In the mid-’90s, Stephan Jenkins slept on packing foam. He lacked a bank account, a driver’s license and a steady band to backup his rock ‘n’ roll aspirations. A diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome at 27 consistently zapped his energy.
Somehow, the dire situation fueled the California native’s creativity, and eventually led to the self-titled debut album and major breakthrough of his band, Third Eye Blind.
“That record was made out of total desperation,” said Jenkins, now 52, on the phone earlier this week. “In that struggle, there is something beautiful in that if your urge is genuine, because for me, it really made me honest. What else did I have to lose?”
What Jenkins didn’t realize was how much there was to gain.
Bolstered by radio hits like “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Jumper,” the 1997 record spent more than 100 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart and is now certified six-times platinum. And beyond the numbers, it has emerged as a defining album for that era’s hook-heavy alternative rock.
The band’s new “Summer Gods” tour, which stops at Pier Six Pavilion on Sunday, is in large part a celebration of the album’s 20th anniversary. For the first time, the quintet will open their nearly two-hour set by playing “Third Eye Blind” in full, followed by a collection of more recent songs. When the tour wraps next month, the album won’t be played this way again, Jenkins said.
Hours before performing in New Orleans, Jenkins discussed his better understanding the album today, how he’s still motivated to create music and more. This interview has been edited and condensed.
What were your expectations for this tour format, and how was it to actually perform the first album in its entirety?
When I’m practicing, I play at about 4, and then with the show, I’m playing at 10, in terms of output, so that changes you. I really did feel differently. Music is about triggering feelings. That’s the point of it, and it did trigger those in me and brought in this whole different landscape that was latent, I think, in me. There’s a whole side of that record I don’t really ever play.
When you look back at writing and recording it, how would you describe that time now? Where were you as a person in his early 30s?
I had been working for years, trying to make my world around music and make my world go ‘round. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have any connections. I would put bands together and they would fall apart.
I had no fallback, and it was just as tight as it gets. I really had nothing to lose, and that’s a very rock state of mind. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think there was a ferocity and passion, and a real access to that fragility. There’s no self-pity on that record either. No one ever gives up agency, and nobody’s perfect. Nobody’s heroic in there. You put all of that together, and there is a vibrant human in there that I think came into focus for me putting this tour together.
Which song from the album means the most to you today?
“God of Wine.” It’s really about a type of woman I always find myself attracted to — the types that seem like they need saving but they don’t, that their darkness is their choice. I think that’s probably related to my relationship with my mother.
But I was involved with this girl. She was incredibly dark, but she was also completely liberated from all of these institutions and structures that I had been marching in my whole life. It was incredibly liberating to be involved with her, but it was also totally untenable and unsustainable. She was free from society, but she was also a drug addict. There’s no freedom in that. … That was the one time I sat down on the floor and put all of these things together into an orbit that spoke beyond my ability to explain it. That’s what I think a good song does, so that’s my favorite.
You have plans to record the upcoming “Summer Gods” album, and continue to tour regularly. Do you feel you still have things to prove to yourself as an artist?
Oh yeah, I really stalled out in my development somewhere around 27. There really has been little growth since then [laughs]. We feel like a young band that’s gunning for the gig, and I always feel that way. Every soundcheck, we’re writing new songs. I’m sparked by and provoked by this life that we lead, and I respond to that with music. That’s still my mindset. I don’t feel comfortable in the least. I feel hungry as [expletive].
If you go
Third Eye Blind performs Sunday at Pier Six Pavilion, 731 Eastern Ave., Inner Harbor. Silversun Pickups and Ocean Park Standoff will also perform. Show begins at 7 p.m. $45.95-$75.95. Call 703-573-7328 or go to piersixpavilion.com.