Although often lumped into the post-grunge category, Third Eye Blind sported a brighter sound than many of their late-'90s peers, taking as much influence from classic pop/rock traditions as the angst-ridden music that dominated the decade. The group scored its first hit in 1997, when the debut single "Semi-Charmed Life" cracked the Top 10. Third Eye Blind built upon that success throughout the following three years, releasing a number of singles (three of which cracked the Top 10) while touring with the likes of U2 and Oasis. After taking a break during the early 2000s, the band returned in 2009 with its fourth studio album, Ursa Major.
Third Eye Blind hails from San Francisco, where singer Stephan Jenkins made his name as a solo musician after earning an English degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Jenkins soon decided to piece a band together. After several lineups failed to gel, former Fungo Mungo bassist Arion Salazar joined the group, which Jenkins had named Third Eye Blind (in reference to the metaphysical concept of a mind's eye). At one of the band's early shows, guitarist Kevin Cadogan -- a former student of Joe Satriani who later became involved in the northern California ska and punk scenes -- introduced himself to Jenkins. Cadogan subsequently joined Third Eye Blind in late 1995, bringing along former Counting Crows drummer Brad Hargreaves, as well.
As Third Eye Blind worked on cementing its sound, Jenkins began earning major-label attention through his production of the Braids' cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," which became an international hit. He signed a publishing deal shortly afterward, reported to be the largest such deal ever presented to an unreleased artist. Meanwhile, Third Eye Blind cultivated a dedicated fan base by playing the Bay Area frequently, and the group's original 14-song demo attracted attention from major labels. The buzz was continuing to build when the musicians finagled their way into a prized opening slot for Oasis' April 1996 concert at the Civic Auditorium. The group was still unsigned at the time, but following their well-received performance (which included an encore -- a rare opportunity for an opening band), Third Eye Blind became the subject of a bidding war.
The band eventually signed with Elektra/Asylum, a label that afforded them a considerable degree of artistic freedom. Jenkins was tapped as the band's producer and received a production deal to help develop new groups, but his top priority remained with Third Eye Blind. With Jenkins handling production studies, the band recorded their eponymous debut in San Francisco with the assistance of Eric Valentine, an engineer who had also worked on their early demos. The self-titled Third Eye Blind was released in the spring of 1997; by that summer, the introductory single "Semi-Charmed Life" had become a chart-topping modern rock hit. Spawning several more successful singles (including "How's It Going to Be" and "Jumper"), the album broke into the Billboard Top 200 and remained there for over a year, establishing Third Eye Blind as one of the most popular bands of the late '90s.
Blue followed in 1999 and sold 150,000 copies within a month of its release. Although fans heralded it as the band's strongest album, only one song -- the sprightly "Never Let You Go" -- matched the success of the band's past singles. Tours across the globe followed throughout 2000, but by the time 2001 rolled around, the band had lost a crucial member (guitarist Cadogan, who co-wrote much of the band's material before exiting the lineup) and opted for some time off. Tony Fredianelli soon climbed aboard as the band's replacement guitarist, and Third Eye Blind turned its attention to several charity events. They played shows in support of the Tiger Woods Foundation and helped organize Breathe, a performance that promoted breast cancer awareness.
By 2003, Third Eye Blind resumed their schedule with the release of Out of the Vein. The record suffered from poor marketing, due in part to Elektra's merger with Atlantic, and Out of the Vein ultimately failed to ignite the same commercial sparks as its predecessor. Nonetheless, the band returned to the drawing board that same year, although Jenkins' lengthy battle with writer's block prolonged the release of a new album for six years. In the interim, a best-of compilation entitled A Collection appeared in 2006, and the band continued to tour in support of their past releases. Third Eye Blind's long-awaited fourth album, Ursa Major, was issued in 2009, preceded one year earlier by the digital EP Red Star.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine