Artist Interview: Jimmy Eat World

Posted: by The Editor

There are bands that live within your subconscious if you’ve been fortunate enough to have one whose presence has prevailed through self discovery, radio airplay, coming of age movie soundtracks, or the most revelatory moments in sentimental TV shows. Like a familiar friend or confidant who has been with you for years at a time, the most significant bands of your life leave you with an undeniable first impression long before it ever begins to make sense. They’re the ones you hold closest to your heart because there’s something about their songs that feels truer to you than anything else in the world. For the last thirty years, whether you’ve stayed with them through the years or one particular era, Jimmy Eat World have been that band continuously making sincerely captivating music as one of the most honest and definitive rock bands of our time and I spoke with Jim Adkins about the key to longevity behind their ongoing career. 

The story of Jimmy Eat World is one of luck, daring, and an undying desire to stay the course. The Phoenix, Arizona, group who formed in 1993 have gone from skate punk to emo/post-hardcore to anthemic power pop with original founding members Jim Adkins, Zach Lind, and Tom Linton, along with Rick Burch who joined in 1995. Before they became known as the rock band they are today, Jimmy Eat World began as a punk rock band with Linton singing as the lead vocalist. After a demo in 1993, their One, Two, Three, Four EP, and a self-titled album in 1994, they quickly garnered interest from major label Capitol Records as their sound evolved and took on post-hardcore/emo leanings inspired by their peers in bands like Sense Field and Christie Front Drive. In 1996, they made their major label debut with the more aggressive but melodic Static Prevails that saw both Linton and Adkins sharing vocal duties and marked the first time the band began working with producer Mark Trombino. Within the next couple of years, Jimmy Eat World’s identity as a band shifted as Adkins stepped into lead vocals and they wrote their third album Clarity. Released in 1999 Clarity not only defied expectations, but boldly delivered one of the most beautifully poignant emo albums of all time. At the time of its release however, the album was considered a commercial failure and caused the band to be dropped by Capitol Records. Fortunately, this wasn’t where it ended for their career as a band. Undaunted and in hindsight unstoppable, they would go on to fund their next album themselves and two years later, Bleed American swung Jimmy Eat World into mainstream success with hit single “The Middle.”

Known for cultivating melodic guitar driven alternative rock with emotionally invigorating lyrics, Jimmy Eat World have remained as impassioned as ever in creating hopeful yet introspective and energetic music in their 30th year as a band. “It comes down to working on what you’re excited about and letting that guide wherever your effort goes. Whatever you’re excited about is going to change over time because you as a person are gonna change over time, but I think the more often you let yourself change, the more you’re going to discover your own process along the way and learn about what your strengths are and how to solve puzzles that may arise in the future. That’s at least what I’ve been doing and it seems to be working because I’m still here,” Adkins expresses.

Releasing an album every few years, Jimmy Eat World have continually progressed without ever having to pull the proverbial plug. Prioritizing the enjoyment of what they do and never losing sight of that has largely contributed to their ability to maintain the band. A truly impressive feat when looking at the scope and influence of Jimmy Eat World over the last three decades. “When you put where the music comes from as the priority to protect, it makes continuing to work together easier. It’s supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to enjoy this. There’s a big sacrifice that goes into doing this and if it’s not rewarding, then you’re not gonna make it. I think we’ve done a good job about keeping our perspective on keeping this fun,” Adkins emphasizes. “Sometimes you can fall into the trap of things you think you should be doing, because you’re a band or whatever and this is what ‘professional bands’ do or this is what ‘successful bands’ do and in doing that you might compromise that first priority of ‘this should be fun.’ It’s important to step back and kind of always analyze your choices based on what is going to be actually rewarding and sometimes it means leaving money on the table, sometimes it means not taking the thing that you think is the career advancement path, at the end of the day it should be fun,” he advises.

