A Conversation with Jimmy Eat World’s Jim Adkins – HuffPost 9.27.10
Mike Ragogna: Jim, you have a new studio album, Invented. What’s the band’s roster this time out?
Jim Adkins: It’s me, Jim Adkins, playing guitar and singing, Rick Burch playing bass, Tom Linton on the other guitar and vocals, Zach Lind playing drums, an assorted cast of extra players here and there like string session people, and a lot of the female backups on the record are by a local, Phoenix person named Courtney Marie Andrews.
MR: And you’ve got Mark Trombino.
JA: Yes, that’s correct.
MR: Now, the reunion starts with a tour centered around your earlier album, Clarity?
JA: We did a tour over America where we were kind of celebrating the tenth anniversary of our record, Clarity, and at the San Diego show, we met up with Mark who had worked on that record with us. It had been kind of a long time since we’d hung out with him and it was nice. At that point, there were maybe five or six songs that were written for the new record, and we just wanted to see what he would do. We’d work out of our rehearsal space in Tempe, and then we’d send him over the Internet the multi-track session of what we were doing. Then, he would do a mix, send it back to us with some production ideas of his, and we would incorporate those, and re-record them. It was like trading tapes over the Internet.
MR: But this album was completed together since you guys ended up in the studio together.
JA: Yeah, here and there. Mark would work out of his house, and every once in a while, he would come out to Arizona where we were, and we would do whatever we could do. Then, at the end of it, I went over to his place in L.A., and we just wrapped up the odds and ends and the last bits of mixing.
MR: Now, the music on this record sounds like classic Jimmy Eat World, but the lyrics you wrote are from a different perspective. You wrote using the objective writing method?
JA: Yeah. What I would do, just as an exercise, really…maybe about three years ago, I started just randomly opening up Cindy Sherman’s untitled film stills or Hannah Starkey photographs, and just take ten minutes to work through everything I could think about the character that was in the image. The goal wasn’t to end up with songs; it was just to get my brain in the mindset of working. After a time, I started going to the more interesting things I thought of in those sessions, and I started expanding those into tunes–there seems to be more of those types of ideas in songs than anything else. So, most of the record is using that as a jumping off point.
MR: I see. It isn’t so much that the songs are about those photographs. It stimulated an exercise about back stories, and you ended up applying them to new songs.
JA: There’s always a scene or a sense of mood and place that I’m trying to write about in a song, and the meaning might be there, but I’m kind of creating the scene for it. Working for most of the songs on this record, the scene was already there, it was just totally devoid of any meaning. It was up to me to kind of fill in the meaning for it. What are the decisions being made in this instant? Who is this person? What’s their life like? And then the rest of the song is just sort of built up around that.
MR: In your first track, “Heart Is Hard To Find,” you not only have an intense string arrangement and an intro full of acoustic guitars, but some fine lyrics like, “I can’t compete with the clear eyes of strangers.”
JA: Oh, thanks. I’m really proud of the work that we did on this record. I can say it’s my favorite.
MR: In your opinion, what kind of growth has happened between those earlier records and now?
JA: You know, I think we just know a lot more about how to get the sounds that we want, not just in a technical way. Having this much history working together, it’s really a comfortable creative process. There’s really no need to explain where one of us is coming from when we’re trying out an idea; everyone else just steps in line, and tries to see it to completion. So, the biggest difference is in our working method. We’re just in a comfortable place where it’s easy to be vulnerable with your ideas, it’s a comfortable place for that, and that doesn’t come easily.
MR: You have the song “Coffee And Cigarettes” in which you’re name checking The Dead from At Fillmore East, Otis Redding’s Greatest Hits–great records to be referencing in a song.
JA: It’s just kind of things I’d picture the character would have on repeat as they’re driving across country.
MR: It’s a really nice touch. In “Stop,” you have the line, “You don’t have to be the prettiest if you have a mind and willingness. No one stops a girl who knows what she’s got.”
JA: “Stop,” I guess, is a song about jealousy. Basically, we were having dinner one night before a concert that my wife, my friend, and I were going to, and this girl came up to us and asks if we’re Jimmy Eat World. I said, “I play in the band. We aren’t Jimmy Eat World.” She introduced herself as an aspiring porn actress, and she was eating dinner there with her dad, and, I guess, her fiancé. I just started thinking, “That would be insane.” The jealousy, and the weird place that you’d have to be to accept that situation as a relationship would be really, really hard for me or anybody, I would imagine. So, the song is about what it might be like to overcome, not exactly that, but something like it. The jealousy that would come from being with someone whose professional life would demand that they be more open with themselves than you can securely handle as an interested partner.
