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?

Outside, the sun is dipping low into the ocean. In Gersh's manicured garden, an orgy of self-promotion and one-upsmanship is taking place as the assembled show-biz cognoscenti indulge themselves on the gourmet catering and free bar.

Band members make their rounds glad-handing guests, dutifully chatting up the party's notables. It might seem that a group of Mesa suburbanites would be ill-suited to schmooze with world-class professionals like these, but caught in a den of music industry vipers, they acquit themselves quite nicely. By evening's end, a tipsy Adkins is behind the bar in Gersh's game room-cum-wine cellar, sipping vintage Beaujolais and engaging a handful of comely record company interns. Well aware that the following morning begins with an 8 a.m. recording session, Adkins goes back to his hotel room alone.

"This is the only rock band I've ever worked with where the crew is wilder than the band," notes tour manager Marino of the group's chaste, disciplined ways.

Jimmy Eat World: From top, Jim Adkins, Rick Burch, Zach Lind and Tom Linton.
Jimmy Eat World: From top, Jim Adkins, Rick Burch, Zach Lind and Tom Linton.
Jimmy Eat World: From top, Jim Adkins, Rick Burch, Zach Lind and Tom Linton.
Jimmy Eat World: From top, Jim Adkins, Rick Burch, Zach Lind and Tom Linton.

The fact that the members of Jimmy Eat World aren't glamorous, bacchanalian wild men hasn't hurt them among their growing contingent of fans ("If you want juicy rock debauchery," Adkins says, "we're not the best place to look for it").

Though the band is keenly aware of its lack of a "traditional" rock image, its management seems intent on playing up that very point, fostering the group's boys-next-door persona. But in an era marked by bad-boy confrontationalists like Eminem and Limp Bizkit and makeup-wearing goons like Marilyn Manson and Slipknot, can a band without a gimmick really make it big?

"Their gimmick is good songs," says DreamWorks' Luke Wood. "I look at them in the tradition of a band like R.E.M. [When R.E.M. started] they were like a countryish, alternative-rock band. Over time they developed these larger-than-life personalities. But when you actually sit down and look at that band, they're just like Jimmy Eat World. They're just normal guys."

"I've always believed that great songs, great singing and a great live show will work to a large audience over the long term," observes G.A.S. co-head Gersh. "Not having a shtick could easily be to their benefit in having a career that isn't just [about] a moment in time."

It was with those ideas in mind that Gersh and partner John Silva began courting the band earlier this year. Even though the group was initially wary of working with Gersh -- a man they had demonized as one of the culprits behind their mistreatment at Capitol -- the lure of having the team responsible for some of rock's most important artists was simply too good to pass up.

"[Gersh and Silva] make their bands tons of money," says Lind of the duo responsible for helping shape the fortunes of everyone from Nirvana and the Beastie Boys to Beck and Sonic Youth. "But they also make sure that their bands can have careers beyond one song or one album. That's a really, really hard thing to do and they've done it over and over."

With G.A.S. on board and a strong industry buzz surrounding Bleed American, a minor bidding war for the band's services erupted. The ultimate bit of vindication came when Capitol Records begged for a meeting. The session never happened; the group demanded their old label relinquish the rights to Static and Clarity merely as a price tag to speak with them.

After being wooed by nearly every pony-tailed A&R man in the business, the band ended up with its original suitor, DreamWorks exec Luke Wood.

Wood, a onetime publicist who also worked with Nirvana and signed Elliot Smith, had closely monitored the growth of the band during the 18 months it had been on its own. More important, he seized on the tremendous potential in Bleed American.

"Those songs are looking for a large audience," he says. "When you hear [Bleed American], the record just shouts at you, 'Sign me!'" Which is exactly what DreamWorks did, inking Jimmy Eat World to a multi-album, multimillion-dollar deal in April -- a huge turnaround for a band scraping together pennies to buy studio time a few months earlier.

Ultimately, the decision to sign with DreamWorks was taken with an eye toward the band's long-term career prospects. Unlike most major labels, DreamWorks is a privately owned company -- in this case the proprietors include Steven Spielberg and David Geffen -- that's not slave to the quarterly earnings mentality of a publicly held corporation like Capitol/EMI. It's something that bodes well for Jimmy Eat World, a group that will need the patience of an understanding label parent to grow into its full potential. Aiding in this cause is the band's indie cred and status as critics' darlings -- two elements that should help them outlast faster-selling, but ultimately shtick-driven, contemporaries.

Given the mayhem surrounding the band's Glass House shows, you would think Jimmy Eat World had already achieved superstar status. Outside the venue, scalpers are charging three and four times the face value for tickets; a line of patrons snakes around the block several hours before showtime.

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