Frontman Jim Adkins discusses the process behind Jimmy Eat World’s seventh album Invented, writing songs from varying perspectives, why you shouldn’t censor yourself, and embracing your ideas, whether they’re good or bad.
You played your first official show of the tour last night in Atlanta. How did that go?
Really good. It’s always interesting playing new songs for people. You could tell that there was definitely pockets in the room where people were singing along to them, like they know it already somehow, which is kind of bizarre because the record’s not even out yet. I think our streaming thing is still up, but it’s encouraging. I never know what to expect, and the reaction has been good so far.
I read you have Courtney Marie Andrews playing with you. How’s that so far?
Awesome, she’s totally awesome. Courtney’s a friend of ours that we met through the Phoenix music scene. Having her onboard is great. She’s an awesome singer and it really helps out. There’s female vocals on most of our records, so it’s nice to have that represented live.
Also, when I’m cutting vocals and doing harmonies on stuff, a lot of it will just be myself. Some of the stuff I’ll write is so high that it’s not really sustainable to do on a night-by-night basis, so it’s nice having her around to cover the higher stuff that I don’t normally do live.
Have you toured with an extra member before?
Yeah, in 2001. Rachel Haden sang on a lot of the songs on Bleed American, and actually Rachel sings on the song called “Stop” on Invented. We toured with her and Brian McMahon as an extra instrumental player, and Rachel was singing and doing keyboard stuff. So we’ve done it before, but a really long time ago.
So there’s six more days until Invented is released, which will be your seventh album or so. Do you still get nervous before an album comes out?
Yeah, it’s exciting. We’re proud of it and it’ll be nice to have it available. We’ll see what happens, you know? I’m excited in not necessarily a nervous way, but I’m excited that it will be available and people will get a chance to listen to it so that when we come to play they might be familiar with the songs. I think from a musician’s standpoint you’re always most excited about the newest music your working on. So it’ll be nice to be able to play some of that, and people will have an opportunity to hear it.
This album seems to be a little all over the place stylistically and kind of reminds me of a melting pot of your previous four records. Was there anything you were aiming to do with this one?
I don’t know. We never set out to make a particular kind of album. I think it’s a song-by-song case on where we should take something when we’re writing and recording, and that ends up all over the place. We don’t censor ourselves when we’re writing.
The material that forms an album for us is about whatever we feel are the best songs. It doesn’t really matter to us if it sounds like a cohesive style. In a way, it’s better because I think the more often you do one thing, the less effective it is. I think a more varied record makes for one you might listen to more often.
Also, this record seems to have more of a narrative structure than anything you’ve done before. I know you were inspired by some photographs and objective writing. Can you talk about what that process was like?
Maybe like three years ago I was trying different things to get my brain moving in a mindset for work. It wasn’t necessarily to get material for songs. It was just really to get the synapse of songwriting.
One of the things I was trying to do is I would flip through random pictures by Hannah Starkey and Cindy Sherman. The work I was using is really composed. There’s a story there. It’s not like this photojournalistic grab kind of thing. There’s a story there. Even if you weren’t coming at it from a writer’s perspective, you’d start asking yourself questions about it. Who are these people? What’s happening here?
I would take 10 to 15 minutes and try to free write, and think about every aspect of who the character is and what kind of decisions they’re making. Every aspect that came to mind, I would just write it down. Then later in the day I would be working on music and some of the more interesting ideas from those sessions would find their way into song ideas. It ends up that maybe 85 to 90 percent of the record is based off of those types of sessions.
Are they all from the point of view of one singular character?
Oh, no. Every song is its own complete, closed narrative. I wouldn’t say there’s any narrative way to tie the whole record together. It’s not like a concept, where there’s a story being told from the beginning to end.
Several songs are written from a female perspective. What was that like for you to write?
Cindy Sherman casts herself as the main character in pretty much all of hers, and the majority of Hannah Starkey’s characters are women. I don’t know. It’s just how that turned out. It doesn’t feel weird. It doesn’t feel like a creative stretch.
I guess the way I can empathize with it all is it’s all beyond my personal observations, experiences, thoughts, feelings. They’re starting from a fictional place, trying to be in the headspace of the character, and what they would say and what they would do. It just happens that they’re female characters, or a lot of them are.