MR: This album’s single is “My Best Theory.”
JA: Yes, that’s right.
MR: What’s the theme of its video?
JA: I’m not exactly sure how it’s going to turn out, but we’re shooting for a cross betweenTHX 1138, and Heartbeeps.
MR: (laughs) Are you guys sci-fi fans?
JA: Oh, yeah.
MR: Well, there’s a question. What are some of your favorite works?
JA: I like Philip K. Dick stories a lot. It seems like there are a lot of film adaptations of his stuff that always makes the top ten list of sci-fi, freak out movies like Blade Runner.
MR: Apparently you are well read, sir. So let’s go back to the Cindy Sherman and Hannah Starkey books for just a moment. Why those particular books? Were those the ones that sort of hit you the most at the time?
JA: I sought those out because I liked, in the work I was doing, that I was able to focus on either one or a small group of characters. It was just easier to expand on that. Songs come from a first person perspective. So, it just seemed like an easier way to work. The main character is the focal point of the image, and it just seemed like a good way to go at it.
MR: That pretty original. What’s your tour going to be like for this year?
JA: It’s going to be more on than off for probably about a year now. We’ll be in North America starting on the 21st, I believe. Then we’ll be going through the U.K., and continental Europe in November, then we’ll be back in the states in December.
MR: And the album gets released in September?
JA: Yeah, September 28th I believe, in America.
MR: What kind of advice do you have for up and coming artists?
JA: It’s got to be rough out there. There’s never been an easier time to do exactly what you want with computer recording, and it’s never been harder at the same time because everyone has those tools at their disposal. I would just say there’s so much that you can’t control with it all that you have to be in it for the right reason; you have to be in it for yourself. You always have to make sure that you’re doing your best work, be completely doubt free that your work is the best you can do because that’s really all you have at the end of the day.
MR: That sounds like something you might apply to your own work.
JA: Sure. No one is going to like one hundred percent of what you do. There’s no guarantee that people will like five percent of what you do, but the only way you can get to a point where that’s acceptable is if you’re one hundred percent proud of it. After that, it doesn’t matter. Criticism or praise is just kind of the opinion of strangers.
MR: Beautiful. Is there anything in the news right now that’s got your eye? Is there anything that’s concerning you right now?
JA: What isn’t, man? There’s just too much to talk about there.
MR: There are a few songs on this record that, though your classic sound is still intact, feel like you’re trying on some new shoes.
JA: Well, we’re always trying on new shoes, I guess.
MR: Let me ask you about “Action Needs An Ambulance.” What the heck is going on in that? I’m trying my best to figure it out.
JA: Well, you were one of the lucky people who got a wrong title to that track. The tune is actually called “Action Needs An Audience.”
MR: I’m actually going to print this, that’s hysterical.
JA: I think there were about thirty promo copies that went out with the wrong title for that, and I have no idea why.
MR: I was trying to figure out what the whole deal with the ambulance was, when really, I was Emily Latella.
JA: You’re not the only one. The local weekly here was doing an online blog about it and I was like, “What? That’s an odd typo.” Then I saw it again and iscovered that it was a common trend.
MR: While we’re on that song, could you go into what it’s actually about?
JA: I’m not exactly sure what it’s about, but I can tell you how it came to be. It was an older idea for a song, and I was just not happy with the lyrics I was coming up with. Our other guitar player, Tom, used to sing quite a bit on our early, early records. So, we just dropped that on his desk and said, “Let’s see what you can do,” and he came back with that. So, that’s a song that Tom wrote the lyrics and sang.
MR: My favorite song is “Heart Is Hard To Find.” Can you go into its background?
JA: Our last album was more about discovery. The sense of when everything is a big deal and everything is exciting. I think for Invented and “Heart Is Hard To Find” especially, it’s more about the character taking a real stock of their situation, and the kinds of decisions that they come to in that moment. “Heart Is Hard To Find” is just kind of a rock-bottom assessment of your position. It’s just a struggle song, I guess.
MR: And it crosses so many genres that it’ll probably earn you more Jimmy Eat World fans from other formats.
JA: We’ll see.
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney