Jimmy Eat World
's Jimmy Adkins
speaks in leaps and lurches. The frontman goes bounding down the idea highway in pursuit of one train of thought and then abruptly make a u-turn and comes at it from a different direction. As if he's looking for an answer somewhere but can't quite find it. And won't rest until he does. That's probably not a bad description of how he hunts down and captures the songs that appear on Invented
, the band's seventh album, a collection of Jimmy Eats World music that ranges from the woody textures of acoustic guitar on Heart Is Hard To Find
to the ocean of electrics on Evidence
Invented is produced by Mark Trombino
, the former Drive Like Jehu
drummer who worked on the earlier Static Prevails, Clarity and Bleed American albums. Trombino understands the Adkins approach and is a major facilitator in helping track down these musical ideas and preserving them on record. Here, Jimmy
opens up on writing, working in the studio, and hating the Grateful Dead
UG: Jimmy Eat World and the Goo Goo Dolls, another band interviewed by Ultimate-Guitar recently, bear some similarities. You were not the original singer in the band and neither was Johnny Rzeznik. Also, both bands started off with a bit more of a punk edge. Tom Linton, your guitar player, actually sang on some of the early hits including Rockstar. What finally brought you up to the microphone as the main singer on the Clarity album?
From early on when we were forming the band, I expressed I wanted to sing on a couple of things and Tom was cool with that. We just always made this kind of informal rule that whoever was singing the main vocal would be the person that wrote the lyric. It would help us in the delivery and the believability of what was happening in the lyric.
Which is exactly what the Beatles did if McCartney wrote the song, he sang it and if Lennon wrote it, he did the main vocal.
Yeah, and I guess over the span of a couple records in the early Jimmy Eat World time, I just ended up writing a lot more music. It was difficult for me to write something and it wasn't interesting for me to just hang out on a G chord. There has to be an idea; maybe not lyrics right away but there had to be an idea for music: a vocal line and phrasing worked out in my head before I found it interesting to keep working on a music idea. I just ended up writing a lot of song ideas with the vocals in mind for it. I did enough of that to where I got better at it.
By the time you reached Clarity, the decision was made that you'd be the singer and the principal songwriter? That would be the direction for Jimmy Eat World?
It's actually something where we never sat down and had a band meeting about. It just ended up I had all this material. I think all of us in the group, we're not very precious with our ideas; everything goes through the band editing process. It's obvious to all of us when something is working and something is not working. And we've had so much time together, it's comfortable airing our opinions on that. We all see it pretty much eye to eye on what is effective for the song. I guess no one's ever told me to shut up before so it's still working. And they would do if they thought it sucked.
You've brought back producer Mark Trombino who worked on Static Prevails, Clarity, and the Jimmy Eats World/Bleed American albums. On the intervening albums you've worked with Gil Norton on Futures and though Butch Vig only executive produced the Chase This Light album, you must have learned something from him. Why the return to Trombino?
"There's a few spots on the record that I knew I wanted a female vocal."
I think it's a couple factors: I think a little bit is due to the way we wanted to make this record. The way Mark works is a really strong computer background and rhythm background [Trombino was the drummer in Drive Like Jehu] and it's definitely something we like. He works well with us. How we approached making Incentive was we were just gonna do it all ourselves in our rehearsal space. It's important to have someone whose opinion you respect to bounce ideas off. Even if they say, Yeah, you're right; it's good just to let you know you're on the right track can be a huge relief. Admittedly we can get lost in our own bubble at our home studio. So what we would do is we would work on a song until we felt it was absolutely fleshed out as much as we could and then we would send Mark a complete multi-track of it over the Internet because he lives in LA and he would do a mix of it and send it back to us. Maybe with some production ideas; maybe with like arrangement ideas kind of edited and we would check that out. And maybe re-record it and maybe add the production ideas. Even if an idea comes back and it's not exactly right, it can still lead to what else the song can need and the reasoning behind what that addition is. And Mark's great with that. He's the type of producer that can, if you have an idea, he'll just execute it. He's very hands-on; he just likes to get dirty with it and I think I kinda saves a lot of time. For us anyway.
