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By Brian Palmer
Jim Adkins grins and looks up from his Pilsner while perched on a stool at a local brew pub. "Seriously, the last four months have been the best time of my life."
Anyone familiar with the life and times of the 22-year-old singer/guitarist for Tempe-based Jimmy Eat World wouldn't be surprised by this statement. Four months ago his band took off on a tour with Milwaukee's Promise Ring, current darling of the independent music world (recently lauded by both Playboy and Teen People magazines), playing to packed houses across the nation. Immediately after the tour, Adkins and his bandmates, guitarist/vocalist Tom Linton, bassist Rick Burch and drummer Zach Lind, headed to Los Angeles to spend two and a half months recording their second album for Capitol Records.
The album, titled Clarity, will be released in October or early November. It's the band's second album for Capitol, following 1996's Static Prevails. Although Static's sales numbers were hardly impressive for a major-label release (SoundScan puts the recording slightly under 10,000 units sold, but that doesn't include mom-and-pop record stores), it showed Jimmy Eat World to be an incredibly talented contender in the rock 'n' roll business. Though Static immediately placed the Jimmies in the ever-vague "emo" genre, the recording was defined by its pop sensibilities and rock dynamics. The dual vocals and guitars from Adkins and Linton melded gloriously over Lind and Burch's mathematical rhythm section, demonstrating a chemistry rarely witnessed in our modest Valley scene.
"We're happy with how it's done as far as numbers are concerned," Lind says at a recent interview in Adkins' living room. "I think the response is better now than when it came out. It's kind of slowly picked up, but it hasn't done a whole lot."
One obvious reason for the lack of unit movement is the lack of promotion from Capitol. As a young, no-name band with a very small following, Jimmy Eat World faced a label that gave the band its album but expected the group to peddle it itself. Adkins explains, "We had a lot more expectations out of Capitol than they had out of us."
Lind agrees. "I think they were indifferent. We had the impression that they were going to be more excited than they were about it, and I think the president of the company had the impression that we were a guinea pig. The record was like preschool, which kind of made us mad, 'cause it's like wasting our time."
Despite Capitol's lack of enthusiasm and Static's sluggish sales, the label decided to take its option on Jimmy Eat World's next album. The band had signed a one-record contract, with Capitol having options on the next five full-lengths. "We were trying to get off the label, but they decided to go with it anyways, before they even heard the demos," Adkins says.
Lind says, "That's what really confused us, 'cause their excitement for the first record was so low and we thought they'd probably be wasting our time. Honestly we feel that we'd probably be doing better, as far as selling records, if we were on an indie rather than a major. But that's all speculation."
"And kind of a pointless discussion, too, because we wouldn't be in a position to get on a good indie if we hadn't done the major-label thing," Adkins adds.
The Jimmy boys aren't entirely unappreciative of their position, fully aware that being on a major label has its advantages. "The one great thing about being on Capitol is the experience of recording the record. For the most part, if we want to do it, we can do it. The money isn't an issue; we aren't really limited by a budget. That's the most satisfying part," Lind explains.
"There's a lot of bad things, but there's a lot of good things. Like they bought us a van that's probably gonna last us a long time; that's invaluable to us. They sell our CDs to us for pretty cheap; we know bands that have to buy their CDs from an indie that has to pay more than Capitol charges us. But the jewel of the package is the fact that we can record the way we want."
"Pretty much the only way outta here is on a major," Adkins says. "There's not really very many opportunities for bands here; the music scene is pretty apathetic. I'd do it again. I've gotten pretty much everything I wanted to ever get out of a band except a trip to Europe," Adkins says.
In the interim period between Static Prevails and the recording of Clarity, Jimmy Eat World kept busy touring and sporadically releasing singles and songs on comps. The two-year gap was the result of time spent honing the band members' songwriting and motivational skills. Lind says, "It took a long time to get the songs. We had certain songs, and we were writing songs that I don't think were all that good, then as time went on, we started writing better songs. I think it was our fault; we kinda slacked. We were touring here and there, and that kept us busy, and after we were touring it was a really good excuse not to practice, 'cause we'd been on tour."
