Third Eye Blind Embraces Modern Sounds Without Pandering to Mainstream Charts

Third Eye Blind
Third Eye Blind
Photo by Danny Nolan
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The United States of the late 1990s was "so innocent" in the eyes of Third Eye Blind drummer Brad Hargreaves. China hadn't joined the World Trade Organization and begun its rise to economic superpower; Russia was still sorting through the rubble of the Soviet Union; the 9/11 terror attacks hadn't yet upended U.S. culture, and America seemed to stand unchallenged on the world stage.

In retrospect, he believes it was the moment right before the bubble burst.

"It was peak America, an America we probably won't ever see again," Hargreaves says. "We have great days ahead of us, no question. But the preeminent position of America in the '90s... It was such a conflagration of different things coming together that shaped the way people think of it now and the way people think of our music."

The longtime Third Eye Blind band member recently has been thinking a lot about the '90s, back when his group's best-known hits — "Semi-Charmed Life," "Jumper," "Never Let You Go," and "How's It Going to Be" — were pervasive on the radio and used heavily in TV shows and movies. Music has a special way of connecting us to the past; we associate songs, albums, and bands with certain times in our lives. So it makes sense that Third Eye Blind's chart-topping singles would take both the band and audiences back to the late '90s, a time we tend to picture through rose-colored glasses.

"We had no worries back then," he says. "It was just a celebration."

It's possible Hargreaves is talking about his band's heyday as much as the broader culture that allowed Third Eye Blind to sell 12 million records.

In any case, he believes that his bandmate — singer and guitarist Stephan Jenkins — was wise enough to foresee darker times ahead in his lyrics. Why else describe life as merely semicharmed?

"You could peel back the curtain and hear, a little bit, 'This is great, but it's not fully charmed,' you know? It's like, wait a second — this feels good, but something's not right," he says.

Though he's prone to pondering the past just like the rest of us, Hargreaves is committed to concentrating on the present. Third Eye Blind is touring behind its sixth full-length album, Screamer, which is out via Mega Collider Records.

A new addition to the band, Colin CreeV, wrote a significant portion of the record. The anthemic "Light It Up," with its eerie yet uplifting backing track, is a good example of his electro-boosted alt-rock style. His compositions have a modern music producer's touch, though Jenkins' eternally youthful voice reminds listeners it's still Third Eye Blind.

"As soon as Stephan sings on anything, it becomes Third Eye Blind," Hargreaves says. "There's nothing you can do about it. His voice is unique and his delivery is all his own... There's no getting away from it now, 20 years in."

Speaking of blasts from decades past, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins is credited as a co-writer on "Light It Up," though he served more as an adviser than a co-author, Hargreaves clarifies. Corgan reportedly suggested adding the bridge section toward the end; in a clever reversal of expectations, the chorus never comes back around.

"Billy weighed in, and based on some of the stuff he said, we made some changes to the song," he says. "It became that big, soaring part. I don't think he wrote anything; he just said, 'You guys should do this — this song needs to go somewhere.' He's a master musician and artist, so you'd be dumb not to listen to his advice."

The final result sounds Top 40-adjacent, as though Third Eye Blind is aware of today's trends but refuses to cater directly to them.

Hargreaves is excited about playing the new material on the road. And even though he's performed the old hits thousands of times, it's hard not to get caught up in the throng of excitement that springs up when Jenkins strums the opening chords of songs like "Never Let You Go."

"The old songs have such a unifying effect on the crowd," he says. "The minute everyone hears the first few notes, everyone understands what's happening in that moment."

Third Eye Blind. 5 p.m. Sunday, November 17, at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, 5550 NW 40th St., Coconut Creek; 954-977-6700; seminolecoconutcreekcasino.com. Tickets cost $40 to $500 via ticketmaster.com.

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