The Eyes Have it:Third Eye Blind come on Strong

Stephan Jenkins' obsession with his Triumph 955 motorcycle colors the music of Third Eye Blind's second album Blue so considerably that during the group's six months in the recording studio, it jokingly referred to the new music as "chopper rock.

"I'm crazy for motorcycles, declares the charismatic, peppery singer of the multiplatinum San Francisco band. "Anywhere you go in San Francisco is like an E-ticket ride. I've even taught my dog Boo how to ride on the gas tank. While the phrase "chopper rock" surely applies for fellow NorCal bands like the Doobie Brothers or Metallica, it's also a pretty apt description for the hard-charging, elegantly-classic rock 'n' roll of Blue, the follow-up to Third Eye Blind's 1997, self-titled, quintuple-platinum debut. Success, however, was never a sure thing for Jenkins. Born to an academic family, Jenkins went to the University of California at Berkeley and majored in literature. It took most of his 20s -- and a lot of the artistic squalor of the Haight-Ashbury district -- to assemble the right band. He finaly found what he was looking for in bassist Arion Salazar, drummer Brad Hargreaves, original guitarist Tony Fredianelli, who played on the band's first mega-hit, "Semi-Charmed Life," and, later on, guitarist Kevin Cadogan.

Despite an initially mixed reaction to the eponymous first album, Jenkins persevered as if on a quest, and, after touring endlessly and releasing single after single, Third Eye Blind developed a huge following, which kept the album on the Billboard charts for more than a year. Even though some critics had dismissed Third Eye Blind as one-hit wonders, Jenkins wasn't dismayed. In an earlier interview, he noted that he and his bandmates, "always thought we were special; we never thought we fit into that underground alt-rock ilk. We've felt like big rock stars since we were, like, seven.

Even now, as Fredianelli rejoins the band after Cadogan's recent departure, the new guitarist says admiringly of Jenkins: "He is not a quitter, I will say that. He refuses to stop. Until, perhaps, he gets the brass ring -- album sales and critical acclaim -- which seems ever closer to his grasp. Critics have praised Blue almost universally, and the album has been nominated for a California Music Award for Outstanding Rock Album (the band has also been nominated for six other CMA awards.)

As Jenkins had hoped, Blue hit the charts at the end of 1999 with little hoopla, and has stealthily climbed higher on the strength of its first two singles -- the punchy, appetite-whetting "Anything, and the hooky anthem "Never Let You Go. Jenkins self-produced the album, which is a glimmering-but-not-glossy homage to the multi-instrumentation of '70s classic rock. Throughout, Blue features dozens of exotic instruments -- many of which were played by Salazar.

"Arion went on this worldwide search this time so we had things like sitar, clavoline, octabar. But it's all real -- there's nothing from a can, says Jenkins. "Basically, every keyboard we play on this record could have been played by the Beatles.

When we caught up to Jenkins, he had just hired Fredianelli well, re-hired him, actually. The L.A.-born guitarist was an orginal member of 3EB, but he declined to stick with the band because he didn't want to move away from his Las Vegas home. After the group abruptly parted ways with guitarist Kevin Cadogan in January (something neither side wishes to discuss), Fredianelli was tapped -- and had to learn "Never Let You Go in less than 24 hours for a gig on The Tonight Show. Fortunately for Jay Leno and Third Eye Blind, everything worked out briliantly. It must be a testament to Tony's skills that he was able to jump on a plane and play Leno so quickly.

Stephan Jenkins: Oh, Tony's amazing. It never occurred to us to have a casting call for a new guitarist, to call up Dave Navarro on the phone. We did think about Slash for a minute (laughs). But Tony was friends with the band, part of the band's circle of people. So there wasn't any question about it. And Tony literally walked out of private life, onto a private jet and onto the set of the Leno show. And he handled it like a total pro. What does he bring to the table?

Jenkins: He has a real muscular style of playing -- a big-string, strong-fingered style -- that really gives us a kick. It's just a ball to play together. He's a big Marshall and Les Paul player; he's all about making a big sound. Will he change the basic sound of the band?

Jenkins: Not really, but I think what he does is cause us to re-evaluate what we've been doing. You can't have a guy come into a four-person band and not have it change things a bit. But we're really excited; we're already writing songs together. And he's amazing; I'm a guitarist in this band as well, and I look over at him and go, "How did you do that? Fuck!" You have a tour coming in March (the Dragons and Astronauts Tour). Are you excited about getting back on the road?

Jenkins: Totally. One thing you learn about touring is that there's a lot of magic out there. We're so excited about playing this album live. It was really made for it. Tony is adding a whole new dimension to our live show; it's gonna be crushing. Tony has a whole new guitar rig, a new set-up that has to be put together. It's not as simple as plugging everything in. But it'll be awesome. How is he on stage? He seems kind of quiet and shy.

Jenkins: (laughs) Oh, don't be fooled. He's one of those stage extroverts but in person he has the quiet of a Zen master. He has that kind of split personality. We call him The Monk and The Monkey. We're having t-shirts made that say that. How have fans responded to the lineup change?

Jenkins: Wonderful. They've really opened their arms to him. They've come up to him in person. A fan website is already being made for him called "The Four Right Chords" (after a lyric in "Semi-Charmed Life) about him and his music. People see his spark when he's on stage. He's that kind of charismatic player. What else can you tell us about Tony?

Jenkins: (laughs, points at Fredianelli) Well, for one thing he's got that Jimmy Page black magic thing going on -- that dark side to him. (Fredianelli shoots him a dirty look.) See, he's doing it right now! I think he's trying to kill me! He's always going, "Here! drink this!"

Just can't get enough? Check out...