Jim Adkins discusses taking a breather from Jimmy Eat World by going solo for the first time, exploring and reinterpreting ‘50s and ‘60s pop music, and why he’s releasing his songs individually instead of as an album.
This solo project feels like it’s been a long time coming for you, ever since the Go Big Casino days. What made 2015 the right year for this to finally come to fruition?
We spent a lot of time on the road touring for Damage and for the Futures anniversary. It just seemed like a good time to take a break anyway, and the fact that we’ve been operating one way this whole time. Write, tour, record, off. Write, tour, record. It seemed like a good time to do something different, challenge yourself in a different way.
In the past, you’ve played solo acoustic shows before, but usually they’ve been few and far between and usually just there in Arizona locally. What’s it like now to make a full tour of that? Are there adjustments you have to make with you being the only guy up there and the sets you pick?
Well, it’s a totally different experience. The sets I’ve done in the past have really just been one-offs. Things are prepared for that show only and then forgotten about. It’s kind of nice to be able to continue to work on it in a night-after-night setting.
The experience itself is totally different, because I’ve never really done this. It’s fascinating. You’re always reacting to what you’re listening to. With that being created by yourself, you’re listening to your own feedback, and that focuses you to get really in tune with nuances that maybe you subconsciously skip over if you’re playing with a group of people.
You’re purely reacting. You’re listening to what other people are doing and pushing things into the direction of that, but by yourself you’re sort of lost in your own head, kind of like a meditative experience. It can shift on a dime too, because no one’s following you. You’re leading and following.
I was at one of the shows you did earlier this year in Orange County and, how you were talking about, I liked the different perspective you get on some of those older songs.
Yeah, it’s cool. I think the people coming to these shows are the more active Jimmy Eat World fans. People who celebrate the catalogue. They would know weirdo b-sides from four records ago. I’m able to play some of the things we maybe never have as a band or the deeper album songs.
You have this singles series you just announced coming up where you’re going to be releasing six songs both as a limited edition 7” and a digital version. Can you talk about why you decided to release those in that way and how that came about?
I started thinking about how people listen to music. I think that the great majority of people listen by tracks, whether it’s a self-made playlist or a curated streaming service. It’s rare that people throw on an album and get all the way through it, and that’s how they listen to everything. It’s really in smaller quantities in a wider scope of different kinds of music and different kinds of artists.
I think that’s awesome. It’s never, ever been a better time to be a music fan. You can have the Library of Congress for the world on your phone with you anytime you want, everywhere you are. That’s an amazing thing, but also as someone producing music, you have to think about how do you like to listen to music and how do people listen to music. I think it’s really coming down to by track.
I might be in a unique position, where I have the catalogue of the band and the history of the band behind me. It’s different than what somebody maybe just starting out would need. For me to do what I want to accomplish in the time that I have right now, I feel like it’s not necessary to put in the time and expense to do a full album. Maybe it’s better to just do less stuff, more frequently.
One thing I noticed with this release, and I’m not sure if you’re aware of it or not, but there is another Jim Adkins out there. So when people are looking on iTunes or other streaming sites, you did not all of sudden turn into a jazz instrumental guitarist.
Yeah. No, that’s true. It’s funny. I actually reached out to Jim Adkins recently and he said he was experiencing the same issues with his fans. He’s had to explain to people that he’s not the guy from Jimmy Eat World.
I bet he gets that a lot more than you get his comparisons.
Yeah. I don’t know, man. I see the kind of humor in somebody researching, looking for some smooth jams, and then ending up with one of our stoner rock songs and giving up on Jim Adkins entirely.
You’re the type of person who’s constantly writing, and not everything obviously turns into a Jimmy Eat World song or makes it on an album. On the last couple albums, it seems like there’s been a few songs on there that could have potentially been solo songs, like “Heart Is Hard to Find” or “You Were Good.” What determines for you whether something becomes a Jimmy Eat World song or you hang onto it for later?
