By Wal Reid
Jimmy Eat World are one of those bands whose name may not at first be familiar but you definitely know their songs when you hear them. Timeless hits like Sweetness and The Middle are staple favourites for any diehard rock fan, their penchant for writing heavy melodic riffs with vocalist Jim Adkins’s distinctive dulcet tones spearheading the band’s thrust have seen the band gain international popularity since starting in 1993.
The Arizonian group is excited as they head out on the road in support for their new album Integrity Blues, which is being released today. Bassist Rick Burch is upbeat about the release adding “We’ve been to NZ before but only in Auckland, so we’d really like to see more of the islands, maybe get down to the South Island and play for people there.”
As we discuss the band’s latest album, Burch, who has kept the bass groove going in the band since ’95, admits his motivation for playing is “performing live on stage”. I’m also interested touching on the media circus around Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton with the upcoming presidential elections. Something I’ve never heard coming from an American, at which point I get my chance to quiz him about.
“I do care about this thing that’s happening,” he admits. “I’m just shocked that this movement has gone this far. It’s really an interesting thing, all I can hope for is that when people go out and vote in November, they think long and hard about the box they tick because it’s more than just a TV show, this is real life – it’s one thing to be entertained, it’s another thing to be led.”
Integrity Blues is the band’s ninth studio album, it was produced by Justin Meldal-Johnsen, known previously for collaborating with Paramore, M83 and Nine Inch Nails, it’s a brash move that has punters already speculating what new sound we will hear on the album, however Burch is less cynical and reinforces the band’s commitment to making music even when the going seems tough.
“We consciously stepped off the treadmill and took one year away from thinking about Jimmy Eat World.” He says. “We all did different things and we came back together at the end of that year off asking ourselves if we wanted to continue. It was a resounding 'Yes’. Jimmy Eat World gave us a longing for the things that we loved about it, creating the music and writing process - we had missed that. It sharpened our focus on the love we have for being in the band, so we got cracking on it and came up with tender loving tunes for what we are about to release called Integrity Blues.”
Integrity Blues has been a collaborative experience in every sense of the word, this in turn has given the album a more organic feel, while the tight-knit bond between the band members none more evident than on the new tracks.
“That was something that was a little different as well,” says Burch. “We’ve always been highly collaborative on music but not so much on the lyrics, songs come together in different ways. Every idea no matter how complete goes through kind of a band vetting process – it’s highly democratic.”
“Integrity Blues gave us a longing” he continues. “Which means we all did different things. Sometimes we get into a passionate debate whether something is really that important and when it comes down to it, we put it to a vote majority rules. As heated as those discussions may be, we all realise that the reason were all passionate, is that we all want the best for our music.”
Interesting to note, the band’s commercial breakthrough came with the successful release of several singles from the album Bleed American. Four singles from the album charted within the top twenty positions of the Hot Modern Rock Trackschart, with The Middle reaching the number one position. Jimmy Eat World's follow-up 2004 album Futures featured another Modern Rock Tracks number one song, Pain. The band's sixth album Chase This Light became the band's highest charting album, peaking at number five on the Billboard 200. The band’s longevity has never been in question, especially now with their ninth release.
“We’re focusing right now on touring and performing this new material and also were including a whole of older tunes as well we try at least to play one song from each album, but of course we’re really excited about the new material too. The motivation for us is to share this music that we’ve created to writing songs and recording them is extremely rewarding in itself but there’s an entire other side, the performance side, it’s rewarding in a different way. A tangible connection with the audience and we love it.”
In April this year, Apple (yep, those guys) debuted an ad to promote Apple Music which featured Taylor Swift lip syncing and dancing to Jimmy Eat World's The Middle. This caused huge interest in the band, helping renew interest in the group. Their song The Middle rose to #32 on the iTunes Top Songs Chart, while Pandora noted a 325% increase in Jimmy Eat World station adds in the first day after the ad premiered.
"My favourite song on the new album Integrity Blues is Pass the Baby – it’s an older idea we’ve had a number of years, maybe five or more years. Essentially, there’s three movements to the song, it starts in one place and then drifts into another and then careens into an extremely contrasting place than the earlier two movements. We’ve never known how to execute it until we started working with Justin (Meldal-Johnsen) the producer. He heard this concept and said 'We have to do this; we have to do this'. I’m thrilled with the result, it’s quite a ride.”
The album is out now and captures the essence of Jimmy Eat World without sounding outdated. The nineties rock-punk vibe has now morphed into a mature sound while still retaining that gritty rock edge of earlier albums. Songs like Get Right and Through will satisfy those liking more ‘meat’ on their plate while The End Is Beautiful looks set to become another classic great concert finisher (I can imagine those smart phones being waved about to this one) – Let’s hope it’s not too long before we see the band back down here again.
“If you had asked 18-year-old me if I’d still be doing this, I’d be like 'there’s no way, you’re high'. We set very realistic short term goals and we don’t try to predict the future too much, we just do the best we can with what we have right now and enjoy where we are. The rabbit tracks are still leading us through the snow and well see where we go.”