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It Just Takes Some Time: The Story Of Jimmy Eat World's Breakthrough 'Bleed American' At 20

Jimmy Eat World

Photo: Christopher Wray-McCann

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It Just Takes Some Time: The Story Of Jimmy Eat World's Breakthrough 'Bleed American' At 20

On their fourth strike, 'Bleed American,' Arizona quartet Jimmy Eat World simplified their sound, swung for the fences, broke into the mainstream, and opened the doors for a new generation of alternative and pop-punk bands

GRAMMYs/Jul 24, 2021 - 05:06 am

Second chances are hard to come by in the music business, and the 1990s alt-rock gold rush was no different. For every Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots success story, there were bands like Fig Dish and For Love Not Lisa, whose albums failed to launch.

And yet there was Jimmy Eat World, an emo-punk band scooped by Capitol Records right out of high school in '95 only to be dropped after two albums in. Fast-forward to 2002, and the band is performing their breakout hit, "The Middle," on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." Then "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Then "Saturday Night Live." The song's uplifting lyrics—"Don't write yourself off yet ... It doesn't matter if it's good enough / For someone else"—sound almost like a masterclass in self-motivational life lessons.

"The Middle," from Jimmy Eat World's fourth album, Bleed American, which celebrates its 20-year anniversary this month, shot to the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 all-genre chart and made the four then-twentysomethings from Mesa, Arizona, darlings of late-night TV and MTV. While it's easy to read into the lyrics two decades later, the song wasn't written as a kiss-off to their former label. But it was the ultimate about-face, the "phoenix-like rising from the ashes of being dropped," as Steve Martin of Nasty Little Man, who orchestrated the publicity campaign for Bleed American, puts it.

"Where they had gotten in their development, and the musical zeitgeist of the time, were just so aligned," Martin tells GRAMMY.com. "Even if they hadn't been [aligned], it was such an undeniable collection of songs."

For Bleed American, the band went for simplicity. While the album peppered elements from their previous releases—the barbed post-punk guitar riffs from the band's 1996 album, Static Prevails, giving the title track its teeth, the jangly atmospherics from Clarity (1999) chiming in the background of "Hear You Me" and "Cautioners"—the scaled-back approach marked a significant change to their sound. Still, the songs on Bleed American are also front-loaded with hooks that get straight to business: The band reaches both the bludgeoning chorus of "Bleed American" and the bouncy singalong of "The Middle" in 35 seconds flat.

"I think I started finally getting Bruce Springsteen and the Everly Brothers after we made Clarity," lead vocalist and guitarist Jim Adkins says. "I started recognizing that simpler construction, simpler arrangements, [the] everything-you-need/nothing-you-don't type of songwriting is actually really, really challenging and worth pursuing."

Before they made Bleed American, though, they had to get out of their contract with Capitol. Adkins estimates the band sold maybe (his emphasis) 10,000 copies combined of Static Prevails and Clarity. The pairing was a mismatch, according to the band. The label treated Jimmy Eat World like a development project, while Adkins says Capitol was set up to "drop the hammer on the thing that's moving 15,000 to 30,000 [records] a week." So, when the label dropped them in 1999, it was a relief. It was also a chance to rebuild.

In reality, the band simply continued with business as usual. They were already operating as their own European distributor, buying copies of Clarity at wholesale prices from the college department at Capitol and shipping them to Germany; the move paid off when 400 people showed up to their first gig in the country, as Jimmy Eat World were touring to save up money to record Bleed American. Toward that end, they also released Singles, a compilation of their seven-inch singles and one-offs, on the now-defunct independent label Big Wheel Recreation in 2000.

With demos of new songs like "Sweetness" circulating online and in industry channels, the band settled in at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles with producer Mark Trombino, whose confidence in the band was so high, he waived his fee until the group worked out a new label deal. And sure enough, representatives from major labels began showing up at their recording sessions to see what the buzz was all about.

"It was a very welcomed change," drummer Zach Lind says. "You go from feeling kind of like the red-headed stepchild to being in a position where you have a little bit of leverage, whereas before, we didn't really have any leverage."

Jimmy Eat World 2.0 signed with DreamWorks, an artists-first label created by music industry veteran David Geffen with filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose roster also included Elliott Smith, Morphine and Eels. Retooled with a new label, new management, and their new album's title track as the first single, the band hit the promotion circuit hard in the summer of 2001, playing dates on the Warped Tour as well as headlining club shows.