Well, everything I’ve just kind of funneled into the Jimmy Eat World pot, and then we see what might work for the best album out of that material. I don’t know. I just write all the time and I don’t really consider where it’s going to end up. When we make the Jimmy Eat World records, it’s really not about style of song or direction. It’s just about the best songs. The albums become the collection of best songs within that time period of writing.
This is really the first time I’ve made a difference between the two. It’s really just a gut instinct, as far as what’s going to work and what isn’t. I’ve written some stuff in the process of getting solo material that I think probably could be Jimmy Eat World songs, and I’m going to save them until we get back together and start writing.
Typically when you begin a song in its early stages, is it more stripped down and acoustic, and then expands on that from there?
There’s really no rules to any of it. Actually, the majority of the songs that I’ve written probably start out with drums. I’ll play drums for a while and record it, listen back to that, and put guitar to that. That’s usually how things start.
It’s funny, because I’m not a good drummer, but what I do do is based on what Zach has always played. Some of it ends up in this weird meta vortex, where I’m showing Zach an idea and he’s putting his drum ideas to me trying to copy what he would do.
So there’s three original songs and three covers for this singles series, and the first song you released is “I Will Go.” Can you talk a little about that song?
One of the things I wanted to try and explore in my solo material is working on really concise pop songs in the sense of ‘50s and ‘60s pop songs. If you listen to a song like Buddy Holly’s “Everyday,” that’s pretty much a perfect song as far as I’m concerned. The way that it’s structured is something completely different than your modern formula of song construction.
So it’s just sort of my attempt to work closer to, not necessarily ripping off that kind of formula of the way that Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly and those types of songs are constructed, but how that makes me feel. It’s how those types of songs make me feel, and then working within more of what I would do with it. That’s the basic jumping off point for that. That’s why you hear a brass section in there, because it’s something totally different.
Is that the first time you’ve had horns on a song before?
It is. There’s an earlier version of a song called “Gotta Be Somebody’s Blues” from Chase This Light that we were kicking around with having Bari sax and a horn section on, but we scrapped that in favor of a string section. So yeah, this is the first time I’ve used brass.
You also have the three covers, by Everly Brothers, Beck and Cyndi Lauper, and you’ve been playing additional covers as well in the live shows. How did you select those?
It’s basically taking an element in something that you like, giving that a name, figuring out why you like it, and then taking that and trying to develop that. There’s two ways you can approach covers. There’s the karaoke version, where you sing and pretend that you’re in that band, and then there’s the reinterpretation version, where you take what speaks to you about the original song, move that around, and make it yours with how you would do it.
With Jimmy Eat World, I’m assuming it’s going to be a quieter year for you guys. I know you have a couple shows coming up in a couple months. Do you have anything else coming up and have you started throwing around ideas yet for the next album?
We’re playing a show in September in Arizona and we’re playing the Taste of Chaos Fest in October. I think around the holidays we’ll get back together and start kicking around writing again.
The last album you did, Damage, was done more in-house, and I don’t know if it was a result of that or not but it kind of seemed to be a little bit more of an under-the-radar release than your last few albums have been. Were you satisfied with how that album and process turned out?
Yeah, creatively we got exactly what we set out to do. That’s really the only thing you can count on. The only thing guaranteed to you is that you’re proud of your work. Everything else is just not up to you. We’re happy with how that record turned out.
What can we expect solo-wise going forward? Is this going to be more of a regular thing now, or a thing for just this year?
I’d like the series to establish that this might be something people can expect frequently going forward. It’s fun. Here’s an idea for a song. OK, I’ll record it. OK, I’ll put it out. There’s no reason it has to be harder than that these days.
Did you produce and do all the instruments on these songs by yourself?
I produced it. I did not do all the instruments. I did farm out some drums. There’s a great community of people in Arizona that I’ve gotten to be close with. I used some of those people as resources for things that I think they would be good at contributing, so there’s some guest people. There’s some outsourced music and things for sure.