Jimmy Eat World
Photo: Oliver Halfin
Jimmy Eat World Are 'Surviving': "At The End Of The Day, We're Fighting For The Same Thing"
25 years and 10 albums into his career, Jim Adkins, frontman of emo mainstays Jimmy Eat World, says one of the key factors for keeping a band together this long comes down to a choice made every day.
"We all realize, at the end of the day, that we're fighting for the same thing," he says on the phone from Arizona.
The band's latest album, Surviving, out now, comes after the band's 25th anniversary in February and 20 years after making their third album, Clarity, which, at the time, they thought would be their last. "It was like a last meal on death row. We loaded up our plate with string sections, timpanis, mallet instruments and dream machines," a post reads on the band's Instagram reflecting back during the album's anniversary date.
Surviving has Adkins in a different headspace than 20 years ago. Not that Adkins isn't aware that it could all end ("Your career is finite," he says). But lately he's much more focused on reflecting on the self.
"What's been fascinating me lately [are] the blocks you put in your own way that prevent you from experiencing growth. That keep you in a state of fear or depression, or self-pity, or a lack of self-worth," he says. " What evolutionary advantage possibly could there be for the levels of self-sabotage we think we need?"
The band's newer music still features the hard-rocking melodies fans have come to love and revere, and Adkins admits that the pressure to live up to his own expectations has grown over the years. "You're not just making albums, you're not just releasing singles," he says. "You're building your catalog. And everything that you do lives right next to everything you've ever done."
The Recording Academy spoke with Adkins about where Surviving fits in Jimmy Eat World's extensive catalog (Surviving is their 10th studio album), the challenging aspects of making a record, what he's the most proud to have accomplished with the band and more.
Surviving is album number 10. How does it feel to be 10 albums in?
Pretty crazy. We don't take any of this for granted and there's a finite amount of opportunities that you get. It could be one album, it could be 15 albums. I think on page one of [Donald] Passman's book [All You Need to Know About the Music Business] he says it a couple times, your career is finite. And I take that to heart so you have to appreciate everything that comes your way. And we've been really, really fortunate that we've been able to do this for as long as we have.
You recently celebrated an anniversary as a band. What, in your opinion, has been the glue that has kept you guys together for so long?
That's a good question. I think it's a couple of factors. There's a level of respect for each other, especially creatively. I think that the idea of how many bands break up because of quote, unquote creative differences, which I know is kind of a cover for some extra other deep stuff. But it's true. I can see how that derails a lot of people and as heated as an argument might be when we're working on material, we all realize at the end of the day that we're fighting for the same thing.
It's not like you don't take any of that stuff personally. I wouldn't want to work with people that didn't have passionate ideas and envisions for the creative direction. Of course, it's not going to be exactly the same [as mine]. That's why you work with other people. If you want to just do your thing, you just do your thing. [If you want a collaborative environment], you're going to get things that aren't your idea. But hopefully in the end ... it'll make for an idea that nobody had on their own. They'll be something collaborative. It's something that none of you had thought of on your own and couldn't have thought on your own.
Some artists have told me it's basically like marriage, being in a group for so long.
Yeah, yeah. I can see that. It's a relationship on a level ... Any relationship that's going to last is, it's a partnership first. A band is a partnership first.
This album explores how you deal with ego. Tell me more about that.
Yeah, roughly. Every song has its own little thing, but roughly what's been fascinating me lately [are] the blocks you put in your own way that prevent you from experiencing growth. That keeps you in a state of fear or depression, or self-pity, or a lack of self-worth. A lot of those things are really your own fault. The crazy thing is I put this stuff there, but yet I'm so afraid to take it away. Why? Why is that? What evolutionary advantage possibly could there be for the levels of self-sabotage we think we need?
It's crazy. "I really don't like where I am right now. I'm not happy with my job. I'm not happy with the relationship I'm in. I live in constant fear of finances or whatever." But to change or do anything different, that's just too scary. I don't know if I want to do that. Why? Why is that? It's kind of fascinating to me. So, that's what a lot of Surviving is about.
I've read stuff about the ego and sometimes what happens is that we're not living in the moment. Like you said, we're thinking about the future, we're thinking about how we're not happy. Do you feel like you were in the moment creating this album?
