Third Eye Blind's Stephan Jenkins Wants People to 'Lighten the F--- Up' After Disruptive GOP Gig
In an interview with Billboard, the singer defends confronting convention-goers about climate change & gays.
This week, two men drew international congratulations (and local ire) for trolling the Republican National Convention. One was, of course, Ted Cruz, who drew catcalls when it became clear he wasn’t going to endorse Donald Trump during his RNC speech on Wednesday. The other boo-ee had not been on anyone's political radar: Stephan Jenkins, lead singer of Third Eye Blind, created a firestorm by using a private Cleveland charity gig aimed at convention-goers on Tuesday night as a platform to express his distaste for the GOP agenda.
Jenkins immediately became a hero to liberals impressed that he’d had the nerve to give Republican delegates and guests a piece of his mind and a pariah to those who argued that he’d embarrassed the host organization (the RIAA) and the designated charity (Musicians On Call) by angering some of the attendees at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum gig.
The singer spoke to Billboard on Friday (July 22) about the rationale behind stirring up controversy with Third Eye Blind’s not-just-semi-contentious show.
During your show Tuesday, you specifically brought up gay issues, then referred to belief in science, implying that might be a problem for some of the people there. Was there any single part of the Republican platform or agenda you felt most compelled to address?
Not one mention of global climate change, much less our plan for American leadership in combating it, is policy by omission.
Four years ago you wrote a commentary for Huffington Post about why you had turned down a convention gig. At the time, you even wrote that “if I came to their convention, I would Occupy their convention.” Do you feel like anybody should have known what your attitude was likely to be coming to Cleveland in 2016, based on that essay?
Oh, they did. We’ve always felt we’ve had the support of the RIAA and Musicians On Call. They know that we are artists, not entertainers. We support them as well. Thank you for remembering my HuffPost article from four years ago, by the way.
But when you were asked to do a gig during the convention back then, did you think at all about accepting it, so that you could present this same kind of stance? What changed over the last four years that you decided to go for it this time?
I suspect there may be a misunderstanding here. This was not an RNC gig; that we would not do. This was a benefit for a charity that we support.
Right. And virtually all of these gigs in Cleveland have been billed as charity shows unconnected with the RNC. The acts that do them generally claim that they are not endorsing the Republican Party or its candidates, even though most of the audience is made up of delegates or people somehow associated with the party. Do you think that saying the shows are unaffiliated with the RNC provides too much cover for the acts that take them? It seems like some of the performers do realize that, in doing them, they come off as being down with the Republicans, unless they explicitly state otherwise, as you did.
Yes. I believe if your message is being co-opted for somebody else’s purpose, it’s incumbent on you to state your terms. That said, I think most of the events were, in fact, sanctioned RNC parties. I was assured this was not. I still have my doubts that this was a good idea to do just by virtue of proximity, but we sure did get a lot of press for Musicians On Call. Huzzah!
Did you follow the reactions online? There’s been a huge amount of both pro and con, which you must have expected.
Oh, we were quite surprised. Readers in Thailand want to know!
The biggest criticism from the people knocking you on social media was that you shouldn’t have done this when there was a charity involved -- that you potentially ruined things for an innocent charity that wasn’t affiliated with the RNC. How do you feel hearing someone lob that charge?
How do I feel? Hmm... bemused? Perplexed, perhaps? We pointed out one fact -- that the GOP platform still seeks to make a whole group of American citizens, including my cousin, less -- and asked one question: “Who here believes in science?” The objections were not from our charity, but from convention believers. Aren’t those guys supposed to be the straight-talk, tell-it-like-it-is, poo-poo-on-political-correctness, brutally honest, etc., types? We weren’t vituperative, so how 'bout everybody lighten the f--- up? We played great, and the best byproduct is that Musicians On Call is getting the press it deserves. And one more thing: This was a private charity event that otherwise wouldn’t have gotten any notice had we not spoken up.
Do you think it has any effect on fans who are Republicans -- yours or anyone else’s -- when they find out that an artist they like or revere is highly critical of what they stand for politically? Do you think it gives them any pause, or are people just too entrenched in their views to be affected even by their favorite artists?
The Republican fans we talk to have the same problems with that platform we do. It's been shanghaied by a bunch of grifters and cavemen. We had a massive gathering at Bonnaroo a few weeks ago. It being Tennessee, probably a third of our audience was Republican, and it’s the kind of coming together of people that we live for. Like I said, we have Republican friends, parents, fans and even a Trump-supporting crew member, bless his soul. And we love 'em all. It’s the platform with which we take issue.
Is it safe to say you’d do it again?
No. I’m interested in the gathering moment that music brings and have no desire to preach at people. In the instance we were in, I believe we needed to confirm our ground, because when we play, that’s what it is. That’s Punk Rock Ethos 101. The RIAA and Musicians On Call know this full well.
Are you surprised that other bands that may share your same convictions don’t address them, given a similar platform?
Interesting question. In my case, I would be more afraid not to speak when I think it’s called for. But I’m not trying to opine on the convictions of fellow artists. I just want to bear witness to their jams.