Jimmy Eat World's Jim Adkins talks Coachella, record stores, 'Clarity' vs. 'Bleed American' and more
Last summer, when asked to name the best Warped Tour performance she’d ever seen, Juliet Simms of Tampa rock band Automatic Loveletter didn’t hesitate.
“Jimmy Eat World,” she said. “Seeing them was insane, back in like ’04.”
It seems odd that a band with one big hit (The Middle) and a handful of minor ones (Lucky Denver Mint, Sweetness, Pain) would go on to be held in such esteem by younger bands. But over the past 18 years, by taking their signature emo/power-pop style mainstream, Jimmy Eat World helped pave the way for young bands like Fall Out Boy, Paramore and Panic at the Disco to become superstars. Today, the Arizona foursome are seen by many as forefathers of the genre.
In 2009, the band marked the 10-year anniversary of their landmark album Clarity by playing the album in full, to rave reviews. This year they’re touring in support of 2010 disc Invented, which might be even more hummable. The tour hits the Ritz Ybor in Tampa on Feb. 2 (click here for tickets).
When we spoke by phone last week to singer Jim Adkins, we asked about the band’s catalog, his favorite record stores and fans’ newfound nostalgia for year 2000.
Last week they announced the lineup for Coachella, and you’re one of the headliners. Have you checked out the rest of the lineup?
A little bit. I know Kanye West and the Strokes are the big headliners, so that should be interesting. It’s always a pretty diverse bill. I think it’s awesome, man. It’ll be a lot of fun. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time, but just because of recording schedules (we can’t), or it seems like we’re always in Europe around that time doing stuff. It’s great that it finally works out now.
So this’ll be your first Coachella? Are you nervous about venturing into the land of the hipster?
You know, is Coachella really hipster? I mean, how hipster is Big Audio Dynamite? I don’t know if Big Audio Dynamite is even on hipsters’ radar. Usually there’s one or two big, filling, mass-appeal kind of artists, and then the rest are pretty big, pretty popular, but not on that same level. But you put them all together, and it’s kind of like the event is the headliner more than any actual lineup slot.
Jimmy Eat World is held in high regard by a lot of young Warped Tour bands. Do you get that sense when you play with younger bands?
Yeah, sometimes. I guess Bleed American, one of our more popular records, came out almost 10 years ago. So in scene years, we’re like the Doobie Brothers. People have started playing in bands and gotten successful and broken up in that time span. So I guess it’s possible that that can develop. It’s really flattering.
We have reached the point where we’re feeling nostalgic for the year 2000. That’s gotta be weird for you.
Do you think that if Jimmy Eat World had broken up after Bleed American, the band would be perceived any differently, in a nostalgic type of way?
Possibly. That’s a tough question. I don’t know if the Clarity listener would have necessarily stuck around, because if we’d left on that note, we could have been like a two-hit wonder sort of band, instead of backing it up with four more records. We’re kind of a career-oriented band.
Do you ever dip back into your catalog and play really old songs from before Clarity in your new setlists?
Sometimes. It’s really tough making setlists now, because we have so many songs. I think as a musician you’re always most excited about the newest thing you just did. But you realize that for the fans, it sucks to go see a band and they play all new stuff. Especially if they have a lot of old songs that you like. We try to mix it up every tour. We’ll have some weirdo old thing that no one thinks we’re going to play. But there’s always these new songs that we want to play, so it’s tough to get everything in.
After the Clarity tour, did you find that you were more interested or less interested in playing songs from deep in your catalog?
I think more interested. It definitely went over a lot better than I thought it was going to, the whole Clarity tour. It was nice, you know? I think we all sort of felt this way, but it was driven home that we can be this band, and there are people out there who are interested whether there’s a song on the radio or not, whether there’s a CD out or not, whether we’re the coolest band since Nirvana this week, as picked by NME. We can just do this, and as long as we continue to uphold our levels of what we expect, quality-wise, this should be okay. And we don’t necessarily have to pander to every particular imaginary listener. We can just do what we want, and it works. We can go and play a 9-minute song from Clarity that never was on the radio, right alongside the stuff that was on MTV, and it has kind of the same reaction. It was really nice to see that.
