By Selena Fragassi | For the Sun-Times
Third Eye Blind is a band that’s always known how to play its cards — in opposite hands. Since the group formed in San Francisco in 1993 they’ve had quite the “semi-charmed life,” reported recipients of one of the largest publishing deals for an unsigned band and sellers of nearly 12 million albums worldwide. The crux was often the songwriting of frontman Stephan Jenkins. Hits like “Graduate” and “How’s It Going To Be” brought an airy California chill with moody New York soul, and located the intersection of radio pop gumption with just enough post-grunge roughness.
Given their history then, it should come as no surprise that the group’s latest album, “Dopamine,” is both a hello and goodbye. Though it’s their first in six years, it’s also their last traditional LP as Jenkins looks for new ways to release music in the future.
THIRD EYE BLIND When: 7 p.m., June 26 Where: FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island, 1300 S. Lynn White Dr. Tickets: $19.50-59.50 Info: livenation.com
“Making albums is a [expletive] nightmare for me, and I don’t want to do it anymore,” he admits, shedding light on why a band 20-plus-years-old has only had five releases to itsname. To be fair, Third Eye Blind was one of the last of a generation of bands able to find success releasing music the traditional way with label support, radio promotion and the MTV machine that turned song “Jumper” into a literal anti-suicide PSA with all its airplay. That’s part of it, Jenkins say, but also, “I don’t want to keep subjecting myself to this process of storing up all these songs and figuring out the right time to put them out. I just want to share them immediately … and hopefully that means there will be a lot more music coming out and not less.”
If “Dopamine” is any indication, get ready. Songs like the glitzy retro rush of “Back to Zero,” the confessional heart burn of “Exiles” and the fresh pop impulses of “Rites Of Passage” continue Third Eye’s Blind working formula while also bringing the band into a new millennia of sounds to explore and new issues to write about. Like previous efforts, this album is rife with the theme of changes that come with the times.
It was spurred by listening to Bowie. Jenkins name-checks him on several of the tracks as he does other influences like John Coltrane, Beyoncé (look for a cover of “Mine”) and Jackson Pollack, whose “stream of consciousness and being aware of consciousness at the same time” is what Jenkins aspires to achieve in his own music. It’s something he hopes registers on a tour stop in Chicago this week, a city where, he says, “it just feels like fans comprehend me.”
One of those local fans is Chicago native and Jenkins’ friend Liz Phair, who helped him come out of the rut he was in writing “Dopamine” by routinely exchanging ideas. Another is Wilmette native K.Flay, who guests on new track “Say It” and was invited by Jenkins to open several upcoming dates, including Chicago’s. The tour also features another ’90s throwback, Dashboard Confessional, that promises to turn this summer jaunt into one epic sing-a-long.
Jenkins is mum on what the set list might present, but he hears the requests. “We have a much bigger exchange with our audience now,” he says. One look at Third Eye Blind’s Facebook page, which has more than 1 million followers, proves his point, as does a new promotion offering fans the chance to buy tickets to six shows and see the seventh free.
“It’s crazy, they really do follow us around on tour,” he says, almost puzzled himself at the longevity and popularity his band is still afforded in a new age and with a now younger audience. Enough reason to name the album, “Dopamine,” perhaps. “There’s a real sense of levity right now,” he says. “The band is happy, the crew is happy, the tour is happy and we feel really good about the new album.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.