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From the outside, Jimmy Eat World's Tempe studio looks just like another sterile office space in a quiet, out-of-the-way business complex. But walk through the nondescript entrance and the place is a surprisingly cozy rock 'n' roll den. There's enough cushy seating for a decent-sized party, and instruments are strewn everywhere -- a drum kit in the corner, a piano across the room, guitars propped up in different nooks. Egg-crate foam and silver foil insulation blankets the high ceilings, and heavy, wine-colored velvet curtains drape the walls. These guys could make a hell of a racket in here and no one would ever know.
So before guitarist Tom Linton and bassist Rick Burch join frontman Jim Adkins and drummer Zach Lind to talk about Futures, Jimmy Eat World's fifth album due out on October 19, Lind sits down at a computer in the middle of the studio and plays the new U2 single through powerful speakers. Adkins sinks into a couch and gets a deeply focused look on his face. Lind turns the volume way up. Neither one speaks until the song is finished, and even then, they still seem to be processing it, mulling it over.
Maybe that's because while U2 is a supergroup to the rest of us, it's a peer to Jimmy Eat World, as well as a label mate. And these guys are serious about learning as much as they can from other successful bands. U2's "Vertigo" may have skyrocketed on the Billboard modern rock singles chart, but so has Jimmy Eat World's new single, "Pain," which is currently at an impressive number seven slot after only six weeks on the chart. Following up a platinum-selling album with a new full-length and a new single has got to be a little daunting, but so far, so good. Really good.
"That's the best reaction we've gotten from a single, ever -- at least initially," says Lind. "'The Middle' took longer." Back in 2002, that infectiously cheerful single from Jimmy Eat World (originally released as Bleed Americanbefore September 11, 2001 but later renamed) took twice as long to break the top ten, and boosted the band from solid success to real stardom. Another hit followed, "Sweetness," which kept the ball rolling. In all, Jimmy Eat World sold more than 1.3 million copies, and fueled the band through two years of steady touring.
"Our schedule became exponentially busier as time went on with the last record," says Adkins. "So when it was getting closer to the time when we needed to be thinking about making a new record, there was no time to be thinking about making a new record."
By the time Jimmy Eat World came back to Arizona after so much time on the road, there were three years' worth of song ideas to be fleshed out. Universal Music Group absorbed the band's record label, DreamWorks, in January 2004, but it apparently didn't become a stumbling block. By February, the guys were ready to start making Futures for Interscope. They began recording in L.A., did the bulk of their work in Tucson, and returned to L.A. to finish the project in June. The result -- immediately audible on the opening title track -- is a bigger, more textured rock sound that retains Jimmy Eat World's irresistible, anthemic harmonies but favors sophistication over simplicity.
"Our last album was definitely more concise -- probably our most upbeat album, musically. And I think if you compare it to this album, this album has a little bit more depth, and it's maybe on the whole just a darker album. Especially the second half of the album is more atmospheric, and it doesn't really match up with a song like 'The Middle,'" says Lind. "But if you listen to the middle section of Clarity (the band's third album), it's very much related to that. And on a whole, I think it's very representative of what we've done in the past but with a little bit more seriousness."
Adkins says the band does take itself more seriously now, and holds itself to much higher standards. Burch pipes up and adds that they don't have to have day jobs now and can focus on music every day. And Lind explains that on Futures, they put more energy into experimenting with new ideas and trying out different ways to make each song the best it could be. "We hit all the dead ends that we could possibly hit with all the songs," he says.
The recording and mixing process offered even more ways to play with the sound. "Like that song on the new album, 'Drugs or Me,'" says Lind. "To me, that song didn't even really take life until it was mixed. We had all these elements like recorded strings, but it never really sounded like the song until it was mixed, and that was the final stage of the record when it actually made sense. That sort of song is a testament to that kind of approach, where you don't totally have to have it figured out. Just a simple feedback track gives it a creepy kind of tension."
Adkins elaborates. "It could be this pretty thing, and maybe not a lot of depth to it, but you add in . . ." He pauses, pointing across the room to a red Krank Amp, which is made locally. "There's the amp," Adkins says, laughing. "We wanted to get the most metal, Hessian amp that they had. It doesn't work anymore because during that song, every knob was as high as it can go, and it was running through echo pedals and stuff. It was the most insane feedback you could get. And to put that on the prettiest song on the album, this quiet one -- little last touches can really drastically help a song's effectiveness, or take it to the wrong place."
With the album about to hit the streets, we'll soon know whether or not Jimmy Eat World took its songs to the right place. Signs point to yes.