"When 'Bleed American' started happening, things changed quickly," bassist Rick Burch tells GRAMMY.com. "The venues got bigger. We weren't driving ourselves in the van anymore; we had a bus driver and a bus, so we could do far more gigs for a longer stretch, and we were playing in front of more people than we ever had before."

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, changed all that. Although the song was doing well on alternative radio, "Bleed American" "just fell off the face of the Earth" after 9/11 happened, according to Lind.

As Americans regrouped in the aftermath of the world-changing event, so, too, did Jimmy Eat World. They rechristened the album as Jimmy Eat World and transitioned to pushing "The Middle," which was on deck as the second single.

Written in response to a fan email sent to the band's Aol. account in the '90s, "The Middle" addresses themes like alienation and low self-confidence. Its perspective outlines a position of rallying and understanding how someone's teenage years are only a small part, e.g. "the middle," of a person's journey. Radio embraced "The Middle," but what really put the song over the top was the video and its subsequent spins on MTV's "Total Request Live" countdown show.

Paul Fedor, who directed the music video for "The Middle," pitched the theme: A classic dream sequence where you show up to school, work—or in this case, a house party—naked. But in this instance, the roles are reversed. The protagonist shows up to a party fully clothed, while his peers dance and cavort in their underwear. Just as he succumbs to peer pressure, he meets someone just like him. It was a simple concept, but it could have easily gone wrong.

"I think we just decided, 'Let's lean into this and do it and make sure it's done right,' make sure it's not overly gratuitous or inappropriate in a way that feels creepy," drummer Lind says. "So, we tried to thread that needle. I think there was a little bit of apprehension, but once we decided to go down that road, and once we were done with it, we felt really good about it."

As their popularity rose, Jimmy Eat World's touring schedule broadened. They played the main stage at several European festivals to a "sea of humanity," according to Burch, and recorded a sold-out performance at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., for the Believe in What You Want DVD. The touring bubble insulated them from seeing just how big things had gotten.

"We were just touring, and it all felt like kind of the same way it felt working with Capitol," frontman Adkins says, "[like] we were totally getting away with something. 'This isn't real. We're just taking the ride for the funny stories while we have the chance.' It didn't sink in that, 'Oh, wait, this is actually connecting with people. This is something that is really getting out there.' It wasn't until maybe a record later or two records later we realized actually how big it was."

In summer 2002, as the album's third single, the fan-favorite "Sweetness," peaked at No. 2 on Billboard's Alternative Airplay chart, Jimmy Eat World signed on to open the Pop Disaster Tour co-headlined by Green Day and Blink-182. The two-month jaunt grossed $20 million at amphitheaters and arenas, according to Billboard, and the bands wasted no time in hazing each other.

"We hired some male strippers to storm [Blink-182's] stage during their song 'All the Small Things,'" bassist Burch remembers, with a laugh. "The audience just loved it. They thought it was part of Blink's act, and the Blink guys loved it, too. We actually ended up helping them, giving them a cool element to their set that everyone was stoked with. It wasn't distracting to them at all."

Green Day, however, flexed their "vast resources" mercilessly. "When they came out on stage, the first thing they did was shoot super soakers," Burch recalls. "The next layer was boxes of dehydrated mashed potatoes. [When you] combine that with the water, it turns into glue." Then their crew deployed Ping-Pong balls and glitter bombs from the overhead lighting trusses.

"That starts raining down," Burch adds, "and when the glitter meets the mashed potato glue, it's a very strong bond. Even to this day, there's bits of glitter adhered to the guitar I was playing."

When the dust, and some of the glitter, settled on their nearly two-year campaign for Bleed American, the members of Jimmy Eat World had come home to platinum plaques and an album that continues to rank high on "best of" lists; readers of Rolling Stone voted the album one of the 10 Best Pop-Punk Albums of All Time. Bands tagged with the "emo" label in the years that followed, like Panic At the Disco, All Time Low and Fall Out Boy, owe a big debt to Jimmy Eat World for crashing the gate to mainstream acceptance.

"The way that Bleed American just opened doors for us was maybe one of the most satisfying experiences of my life," Lind reflects. "In the wake of all the frustration and banging our head against the wall at Capitol, it just felt like everything aligned perfectly, and I think we were lucky to be able to experience that in that way, because I don't think a lot of people get that moment in their life."

