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Jimmy Eat World — Bleed American Interview

Those frankly hilarious yanks have us all doubled up, and cracking gags like they were going out of fashion. Jimmy Eat World show Crud that even people who tour with Blink 182 can make damned near perfect rock n roll. Bleedin’ Americans.
19/11/01

Those of the more optimistic persuasion are always likely to tell you everything, no matter how depressing, happens for a reason. Tiresome aren’t they. So don’t you just hate it when a little bit of retrospect proves them damn right. Jimmy Eat World, to their credit and our benefit – on the cusp of releasing their eponymous fourth and undoubtedly finest album, are the kind that just won’t take a knock. If they had laid there and taken them, delivered in veritable showers at points over their short life, this album certainly wouldn’t have been made. But finally as they get the recognition they so blatantly deserve, those trophies adorning the cover end up representing more than the American way of life perhaps hinted at with its previous title, ‘Bleed American’.

So straight out of school in Arizona in the mid ’90s they threw themselves and their dusty emo-core sensibilities into a slew of hometown shows, self financed recordings, split singles with likeminded souls and their debut independent album on Wooden Blue Records. The interest this found saw Capitol Records hot on their heels for whom they knocked out two albums, ‘Static Prevails’ in ’96 and ‘Clarity’ in ’99. Judging by the amount of critical intrigue, radio support and hungry fan base they drummed up success was surely a foregone upshot. But don’t jump ahead of yourself here. Record company politics saw this major deal evolve into something little more significant than a logo on the album covers.

Expansion outside the US was actively discouraged, the band remained to book their own tours, take care of their own merchandise, sort out further split singles and eventually buy their own albums off the supplier and ship them to Europe finding a distribution deal, shows and ultimately a dedicated audience all off their own backs. They still maintain the only real worthwhile thing Capitol did for them was buy them a van. When Capitol finally got around to relieving themselves of JEW you didn’t see them for dust. Recording what would become the current record without a deal and with radio clawing at the door for advance copies a bidding war ensued (bizarrely including a change of tune Capitol, no guessing where they were told to go) with them settling with DreamWorks.

Which brings us forward to the current day, sat with the four guys in a hotel room in West London, in-between rehearsals and recording for Top Of The Pops, their best album to date crouched under starters orders, MTV and any radio station with an ounce of sense hammering home ‘Salt Sweat Sugar’ and just about every magazine queuing up to hear their story. In high spirits and, in the case of singer Jim, occasionally delirious, breaking into fits of the giggles for no apparent reason, they’re courteous and seemingly strong-willed and confident. And with their sound reaching driving breakthrough status, taking the hardcore force of At The Drive In or Quicksand, throwing it in with a Guided By Voices glint and pushing it off the edge with the streamlined heads-down rock of the Blink 182s of this world they should be. They are essentially everything the Foo Fighters dream of being, but good. It’s plain sailing from here on in then.

So, you must get a kick out of the position you’re in now, looking back what Capitol blatantly missed out on?

Jim Adkins (frontman): “Yeah! They actually wanted to sign us again after dropping us, which was kinda bizarre, but it’s just kinda funny. They just weren’t a good label and we’re happy to be on a good label now.”

Tom Linton (guitar): “Dysfunctional would be a good way to describe them.”

Zack Lind (drums): “We just felt we didn’t have anything to be ashamed of, but we were young and naïve and they weren’t a good label.”

But in the long run the whole situation’s probably worked to your benefit?

Zack: “Definitely, yeah! I think without that we wouldn’t be what we are now. I think all things, good and bad, have placed us where we are now. It was all experience.”

Tom: “I think we knew it sucked back then. But none of it was a really bad thing, we just didn’t have the experience to make the best decisions, regarding a lot of things.”

Zack: “Being in that situation, and a lot of bands have been in that situation, it’s really humiliating and frustrating. Because you go into it thinking that if a label signs you it’s going to help you out, we found that wasn’t the case. Ultimately it’s a quick fix breeding one hit wonders. We pretty much went through every wrong way in the maze till we worked out how to get through it. And going through all those experiences has made us smarter.”

For a band that’s been on major labels for most of your existence you’ve always worked at ground level really, always retained that indie mindset?

