Drummer Zach Lind chats about thinking differently on Jimmy Eat World’s new album Integrity Blues, the challenge of taking your craft up a level, the delicate balance of tracklisting, and being notorious for not knowing what people are going to like.
You did Life Is Beautiful over the weekend and your first real run of shows earlier this month that you’ve done in a while. What’s it like being back out on the road and playing shows again?
It feels really good. After we did our “Futures 10” tour, we decided to take a year off and give everyone a clean break from Jimmy Eat World related activities. We were able to turn the switch off in the brain for the first time since we’ve been a band. That was actually a really good thing that we did.
We felt like coming back into making a record, it made us more hungry and motivated. That had a big impact on the making of the album, I felt. Playing shows again I think is part of it, too. It feels really good to be back and playing. It’ll be nice to be able to play more of the new tunes. For right now, we’re playing two or three.
Yeah, I saw you’ve been playing three so far.
Yeah, we’re sort of in between wanting to play new songs and then also wanting people to experience the songs initially from the album versions, rather than some shitty iPhone video somewhere. It’ll be fun to add to the list of the new tunes.
You mentioned taking last year off for the band. You get the sense this album may have reenergized you a little bit, and you worked with a new producer on this record, Justin Meldal-Johnson. What was the mindset like when you decided to regroup and start this one? And how do you think it showed up on this record for you?
Everything we decided to do in the making of this record was related to the break. It was interesting touring for Damage and then touring for Futures consecutively. We’re really proud of all the records we’ve done. We’re really happy with Damage. We felt like we made a really good record, but it was a little bit of a wake up call when we toured for Damage and then we toured for Futures. The energy was so much higher and the crowd seemed to be so much more engaged on the Futures shows than the Damage shows.
In one sense, that’s good, because people are enjoying Futures and that’s something that certainly doesn’t bother us. But on the other hand, it was like what type of band are we going to be moving forward? Are we going to be a band that does anniversary tours all the time and is cashing in on what we have done, rather than continuing to make records that in 10 years people will want us to play again?
Going into making this record, it was all about thinking differently and not doing the same things we had done before. So a big part of that was we hired Justin really early in the process. Usually we would demo a bunch of songs in our studio, and when those demos we felt like were all fleshed out and ready to go, then we would hire a producer and go and make a record.
At a certain point when you’re making these demos that are pretty fully realized, you’ve already made a lot of choices. You’ve already gone down that road, and you’re hiring someone to help you execute it. We started meeting up again as a band last fall and were like, OK, what do we want to do? We basically were like, we want to make a record and we want to be done by May. That was before we had any sense of what the record would be, ultimately. It was like, OK, we have to do that and that.
In terms of making a record, that’s the fastest we’ve ever started the process and then ended it. Even though it’s still a three-year break, one of those years was literally doing nothing. We reconvened in the fall and then just went at it really hard. Part of it was including Justin at the beginning.
We had this whole mountain of different ideas. Some were full songs and some were little clips, like a 30-second riff or something. He went through all of it and basically categorized them into an A, B and C folder. So we basically took the A folder and attacked it and tried to make a record along with him.
That was something we’ve never really done before, in terms of having a producer be in on the ground floor of making a record. He was the perfect guy to work with because he pushed us to do new things, which was something we wanted to do going into it.
The first song we have to talk about, which is one of those new things, is “Pass the Baby,” which is probably the weirdest song Jimmy Eat World has ever done before. Jim has some very different lyrics on it, and the song starts and ends in two very different places. What was the genesis like for that one?
The idea of that song has been around for 10 years or so. Every time it came time to make a record, it was like, “Do we really want to do that?” And so Jim outlined with Justin the idea that we start the song in this place and it needs to end in this radical, totally different place. It’s sort of the idea of there being a riff that never replicates. It’s similar, but it never is the same.
Justin was immediately like, “OK, we have to do that.” In a weird way, he gave us permission to do it, and so we did it. So yeah, it ended up the way it did. We’re really happy with how it turned out.
