Arena Stage.
5. The steps we asked about were prominently featured in the movie "The Exorcist."
6. What do Billy Jack, Mr. Smith and the Happy Hooker have in common? They all went to Washington in the films "Billy Jack Goes to Washington," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington."
7. Rock Creek Park was officially designated a park in 1890 and is the National Park Service's largest urban park.
8. The race that was first run in 1976 and takes thousands of runners from Arlington past many D.C. sights and back to Arlington is the Marine Corps Marathon.
9. The 1998 exhibit that was so popular that it seemed as if some people would've been willing to give up an ear for admission was the van Gogh exhibit.
10. The Washington art museum that got caught up in a brouhaha about the sexually explicit nature of a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit was the Corcoran.
11. The tradition that Dolley Madison started on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol before it later moved to the White House during the Rutherford B. Hayes administration is the annual Easter Egg Roll.
12. And, finally, the site that has drawn countless groups of schoolchildren for educational boat rides and was the 1954 location of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas's much-publicized stroll is the C&O Canal.