What a difference a few weeks can make.
In mid-December, Jimmy Eat World was one frustrated emo-punk band. The Mesa quartet had completed a masterful, ambitiously produced album for Capitol Records last summer, hoping all along to have it out by October '98, so the band could squeeze in a tour before the holidays. As months passed, they pinned their hopes on a February '99 release, repeating the idea like a mantra to label reps. But with Christmas nearing, the band realized that its CD was nowhere to be found on Capitol's release schedule for the first quarter of '99.
It was at that point that the gods--or at least some powerful radio programmers--intervened. A radio mix of the song "Lucky Denver Mint" (produced by Chris Lord-Alge) was added to the rotation of highly influential Los Angeles station KROQ, seemingly catching everyone by surprise, particularly the Capitol staff.
"It came at a time when the whole music industry just shuts down, and there's nobody working," says Zach Lind, drummer for the band. "When everybody got back into the office at the end of the holidays, KROQ called Capitol and said, 'Okay, what's your plan?' And Capitol said, 'Uh, we're gonna release it in February.' It was a cool thing. We got what we wanted. Capitol didn't panic, and they did a good job."
"Yeah, I'm actually surprised how smoothly things have been going lately," chimes in Jim Adkins, singer-guitarist and primary songwriter for the group.
The album in question, Clarity, hit the stores on February 23, and is already creating a stir, with "Lucky Denver Mint" popping up repeatedly on local alt-rock station KEDJ, and the band packing Tempe's Green Room for back-to-back CD-release shows on February 27 and 28.
Powerful and stirring as "Lucky Denver Mint" is, it's easy to see why Capitol initially dragged its feet on Clarity. The band's rough-hewn 1996 Capitol debut album, Static Prevails, was a promising effort for four guys barely out of high school, but it sold less than 10,000 copies and gave few hints of the kaleidoscopic soundscapes to come.
Moreover, guitar rock of all forms has been bombing pretty regularly over the past couple of years, and there must have been concern at Capitol that this would just be one more album to get lost in the discount bins. But the recent surge of radio interest in the band has created a noticeably different attitude at the label.
"Capitol has lots of successful soundtracks, and we never were even approached one time to be on any soundtrack of any kind," Lind says. "And, all of a sudden, now we're gonna be on a soundtrack coming up soon. There's a lot of differences we've noticed, going to the tower, and people saying, 'Hey, how ya doing?'
"Like reps in San Francisco checking us out, asking us if we've ever played there before, and we've played like seven times at that particular club," Adkins says.
Adkins and Lind make these points without a hint of bitterness, as though they're fully aware of the game, and they realize there's no point in taking it personally. What's more, for all the frustrations that accompany a major-label contract, the Capitol deal did provide the band with the kind of recording budget that allowed it to turn the studio into a canvas.
"That's one of the main reasons we wanted to [be on a major label], so that we could make the record we want, to take the time to really do it," Adkins says. "You can try out your ideas and make sure they sound good while you're trying them out."
"We've recorded both ways--this way and really kind of stripped down, not a lot of time, not a lot of money," Lind says. "You'll have ideas, but you kind of have to pick and choose your battles, which ones you wanna do, and what sounds better. But with a budget and time, you can say, 'We have time. Let's just try it.'"
Working with Mark Trombino, who produced part of Static Prevails, the group gave free reign to its whims, almost as if this might be its only shot, and the result is an embarrassment of sonic riches. It's one of those rare albums that grows stronger with each listen, as new passages rise up and steal your attention: the sweeping violin-and-cello solo that redefines the fiery rocker "Just Watch the Fireworks," the lush harmonies of Adkins and guitarist Tom Linton on the chorus of "Believe in What You Want," the delicacy of Lind's bells on "A Sunday," so evocative of the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning."
Paradoxically, even as the band embellished its sound with strings, keyboards and drum loops, it captured the true essence of its sound better than on any of its previous recordings.
The album's most transcendent moment will probably be missed by all but the most dedicated fans. For the audaciously long closer, "Goodbye Sky Harbor," the quartet decided to ride on a repetitive, hypnotic guitar sequence for the length of an entire reel of tape.
The result is a 16-minute track that slowly, almost imperceptibly builds momentum. Nearly 12 minutes into the song, the instruments suddenly fade out, and you're left with overlapping vocal countermelodies and percussion. Eventually, electronic breakbeats make their entrance, and the tune soars off to its conclusion, an utterly different piece of music than the one it started out to be.
"It gives a reward to the patient listeners," Lind says of the track. "A lot of people will probably say, 'This is going on forever,' and hit eject."
"We really don't expect people to listen to that part more than a few times," Adkins adds with a laugh.
At the band's February 27 Green Room show, getting people to listen was not one of the band's more pressing problems. Thanks in part to a band guest list that numbered 100 people, the sold-out show turned into an overflow, and the mood couldn't have been more celebratory.
Opening acts Chula and Reuben's Accomplice played strong sets, and the latter group paid tribute to the night's conquering heroes by covering the raucous guitar raver, "Blister," one of the highlights from Clarity.
Hitting the stage a few moments later, Jimmy Eat World launched into the ethereal "For Me This Is Heaven," which opens with Adkins singing, "The first star I see may not be a star." Mixing the best moments from Clarity and Static Prevails, they demonstrated again why they're head-and-shoulders above most emo practitioners.
While their dramatic sense of dynamics, knack for unpredictable vocal harmonies, interlocking guitar figures and a punishing rhythm section (which includes rock-solid bassist Rick Burch) each have a lot to do with it, much of the difference has to do with good old-fashioned charisma. When Adkins tears into a vocal, his eyes closed in deep concentration and his head snapping back and forth like a twig in the wind, the band's melancholy confessionals assume an epic sense of triumph.
Nowhere was that more evident than on the band's live rendition of "Blister." Seemingly half the crowd sang along as Linton hit the key line, "How long would it take me to walk across the United States all alone?" It was an apt question, as the band prepared to embark on a five-week national tour. But if the crowd response was any indication, this band will never have to walk alone.
Ferry Ride: Local alt-country heroes the Revenants have inked a deal with local label Hayden's Ferry. The label has had success in so-called Americana music circles with bands like The Ignitors and Stomp Gospel, and the Revenants would seem a logical fit. The Revenants' most recent album, Artists and Whores, was released last year on the now defunct Epiphany label, and the group has since recorded an excellent live-in-the-studio EP. Hayden's Ferry chief Stu Baker says the band will complete this recording, adding a few tracks to make it a full-length effort. Baker expects the album to be released in May or June.
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You Can Call Him Al: Tucson roots-rock pioneer Al Perry will make a rare Valley appearance with his band, the Cattle, on Saturday, March 6, at the Arizona Roadhouse in Tempe. Opening the show will be Perry's longtime friends, the Nitpickers.
Contact Gilbert Garcia at his online address: email@example.com