IIn the era of the Great Resignation, everyone has doubts about their career paths, even the millions of musicians selling albums. Take Jim Adkins. His band, Jimmy Eat World, is nearing 30 years together and the emo godfathers are still touring relentlessly. But Adkins, 46, has only admitted that his band may have been a persistent concern for about a decade — “I thought: ‘Huh, I guess that’s what I’m doing” — and still doubts their long-term prospects. “I still don’t,” he says. This is as seriously as I would do in my life.”
This suspicion may have something to do with Jimmy Eat World’s odd trajectory, which saw the Mesa, Arizona band transition from the DIY emo scene in the mid-’90s, playing in the “crazy places” — basements and friends’ homes, back rooms of churches — and into the masthead “Capitol” a place where, in the words of Adkins, “they have no business.” He recalls visiting the New York Capitol offices—“in the past when labels had actual buildings in really expensive cities”—and being greeted with giant double-door-size posters of P , a short-lived alternative rock band opposite Johnny Depp, the kind the Capitol star was more used to. Adkins imitating the staff’s bewildered faces.” They were like, ‘Wrong, can we help you guys?’
“I mean it was just silly” Adkins remembers his speaking from a somewhat less luxurious setting in the backstage area of Brixton Academy in London. “It was so funny we just smashed that party.”
Jimmy Eat World wouldn’t last long in the party, releasing two low-selling albums—including the 1999 classic Clarity, now considered something of an emo group script—before it was dropped.
No sooner had they left the main label than they delivered an album that was huge. Bleed American (temporarily renamed Jimmy Eat World after the 9/11 attacks), in 2001, took its sparkling, shimmering sound from Clarity and enhanced it with powerpop hooks. The album’s second single, The Middle, a motivational go-to talk that encourages the band to continue pursuing their naming woes (“Hey, don’t write yourself off yet…”), would be their biggest hit, an American radio staple until Prince saw Taylor Swift it fits the cover.
Bleed American went platinum in the US, and with that success Jimmy Eat World suddenly found himself as the leading figures in the rising emo scene. Passionate hardcore, as it was initially called, had been quietly growing since the mid-1980s, but by the early 1900s it had become a real spectacle, attracting poster interest, large crowds and press attention. It doesn’t seem to matter that the media have put together bands that share little in common: No one really can fault Jimmy Eat World’s honest sound with the tormented theatrical, say, My Chemical Romance.
Of course, says Adkins, the band was resistant to the emo tag: “We worked so hard to be part of a trend, because when that’s not cool, you’re not. We didn’t want to end up in that Valhalla.” But in the years since they learned to come to terms with it. “I get it. You need to call the ‘young rock band’ world something,” says Adkins.
Of course, these guys are not young anymore. Perhaps Emo is entering the nostalgia phase: Later this year, Jimmy Eat World will appear on the bill at the aptly named When We We Young, a festival in Las Vegas that brings together all the notable emo acts of the past two decades. (The fact that the event is as polar opposite as Avril Lavigne and the throat-slashing post-hardcore Glassjaw squad indicates how vague the term is.) Exactly, indicating a burgeoning market for making over 30s revisit stressful adolescence.
However, it all sparked warm memories in Adkins, reminding him of his early Jimmy Eat World days, when they found themselves on endless tours of the US with close-knit, like-minded teams like Get Up Kids. “None of it was great, and none of it was a financial winner, to say the least.” Memories of that toilet cycle inspired one recent song out loud, arguably the best Jimmy Eat World track in years. Musically, it’s full of glamour, but lyrically, there’s something more complex going on, as Adkins has been toasting the band’s formative years, as well as realizing the importance of leaving them behind. (“Friends on the show ’95, miss every single one of them/But there comes a moment when you die or you go on to live.”)
Something Loud speaks of a broader shift in Adkins songwriting. His words were preoccupied with the teenage excitement of chasing something unspecified, leaping into the unknown. Now, though, he feels this way of thinking is linked to some toxic trait: He stopped drinking at 36 after seeking treatment for alcohol abuse, and sees similarities in the way they both revolve around an endless search for something more. .
“I think I have a healthy relationship with that [way of thinking] Now,” he says. “There is definitely a part of that that is still there, the addict/alcoholic mentality: ‘I have to be somewhere else, with someone else doing anything else now.’ That constant feeling of dissatisfaction with what I just achieved, And spending so much energy on the wrong goal… I used to live in it as a person, and now I’m even more fascinated by it as an observer. And as much as you do on yourself, it’s still there, just at a lower volume, and you don’t have to listen to it.”
They may be older, wiser, and healthier, but Adkins and Jimmy Eat World still have the same energy they had in their early days. They briefly abandoned the album format, instead dropping new songs whenever they wanted to; In September they will follow Something Loud with Place Your Debts, a slow-burning mood that demonstrates the band’s more introspective side. And they’ll be back in the US this fall, just like the old days.
“There’s still a part of us all that identifies as the 19-year-old sleeping wherever he is, showing who knows what kind of party it is,” says Adkins. “We still think of ourselves as boys on some level. And I think that keeps us going.” You must wait for it to be filled.
Something is out loud now.
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