BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA – MARCH 07: Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World performs at Avondale Brewing Company … [+]
A lot of bands spent their COVID lockdown writing and making new music as a way to fill the time while not able to tour. But Jimmy Eat World had just released new music in the form of the album Surviving in October of 2019, just a few months before the world shut down.
So as frontman Jim Adkins explained to me via Zoom, the band had just used their writing and recording capital and were not emotionally or musically ready to begin another album.
It was only near the end of lockdown that they were really able to get in the writing mode. The first music from that next round of writing is the single “Something Loud,” just released to coincide with the group’s current tour. The band is on the road overseas now and will start U.S. dates later this month in Anchorage, Alaska.
“Something Loud” is a special song for the band, marking their first single as fully independent artists. As Adkins also explained, they don’t have to adhere to any rules anymore of releasing music. I spoke to him about their new musical freedom, finally getting to play songs from Surviving live almost three years later and what makes AC/DC’s Back In Black so heavy.
Steve Baltin: Where are you today?
Jim Adkins: I am in Tempe, Arizona. We actually take off tomorrow for about a month in Europe.
Baltin: Where does the tour kick off?
Adkins: At Luxembourg City.
Baltin: How often have you been on the road post COVID ’cause a lot of people still are just going out for the first time?
Adkins: This is our first stuff in Europe. We did some shows last October and then this year kind of more April, March-ish. So we’ve done some things.
Baltin: Did you find that you really missed it?
Adkins: I didn’t have to go out there to find I really missed it, I’ve been missing it this whole time. I guess we’ve been doing it for so long and we started when we were so young that it’s a big part of our identities as who we are just on a personal level, but it’s true that it wasn’t all bad. I definitely got to be around my kids more than I have since they’ve been alive and that was great. It wasn’t all bad. But, yeah, we did miss being able to be in front of people playing the songs. And plus, we had just put out an album in October and we were like three days away from beginning the main chunk of our touring in support of that album and so that went away. We were missing being on tour because that was our opportunity to show people the new things that we had just been working on. But it’s true, it wasn’t all bad.
Baltin: As you say, it’s the first time you’ve gotten to do Europe in a few years because again, through no fault of yours or nothing that you guys did, you were not allowed to do it. So does it make you appreciate it more?
Adkins: It’s easy to get into a place where you take some of this for granted. If you are fortunate enough to be able to play music as what you do, you’re doing it a lot. And because you’re doing it a lot, some of the aspects of it do become ritualized in a way. So when it started to come back, I do feel like we were better prepared to just savor that instead of just treating it as this thing you have to accomplish. So yeah, I think if anything has come out of it, we’re better able to savor the experience of it. Maybe that’s in part in getting older too, you’re able to actually kind of savor the happiness when it comes your way and savor the accomplishments a little bit more. You’re able to celebrate the small victories a little bit more tangibly.
Baltin: Were you able to write a lot during COVID?
Adkins: Historically, there’s a period of time where you work real hard at making an album. You put a lot of effort into it, and it’s a drain emotionally and physically. You’re sort of crispy at the end of that, and then there’s other things to focus on because you’re gonna go play the songs in front of people, maybe you’ve not been on tour in a while and you’re kind of re-introducing yourselves to people, and there’s a lot of aspects besides writing music you gotta pay attention to. Like your show has to be good. So there’s the intensity and the things you’re thinking about, things you’re focused on, shifts to that, and, for me anyway, it shifts away from the more creative thing and it’s about execution, it’s creative, but in a different way. It’s more about execution to the best of our ability than it is trying to conjure something new. So we weren’t prepared at all, but I tried to convince myself I was ’cause, “Alright, great. I better put this to use ’cause I got the time right now, why not? I’ll write stuff.” When everything shut down and you sort of make that switch of like, “Okay, great,” it’s not entirely wrong to think about eliminating the factors you can’t control and start to focus on the things that you can do. There’s other things to be focusing on, so we tried really hard to bury ourselves in that, but on a personal level for me, I feel like I was neglecting acknowledging how f**ked up it all was [laughter]. And when you try to work your way through something, you’re not always actually working through it, you’re just kind of filling the closet full of emotional baggage that is going to explode sometimes at not your choosing and in not your desired fashion, but it 100 percent is gonna explode. And I guess I started writing way before I was in a good place to be writing about anything. So I didn’t end up writing a lot, ended up starting a whole bunch of stuff, but it really wasn’t until recently that we ended up closing out any ideas.