Throughout your career you’ve had a knack for writing about relationships, and the uncertainty and angst that sometimes goes along with that. How has your perception about that changed as you’ve grown older, started a family all that stuff?
I’m pretty happy. There’s problems here and there, but there’s never been real problems. There’s adversity. There’s things to work out. There’s interactions to decipher. But I think for the most part the writing I’ve done for a long time now has been based on kind of what I was doing with the Invented songs. I’m projecting myself into a situation that is in part fiction and in part what I would do in that situation, asking yourself to go a couple steps deeper into that than you would if you were just casually observing it. It’s not like I’m constantly falling in love and breaking up with people [laughs]. You know what I mean? It’s not my life.
One thing for me personally that’s happened with Jimmy Eat World is that a lot of the songs have resonated with me more so as I’ve grown older. Are there songs you’ve written where they take on a different meaning a number of years down the road?
For me, it’s tough when I look back at the older material. When you’re performing it, it’s easier to instantly reinterpret it with what’s happening currently. But when I look back at the older material, it’s more like looking back on a time capsule with what was happening then. It’s more like an academic overview than really getting into the meaning of things.
I know what it means to me, but it’s been 10 or 11 years since Clarity was written and recorded and released. The ideas I was writing about then – I did that. That was 10 years ago. It’s kind of hard to feel exactly the same way. I remember how it felt, but a lot has happened since then. A lot of experience has gone by.
For Invented, you had an interesting way of going about writing where you would record at home in Arizona and then send the tracks to Mark Trombino, who would do stuff to them, and it would go back and forth. What was that like for you?
It was awesome. I’ve always thought Mark was one of the best people out there making records. We had our first real, professional recording experience cutting with Mark. Our band has such a long history with him that there’s not a lot of wasted time in explaining ourselves when we’re presenting creative ideas, and Mark is just so good with computers. There’s not a lot of people that you would a) feel comfortable with, or b) have the skillset to work in the way that we decided to make Invented. It was just great.
We would take a song up to as far as we thought we possibly could, and then we’d send it to Mark and work on the next idea. In the meantime, Mark would take a pass at it, maybe add some production ideas, like either arrangement edits or keyboard stuff that was to represent other things. Oh, it needs a hook here, or it needs something else here maybe.
We would take that and listen to it, and recut tunes that we thought worked and change those that didn’t work. Mark’s ideas would send us down an entirely new path that neither of us had thought. It was just great. This was probably the cheapest record that we’ve ever made and I don’t feel like we compromised anything in the whole process.
I’ve noticed more bands have been leaning towards doing home recording and it seems to be a great way to go about things.
Yeah. I think there might be a learning curve there, though. If you have an idea, you can get really, really close to hearing it with minimal effort with the age of computers. It takes a lot of restraint to check yourself, and always be asking yourself about what the song needs, because it can result in the trap of playing a video game. You’re not songwriting anymore, you’re playing video games. You have to check yourself on that.
I remember you had some disagreements with Trombino when you were working on Futures. How did you end up reconnecting with him on this one?
I don’t know. That’s just all old shit, man. Time goes on. The whole Futures thing – when we started making a record with Mark, we were nowhere near ready to start making a record. It was an unfortunate result of a lot of bad decisions in the way things ended up.
It doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t want to work with people who aren’t extremely passionate about their ideas and their contributions, as long as in the back of your head everyone knows they’re on the same side. Everyone’s trying to make the best song recording possible. Things can get really heated in the battle for that, but in the end everyone’s on the same side.
I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the vocals on Invented. There’s a lot of raw stuff, like the last couple songs, and then you have something different that you haven’t done before, like on “Higher Devotion.”
A lot of the main vocal on Invented is taken from the first time when I wrote the lyrics. The earliest demo version of the record is what a lot of the main vocal is. Having everything set up all the time, ready to go, was an awesome way that affords us to do that. Yeah, there is lots of stuff on there. A little bit of that might be because it’s just grabbed and ran with.