That outro and “Get Right,” which were the first two snippets you released from this record, have very crunchy guitars, almost like a ‘90s grunge or indie rock vibe, which you’ve never really done before or like anything else on this record. What was it like playing around in that mode?
It was fun. We all grew up idolizing Metallica and heavy metal bands. There’s definitely a part of us that relates to that and it’s a lot of fun to do stuff like that. I feel like “Get Right” isn’t that much of a departure. I guess it’s a little bit different. “Get Right” is probably one of my favorite songs to play live. The slow groove of it is really fun.
The record overall seems to be more of a midtempo record in that you don’t have any super fast rock songs and only the title track is really slow. But you have a lot of fun playing around with those grooves and adding these nice fills on something like “You Are Free” or “Pretty Grids.” How did you approach the drumming on this record and adding your touch on these songs?
For me, personally, I always try to serve the song. I don’t really have a specific approach. The only thing I did differently on this record was I added a tom to my drum set. Having an extra tom sort of changes the choices you make. That helped me in songs like “Sure and Certain” and “Pass the Baby,” where there’s a lot of drum stuff.
Part of it is the way the songs were structured and how we decided, OK, this is what the drums will be doing here. It lent itself to doing things that I haven’t really done before. It wasn’t an intentional thing going into it. It was like, this is what the song needs, so how am I going to do that? It was a lot of fun, though. It was the most fun record for me to make.
One of my favorites on the record is the song “Through,” which I think might be the catchiest song you’ve done since “Here It Goes.” What was it like coming up with that song?
It’s funny, that song wasn’t going to be on the record until maybe a day before we mastered it we changed our minds and put it on there. We had our sequence set, and our management company and some people were like, “Hey, we really feel like you guys should put this on the record.” So we switched it out with another song at the last minute.
It was move I was really against. I was like, I don’t want to do that, and I sort of got outvoted. It’s funny how a lot of people really like it. It was a song all the way through the process we were sort of figuring out, eyeballing what we had and what we needed. We never really felt like it was going to be on the record. It was one of the lower tier songs in our mind.
I think that’s part of the thing. You get so deep in your rabbit hole that sometimes you have no idea. When we recorded “Pain” and put that on the record, we had no idea that was going to be a single. We were shocked they wanted that song to be a single, and that’s one of our biggest hits. We’re notorious at that, having no idea what people are going to like [laughs].
I’m glad that the people that have heard it seem to really like it. It’s a good song, it was just challenging. The whole challenge for that song was it’s this basic song, so how can we make it more textured and a little bit more weird? Try to take it away from a very basic rock place and make it more interesting. That was the challenge for that one.
Was the song that it was switched out for “My Enemy?”
Yeah, that’s right.
It’s funny you mention that happening at the 11th hour because I’ve always loved your b-sides. I know at least among the hardcore fan base, there’s always a lot of talk over the tracklisting for the albums and whether certain songs should have been included and stuff like that. What’s that process like? Is it like you said and you vote on things? Then later on down the line, are there songs you regret not putting on records, like “Be Sensible?”
Yeah, “Be Sensible” is definitely one that if we had to do it over again we would probably put it on the record. I think for us you can sometimes get too caught in the trap of what does the album need. Does the album need a rock song, or does it need more of a mellow song? This time around, we wanted to put the songs we liked the best, regardless. We didn’t want to play that game anymore. We just wanted to put the best songs on there.
With “Through,” it was sort of like a vote. At first when it was suggested, we were all like, “No.” I think Tom was the only person in the band who was like, “Yeah, I kind of agree. I think it should go on over ‘My Enemy.’” I was like, “Uhhh.” I was so bummed.
In the end, people will be able to hear “My Enemy.” “My Enemy” was probably the most rocking song, apart from the end of “Pass the Baby,” on the record. It was definitely more aggressive.
Kind of like “Nothingwrong?”