Baltin: So how did that lead to the single “Something Loud”?
Adkins: The concept to put out “Something Loud” as a single kind of stems from like, “Well, we don’t have a record deal anymore, we’re free agents, we can do whatever we want, we don’t have to play any kind of game with anybody. So what do we want to do? Does it make sense to put out an album right now? I don’t know.” You can do literally anything you want, there’s no rules anymore, there really aren’t. You gotta have realistic expectations for the kinds of things that you really want to do, but if you want to do something, you should chase that. And we just felt like for now, maybe the best thing to do is just focus on less music, but hopefully more often.
Baltin: You have all the freedom in the world as an artist. Talk about where that comes into “Something Loud” but also that liberation of being free as an artist.
Adkins: Yeah it can also be paralyzing too [laughter]. With no restrictions, it’s kind of paralyzing. We’ve gotten better at sort of putting some kind of limitations, some sort of guides and framework on that freedom. I think this will thrive in that, it’s like that’s on a completely sideways level. We always are chasing the things we’re excited about. I’ve never felt like we had to come up with something or we had to shoot for a specific target. It’s just that sometimes we’re really excited about a catchy three-minute rock song, sometimes really excited about something that’s like seven minutes and very, very moody and absolutely no hope of Top 40 radio play. But that’s okay. That’s totally cool. Our core audience is pretty hard core. There’s definitely a group of people out there that’ll give us a shot, whether or not a song is on the radio. That’s all you can really hope for I think at the end of the day. Yeah, I don’t feel like we’re competing with anybody, you’re sort of competing with everybody, in a way you’re competing with everybody and no one at the same time. Which is kind of why like, “Okay, so yeah, we have 10 albums already. That’s a lot of material. We’re really gonna add another 12 songs to that? Okay, what are we not gonna play out live now?” It’s a lot to ask people like, “Dude, you got an hour? Check out my band.” It’s really what you’re asking people when you put out an album. I think in a weird way, more people will give a song a shot than maybe track nine on your album that you killed yourself to make. So if the goal is to get things in front of people that they might want to listen to or have a chance of being listened to, asking them for less of their time in one setting, you might actually get them to check it out.
Baltin: Have there been songs off Surviving that even though it’s a couple years old, changed for you, getting to play them live for an audience?
Adkins: Yeah, we try to let everything breathe somewhat. I think it’s really important when we go to perform that no matter how your day went, no matter what sort of mindset you’re in, just to zero out and go on stage expecting nothing and let it just kind of unfold as it’s going to. Specifically with Surviving, I think it’s tough to say because you’re right, we stopped touring and it was still pretty new for those people. I haven’t got a chance to sort of experience that feedback. It’ll be interesting to see. There’s a hardcore group of people that you always see when a record comes out, or when a new song comes out, they’ll let you know that they know the lyrics, it’s kind of a thing for them. “I know the new song before anyone else, look, I’m singing the lyrics like, Yep, I’m real.” There’s a group of people that dig in and really get into those songs, but for me, and I think for most people, it’s like that music doesn’t really become yours until you’ve had a chance to live with it for a minute, records aren’t special to me and so I’ve had a chance to let that be a part of my life for a while, like months. About month eight, after listening to a record, I’ll discover I really have to go buy this on vinyl. And there’s been enough time with Surviving that I feel like people have had that opportunity, and it should be a really rich feedback experience when we finally get to perform this stuff for people, so I’m really excited.
Baltin: Looking back at Surviving now with a break are there influences you hear now?
Adkins: “All the Way,” from Surviving, which was I think our first single that we showed people. it’s subversive in a way that we put it out this song, and it got on the radio, and there’s large sections in that song where nothing is happening. The guitars stop, the snare drum hits and there’s dead air in the song. When you go so far to take away things like putting rests, like whole group cadence to rest notes in your riff or whatever, it makes it really impactful when it comes back in. I mean, that’s kind of all Rage Against the Machine. Or Helmet or all of AC/DC. Like why is Back in Black so heavy? ‘Cause there’s all that dead air in it. When something happens, it makes it 10 times more powerful.