Brave New World

No makeup. No gimmick. No shtick. But does Mesa's fast-rising Jimmy Eat World really stand a chance against the likes of Britney and the Backstreet Boys?

Back in the club's lounge, bassist Rick Burch is sunk into a couch next to his girlfriend, a giggly blonde whose Betty Boop voice matches her coquettish demeanor.

Sitting opposite is guitarist Tom Linton, nursing an abscessed tooth that will require a partial root canal the next morning.

And prowling the room, barking orders into a cell phone, is drummer Zach Lind. A burly, blunt man, his thick, freckled forearms tense as he clutches a notebook and pen. A slight gait appears as he paces, while the squawks of booking agents and promoters filter through the line.

California lovin': Jimmy Eat World's L.A. escapade included a run of sold-out shows, adoring press coverage and (bottom) a star-making turn on Craig Kilborn's late-night talk show.
Kevin Scanlon
California lovin': Jimmy Eat World's L.A. escapade included a run of sold-out shows, adoring press coverage and (bottom) a star-making turn on Craig Kilborn's late-night talk show.
Something for the ladies: The band's management is betting on its appeal to young female record buyers.
Kevin Scanlon
Something for the ladies: The band's management is betting on its appeal to young female record buyers.

Jimmy Eat World's plans are in an unexpected state of flux. The band had been considering canceling its upcoming club tour to join a three-way package headlined by Weezer. The deal quickly falls apart when the group is denied the middle slot and asked to open up for an odious rap-metal outfit called Cold.

As Lind paces and negotiates, he stops only to pat the cheek of his wife Holly, a statuesque beauty in the final weeks of pregnancy.

Though the group is ably represented by the heavy hitters at G.A.S., Lind is still serving as the band's point man and de facto manager, a role he assumed almost two years ago when Jimmy Eat World severed nearly all its business ties and ventured out on its own.

"It seems," he complains while leafing through a stack of the latest sales figures, "like I spend an hour a day playing drums, and the other 23 on the phone doing business."

Of course, it wasn't so long ago that Lind's only concern was wondering if his childhood buddy Jim Adkins would be able to get a ride to come over and jam.

The two met in preschool, maintaining a casual friendship through the years. Their bond grew closer by the time they started at Mesa's Mountain View High School in the late '80s. During their senior year in 1993, they coalesced -- along with neighborhood pals Tom Linton and Mitch Porter -- into a noisy four-piece called Jimmy Eat World. (The name, incidentally, has nothing to do with Adkins, but is a reference to Linton's younger brother.)

Much of the group's appeal was there from the outset, as the band energetically tore through a clutch of three-chord originals. The difference in those early days was that Linton claimed center stage as lead singer, while guitarist Adkins was the spastic, chubby figure flailing away in the shadows -- something that would soon shift as he developed his songwriting and stage presence.

The group recorded a demo, a single and a full-length in quick succession, and appeared to be making the slow rise from sleepy all-ages venues like Mesa's Art Cage to opening gigs for national acts at more prominent East Valley clubs like Boston's.

Around this time -- through a strange and labyrinthine set of circumstances -- the group caught the attention of Loren Israel, a talent scout for Capitol Records. Soon after he tipped his bosses to the band, Capitol execs flew to Arizona, saw the band perform and offered Jimmy Eat World a deal a week later.

While most struggling bands in a similar position would have jumped at such an unlikely offer, the boys were unmoved. It was an understandable reaction, considering that their limited knowledge of the music industry had come from the virulently anti-corporate lyrics of punk bands like Propagandhi and NOFX and 'zines like Maximumrocknroll.

"Getting a label deal was the furthest thing from our minds as a goal," recalls Adkins. "We were pretty anti-label. But it just seemed like too good of an opportunity not to take. You could go to school anytime, but here's this crazy fucker offering us a record deal. It really felt like we were getting away with something."

Another problem was that Porter, a Mormon, was being pressed by his family to go on his mission. He quit just before the label deal was signed, and it was Burch -- a classmate of Linton's and a member of fellow Mesa pop-punks Carrier -- who stepped into his spot.

"It was either go to college or make a record and tour," says Burch. "That's a pretty easy decision when you're 18."

Not knowing any entertainment lawyers, the thoroughly green group hired Lind's family attorney to look over the contracts. By mid-'95, the members of Jimmy Eat World -- still in their teens and barely out of high school -- were part of the Capitol Records roster, home to the Beatles, Beach Boys and Frank Sinatra.

At this point the band's style was -- by its own admission -- fairly ragged, far removed from the more polished commercial sound that would develop later. In hindsight, it's hard to see exactly what Capitol thought it was getting when it signed the nascent combo.

"It was part of a period where a lot of young bands were being signed to major labels," says the group's current DreamWorks A&R man Luke Wood. "And it was very difficult to really develop them within that system."

When Capitol gave little attention to Jimmy Eat World's promising 1996 debut, Static Prevails, the young group quickly developed an uneasy sense that it had been orphaned by its label benefactor.

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