Kind of. A little bit like that, yeah. That was my feeling, like this is the most rocking song on the record and we’re taking it off. But in the end, I feel like we made the right decision, just based on a lot of the feedback we’ve gotten. I think “My Enemy” will be a song that hardcore fans will dig and like a lot.
One other song I wanted to ask about is “Pol Roger,” which is the closing song. You’re known for having these powerful, epic closing songs. The last record threw a little bit of a curveball with “You Are Good,” which was largely acoustic, while this is a bit more of a big-sounding song. What was it like deciding on that as the closer this time?
For us, it’s whatever feels right narratively to be at the end and it just depends. With Damage, I think “You Are Good” felt right. It didn’t need to be this big, huge song. It just felt like this is what fits. I think with “Pol Roger,” it’s the same way. Narratively, you want a song that feels like the end. That’s basically how we choose it. It wasn’t like we didn’t know that would be the last song.
We weren’t really thinking about sequence a whole lot while we were making the record. We resisted doing that. Like, let’s not worry about that, and get the songs done and then we’ll figure it out. But if you listen to all the songs, it’s a pretty obvious choice. I think it was important to us for “Integrity Blues” to go into “Pol Roger” as the last two things. That all sort of made sense.
When you first announced this record, Jim wrote that cool note talking about what the album is about and some of its themes. What all did you take away from his writing on this record?
I think it’s the best he’s done. It’s really interesting. It’s a big challenge, writing lyrics. Sharing that part of yourself in that personal a way is hard. It’s not easy. It’s always a big challenge, but I think he did a great job.
Me and the other guys in the band, Jim was far more open with us, basically going through the record and giving us insight into where he’s coming from and communicating it in a way he’s really never done before. He’s never really been like, “OK, this is what this record is going to be about.”
It was cool, because going into making the record, we knew the sentiment behind it and the place he was coming from, what motivated this song or the character in this song. It was awesome. I feel like it’s his best lyric writing he’s ever done.
Jim is someone you’ve known pretty much your whole life. You grew up with him even before the band and all that. What’s it been like seeing him grow as a writer over the years? As you said, this is what you think is his best stuff, and you have so many songs that have been able to connect with people in different ways. What’s that been like to see happen as well?
It’s been pretty amazing. Jim has always been someone who I’ve felt like has a good musical intuition. He’s always been like that, even when we were kids playing and he didn’t even really sing.
In terms of how he’s grown as a singer, I’ve always felt like he’s been a really good lyricist. He’s a smart, thoughtful guy. He really cares and really tries hard to communicate something in a way that’s meaningful. I feel like on this record he challenged himself on taking it up a level.
As far as people enjoying our songs or finding meaning, that’s always a surprise to us in a lot of ways. We’re really grateful to the fact that people listen to our music and care and like it, and come out to shows and support us. It’s something that as we get older we never try to take for granted.
When you posted “Get Right” and “Sure and Certain,” I noticed a little bit of talk on how you’re one of those bands, just since you’ve been around for so long and have so many good records out, that it’s easy to take for granted. People were either surprised, like “Oh, this is a really good song,” or the hardcore fans were like, “Oh, this is another great song in a great career.”
You obviously don’t want to take success for granted or that people will keep listening to you. How do you balance that then with, like you were saying at the beginning, wanting to push forward and challenge yourself on every new record?
At least for us when we’re making a record, we try not to think too much about what the fan wants. We think about what interests us. We try not to chase a particular outcome based on what people want from the outside. We just want to be true to ourselves and make a record that we’re really proud of. We’ve trusted that if we do that and we feel good about it, then we’ll keep making music and hopefully fans will appreciate it.
That’s kind of a tricky thing. You don’t want to think too much about your audience when you’re doing the work, because that knocks you off balance a little bit and you might chase things that you shouldn’t be chasing. You just want to stay true on what your primary thing is for that particular album or that particular song, whatever you’re working on. That’s how we try to look at it.
’Integrity Blues’ is out October 21 on RCA Records.