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From the outside, Jimmy Eat World's studio in Tempe, Arizona, looks just like another sterile office space in a quiet, out-of-the-way business complex. But walk through the nondescript entrance and the place is a surprisingly cozy rock 'n' roll den.
As guitarist Tom Linton and bassist Rick Burch join front-man Jim Adkins and drummer Zach Lind to talk about Futures, the band's recently released fifth album, Lind sits down at a computer in the middle of the studio and cranks U2's "Vertigo." Adkins and Lind sink into the couch and focus deeply on the song. Neither one speaks until it's finished, and even then, they still seem to be processing it, mulling it over.
Maybe that's because while U2 is a supergroup to the rest of us, it's a peer and labelmate to Jimmy Eat World. These guys are serious about learning as much as they can from other successful bands. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb's first single may have skyrocketed on the Billboard modern-rock singles chart, but so has JEW's new single, "Pain," which hit number one a few weeks ago. Following up a platinum-selling album with a number-one single has got to be a little daunting, but so far, so good. Really good.
"That's the best reaction we've gotten from a single, ever," Lind says. "'The Middle' took longer." Back in 2002, their self-titled fourth album sold more than 1.3 million copies, boosting the band to real stardom and fueling two years of steady touring.
"Our schedule became exponentially busier as time went on with the last record," Adkins says. "So when it was getting closer to the time when we needed to be thinking about making a new record, there was no time to be thinking about making a new record."
By the time Jimmy Eat World returned to Arizona after so much time on the road, there were three years' worth of song ideas to be fleshed out. Universal Music Group absorbed the band's record label, DreamWorks, in January 2004, but that apparently didn't become a stumbling block. By February, the guys were ready to start making Futures for Interscope. They began recording in L.A., did the bulk of their work in Tucson, and returned to L.A. to finish the project in June. The result -- immediately audible on the opening title track -- is a bigger, more textured rock sound that retains Jimmy Eat World's irresistible, anthemic harmonies but favors sophistication over simplicity.
"Our last album was definitely more concise -- probably our most upbeat album, musically," Lind says. "And I think if you compare it to this album, this album has a little bit more depth and it's maybe on the whole just a darker album. Especially the second half of the album is more atmospheric, and it doesn't really match up with a song like 'The Middle. '"
Adkins says the band takes itself more seriously now and holds itself to much higher standards. Burch adds that without day jobs, they're now free to focus on music every day. And Lind explains that on Futures, they put more energy into trying out different ways to make each song the best it could be. "We hit all the dead ends that we could possibly hit with all the songs," he says.
The recording and mixing process offered even more ways to play with the sound. "Like that song on the new album, 'Drugs or Me,'" Lind says. "To me, that song didn't even really take life until it was mixed. We had all these elements like recorded strings, but it never really sounded like the song until it was mixed, and that was the final stage of the record when it actually made sense. That sort of song is a testament to that kind of approach, where you don't totally have to have it figured out. Just a simple feedback track gives it a creepy kind of tension."
Adkins elaborates: "It could be this pretty thing and maybe not a lot of depth to it, but you add in..." He pauses, pointing across the room to a red Krank Amp, which is made locally. "There's the amp," Adkins says, laughing. "We wanted to get the most metal, Hessian amp that they had. It doesn't work anymore, because during that song, every knob was as high as it can go, and it was running through echo pedals and stuff. It was the most insane feedback you could get. And to put that on the prettiest song on the album, this quiet one -- little last touches can really drastically help a song's effectiveness or take it to the wrong place."
With the album about to hit the streets, we'll soon know whether Jimmy Eat World took its songs to the right place. Signs point to yes. Admit it. There's something a little "Wally and the Beave" about Jimmy Eat World, and that's a big reason we like them. But maybe they could use a little bit of toughening up. -- Michelle Laudig
New Times: You guys are looked at as the good guys of rock 'n' roll, so I wanted to help you with a Bad Boy Makeover.