So you were never physically in the studio with Mark Trombino?
We were a little bit; there were a couple times he came out. At the very end I went out to LA and we just like wrapped up all the odds and ends and finished the mixes on a couple things at his house. With computers it's really just an exercise in restraint on when things are done. And you can live with it for a little while, too. If it's all in the box there's no worry about charting out all your gear and making sure you have perfect recall on everything. It is the same. Like a month you can go back and do bumps on like guitars or vocals or effects or even fuckin' wipe out sections of a song; all those options are available to you.
When you went into the studio to record My Best Theory, the first single off the new album, did you know exactly what the arrangement was going to be? Was any creativity done in the studio?
We've been working out of our own space for the entire record and actually for the majority of our last record too so writing and recording is kind of the same thing. You're constantly reacting to what you're hearing but My Best Theory, the bulk of the arrangement was fleshed out on our own. There's like heavy lifting: there's arrangements; tempo; potentially [the] key. If everyone is cool with the approach of a song like, This should be a rock song, or This should be a stripped-down kind of moody song, then the next step would be like I said arrangement and tempo. And then after that it's like smoothing out everything and making sure that the transitions are helping each section be as effective as they can be and then just kind little bells and whistles, I guess. Everything is kind of laid down with the purpose of helping the entire song be as effective as it can be so that the particular type of song that we all feel it wants to be [is there.]
Courtney Marie Andrews sings on My Best Theory and several others. You've been working with her for a while but what was it about her voice that made you say, I'd like to hear her doing vocals on the next Jimmy Eat World album?
Umm, I met Courtney through friends in the music scene here in Phoenix. She's an extremely talented singer/songwriter. Very versatile; she can sing really high. I write a lot of high harmonies and stuff that I can't forseeably do for more than like a couple takes. So it's good. There's a few spots on the record that I knew I wanted a female vocal.
You knew before starting the record that wanted female vocals on the album?
"I just ended up writing a lot of song ideas with the vocals in mind for it."
Yeah, and she came down and cut those and it worked out so well I kinda put her to work on some other things that I thought might be interesting to get more voices in there. I do a lot of stuff on the records where I'll do a lot of backups and try to make it sound like different people. But you can only really do that for so much and then you get kind of sick of it yourself. So it's nice to have other voices in there. I mean, Tom and I have been singing together for like 15, 16 years now so it gets boring, man [laughs.]
Did Coffee and Cigarettes come from the Jim Jarmusch movie of the same name?
You know I knew that existed but I haven't seen it.
One of the lyrics in that song was interesting: My sister's two cassettes/The Dead at Fillmore East/Otis Redding's greatest hits. You are so specific with those artists, did those two cassettes figure in your life?
It's the kind of thing where I pictured this main character's sister would have and wish her well as she took off out of town driving across country.
Did you listen to Otis or the Dead?
No, I can't stand the Grateful Dead; I can't stand em at all. I really can't. I love Otis Redding though.
Who did figure prominently in your development as a songwriter?
The Wedding Present's David Gedge was definitely a person when I started playing in bands and stuff that I looked up to as far as a songwriter. The Everley Brothers; Buddy Holly. I'm fascinated with that really compound songwriting where it's like, shit's over in two-and-a-half minutes but you don't feel like you're cheated out of anything. You get everything from it. I'm fascinated with that kind of writing cause it seems like I can't really make it happen in under three.
What are your feelings on the current state of two-guitar melodic rock bands?
I think it's in a good place. I think like the straight up rock is definitely kind of like the blues. I think every generation takes it on for their time, for their existence. There's definitely a cycle where things are in and out of fashion. But I think like all rock and roll, every year there's a new group of 14-year old boys who go to their first hardcore show and flip out and wanna start a band. I think it'll be healthy for a while.
You are seven records in with Invented. Does it resonate with you the same way your earlier albums did?
Yeah; definitely. Given what we know about making records and what we are technically are able to do, I think it's our best work so far. I have little complaints about it.
Interview by Steven Rosen