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Iggy Pop Announces New Album, 'Free', Shares Title Track

Iggy Pop

Photo: Harmony Korine

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Iggy Pop Announces New Album, 'Free', Shares Title Track

"By the end of the tours following Post Pop Depression, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained… I wanted to be free," the Godfather of Punk explained

GRAMMYs/Jul 18, 2019 - 11:47 pm

Today, GRAMMY-nominated punk forbearer Iggy Pop revealed the details for his forthcoming 18th solo studio album, along with its short—at under two minutes—yet spacious title track, "Free." The 10-track LP is due out Sept. 6 and follow's 2016's GRAMMY-nominated Post Pop Depression.

"This is an album in which other artists speak for me, but I lend my voice," Pop explains in a press release.

The statement notes jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas and L.A.-based electric guitarist Noveller as the "principal players" collaborating with Pop on this exploratory new project. On "Free," Thomas' horn and Noveller's guitar add layers of depth, somberness and exploration, as Pop's echoing voice cuts through twice to proclaim, "I want to be free."

Pop adds that his last tour left him feeling exhausted but ready for change, and the shifts eventually led him to these new sounds:

"By the end of the tours following Post Pop Depression, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained. And I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back, and walk away. I wanted to be free. I know that's an illusion, and that freedom is only something you feel, but I have lived my life thus far in the belief that that feeling is all that is worth pursuing; all that you need—not happiness or love necessarily, but the feeling of being free. So this album just kind of happened to me, and I let it happen."

Post Pop Depression earned the former Stooges frontman his second GRAMMY nod, at the 59th GRAMMY Awards for Best Alternative Music Album. It was produced by GRAMMY winner Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and as a tribute of sorts to David Bowie, Pop's longtime friend the producer of his first two solo albums, and was released shortly after Bowie's surprising passing.

As the press release states, "While it follows the highest charting album of Iggy's career, Free has virtually nothing in common sonically with its predecessor—or with any other Iggy Pop album."

You can pre-order and pre-save the new album now for the Sept. 6 release here. You can also check out Pop's new book, 'Til Wrong Feels Right, on Sept. 26.

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Poll: From "Dreams" To "The Chain," Which Fleetwood Mac Song Is Your Favorite?

Fleetwood Mac in 1975

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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Poll: From "Dreams" To "The Chain," Which Fleetwood Mac Song Is Your Favorite?

"Dreams" experienced a charming viral moment on TikTok after a man posted a video skateboarding to the classic track, and now it's back on the charts, 43 years later

GRAMMYs/Oct 16, 2020 - 04:00 am

In honor of Fleetwood Mac's ethereal '70s rock classic "Dreams," which recently returned to the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to a viral TikTok skateboard video from Nathan Apodaca, we want to know which of the legendary group's songs is your favorite!

Beyond their ubiquitous 1977 No. 1 hit "Dreams," there are so many other gems from the iconic GRAMMY-winning album Rumours, as well as across their entire catalog. There's the oft-covered sentimental ballad "Landslide" from their 1975 self-titled album, the jubilant, sparkling Tango in the Night cut "Everywhere" and Stevie Nicks' triumphant anthem for the people "Gypsy," from 1982's Mirage, among many others.

Vote below in our latest GRAMMY.com poll to let us know which you love most.

Related: Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" Back On Charts Thanks To Viral Skateboard Video On TikTok

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Poll: What's Your Favorite Van Halen Song?

The Making Of Paramore's "Ain't It Fun"
Paramore's Jeremy Davis, Hayley Williams and Taylor York

Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images

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The Making Of Paramore's "Ain't It Fun"

Hayley Williams and Taylor York recall the creative process for their first GRAMMY-winning song, including an unexpected emotional element

GRAMMYs/May 8, 2015 - 02:08 am

(The Making Of GRAMMY-Winning Recordings … series presents firsthand accounts of the creative process behind some of music's biggest recordings. The series' current installments present in-depth insight and details about recordings that won 57th GRAMMY Awards.)