Over the last thirty years, the term emo and the various styles of music that have come out of that have morphed during each respective wave though Jimmy Eat World is largely considered to be one of the most accessible and recognizable bands to have come from that scene in the late ‘90s. Last year at the beginning of 2022, a flyer with almost every quintessential band of the alternative emo scene in the early – mid 2000’s made its way across all social media platforms as every former scenester speculated on the legitimacy of the festival When We Were Young which took place in Las Vegas that fall. The massive response the new annual festival continues to receive suggests emo is perhaps more popular than it ever has been before. With club events hosting Emo Nights all across the country, viral trends on social media, or emo-centric tour packages on the rise it seems the heart of what those songs mean to people still holds true. Some could say it’s fueled exclusively by nostalgia, others could say it’s a natural cycle of trends, but oftentimes those of us who grew up listening to it continue to find new meaning within those same songs and thus prolonging the lifespan of what some would consider adolescent music. “It’s just really an interesting phenomenon to see that festival blow up. When we were originally out working, touring, and meeting a lot of those other bands for the first time, no one was there,” Adkins laughs. “Nobody was around. To think about present day where we’re all at and present that to 1999 me, and us, we would laugh. We’d be on the ground laughing because it would just be the most ridiculous thing in the world to tell us. It’s incredibly flattering. It’s cause for pause,” reflects Adkins.

No matter what people choose to define as genuine emo or not, Jimmy Eat World have continued to outlast the nostalgia. Last summer when they released their single “Something Loud” it felt like a callback to songs like “A Praise Chorus” or “You Are Free” where Adkins addresses listeners and instills a spark of encouragement, but with a more mature sound that pulled from their later years. The lyrics “Do you still feel a part of something loud? Are you such a different person now?” also feels reflective of their career as Adkins comes to terms with what the past has been, and contemplates the years. “I had what I had, and goddamn, I would change not a single thing. So smile, wave, then let go,” he sings, ready as always to remain ever-present. “It’s a mixed bag of things to consider where we’ve been and where we are and people finding what we’ve been doing and taking the time to make a connection with it. It’s a lot to take in, so I felt like I should write something. That’s where ‘Something Loud’ comes from,” Adkins shares. Later that October, the band released their latest single “Place Your Debts” written in collaboration with Clark Baechle (The Faint) and Denver Dalley (Desaparecidos) which drew on their trademark sound of emotionally contemplative and expansive tracks while reflecting on regretfully losing time to a persistent fear of facing necessary growing pains. 

While Jimmy Eat World have long since crafted their own distinct sound, Adkins finds constant inspiration from new and old artists and regularly shares what he’s listening to on his Continuous Partial Attention Playlist on Spotify. “I don’t think I listen to anything without thinking a little bit about what I would do. It’s kind of a curse in a way. It’s sometimes hard just to enjoy things as they’re served. Like I always kind of dissect things and when something interesting or something I think is rad will show up, it’ll be a split second of just pure enjoyment before I switch to ‘How’d they do that? How would I do that? How would I use that? How would I use that differently? How would I use that with this other thing I’m working on?’ So I guess it kinda comes from all over the place,” he shares. When it comes to some of the most pivotal bands that helped shape Adkins’ approach to writing music early on in his career, there’s a few that come to mind. “Some big people that influenced how I approach playing and song construction would be guitar players like John Reis (Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes) and The Wedding Present as far as arrangement and devices. Their album Bizarro, Seamonsters, and The Hit Parade kind of showed up at a time that spoke to me. Guided By Voices would be another one too,” he continues. In his own creative process he has looked to Guided By Voices and followed similar choices in constructing Jimmy Eat World songs in such a way that ultimately serves the song itself. “Every idea you have can become the most realized version of what it is, but I think to force it into someplace it doesn’t want to be that’s where you run into Vahalla that you won’t be able to get out of. Sometimes it’s better to just kind of adjust your expectations or adjust how you internally frame an idea to match with what the song really wants to be,” he elaborates. 

Two years ago when shows throughout the year were still being canceled due to rising Covid cases, Jimmy Eat World took to performing a series of livestream sets known as the Phoenix Sessions where they played their latest album Surviving as well as fan favorites Clarity and Futures at the Icehouse art space in Phoenix. Each album session took audiences through an intimate cinematic experience as the band played out what are arguably some of their best live performances to date. Fans were also able to order exclusive merchandise for each show through their webstore, and were invited to interact with a quiz before each session that crafted custom Jimmy Eat World playlists for each person. Split into three separate dates between January and February of 2021, the Phoenix Sessions were eventually made available to watch on the band’s Youtube channel by December. On the sessions Adkins shares, “I guess the pandemic wasn’t all bad. We would never have had the opportunity to do those, to make those concert films if everything hadn’t happened exactly the way it did. I don’t know if we’d ever have a chance to do something like that again because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. We chose Surviving because we felt like we have no idea how long touring is going to go away, and at least this is some way to get these songs in front of people that want to see a performance of it, and Clarity and Futures seemed like fan favorite records and not the most obvious commercial success like Bleed American was. It was just us trying to give people who might be a little more deeply connected with our material something they’d be excited about.” Having the chance to revisit the albums in full allowed the band to approach some of their work in a new way, breathing new life into old songs during their performances. “Little quirks develop over time and after awhile playing something might be different than what the record does. The Phoenix Sessions were an opportunity to go back and rework things for performing in ways that we hadn’t ever really thought about before,” Adkins says. 

