Jimmy Eat World might not have burst onto the national consciousness until "The Middle" hit the airwaves in 2001, but the band actually formed in 1993, during the heyday of the Mill Avenue jangle-pop scene. But while the Gin Blossoms were riding the wave of "Hey Jealousy" and the streets of Tempe filled with the sounds of similarly inspired bands, the group of guys who would eventually form Jimmy Eat World were a town away in Mesa, plotting a different musical course.
"We were never a part of that scene because we were younger," says Zach Lind, Jimmy Eat World's drummer. "We were all under 21. You couldn't play Long Wong's. We don't really have any connection to the Mill Avenue bars. That whole scene just wasn't accessible to us."
The founding members of Jimmy Eat World — singer/guitarist Jim Adkins, Lind, guitarist Tom Linton, and bassist Mitch Porter (eventually replaced by Rick Burch) — were instead listening to Sunny Day Real Estate, the Cure, and R.E.M. along with a slew of pop-punk bands. The band's 2011 album, Damage, sounded like something that could have been recorded in that era.
"Damage feels like a record we made in a weekend in a garage, and we did that on purpose," Lind says.
The band took a different tack for the band's ninth album, Integrity Blues, which came out on October 21. Aided by producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen, who the band involved early in the songwriting process, the album is a shinier, ambitious collection of songs that stretches into just about every sonic realm the band has explored throughout the years.
Lind points to Meldal-Johnsen's influence as the primary reason for this shift. The band placed a lot of trust in the producer, he says, and the final product shows it.
"We had all these older ideas and some newer ideas, everything from finished songs to a 20-second guitar riff and everything in between. Almost like a sketch pad of doodles of songs," Lind says of the recording process. "Justin was really influential in us picking out the little things he thought were good. … We've never had someone along for the ride from that early on. Those early decisions are pretty big. … We sort of deferred to him a lot. We put a lot of trust in him. … but he was on the money."
Integrity Blues shows a side of Jimmy Eat World that's unafraid to step out of the water and shake its mane. The opening track, "You With Me," features vintage harmonies that every Jimmy Eat World fan will instantly recognize and latch onto. "Get Right," the band's first single, is a straight-up rock song that almost sounds like a B-side from the band's classic album Futures. Two songs — "Pol Roger" and "Pass The Baby" — eclipse the five-minute mark. The former is a long meditation that is epic and sprawling in how it unfolds, while the latter merges light industrial elements and finger-picked acoustic guitar lines to create a pretty satisfying slow jam that explodes with a guitar line that almost sounds Tom Morello-inspired.
It's the first proper studio album Jimmy Eat World has made in a long time.
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"I just think that in those terms, it's the best-sounding record we've made," Lind says. "I think that it's the first time since Futures that we went to LA and went to proper studios and did a record in the way that we made Static Veils Clarity and Bleed American and Futures."
It shows that Jimmy Eat World isn't content to cool its heels and just play "The Middle" as the ticket dollars pour in. That said, the band doesn't run away from its best-known song, even as it refuses to be defined by its success. In other words, the song hasn't gotten old.
"It isn't an issue for us," Lind says. "We enjoy that people connect to that song or any of our singles. It doesn't really become something that we dislike or feel negatively about. We feel pretty positive about the fact that people are connecting to it. And when we play live, it's something."
Jimmy Eat World is scheduled to play Fear Farm Haunted House on Saturday, October 22.