Stephan Jenkins has a connection to Miami that goes back two decades. He mixed his first record in South Beach with a producer who worked out of a hotel, a man he describes as a "big-shouldered Jersey tough guy." To say they didn't get on is being kind.
Unhappy with the outcome of one of his tracks, Jenkins kept making the producer recall previous takes until the guy became irate. Things got heated enough for a confrontation, "toe-to-toe," Jenkins says, putting his foot down, and the producer acquiesced after arguing that "it's not even that big of a song." Fast-forward to dinner at Joe's Stone Crab, a Miami seafood landmark, where not only did the two men smooth things over, but also Jenkins played wingman to help the producer connect with a woman who would eventually become his wife.
Jenkins shares the anecdote as an example of his complex relationship with the public. Third Eye Blind is beloved by fans old and new, but it has been reported numerous times that Jenkins is notoriously difficult to work with. His infamous blowups and breakups with former bandmates are now the stuff of rock legend, with more than one ex-member suing Jenkins and Third Eye Blind for, among other things, licensing rights and tour money owed.
On this day, however, Jenkins is nothing but pleasant. He's overtly, modestly thankful to be doing this interview. Maybe the trip down memory lane has him in a good mood. Third Eye Blind is setting out to commemorate the 20th anniversary of its eponymous debut album, released in 1997, with the Summer Gods Tour this Friday at Bayfront Park Amphitheater. It's the site of the bandmates' last visit to Miami in 2015, when they toured with Dashboard Confessional. The difference this go-round is that it's all about 3EB.
For the first and only time, Jenkins says, they'll play the Third Eye Blind LP from beginning to end on each stop. It's an album that initially brought about a mixed bag of emotions for Jenkins; he was very judgmental of the work he'd done after the fact, despite all the success. Now in assessing the individual songs, he's eased off the self-criticism some.
"I'm less hard on myself than the guy who wrote them. Probably half the record I hadn't played in a long time. In me getting reacquainted with it, I see the focus of the musician who made the songs, and I'm proud of that kid."
The same day the band sets out on tour, Third Eye Blind will release a deluxe, two-disc, 20th-anniversary edition of its debut with the inclusion of two new songs, "Alright Caroline" and "Scattered." The tracks were written with the rest of the album but were never properly recorded. As the interview begins veering into talk about the pair of resuscitated songs, it becomes clear Jenkins has other things on his mind.
Apropos of nothing being discussed, Jenkins blurts out his admiration for a certain pop star at the center of a tragedy and quotes one of her songs. "Right now I'm loving on Ariana Grande and, like, solidarity. I feel like she's become a touch point for the resistance, and what does she say? 'I give zero fucks and got zero chill.' It's a universal attitude."
It's an odd and sudden digression, but it reflects some of Jenkins' louder interests outside of music. Last year, Third Eye Blind played a Republican benefit in Cleveland just outside the Republican National Convention, with the intent of voicing the band's opinion in enemy territory. They riled up the mostly Republican attendees by trolling them with calls for equality and science, anathema to current conservative ideology.
Jenkins relates another story that speaks not only to his mindset but also to those of so many people around the country, in terms of where they stand as Americans and overall decent human beings. It's another tale that begins with music, but this time it ends with his favorite act of kindness during a show.
"We played Lollapalooza last summer. It was probably the best concert we played at any festival, and that includes Coachella. The field was just packed out. It was an attendance record for that field. This is sometime after '45' — 'Asterisk 45' — was mocking a reporter for having a disability. So we're playing, and there are about 80,000 people out on the field... We see this guy pop up above the crowd in a wheelchair. He's quadriplegic, and he can move his arms a little bit. He starts crowd-surfing in his wheelchair from about a football field back, and I'm watching him as he goes. I can't believe it, but he makes it all the way to the front and never doubts. He has this big smile on his face. And he's gonna go down in the pit, but I said no, bring him up. The guys put him up onstage, and I said, 'Look how you lifted us up.' The crowd was just exalted. It was my favorite part of the festival season. I thought it was such an elegant retort to the ugliness and stupidity of this president."
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Third Eye Blind is a '90s band, but it isn't a nostalgia band. Unlike many of their contemporaries, they've remained in the limelight. Not only do they sell out shows to longtime fans, but they also consistently recruit fresh ones every year. It's more than just staying current with politics and using their position in the entertainment industry to encourage awareness and action. Jenkins' attempt to put into words this phenomenon finds him slightly flustered, grasping at a concrete explanation.
"I think something resonates with young people in my music and, honestly, it's really been helped by theft. Crime is our friend. People stream stuff and they share it as playlists, and so it stays current for them. Our fans, it's bizarre how young some of them are. It's like 17 to 30. The music is current to them; it's part of their present tense. It boggles my mind to see that.
"Why? I think that they find some kind of gathering rhythm and words that puts something into orbit for them," Jenkins says, before adding with a laugh, "That's the best I can do."
Third Eye Blind: Summer Gods Tour
7 p.m. Friday, June 9, at Bayfront Park Amphitheater, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-358-7550. Tickets cost $14.50 to $1,495.75 via livenation.com.