Jimmy Eat World Discuss Getting ‘Lucky’ With ‘The Middle,’ Recording New Album ‘Damage’
“You had to be there” is a phrase we use to explain away cultural phenomena — the inexplicable, unlikely success stories that lack logical or compelling narratives. The appeal of emo in the late ’90s falls somewhat into this, just like Jimmy Eat World somewhat fell into the genre, releasing one of the defining works of the short-lived musical movement with ‘Clarity’ and then departing the sound with their next offering, the more pop-punk-leaning ‘Bleed American.’
And while ‘Clarity’ is a little tougher to revisit and understand its significance at the time, you didn’t have to be there to get why ‘Bleed American’ was their breakout record. Since ‘The Middle’ and ‘Sweetness’ established them as alt-rock radio staples, Jimmy Eat World have enjoyed a wildly successful career. On June 11, the quartet — singer Jim Atkins, guitarist Tom Linton, bass player Rick Burch and drummer Zach Lind — release their eighth LP, ‘Damage,’ and their first on RCA. Linton spoke with Diffuser about the new album, keeping Jimmy Eat World fresh and his distaste for auto-tune.
Jimmy Eat World is 20 years into a career that has typically been associated with youth culture. ‘Damage,’ though, sounds like a band aware its now playing to an adult audience. Do you think that’s true?
You know, a lot of our audience really spans all ages, from young kids to guys our age to girls, whatever. We will even see people around my parents’ age now. It’s kind of funny.
With ‘Damage,’ some of the songs definitely deal with adult relationships, but some of them, you can take and apply them to a relationship when you are even younger. So, it’s not really defined for an only adult audience, but some songs are like that.
How do you feel about Jimmy Eat World in terms of nostalgia. ‘Damage’ seems to avoid going down that road, and it doesn’t seek to revisit the sound of ‘Clarity’ or ‘Bleed American.’ Is that a goal — to not get stuck on the sound you’ve established in the past ?
Yeah, it is. Like, we’re not going to sit there and be like, “Let’s try to make another ‘The Middle.'” Once you start doing that, you’re wasting your time. I think we just got kind of lucky at the time. As we come up with songs now, we just try to make them the best that we can, and every record we make, we try to make them different from the other records.
In a way, ‘You Were Good,’ the last song on ‘Damage,’ does sound like it’s reaching back. It has the sound of a demo, because it’s kind of lo-fi and spare. It sounds like a song you would hear on a debut album and not on a band’s eighth LP. What brought that production choice on?
Well, when Jim [Adkins] recorded that, it was all live. It was just him with an acoustic guitar and his vocals, and there was never a point where he stopped and started over. He just played it from the beginning to the end live. Then I overdubbed an organ part and Alain [Johannes] played the guitar part. That was really fun to do, and I don’t think we had ever done it before, especially with vocals. We might have done music like that, but not with vocals, so that was a really fun one to record.
It stands out, both on the record and in your catalog, because it seems so raw, particularly when compared to the majority of music that’s popular right now.
Also, on the album, we never use any auto-tune on the vocals or anything like that. We’re just so sick of listening to the radio these days and everyone’s voice sounds like a robot singing. And everything is recorded so perfectly out there, that we just try to stay away from that, because it’s so easy to just say, “Let’s auto-tune that and fix that pitch.”
You guys lived in L.A. for the recording process. How much freedom do you have at this point regarding where and when you want to record? Because it seems like the band is on a pretty regular schedule, producing an album every three years or so. Is there a pressure to keep that going?
Well, the last couple album cycles we’ve said that we were going to try and put the next record out in two years rather than three, but it just hasn’t worked out. We’ll do a year of touring and during we’ll say we want to write more while on the road, but it’s pretty hard to do that at soundchecks and stuff.
As far as picking the studio and producer, we handle all of that ourselves.
Did you get a chance to sing lead on this one? I know you did one on the last album, and of course on the pre-‘Clarity’ music.
No, there was one song with piano that I was doing, but it didn’t really fit with the record. It was just too heavy, but maybe it’ll get used for something else.
When you sing, it changes the dynamic of the band a bit, because you have a much more punk-sounding voice. Have you considered doing a solo album?
No, I haven’t really thought about it. And if I ever did, I’m always pretty much in the band, so…
And the band has been full-time almost your entire working life. What else interests you, or what would you be doing if you stopped being in a band?
I think about that all the time. We know we are so lucky to be in the position that we are, being in a band, and we don’t take it for granted that we are able to do that. But before that, if I did have a regular job, and this was what I was doing before the band a bit, I would probably be teaching guitar lessons.
So it’s music. It’s always been music for you.
Yeah, my parents own a huge music store in Mesa, Arizona, so I’ve always been surrounded by music. That’s been kind of a cool thing.
As a band, or individually, you have accomplished so much that it’s easy to imagine that any goals or dreams you had when you started Jimmy Eat World have been reached. Do you still set goals as a band or individually, or is it to just to keep making work you are proud of?
Yeah, there are always things we put into our schedule that we haven’t done before, whether its different countries or whatever. Mexico is on this tour which we haven’t been able to play before. Or festivals that we’ve never been to.
What do you or the band listen to these days that you find exciting and worth sharing?
I loved the recent Massive Attack album; it came out a little while back. I’ve been listening to a lot of older stuff like the Kinks, the Beatles. Everyone probably says the Beatles, huh? I think Arcade Fire is supposed to have a new album coming out. That will be cool.