Interview: Jim Atkins of Jimmy Eat World

 By Dan Cava

July 10, 2017

With a concrete fanbase and an increasingly huge catalog of driving, tightly crafted sing-alongs, the melodic rock band Jimmy Eat World is approaching its twenty-fifth year with no signs of slowing down. 2001’s “The Middle” may be the height of their mainstream radio play, but with a total of nine albums under their belt, Jimmy Eat World has continued to both refine and expand their sonic territory. Their newest effort Integrity Blues is easily their most polished and wide-ranging album in a decade, featuring a near-perfect blend of wide open cruisers (Sure and Certain), crunchy grinders (Get Right), and thoughtful confessionals like the title track.

The band is currently touring with Incubus, and before their Charlotte gig this Tuesday, lead singer Jim Adkins talked with CLTure film editor (and longtime Jimmy Eat World fan) Dan Cava. They discussed the band’s approach to recording the new album, how they remain authentic over time, the fast origins of their most famous song, and writing protest songs in the Trump era.

L to R: Tom Linton, Jim Adkins Rick Burch, and Zach Lind. Courtesy of the artist.

CLTure: There’s great experimentation on the new album, but it’s also really cohesive. Going into the process of recording Integrity Blues, what were you trying to achieve that you guys hadn’t already?

Jim Adkins: Any album is a culmination of everything you know about making a record, writing songs, and everything you’re able to do technically. And hopefully, everything you know about life [gets] kind of wrapped up in a document of a three year period, or however long it takes between records. We did have a specific mindset of how we wanted to work, and that let in the possibility of things going in different directions from the beginning.

CLTure: I know your previous album Damages was very specific: you recorded to tape and outside of professional studios. But this one was different.

Jim Adkins: It was all in LA, which is pretty old school rock and roll. We did drums in a crazy LA studio and then we packed up and did everything else in the producer’s studio (Justin Meldal-Johnsen: Beck, NIN, and M83). We let ourselves be able to entertain any possibility that came up. That wouldn’t have happened if had been so dead set on what we wanted to do.

CLTure: You guys have fans from the very beginning, fans who jumped on in “The Middle,” literally, and then some legacy fans. How much to do you guys have to think about pleasing all of those fan bases?

Jim Adkins: We’ve always been pretty brutal about the music being something that’s challenging and rewarding for us personally. The people that come along with you, and are into it – you’ll always have those people giving you a shot because what you are putting out there is honest and authentic every time. Trying to chase the approval of an imaginary listener is the fastest way to turn them off. If I could categorize what the “Jimmy Eat World sound” is, it’s the collaborative efforts and the mixing of the individuals in the group’s personal tastes.

CLTure: I’ve heard a legend that “The Middle” was kind of a toss-off when you wrote it, that you challenged yourself to write a song with only three chords. Is that true?

Jim Adkins: I was listening to lot of classic rock ‘n’ roll stuff. Up until Bleed American, we were about exploring and developing things into longer statements. What was really interesting to me was to see how kind of concise and short you could make something and it still feel like a complete thing. The simplicity of the song and the rock and roll basics of it — it just came together so quickly, I was surprised it even made the album. But there’s a tendency to that think that something you struggled with is worth more some than something that happened easily. To a listener, they don’t care! Now, we try to listen to things from a first-time listener’s perspective and see what’s really important.

CLTure: You guys wrote a song called “My Enemy” for Spotify’s 30 Days, 30 Songs playlist, a kind of anti-Trump collection. What does it mean to venture into the crossfire a little with politically motivated songs?

Jim Adkins: It’s an interesting thing. You can’t talk about political action without getting into the building blocks of your belief system, which is something I’m always getting into anyway [in our songs]. Our version of a protest song is to present an environment that shows the weakness of something you’re criticizing, or the strength of something you are trying to champion.

L to R: Jim Adkins, Zach Lind, Rick Burch, and Tom Linton. Courtesy of the artist.

The politics of the band are pretty unified on a more, I guess you could say, progressive kind of agenda. It’s really about how we perceive the fundamentals of civility in getting problems solved and issues addressed. It’s shouldn’t be that controversial of a thing to, you know, have an opinion. We’ve never been the kind of band to tell people what to do. We’ll tell you what we’re doing, and if that’s an argument that sways you than, you know, you’re than welcome to do what we’re doing, too! [laughs]

Jimmy Eat World will playing at PNC Pavilion on Tuesday, July 11.

*Portions of this interview have been edited and condensed.

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