I’ve always felt like when you’re working on something and you start asking yourself, “Does this sound too much not like me?” Then I think you’re on the right track. “Higher Devotion” is one of those things where you got to go with your idea. I had this fucking Bee Gees idea in my head. I hate the Bee Gees, but nothing else seemed to work. It just seemed like that’s what it should do, so I went with it. You got to embrace your idea to make it the most realized vision of what you want to do. Later on you can decide if it’s any good or not, but you got to really go for your idea.
It also seems there’s probably more guitar solos on this record than any other you’ve done before. Was that something you wanted to try out more?
You know, I don’t know. It just seemed like that’s what it needed. A song like “Coffee and Cigarettes,” the bridge section is just screaming for a guitar solo. It’s just what it needs. The rock guitar thing is something that we’ve always done, and somehow I end up playing guitar solos. I don’t really consider myself a shredder. I’ve never been the kind of guitar player that relishes the virtuoso playing, the nonmusical shredding type thing, but for some reason I end up with all these guitar solos.
The song “Stop” was a b-side from Chase This Light. How did that make it onto this one and not that one?
It just didn’t feel like it was done. We started working on it during the sessions for Chase This Light and something about it didn’t feel like it was done. We put it aside, but we still thought it had great potential. We unearthed it for working on this record, and it seemed to work.
The band has recently taken a stand against Arizona’s immigration law, and you’ve touched on politics a little bit in your songs throughout the years. What are your thoughts on music and how it relates to politics?
The idea that musicians shouldn’t voice their opinions about things is kind of silly. Right now, anybody can be a musician. Anybody can be their own musician, producer and worldwide distributor with the click of a button. There’s really no divide between musician and listener now. Everyone has the same access to say what they want to say.
I don’t think musicians should feel like they’re betraying anything by supporting causes or speaking out for causes they believe in. We always try to get the message across by stating our support rather than telling people what to do. I could see how that’s a turn off, someone yelling at you to do something. Us saying that we support something, that’s an endorsement. It’s not a demand of the fan or the listener. I think that’s OK.
Besides politics, you also briefly touch on religion on the first track on the album where you say, “The good word seems everywhere/But good words only.” What is your take on that?
I would say “The Heart is Hard to Find,” that character is really taking a hard look at their current situation. It’s someone approaching emotional bottom who’s taking this really honest assessment of their condition. The idea of unconditional loving of an omniscient entity is not really comforting to them at that point.
Another song I want to briefly mention is “Action Needs an Audience,” which is Tom’s first vocal lead he’s done since “Blister.” How did that come about?
The music for “Action Needs an Audience” was sitting around for a long time. I was trying to write lyrics for it, but wasn’t happy with anything I was coming up with. Tom was always championing that song as something we needed to keep working on, so we all decided that he should take a crack at writing lyrics for it then. It’s cool. I think it really works.
While the band might be most well known for its shorter pop songs, I would say that most fans appreciate your longer songs more, and you have two big whoppers at the end of this album. Can you talk about what the difference is between writing a shorter song versus a longer one?
When you’re writing, you’re always reacting to what you’re hearing. That cycle of exploring and creating and proofreading, it happens kind of fast. I really can’t explain why something ends up two and half minutes and why something ends up nine minutes. It’s all about what the song needs.
As you’re going through it, it becomes obvious how it’s going to work. I don’t ever sit down and say, “OK, I’m going to write an eight-minute epic style song.” Or sit down and go, “I’m going to make something really short.” It just happens how it happens.
My two favorite Jimmy Eat World songs are “23” and “Hear You Me.” I was wondering if you could share anything on what went into writing those two.
“Hear You Me” is about a couple friends of ours who got killed in a car accident. “23” is about discovery and not wanting to get too caught up in the idea of discovery, but taking a shot at what is in front of you and the opportunities that are immediate. I think a lot of people get caught up in the idea of something rather than the concrete reality of what’s in front you.
Invented is the last album on your deal with Interscope. Have you thought at all about where you want to go next?
Not really. The idea of us putting out our own records is something we’ve always been prepared for as a potential thing we’d have to do at some point in our career. I don’t know. We’ll see. It’s kind of a little early to start thinking about that because there’s really nothing there at the moment, but it’s an exciting time.
You had a great response to the Clarity tour you did last year, and Bleed American’s 10th anniversary will be next year. Will you be doing anything special for that album?
I’m not sure. There’s nothing planned right now, but we’ll probably do something.