Interview: Jimmy Eat World

Jimmy Eat World
Jimmy Eat World
Jimmy Eat World

In 2001, four friends from Mesa, Ariz., made an album called Bleed American — a set of sentimental, earnest, and immensely relatable pop-punk anthems. Teenagers everywhere shoved the CD into their car stereos as they snuck out past curfew; the album went platinum; and lead singer Jim Adkins got to quit his retail job. But this isn’t just a record that a generation of suburban kids lost their virginity to — even upon obsessive re-listening, Bleed American never loses its impact. The album sent the previously under-the-radar Jimmy Eat World on a trajectory toward stadium tours with bands like Green Day, and helped fuel a long career. This week, to celebrate the anniversary of the album that changed everything, Jimmy Eat World will be playing Bleed American in its entirety at the Fillmore. We talked to Adkins about Bruce Springsteen’s influence on his biggest hit, how to keep a band together, and his thoughts on how the Internet is changing the music industry.

Sixteen years is a long time to put out music and tour. What do you attribute the band’s success and your ability to stick together to?
In part it might be that we were all friends before we started the band. We were always just getting together to have fun. As time has gone on, we’ve done a good job of setting realistic goals for ourselves. A lot of that is basically just focusing in on the things that matter and letting all the stuff that doesn’t just sort of happen in the background as we’re doing what we want to do.

How did things change for you after the success of Bleed American?
Things changed in just about every way they could change. All of a sudden we had a record label that was excited about us being on the label. We had a professional team, stuff like a booking agent, and a manager, and a lawyer. We had to grow up pretty fast. Our families became a little more supportive of what we were doing. It was a strange time because it became something we do rather than a side project.

You had to self-finance Bleed American after being dropped by Capitol — do you think this had anything to do with the success of the album, in terms of motivation?
We’ve always done our best work when we’ve been in our own world, forgetting that anyone was willing to listen to what we come up with. That period was an extreme case of that because we had no idea what was going to happen, but there were signs of things to be encouraged by. When we went on tour, it just seemed to be getting better and better. Of course, none of us could foresee how much better it would get.

In an old interview you said that with Bleed American, rather than challenging yourselves by getting experimental, you challenged yourselves by getting very simple. Do you think that has allowed you to maintain a loyal fan base?
That the writing process going into the Bleed American material was kind of a reaction from how we approached working on Clarity. Clarity was more like, “This will probably be the last time we will be able to afford to go into a studio to record, so today we’re renting Tiffany’s” [laughs]. Part of it was a decision to get back to the basics — the four-person rock mode — but we’ve always just done what we wanted. We’ve always been pretty honest with ourselves as far as what challenges us and what we’d like to do.

What was the inspiration behind [breakthrough single] “The Middle”?
That song was kind of a joke, really. It was just so simple that I didn’t think any of the other guys would like it. It was right at the beginning of us trying to use the Internet and someone wrote us a fan e-mail — that was our foray into social networking at the time, that we had an e-mail address. Someone wrote in saying that they were in junior high and faced with an “I’m not punk enough” kind of feeling or something in dealing with cliques that were going around. I have an autographed promotional flat of Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love and I was thinking, “What would the Boss say to somebody like that” [laughs]?

Bleed American came out in 2001— how have you been coping with changes in the music world since then in terms of fans accessing your music digitally?
If you’re a music fan, it’s never been a better time, and if you make music it’s never been easier for you to be your own worldwide distribution. We try to present things in a way that we as music fans would appreciate. There’s so much music out there — it’s like, are you really going to buy everything out there? If you’re a fanatical music [lover], you’re going to be totally broke. I’d rather have a lot more people be able to hear our stuff than put a wall up and make people pay $17.99 for something they put into their computers once.

Do you have any plans to be back in the studio any time soon?
That’s going to be our homework for the fall. We’ve got a couple ideas, but it takes time for us to flesh those out. Some people only write songs on the road, but we’ve never been that type of group — we need to be at home with our toys.

You’ll be playing Bleed American in its entirety at the Fillmore. What can your fans expect at these shows?
We’ve done the playing-the-album type of shows a few times before. It’s a little different — it’s definitely cool, but it’s just different. But we are going to play extra stuff, so it’s not just going to be that and then, “Later!”

See the interview in SF Weekly.