By Ashley Zimmerman
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It wasn't a question of whether Jimmy Eat World's fourth album, Bleed American, would ever see the light of day. It was simply a matter of when. "Even if we had to print it ourselves," says vocalist/guitarist Jim Adkins, "we knew the record was going to come out. There was certainty in that, but we weren't exactly holding our breath."
The band, for the most part, has taken the DIY stance of telling MTV and FM radio to fuck off. But the title track of Bleed American has finally landed the Mesa, Arizona, quartet in heavy rotation within those very quarters. Jimmy Eat World has been under the watchful eye of everyone from punk kids to pop fans to nu metalheads willing to part with unfounded anger for at least a few moments, and now they all gather to share in the soaring melodies and fluent rock-fueled hooks that laminate Bleed American.
It's a far cry from two years ago, when Jimmy Eat World (Adkins, guitarist/vocalist Tom Linton, bassist Rick Burch, and drummer Zach Lind) found itself label-less after getting out of a chilly and dysfunctional relationship with Capitol Records, which had signed the quartet fresh out of high school and put out its two previous platters before calling it a tax break.
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"I think we realized that Capitol was kind of a fucked-up place, and we were literally too young to be there," says the 25-year-old singer. "It was just a bad situation. In a way, it was sort of a death sentence, but we kind of got over that." Although the big label gave the year-old band a deal in 1995 and released 1996's Static Prevails and 1999's Clarity, it also neglected to push the band toward any of the demographic segments that would later embrace it. At one point, the band, completely frustrated with Capitol, bought back several hundred copies of Clarity at cost and sent them to record stores in Germany.
At first, Jimmy Eat World didn't have high hopes of scoring fans in Europe, given that none of its records had ever been officially released overseas. "It's kind of easy to forget that we were just playing shitty shows for six years," Adkins says of the unrequited love that the band suffered at the hands of American record buyers. "So to go to a new country and expect anything other than more of the same is looking too far ahead. You have to pay your dues all over again. We didn't expect anything, really." But to the band's surprise, some 600 fans showed up at its first German concert, singing along to all the songs.
Lind and Adkins met as toddlers, although they wouldn't become friends until high school. In their senior year (1993), the two got together with Linton and first-bassist Mitch Porter to form Jimmy Eat World, whose name comes from a picture drawn by Linton's younger brother. In the band's early stages, Linton sang while Adkins played guitar. But Adkins, who'd been perfecting both dejected songwriting and heartthrob stage presence, eventually took over the role of frontman, although he admits he still considers himself a guitar player at heart rather than a singer. But it was his voice, combined with Linton's, that came to typify the hallowed hallmarks of emo: vulnerable and scuffed-up heart-hurt.
Playing the Arizona club circuit and releasing several seven-inch singles, the band independently issued its self-titled debut, an album Adkins refers to as "more like a good-sounding demo." While earning a loyal word-of-mouth following, Jimmy Eat World caught the attention of a Capitol A&R scout who persuaded the label to look into the band. Porter, whose Mormon family wasn't content with their son's decision to become a bass player in the first place, left the band just prior to inking the deal, and in stepped Burch.
The focused harmonies and chewy choruses of the underrated Static Prevails didn't exactly make a splash, but they were enough to keep the band on Capitol's roster for the sophomore effort, Clarity, an album that Adkins says was instrumental in defining the band's sound. "Maybe on the Clarity record, we started to figure it out," Adkins says, though he acknowledges that "there are some things that you don't want to sit down and fully analyze and understand completely." While the album solidified the band's identity, it also marked the point at which discontent grew between them and the label. "For me, Clarity was more like, "Who knows when we're going to get a chance to make a record like this again, so let's go for it,'" explains Adkins. "But Bleed Americanwas more focused, and we realized that we can do this on our own, so it's not going to be the last time."
The year before Clarity, the band released a self-titled EP on indie label Fueled by Ramen. The driving "Lucky Denver Mint" scored the band points when Los Angeles station KROQ picked up the single, which later landed on the soundtrack for the Drew Barrymore vehicle Never Been Kissed. While first-week sales of Clarity outnumbered those of the debut, the figures weren't enough for the label, and Jimmy Eat World found itself on the outside looking in. "We learned early enough that you can't rely on the label to help you for anything," Adkins reflects. "You pretty much have to be as self-reliant as possible. If the label does something, it's icing on the cake. Ideally, they should be working with you, just as hard if not harder, but that's not always the case."