It’s hard to hear the words Third Eye Blind without “do-do-do, do-do-do-doo” slowly creeping into the back of your mind.
But Stephan Jenkins’s band is much more than the catchy ’90s tune “Semi-Charmed Life.” The group has been going strong for over 20 years and just released its fifth album, Dopamine, one the lead singer believes is the band’s most stripped down to date.
To celebrate this new arrival, Third Eye Blind is spending the summer touring with Dashboard Confessional. Two bands known for their emotional music, but still with two very different sounds, they have easily found a way to make it work.
The duo is selling out shows across the country, to fans who have been there from the beginning to millennials learning about the groups for the first time. For Jenkins, the result of each concert is an energy that makes him finally feel understood in his music career.
The Third Eye Blind front man talked to PEOPLE about the joys of being back on the road (bonfires included), and why it’s always important to embrace your musical guilty pleasures.
How does it feel being back on tour?
Stephan Jenkins: Really good. Perhaps better than ever.
It’s a healthy group of people and everyone is just really positive, so it’s fun in a way that is kind of unprecedented. The people in the band are all aspirational. Everybody that played on this record [Dopamine] feels this sense of joy in it and they all want to make it happen, so they all adjust their day to make that show happen each night. We really come together around that moment.
Indie bands used to be kind of standoff-ish, or competitive, or negative, and that doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s really much more open and sharing.
What’s your favorite part of touring?
SJ: I like that gathering moment where the music is about to begin, that moment right there. It’s like jumping out of an airplane. It’s that moment when the lights go out and then you’re in it.
The other thing is the end of the night. We have a bonfire and the crew and friends hang out. It’s like the end of summer camp every night.
You still get that feeling each night?
SJ: I really do. When people come together around music, there’s something ancient going on. It has to come from a genuine place and that’s part of the challenge. You have to cultivate that authenticity everyday. That’s why we’re always running and doing push ups. We just can’t stay still for it. You have to be a bit like an athlete to do it over a long tour.
Are you partial to playing any city in particular?
SJ: I love playing Jones Beach, New York. I love that venue. It’s on the water. I like surfing; I bring a surfboard with me on tour. I went surfing before the show and I did the show with salt in my hair.
What is it like touring with Dashboard? How did the two of you guys end up touring together?
SJ: We were invited to tour together by our agent. I’m usually pretty against that, but this is good to me. I respect Chris Carrabba as a songwriter and I also respect his past. He’s got this fierce, straight edge, kind of hardcore core. There’s so many songs that people are connected to and they all came together in a kind of DIY way, which I really do respect. On the tour, we have this real sense of sharing and generosity that turned into a friendship. We’ve become friends.
Your fifth album, Dopamine, just came out. Does the process of going into the studio and writing an album ever get easier over time?
SJ: Sometimes something will come along, and it feels easy and sometimes you’ll get 85 percent there on a song and the last 15 percent will elude you for three years.
Do you feel like Dopamine is different than your past albums in any way?
SJ: I think it’s more of a stripped down album, which makes it a more confident album. I think one of the organizing principles for this record came from my drummer. Brad Hargreaves said, “Just take everything down to the most essential, the most direct path to what you’re trying to provoke.”
So, a lot of it is so much more pulsing. It’s like BOOM BOOM BOOM and it’s caused a goth-y, New Order element to show up on this record.
Is there a particular track that you feel especially strong connection to?
SJ: Not really, no. There are songs I really enjoy playing. I like playing “Say It” live because it’s a long jam, kind of like shoegaze, so I do enjoy that.
What is your fan base like after more than 20 years of making music?
SJ: There are fans who are following us on the tour and making it their summer road trip. There are fans who are 18 or 19, who graduated high school and they’re following the band. It’s just intense to see that.
There’s this kind of whole culture of millennials who find this music through each other. They weren’t even around for MTV stuff. They decide themselves what songs are important to them. When we play a song like “Wounded” or “Slow Motion,” you can see that these songs are as important to them as songs played on the radio. I like it because it keeps our music alive and that energy energizes me. It makes me feel comprehended. I think that’s what I feel the most right now on this record – I just feel understood.
What advice would you have for someone younger, like one of those 18- or 19-year-olds, that are interested in starting their own band and writing their own music?
SJ: I would say, if you’re a musician then you probably have some capacity and some intuition. You’ve got to trust that intuition and be true to what compels you. There will be a lot of things along the way that will try to remove you from that, and if you do, then I think you are diminished. If you stay with it, then you have something that’s real.
Do you have any musical guilty pleasures or any music that you are really enjoying right now?
SJ: I love Tove Lo. Yeah, I love “Talking Body.” It’s so good. And how she got away with a pop song being played on a pop radio station saying “we f––– for life” – I just don’t know how she managed that.
But you know, it’s not really guilty pleasure. It’s just pleasure. You just gotta go after things you like.