Let It Bleed
About an hour into the conversation, Jimmy Eat World frontman Jim Adkins finally slumps back into his seat and lets out a long, deep sigh.
"You can't take this shit seriously, man -- especially if you're in the middle of it. You can't take any of it seriously. I mean... it's a fucking rock band."
Framed against a large window pane, Adkins is sprawled across a white sofa in the living room of the south Tempe home he shares with a handful of fellow musicians.
There are hints of both exasperation and embarrassment in his tone, much of it understandable given the circumstances. There is something untoward, if not wholly unsavory, in an artist recounting the often crass machinations of the music industry experience. It's something that Adkins -- despite being a shrewd and ambitious talent -- would clearly rather not be discussing.
Despite his reluctance, the singer confirms that after a brief courtship, Jimmy Eat World has signed with DreamWorks, marking the band's second major-label deal, after a fruitful but difficult four-year stint with Capitol Records. DreamWorks has also slated a late July release for Bleed American, the band's third full-length, with the title cut and first single set to hit radio in June.
Adkins chuckles as he notes how the group's two major-label experiences have been a study in contrasts. JEW were unknowns -- even within the Valley's incestuous scene -- when they were plucked from obscurity in the mid-'90s by Capitol. Over the course of two long-players, 1996's Static Prevails and 1999's Clarity, the group managed to build a dedicated following despite an almost pathological resistance on the part of the label to support the band -- this, despite selling nearly 100,000 albums and scoring a radio success with the single "Lucky Denver Mint." Conversely, their re-entry into the big time has been marked by a surprising measure -- locally and nationally -- of hype and anticipation.
The road to DreamWorks began after the band split with both its management and label in late-'99, deciding to venture out on its own. Last year saw JEW release a pair of discs (an odds-and-sods compilation and a split EP with Jebediah) on indie imprint Big Wheel Recreation, crisscross Europe and the States, and amass enough new material to begin work on a follow-up to Clarity.
"We got to a point where we thought that we should just make the record," recalls Adkins. "So we decided to pay for it ourselves."
Using money saved up from touring, their deal with Capitol and advance foreign-licensing agreements, the group set about to finance and complete the album themselves.
Reuniting with producer Mark Trombino (who helmed both Static and Clarity) the group laid down basic tracks at Hollywood's Cherokee Studios and Hard Drive Studios in the San Fernando Valley throughout late 2000 and early 2001. The 18 original cuts were pared down to about a dozen during the album's mixing process -- also overseen by Trombino -- before being turned over to noted mastering expert Bob Ludwig for the final touches.
Having completed what all concerned believed to be JEW's creative high-water mark, the band began looking toward its commercial future. Though it had been without management or a label for some 18 months, the group found that its popularity and industry cache had grown exponentially.
On the business end, things began to heat up in earnest when the group signed on with John Silva's L.A.-based G.A.S. Entertainment Group at the beginning of the new year. Silva, who first made his mark managing Nirvana and Beck, currently handles a roster of talent that includes Sonic Youth, the Beastie Boys, Counting Crows and the Foo Fighters, among others.
G.A.S. immediately began shopping the completed JEW disc in February, resulting in a minor bidding war for the band's services. Among the labels showing the most interest were RCA, DreamWorks and Warner Bros., with the choice eventually coming down to the latter two.
Warner's established muscle was certainly attractive to the group, as was the luster of being under the tradition-heavy WB banner -- something that would've made JEW labelmates with Built to Spill and the Flaming Lips. "Yeah, we would've been on the Flaming Lips' label. But we would've been on Linkin Park's label too," observes Adkins dryly.
Ultimately, it was a combination of factors that led to the group's decision to opt for DreamWorks instead.
"It was a kind of gut feeling as far as how excited [DreamWorks] was to work with us. There are pros and cons with everyone, so it kind of came down to that."
For its part, DreamWorks currently claims a clutch of critically heralded artists including Elliott Smith, the Eels, and Creeper Lagoon, as well as mainstream successes like Papa Roach and Lifehouse.
Adkins notes that much of the band's decision had to do with the label's desire to get the album out as soon as possible -- the disc is currently set for a July 24 domestic release -- and its intention to push the record hard to radio and retail from the outset.
"The record is done and it's kind of got this weird momentum behind it. So we didn't want to sit on it," says Adkins. "One of the stipulations of us working with somebody was how well they were going to be working us in the time frame when it's coming out."
While Adkins is tight-lipped on the particulars of the agreement, industry sources say the deal is a three-album pact in the low seven figures, with a fairly lucrative option for a fourth.
"This is nothing like our experience with Capitol," says Adkins, reflecting on the contract the band signed in 1995, while the group members were still in their teens. "We came to the table with a lot more this time. There's not a lot of people that walk in with their record done.