Have you talked about doing a Bleed American tour?
We might throw a party. I don’t know if we’re going to completely do a tour, per se. The Clarity tour made sense because there were three or four songs on that record that we never played out at all, and with Bleed American, I think we have played everything on that record at some point. There still are maybe four or five songs from Bleed American that we’ll regularly play in our set. So it’s not like if you’ve come to see us play in the past, you’re missing out on your Bleed American fix. But we’ll do something special on it for sure. We’re working on something special for Record Store Day in April with Bleed American.
Do you have a good record store there in Phoenix?
Yeah, there’s actually a great one called Stinkweeds that’s pretty ingrained in the scene here. There’s a local chain called Zia Records that’s bigger, but pretty good, and they actually have a decent vinyl collection — you can find stuff there that you wouldn’t think normally.
We have a record store here in Tampa that’s been around for 30 years that’s closing, Vinyl Fever. It’s a sign-of-the-times type of thing. Has that ever happened to you?
Oh yeah. There was a record store that was open for as long as I can remember called Eastside Records, right by the university here in Tempe. Pretty much, it was exactly like High Fidelity, that kind of record store. It was great for garage kind of sounding stuff. Their specialty was ’70s punk that you would never be exposed to anywhere else; ’80s punk, really cool. But they cut their store in half, basically, and sold half of it, and this past New Year’s, they closed their doors, and it’s a bummer. I mean, I get it; it’s tough selling physical units now. Did you see that Cake had the No. 1 record with like the lowest-selling No. 1 in history?
They made No. 1? They were just here in St. Petersburg.
They made No. 1 with like 44,000 records sold.
How about that? Whoever would have thought that Cake would pull that off? They’ve still got a devoted fan base.
We just played with them at a radio festival in Seattle, and they definitely have their fans. It’s good to see stuff like that, you know? They recorded that record by themselves, and put it out themselves. If that’s not the death toll for major labels, I don’t know what is.
Nine years ago, when The Middle came out, MTV and the radio could still make stars. Now, have you kind of had to recalibrate what your idea for a successful Jimmy Eat World single or album is?
No, I think our ideas of success have gotten refined, but I think the general idea has always been the same. The only guaranteed reward that you have doing this is just the satisfaction of challenging yourself and making something real that you hear in your head. Anything beyond that is sort of out of your control. You can make decisions that will prevent your stuff from being accessible, but I don’t think you can really make an attempt at mainstream acceptability and have it work. Maybe Max Martin can. But that’s the only thing guaranteed to you, is being proud of your own work. And I think success, for us, is doing things that help us to continue to do what we want to do.
Do you still do much of a radio push when you go out on tour? Can radio still make or break a single or album for you?
I think it can help. When radio is behind it, it definitely helps. I do think labels can do good for you, if they want to. Like, having a quote-unquote “story” behind having your single hit Top 5 or No. 1 helps those people who believe that nothing is good until they hear it’s good from somebody else. Those are normally the people who are in charge of green-lighting and dropping the hammer on your record. So it helps in that regard. The goal is to expose people to your music, and the people that want to come along for the ride hopefully will — and you definitely have a better shot at that, the more people can hear your stuff. And radio helps.
I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the mood in Arizona right now. As a statesman of Arizona culture, what’s the mood there in the wake of the Giffords ordeal?
It’s still a little shaky. But I think on the big picture, the dust has somewhat settled. There’s not a whole lot of questions left to be answered about everything. You might see kind of a remission into shock and horror when the Laughner trial starts. In Phoenix, it seems like people are still somewhat in shock, but we’re getting on with things.
Are you a political guy? Do you support any candidates there?
Yeah, actually, Calexico and me and a few other people did campaign work for Giffords in 2006. Everything you’re hearing about her, how genuinely nice she is, is totally true.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*