With their own studio space in Arizona, Jimmy Eat World aren’t necessarily as reliant on record labels as they might have been early on in their career and are able to release music at their will. “We put out ‘Something Loud’ on our own because I can be my own record label and worldwide distribution and company from my phone. I think the role of a record label now is completely different and it’s the wild west about what they can actually offer,” Adkins proclaims.  “We’re just experimenting with trying to meet people with where they’re at with how they consume music. It’s something we’ve been debating internally for a couple years now of how to release music and how do people consume music. I think even the most hardcore fan might not just dive in and listen to one album of yours, or they might, but that’s a very small portion of people who might like what we do. So the idea is let’s see if offering everybody less music, but more often translates into people giving that music a shot. People are way more likely to give a song a chance, than they are like track 9 on your 12 song album. They’ll get to that if they like what you’re doing eventually, but it takes time to develop connections with music. You need to live with it and that’s how it becomes special to you. So if you’re just placing a short amount of material in front of people it just sort of gives it a better chance of connecting. I might be all wrong on this. I don’t know, but I mean we can do whatever we want,” Adkins says frankly.

Last year saw Jimmy Eat World play a hometown show for the first time in seven years alongside fellow local pop rock artists The Maine, and Sydney Sprague, and in 2023 the Arizona natives continued to tour through Australia early in the year and just recently wrapped up their US tour with Atlanta based alternative/indie rock band Manchester Orchestra where they played career spanning sets in celebration of 30 years as a band. Beginning next year, Jimmy Eat World will be joining Fall Out Boy, The Maine, Hot Mulligan, Daisy Grenade, Games We Play, and Carr for a late winter / early spring tour between February 28th through April 6th as main support. 

While in-person events including live music have returned to normal, there’s a feeling of disquieting restlessness that has continued to linger on since the pandemic began. Adkins shares how he has personally remained grounded over these last few years by focusing on one simple thing. “Focus on savoring the good that shows up. If you’re looking for ways your life is falling apart, you’re gonna find it. You’re totally gonna find it. You know it’s like ‘Something feels off a little bit, I’m gonna search WebMD for what’s wrong.’ You’re gonna end up with terminal inoperable brain cancer every time. You’re gonna find inoperable brain cancer any time you’re looking for what’s wrong. But if you’re looking for what’s going right, if you’re looking for what you should really have gratitude for, you’re gonna find some of that, and that is enough to keep you going through the other real adversities that might be in your life,” Adkins relays to me.

In 2023, I think a lot about a band like Jimmy Eat World who have existed with me since the year after I was born. There are thousands of moments in my life where “The Middle” would suddenly greet me through the radio at the exact time that I needed a reminder to continue. There were days where the rain literally poured through the ceiling at my old job while “For Me This is Heaven” blared over the waist-high aisles filled to the brim with physical media and the spiritual cleansing that permeated the room filled us all with an unspoken understanding that this contains the thing that matters most. Smaller moments embedded in my memory remind me of when I walked alone down a bike trail in my hometown at sundown and all around me were hundreds of dandelions blown to the wind while “Night Drive” accompanied me with no one else in sight, or all the times I identified with “23” so greatly that I would come to find it could still bring me to tears hearing it live on my TV in 2021. It’s impossible for me to imagine going through life without the music that has made every moment that sticks out in my memory a little more tender and vivid, full of something like hope and the never ending act of resilience in choosing to keep living if only to hear my favorite song one more time. Jimmy Eat World to me will always be one of those bands at my core reminding me that for every bit of life that felt like survival, it has always been worth it for the music.

Jimmy Eat World Upcoming Tour Dates:

Loan Pham | @x_loanp

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