Yeah, I can see why there are people who check out of society and dedicate their entire being to inner work of removing the self. Eckhart Tolle has a great book [on that], The Power Of Now.
It really changed a lot of stuff for me. But yeah, that's true. We future trip, we hold onto guilt. We choose to re-live pain that doesn't exist. I don't know if this kind of gets at your question at all, but it's like something I used to find myself doing is catch myself in this state of anxiousness, or I basically work myself up into a really not great place. And that's the thing, I took 15 minutes out of the day and nothing else in the world had changed, but I had gone and chosen to re-live pain in my head.
It's crazy. I'm not being present. I'm not interacting with people around me. I'm not experiencing a connection to people 'cause I'm in my own head. Either future tripping or reliving guilt I guess would be the fear of the past, I suppose you could call it. So, it's a constant quest to be present, and it's a longer answer than maybe you intended. But it's sort of the trick, with creation, with writing, with music. You got to turn off somewhat because I think writer's block is essentially not being able to shut off the inner critique.
But music is like you're responding to something. You're also creating something. You're responsible for the momentum and the direction. And you're also listening, and you're responding to that at the same time. And if your inner critic is constantly chiming into naysaying something, you're not going to get anywhere. So you got to turn that off. It's a real trick to be present, but also to turn that voice off is a real trick. And that's why this is so hard.
Have you always been this aware?
No. No. [Laughs.] Not at all. It's a newer thing, I guess.
Did anything else inspire this album?
Well, I mean everything. I think our albums are time capsules. These sort of encompass everything that's been happening, everything that I am curious about, everything that floats to the surface of life and living in the timeframe since our last thing that we did, which was about three years ago, Integrity Blues, came out three years ago. So yeah, it's basically a time capsule of the last three years.
Was there something about making this album that was different from the rest?
Hmm. I think the longer that we do this, the more pressure there is to live up to our own expectations, our own standards. Increasingly, the way people consume music now... You're not just making albums, you're not just releasing singles. You're building your catalog. And everything that you do lives right next to everything you've ever done. It's right next to it. And then that lives right next to the Library of Congress and anybody can take whatever they want out of that. So, what you're doing has to feel... there has to be a reason for it. If anything, that might be the difference is if we're going to take the time to add to our catalog, it better be something we feel is meaningful. It better be something we feel like there's a reason that we're doing it in the first place.
So what do you feel was the reason you made Surviving?
In the past, I think when you're starting out and especially us, when we were younger, you just do something. You don't know why. You just feel it. You have to, we have to do it. Here's my idea, I just have to get this out. You don't question it. You don't analyze it. You just do it cause you have to. Not like someone's making you do it. You have to otherwise, you'll just explode. You will die, you'll die unless you can get this thing thinking out.
That's how it feels when you're younger. But as you get older, I think this is a quest to know yourself. The more you learn doing that, you find reasons there. You find things that are important to you. And that's the thing that you choose to talk about. So, I guess that's just the reason now. I don't know. We feel like our ideas are good enough to live next to everything else we've ever done.
Is there a part of the album-making process that you enjoy the most?
I think there are two thoughts really. When the first draft demo, when you get the initial idea and you take your stab at hearing that happen in real life and if something comes out of it, that's great. And then I think the next phase is probably listening back to it. Listening back to the master copy for the first time. Yeah, it'll never quite sound that way again, ever. So, it's nice to take a second and play that once.
Was there a challenging aspect in making Surviving?
I think it's all pretty challenging. I think the most challenging aspect of it is that simple thing that confronts you every time sit down to work. It's just finding the balance of not... I'm trying to be present with whatever is happening and also silencing the inner critic. Because there's an awareness and then there's a complete subconscious that you have to kind of balance. That's always harder.
What is one thing that you are really proud to have accomplished all these years later?
I guess I could say I'm proud that we've always been honest with what we've put out. We're always been honest with the music we put our name on is material we feel is fun to play [and] had been rewarding to create. We've never made something to chase the approval of some imaginary listener.
People really pick up on that. There's nothing more of a turnoff and someone trying to chase your approval. So I think that we've done a good job in disregarding that. Not everyone's going to like what we do, but I think if you put out something honest, I think the right people will find it.