Sept. 29, 2002
In today's prefab pop idol marketplace,
there must be more pre-teen would-be superstars than
ever, all vying for that elusive major-label contract.
Hell, they even have prime time TV shows about it! For
the members of this week's radio.wazee Spotlight band
Eat World, however, having released two major-label
albums before hitting legal drinking age, the freedom
from that same contract would put the Mesa, Ariz., foursome
on the path to its very finest work: Bleed American,
Jimmy Eat World's fourth LP and first for DreamWorks
Records, recorded on the band's own dime in the aftermath
of the band's being dropped from their previous label.
"There was no record
company, no A&R guy, no manager-- just us,"
says singer-guitarist Jim Adkins. "We looked
at the whole thing as a liberating experience, rather
than part of any deliberate plan."
Indeed, record-industry fate had
effectively given Jimmy Eat World a new lease on life.
After the band's split with the label in August 1999,
they commemorated their independence with a self-promoted,
five-week tour of Europe, their first ever. That the
erstwhile record company had not released Jimmy Eat
World material overseas was hardly an obstacle: Ever
resourceful, the band simply purchased their own records
directly from the distributor and shipped them to
"The best thing that
company ever did for us was to buy us a van,"
recalls drummer Zach Lind, demonstrating the band's
enduring positivity. "We really got their money's
worth out of it. We treated touring like guerrilla
warfare, which had other benefits aside from just
saving money; it forced us to interact with people
who had a real interest in the band's success, to
make friends as well as fans. Even when we were on
a major, we always acted like we weren't; we acted
like an indie band. Our attitude was, 'So what if
we don't have the support of our label? We have the
support of our fans.'
Within a year, Jimmy Eat World's
profile in Europe had grown exponentially. Germany
was particularly receptive, welcoming the band back
in 2000 for Bizarre and PopKomm, two of the country's
biggest festivals. Their return coincided with success
on the German charts for Clarity, the quartet's 1999
offering. That year also saw Jimmy Eat World release
their Singles compilation on indie Big Wheel Recreation,
licensing the collection to Japanese label Toys Factory
and channeling the proceeds to the recording of Bleed
American (released July 24, 2001). A U.S. tour following
Singles-- as well as a split EP with tourmates Jebediah
(which featured an early version of Bleed American's
"Cautioners")-- further augmented the new
By the fall of 2000, they'd banked
enough to finish the album without skimping. Lind
reminisces: "When the record was being mixed,
I felt the best I'd ever felt about all of this. When
we first got dropped, we said, 'Let's get down to
business; let's do what we do best.' We'd taken a
risk and now it had paid off."
Jimmy Eat World has always done
its best work when left to its own devices. After
all, since the band's inception in 1994, it has amassed
a large and devoted hometown crowd through numerous
self-booked shows, a handful of DIY 7-inch singles,
split records recorded with other bands and an eponymous
album released on Tempe, Ariz.-based Wooden Blue Records.
In 1995, which marked the departure
of original bassist Mitch Porter and his replacement
by Rick Burch, Jimmy Eat World signed a major-label
deal and began recording Static Prevails, issued in
1996. Critics and college radio programmers noted
the intriguing range of the disc, introduced by the
infectious, up-tempo opener "Thinking, That's
All" and cemented with the subdued finale "Anderson
Mesa." Despite their status as a major-label
band, however, Adkins, guitarist-singer Tom Linton,
Burch and Lind handled the most crucial artist-development
chores on their own. Continuing to slog it out on
the road, they still managed to record and release
split singles with comrades Mineral, Jejune, Sense
Field and Blueprint.
Clarity, co-produced by the band
and longtime collaborator Mark Trombino (Blink-182,
Drive Like Jehu), arrived in early 1999. In true Jimmy
Eat World fashion, the disc was preceded by a self-titled
EP released on tiny independent Fueled By Ramen that
featured the Clarity standouts "Lucky Denver
Mint" and "For Me This Is Heaven" and
a demo version of "Your New Aesthetic."
The band's indefatigable efforts began to pay off
when Clarity's first-week sales alone amounted to
nearly half of what Static Prevails had sold to date.
"Lucky Denver Mint"
began gaining momentum at Los Angeles' trend-setting
KROQ and was even tapped for inclusion on the soundtrack
to the Drew Barrymore flick "Never Been Kissed."
Nonetheless, it seemed that Jimmy's agenda and that
of the label were following along divergent paths.
In Clarity's lyrics careful listeners detected a business
world-weariness that belied the band's tender age
("The formula is too thin ... / Imitate and water
down"; "Don't kid yourself/ You know they
want money"). Before long, Jimmy Eat World and
their label parted ways.
"In retrospect, I'm
glad those records didn't blow up," Adkins says.
"It's tough living single to single, hit to hit.
We're very fortunate we had the opportunity to tour
and build a real fan base. We've been without the
benefit of label support, a song on the radio or even
a deal for the last two years, but we're consistently
able to play to 600 people a night."
Jimmy Eat World's post-major-label
stealth enabled them to record Bleed American (co-produced
with Trombino) completely free of distraction, which
resulted in what many consider their most accomplished
songcraft and focused performances yet. "I've
heard the best ideas are the ones you think you shouldn't
use at first," Adkins says. "You do your
best work when you skirt your boundaries. If you like
something you've written but you have issues with
it, you're probably on the right track. With this
record, I found it was more challenging to write concise
pop songs than to get really progressive and abstract."
All of which is not to say that
Jimmy Eat World has abandoned the energy or innovation
of its previous works. First radio track "Bleed
American," for example, launches the record with
a furious melody, propelling a lyric of hard-won wisdom.
The song's stick-to-the-ribs hooks quickly inspired
KROQ, San Francisco's Live 105, Washington, D.C.'s
WHFS, San Diego's 91X, Boston's WBCN and Atlanta's
99X, among other radio powerhouses, to play it pre-release--
and pre-record deal.
"'Bleed American' isn't
about any one thing," Adkins explains. "It's
about a general dissatisfaction and a yearning for
something more-- not necessarily something material
but emotional. It describes a feeling that something's
Elsewhere on Bleed American, songs
like "Sweetness," "If You Don't, Don't"
and "Your House" seem to harbor a romantic
sensibility, though Adkins prefers not to specify.
"I look at these songs more as moods than statements,"
he says. "However people choose to interpret
them is fine." To be sure, the record's more
experimental turns, like the somber "Get It Faster"
or the expansive "Cautioners," leave as
much room for the listener's own experiences and emotions
as anything on Static Prevails or Clarity.
"It's like any form
of artistic expression," Adkins concludes. "Whether
it's art, music, literature, whatever-- hopefully
you get something out of it. If not, I guess we've
failed. But, hopefully, you do."