(As told to Chuck Crisafulli)

Taylor York: This song was a complete surprise. I came up with a lot of ideas that I thought sounded like what we were supposed to write — big rock guitar riffs that would have fit on our earlier records. As I played each idea for Hayley she'd say, "Yeah, that's cool but what else do you have?" I went through everything I had until I got to the last idea — one that I wasn't planning on showing her because I thought she'd hate it. But it was all I had left. She got excited about it and from there the song just built organically and naturally. It all came together in a sound and a style that we had never really explored. The fact that "Ain't It Fun" came together so easily and worked so well really was the turning point for the writing process of the whole record, and it helped us fall in love with the writing and recording process at a new level. The music was something that I had felt connected to, but I didn't think it was Paramore. It turned out that whatever we feel connected to absolutely is Paramore.


Hayley Williams: I remember walking into Taylor's hotel room one of the first days [after] our move to L.A. to make our next album. He played that little marimba part on a loop. I thought it was so cool — I went straight back to my room to get pens and a notebook. By the time I got there I already had a melody, and by the time I got back to Taylor's room I already had the first few lines of lyrics.

We started demoing vocal parts in Taylor's room and when we got to the bridge we felt like we needed to hold on a root note and let the tension build with a lot of voices. Taylor and I stacked our voices about 10 different times and it sounded unbelievable — but not in a good way. We decided that we needed really good singers to come in and get it right. A couple of months later we're recording at Sunset Sound and a local gospel choir comes in, and by the second practice run-through it was perfect. I welled up with tears because I've loved gospel music all my life and to hear a choir singing our parts — belting out that harmony — it just felt insane to be in a band that could have that kind of amazing moment as part of our song. All of a sudden we felt big, like we had really made it. Yes, we've got a gospel choir on our record. This is really happening.

(At the 57th GRAMMY Awards, Paramore's Hayley Williams and Taylor York won Best Rock Song for "Ain't It Fun," marking the first GRAMMY wins of their respective careers. Paramore are scheduled to kick off a U.S. theater tour on April 27 in Augusta, Ga.)

(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)

Remembering Poco's Rusty Young, A Country-Rock Trailblazer

Rusty Young 

Photo: Icon and Image/Getty Images

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Remembering Poco's Rusty Young, A Country-Rock Trailblazer

Rusty Young "was an innovator on the steel guitar and carried the name Poco on for more than 50 years," Poco co-founder Richie Furay said

GRAMMYs/Apr 20, 2021 - 01:08 am

Rusty Young, one of country-rock's originators and founder of the GRAMMY-nominated band Poco, has died. He was 75.

Young's death on April 14 was confirmed by his publicist, Mike Farley, who said he succumbed to a heart attack. 

In a statement to Variety, Poco co-founder Richie Furay said he was saddened by the loss: "Our friendship was real and he will be deeply missed. My prayers are with his wife, Mary, and his children Sara and Will."

As a member of Poco, Young's love for country music and ability to play several country instruments helped architect what today is known as country-rock. Poco, founded in 1968, was formed after Furay's former band Buffalo Springfield, which Neil Young was a part of, split. Furay met Young and bassist/producer Jim Messina after working together on Furay's  "Kind Woman," which meshed elements of country and rock.

"Richie was a rock and roll guy, Jimmy’s a brilliant technician and guitar player, and I played all these country instruments," Young told Spotlight Central in 2018. 

Poco, like Buffalo Springfield, was among the first bands to bring the country and rock sounds together.

"Our concept was to take rock and roll lyrics and melodies, chord changes, and add country instruments as the color around them, because I play steel guitar and banjo and mandolin, all the country instruments I could add that color and Jimmy played that James Burton, Ricky Nelson-kind of guitar," Young told Rock Cellar Magazine in 2017. "We could use this kind of country colors palette to choose from, and have it be rock and roll."

Born in Long Beach, California on Feb. 23, 1946, Norman Russell Young was raised in Colorado. Growing up, Young was surrounded by music; His grandparents were musicians and his parents would take him to country music bars. At the age of six, he began playing the pedal steel guitar.

"I think it’s a beautiful instrument! And I went on to learn to play a lot of other instruments, but I’ve always played lap steel and I still really enjoy it," he told Spotlight Central

"He was an innovator on the steel guitar and carried the name Poco on for more than 50 years," Furay said in a statement.

Furay and Messina ultimately left the band, but Young remained a member of Poco for more than five decades and even became one of its vocalists. Young wrote and sang the band's biggest hit "Crazy Love," released in 1979—The song reached No. 1 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Chart. The band also earned a GRAMMY nomination years later in 1982 for their performance of "Feudin' (Track)."

Young is survived by his wife, Mary, and his children, Sara and Will.

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