"To me it's pretty amazing that a major label would even sign a band that doesn't have any sort of fan base. They're just setting them up for, at best, a radio hit that no one is going to give a shit about on record two, 'cause there's nothing underneath it," continues Adkins. "They could be moving 100,000 records a week but no one comes to their shows. We haven't had a record label or a song on the radio for nearly two years and we still can sell out the El Rey in L.A. and we can tour all over the country."
With a large and fanatical grassroots following -- JEW draws audiences of 600 to 900 virtually everywhere it plays -- and growing critical buzz, the band seems poised to break through to the next level.
The marketing push that label and management are giving the group -- including a budget for a pair of videos, contracting an independent P.R. firm to handle promotion and a tentatively scheduled appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman -- is definitely impressive; whether such initiatives will yield any tangible commercial results is far less certain.
"We feel really good about it, obviously," says Adkins. "It's inspiring but also kind of depressing at the same time. I mean I could turn on MTV right now, and if by chance they are playing videos, it's going to be nothing that sounds like us."
Adkins is right enough in his assessment -- rap, nu metal and teen pop have had a commercial stranglehold on the charts for several years. Still, the upcoming summer season is set to yield a bumper crop of highly touted rock releases (including LPs from Weezer, R.E.M. and Travis) which has some industry watchers heralding the return of thoughtful, song-driven, guitar-based music.
Certainly, Bleed American would fall into that category. The 11-song disc (a 12th cut "Splash [Turn Twist]" will appear on U.K. and domestic vinyl versions only) is a remarkably well-written and crafted affair with an abundance of pop hooks. In fact, the album's first five tracks all sound like radio-ready fodder.
Regardless of the album's obvious potential, there is -- quite literally-- a long road ahead for the band in terms of promotional and support work.
At the end of this month, the group will fly to L.A. to begin production on the "Bleed American" video (the band's third, following Capitol-era clips for "Rockstar" and "Lucky Denver Mint") with an as-yet- to-be-decided director. As to the concept for the video Adkins jokes that "there will be these hot chicks with huge boobs in skimpy cutoffs washing low riders and us standing around with AK-47s."
The shoot will be followed by a month-long international tour which is set to touch down in Europe, Australia and Japan. The band will then return to the States in time for the album's release, at which point they'll begin a two week stretch on the east coast leg of the Vans' Warped Tour.
In August, the group will celebrate with a local CD-release party before spending the balance of the year headlining its own U.S. club tour. The band will, however, be taking a necessary break in the fall, for the expected October birth of drummer Zach Lind's first child. But, as Adkins notes "we expect to be on the road more than off it for quite a while."
The group is currently in the midst of prepping for the forthcoming grind, having tuned up its live act last week with a trio of Southern California dates, set to be followed by an outdoor show this Saturday at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe. And although it hasn't been confirmed, JEW is considering augmenting its touring line-up with vocalist Rachel Haden (formerly of That Dog and daughter of jazz giant Charlie Haden), who sings on Bleed, and multi-instrumentalist Brian McMahan (The For Carnation, Slint) to provide keyboards, sampler and guitar. "We're just kicking around some ideas on how to make the shows absolutely crazy," Adkins says.
Meanwhile, Adkins has been using the current downtime to write material for the next JEW album and begin work on a proposed side project, tentatively dubbed the All Rock Alert (Adkins says he's decided to shelve his orch-pop outfit Go Big Casino for the time being).
Taking up a chair behind the console of his home studio, Adkins closes his eyes and bobs his head as the monitors blare out a just-finished demo of a new, untitled number. The punkish, three-chord romp is indicative of the growing diversity in Adkins writing -- an attribute that makes a quantum leap on the new record.
Adkins finally seems to get comfortable as he pulls up a handful of song snippets he's been working on, including a hilariously over-the-top doom-metal instrumental called "Satanica," which was composed entirely on the Sony Playstation music-maker program, something that -- as he notes with a wicked grin -- may see the light of day a as a European b-side.
Turning his thoughts back to Bleed American, Adkins is clearly heartened by the early response the record has generated and hopeful that other bands will follow JEW's example in creating their own opportunities.
"I hope this actually works," he says of the band's circuitous and independent route back to the major-label fold. "So that it sets a precedent for how you could do stuff if you wanted to. Look at it this way: At the worst we would have not had management, not had a label and put the disc out ourselves, played for 600 people a night and made all the money ourselves -- which wouldn't have been a bad thing either."
As it stands, of course, the album has considerably more behind it.
"Yeah, I'm surprised things have worked out as well as they have, because it all has to do with luck and timing," muses Adkins. "Honestly, I expected things to be decent, but I didn't expect to get the chance that I think we're going to get. That's pretty much the only thing that you can hope for -- is the chance."
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