Brave New World

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"It was either go to college or make a record and tour," says Burch. "That's a pretty easy decision when you're 18."

Not knowing any entertainment lawyers, the thoroughly green group hired Lind's family attorney to look over the contracts. By mid-'95, the members of Jimmy Eat World -- still in their teens and barely out of high school -- were part of the Capitol Records roster, home to the Beatles, Beach Boys and Frank Sinatra.

At this point the band's style was -- by its own admission -- fairly ragged, far removed from the more polished commercial sound that would develop later. In hindsight, it's hard to see exactly what Capitol thought it was getting when it signed the nascent combo.

"It was part of a period where a lot of young bands were being signed to major labels," says the group's current DreamWorks A&R man Luke Wood. "And it was very difficult to really develop them within that system."

When Capitol gave little attention to Jimmy Eat World's promising 1996 debut, Static Prevails, the young group quickly developed an uneasy sense that it had been orphaned by its label benefactor.

"We soon realized that at that level it's survival of the fittest," says Lind. "It's really hard to get people in a record company to even listen to what you're doing -- especially if you're a young, developing band. 'Cause nobody wants to listen to a young, developing band, they want to listen to the Beastie Boys, Foo Fighters and Frank Sinatra -- and that's who we were vying [with] for attention within the company."

Among the deaf ears the group had fallen on were those of then-label president, and now the band's manager, Gary Gersh. Gersh -- who left Capitol in '98 -- admits he felt the band had been signed prematurely. "Yes, that's true," he says. "But I believed we should and could have helped them develop on their own. As it turned out, that's kind of what happened."

By major-label standards, Jimmy Eat World was a fairly cheap band to keep around, so Capitol handed the group another modest budget and insisted it begin work on a sophomore album. The resulting disc, Clarity, was miles ahead of its predecessor. A lush, thoughtfully crafted affair, this was the album that the band felt confident would finally garner it priority status within the company. But again the Capitol brass -- now headed by the bottom-line-minded Roy Lott -- didn't want to hear it.

"We thought we'd made a good record, and that it had a couple [of] legitimate singles the label could work with," says Lind. "And it was like coming home from college with a good report card and your parents not giving a rip. That's kind of the feeling we had."

Though Clarity was considered D.O.A. within the record company, the band still had a daring gambit left to play. Allowed to issue an independent EP while Capitol held back the release of Clarity, the group leaked a copy of the track "Lucky Denver Mint" to Los Angeles radio station KROQ. The song -- an infectious bit of teen anthemism -- became an instant hit on the tastemaking FM powerhouse.

"It's sad to say, but when 'Lucky Denver Mint' got played on KROQ, it was probably the first time a lot of people at Capitol had heard us," Lind says. "The only time anyone from the label ever came down while we were making the album was the day there was a photo shoot for Billboard."

In the wake of the unexpected success of the song, Capitol was forced to rush-release the album. However, without a solid marketing plan in place, the single soon fizzled and the record died an ignominious death not long after its spring '99 release. Even promotional efforts like getting "Denver" onto the soundtrack of the Drew Barrymore flick Never Been Kissed were too little, too late.

While they might've have started out as wide-eyed innocents, the band members had been given a crash course in the record business, and the painful truth that even good records get ignored. By the end of the year, the group was determined to break from Capitol, even threatening to break up as a last resort.

"We had to get off Capitol," says Lind. "We just had to."

Swathed in harsh blue light, a stern-faced Jim Adkins is onstage at the Glass House contemplating what he's just heard -- and he's not happy.

"We're here to drill it into our heads," he blurts into the microphone. "Let's do it again."

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Bob Mehr
Contact: Bob Mehr