Rick Burch (bass): “We weren’t given any other way to exist really, we had to take on our own initiative and ship our records to Europe, sell them to independent distribution, with a record out on Capitol Zack was still booking our tours & just things like that. And we made alliances with other bands that were doing the same thing.”

Zack: “We were catagorised as an indie band and that was a weird situation to be put in, because we never said we were DIY, we were but not through ethics. We were DIY because we had to get from one town to the next, we had to survive and stay afloat. And now that this records doing better and being played on the radio, especially in the States, kids are like what the fuck’s going on, what’s happened to my band!?”

You did quite a lot with other bands then?

Zack: “Even though bands differentiate you tend to gravitate to bands that do things in similar ways, whether it be touring or recording. Bands like us, At The Drive In, The Promise Ring, although we’re all different bands we all operate the same way, we’re all friends, we all know each other, we’ve run into each other a million times, so coming together makes sense. And I suppose people will hear all the bands and relate them together.”

You surely deserve to match the success of your At The Drive Ins now though, because after all that stuff it really is survival of the fittest with you.

Jim: “Yeah! It feels weird because after we lost our deal with Capitol it wasn’t like the floor suddenly fell out. We were already on an upward plain. We did a compilation of our independent singles, toured off that, more people came to the shows. We didn’t notice any big drop, we’d taken off.”

You changed the title of the album and the first single from ’Bleed American’ after September 11th. What was your thinking behind that?

Jim: “We really didn’t know then what was going to become of the world in that time. We weren’t getting criticism for it, but radio was choosing not to play it purely because of its title.”

Tom: “I was silly because I guess to us it doesn’t matter what our songs are called or how it appears, because it is the same song.“

Zack: “I guess we were just trying to be more sensitive. I mean , if someone has lost family or whatever. It’s not a pro-hate song or anything so it is a little silly.”

Jim: “It doesn’t bug me, so I guess it’s not an artistic concession. It’s a title, song’s still the same.”

When we heard the single we heard a lot of things, chiefly At The Drive In and Rocket From The Crypt. Fair?

Tom: “Well, I think we are influenced by what’s around us and those are two bands we’ve played with and like.

The album brings more though. Guided By Voices, Quicksand, Fugazi, Blink 182? You fit in with that lot?

Jim: “Some of those, yeah.”

Tom: “We do like Rocket From The Crypt, Sonic Youth… But what we listen to is all over the place, Spiritualized I like a lot at the moment. We’re just suckers for melody, good songs.”

But you seem to have a much darker or serious atmosphere and content than two of your recent touring partners, Weezer and Blink 182, for a start.

Zack: “A little more eeeeviiil?”

Yeah, a little more demon like I suppose.

Zack: “We’re demon-like! Ha ha ha! Demon like!”

Well you might be able to tour comfortably with Blink 182, but you certainly wouldn’t expect to find a knob gag in one of your songs.

Jim: “No, probably not! It’s on the agenda. I tell ya, I’ve been trying to work ’motherfucker’ into one of our songs some way, but it just doesn’t ring, it doesn’t flow! I don’t know, it wouldn’t really be harder to be darker than Blink 182. It’s just easier to write about adversity than it is to say ’oh boy! I sure am happy today’.”

So have you found that unmistakable Jimmy Eat World sound?

Rick: “I think even if you’re playing a cover song you can’t escape sounding like you. I don’t know if I could really quantify that. It’s just a magic that happens when the four of us get together (much laughter)“

Tom: “Alone we are nothing, but as a group (laughter)!“

Jim: “We unite our magic rings and become this entity known as Jimmy Eat World (lots more laughter)!!”

Zack: “ … (doubled over laughing …)”

A week later we catch them at what you guess will be the last of the club shows they play in London at the Scala in Kings Cross (they’re already booked into the comparatively massive Astoria for January). Packed to the extreme the band themselves justify the fanatic behavior of the pit with a stringent set that throbs with the salt, sweat and sugar of years of experience and fighting, leaving them in a space where they couldn’t imaginably be any tighter or harder hitting. And Jim even busts a few moves that Elvis, or at the very least Speedo from RFTC, would be proud of. Smiles creep across their faces hinting at the satisfaction they must obviously be feeling. And those magic rings must be around somewhere, there’s no mistaking that sound.

James Berry for Crud Magazine© 2001

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