The band's incessant visibility and growing reputation in the indie scene (the Capitol deal doesn't exclude recording singles or songs for other labels or provide for vinyl releases; the vinyl version of Clarity will be released on Boston's Big Wheel Recreation label) led to its crowning accomplishment--touring with the Promise Ring, playing to crowds of 600 to 700 people every night in every town. The excitement culminated in Philadelphia, where the show was opened by Burning Airlines (ex-Jawbox members) and the debut performance of Jets to Brazil (the much-anticipated project featuring Jawbreaker's front man, two members of Lifetime and the drummer from Texas Is the Reason). Lind claims it was the best show that Jimmy Eat World has ever been involved with.
The end of the tour meant a return to the studio to make full use of the expansive budget Capitol provided. The band went to Los Angeles and spent extended time in Sound City and Clear Lake Audio toying with and perfecting Clarity. The results are a surprising change from Static's mostly straightforward rock.
"It was a way better experience than the first record," Adkins says. The band worked with producer Mark Trombino again, and the familiarity proved an advantage. "We knew how he works, and we're cool with whatever he wants to do. We did stuff on this record that I wouldn't have thought of trying when we were recording the last record. Like I sing falsetto on a couple songs, there's drum loops, a lot more texture. We went into the studio knowing what we wanted to get out of it, and I think we got it."
The songs on Clarity are masterful compositions (excepting the rather tired-sounding "United States," a familiar song to followers of the band) embellished with effects and subtle additions that expand the tracks into intricately woven pop tapestries. "I think on the whole it's a little more mellow, a little more moderate," Lind says. "There's some similarities, but there's a lot of new stuff we haven't done. We got techno, got a little acoustical guitar, a little fusion."
"We've got some skatting, some boo-yaas and 'babys'," Adkins interjects.
"And ska," adds Lind.
"There's no ska."
"Nah, no ska, but it's a good variety of stuff."
A variety that includes a ton of loops, both drum and vocal.
The last track, "Goodbye Sky Harbor," is a 17-minute opus that, three-fourths into it, spirals into 10 separate looped vocal tracks eventually bombarded with spasmodically fast drum loops. What's this? Emotronica?
"We're out to redefine emo," Adkins announces, then laughs maniacally. "Don't quote me on that, please."
Whether or not Capitol gets behind Clarity and gives the recording the promotion that it deserves is anybody's guess. Lind says, "It's already falling into the same pattern as the last record. We're wiser now; our expectations are lower. We won't believe it 'til we see it."
"That's pretty much the mindset of the band--that's great, that's wonderful that you guys are gonna do this stuff for us, but I'll believe it when I see it. Until then, I don't care," Adkins adds.
In the meantime, Jimmy Eat World is preparing to play its first two local shows since returning from Los Angeles and go back on the road shortly after. Strangely enough, despite the band's talent, it's never been what you'd call a hometown favorite, playing local shows only sporadically. Lind says, "We're not really in touch with what people out here think of us. When we play shows, they're relatively uneventful. On tour we're generally bigger on the East Coast."
Lind and Adkins also bring up an interesting paradox. "Because we're a hometown band, we know who not to do shows with and who not to do business with; therefore, it makes it harder to do shows. The majority of the people out there just don't treat bands well," Lind explains.
"There's certain promoters that really take the wind out of your sails as far as playing shows, and it's hard 'cause if you don't go with certain people, it makes it difficult because these people have access to places to play. Like these shows coming up, we have to go to an unconventional venue like a bowling alley to work with people who are fair to the bands."
Thinking, Lind adds, "We haven't really checked out playing on Mill Avenue yet."
"I would love to play Long Wong's on a Friday night right in the middle of a normal Long Wong's set, like two bands that don't sound anything like us," Adkins says, laughing. "I think that would be the funniest thing in the world. Just once, though."
Jimmy Eat World is scheduled to perform on Saturday, August 15, and Friday, August 21, at Tempe Bowl. Call for showtime.
Contact Brendan Kelley at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org