Brave New World

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The band has spent the past hour fine-tuning a deceptively complex number called "Table for Glasses." The band's sound is unusually rich, thanks to the efforts of two new utility players, vocalist Rachel Haden -- daughter of jazz legend Charlie Haden -- and multi-instrumentalist Brian McMahan.

Once they finally nail the song's aching three-part harmonies, a blissful euphony engulfs the stage. As the last barmy notes ring out, a poignant hush fills the club.

"I think," says Lind, in a rare moment of salaciousness, "that's the new panty dropper."

"The panty droppa," ripostes Adkins with mock girlish glee.

A solemn-looking Burch fiddles with his bass amp. Meanwhile, Linton is absent for much of the rehearsals, away at the dentist in Beverly Hills.

The full lineup runs through the infectious candyfloss of "Authority Song" a half-dozen times, honing guitar tones, before relentlessly tackling a handful of older tunes from the catalogue. Adkins directs most of the action, with Lind periodically chiming in suggestions, pausing between songs to check his phone for messages.

This workmanlike intensity is leavened by more light moments: Haden doing a spot-on impersonation of shrill Rush singer Geddy Lee; the group serenading Linton with a sour-faced version of "Happy Birthday." Later, Lind and Adkins strike pseudo-metal poses, camping it up as they toss off a torrent of arena-rock riffs and fills.

As the pair collapse amid the humorous cacophony, it becomes clear that it was their unyielding personalities -- Lind's competitive nature and Adkins' obsessive focus -- that diverted the band from the major-label crash-and-burn route it was on just a couple years back.

By late '99, Jimmy Eat World had become completely frustrated with Capitol and wanted out. After a fair amount of maneuvering, the group was finally given its walking papers. Wanting to make a clean break from all its ties, the band's next step was to divorce itself from its management. That decision was made easy after the group's handlers balked when the band -- sensing its international potential -- suggested a tour of Europe.

"They were like, 'How can you even think about Europe when we don't have anything going in the States?'" says Burch. "But we didn't care. We wanted to try it and at least see."

"We had surrounded ourselves with the wrong kind of people," says Lind, shaking his head. "Looking back, they didn't really even understand us, who we were. We needed to be on our own for a while. No label, no management. We needed to do it ourselves."

On paper, the decision to leave their music-biz family was a risky one. They knew their plan -- fueled in equal measure by obstinacy and naiveté -- could've easily backfired, rendered them broke and back in Phoenix, four college dropouts with little to show for their efforts. Undeterred, they pressed forward.

The band reverted to its D.I.Y. roots, buying several hundred copies of its own CDs from Capitol at cost, taking a loss on the shipping and sending them overseas to independent record stores. In effect, they created their own modest distribution network in Europe.

When the band got to Germany for the first date of its tour, the boys expected, at most, a handful of curious onlookers. Instead, what they got was a room packed to the rafters with 600 kids swaying, shouting and singing along to every note -- all this even though Capitol had never released any of the albums in Europe.

The unexpected response that night signaled a rebirth for a band whose fledgling career had nearly been snuffed by an unfeeling industry.

"It was like playing our first show all over again," enthuses Lind. "I had such a nervous feeling in my stomach about the show, and then seeing this huge crowd -- it was like a dream to me."

The grassroots response the band had seen in Europe was a mere inkling of the swell of below-the-radar support carrying it stateside. Months after leaving Capitol, the group was shocked to find that Clarity was shifting a surprisingly respectable 500 units a week.

"It was mostly word of mouth," offers Adkins. "And a lot of things like Napster and the Internet. At that point we didn't really have any kind of official promotion. It was a weird phenomenon."

Galvanized by its dark-horse success, the group decided the next logical step was to record a new album itself.

In contrast to the Capitol-funded platters, the sessions for what would eventually become Bleed American were a long, arduous process. Forced by their budget to complete the project piecemeal, the band members were only able to record basic drum tracks before running out of money. With every bit of band income being set aside for the recording, the group members suffered through a frightfully lean period.

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Bob Mehr
Contact: Bob Mehr