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Sat June 22, 2013
Music Interviews

Jimmy Eat World Finds The Fuel To Keep Going

Originally published on Mon June 24, 2013 11:20 am

Jimmy Eat World is perhaps best known for its hit "The Middle." The peppy tune, released in November 2001, may have been just what an America recovering from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, needed. But the band's timeline extends for years in both directions; this year it celebrates two decades together.

"We didn't answer an ad to be in a band together," lead singer and guitarist Jim Adkins says. "It just happened naturally. I've always known that Zach, our drummer, played drums; he knew I played guitar. We'd get together on the weekends and jam Metallica or whatever. And it just kind of evolved into a real thing."

The band is currently traveling through Europe to promote its eighth studio album, Damage. Adkins talks to NPR's Jacki Lyden about what's changed in 20 years, and explains who the Jimmy in the band's name really is.


Interview Highlights

On writing Damage

"I decided to shoot for — just as a basic, basic jumping-off point — love songs. But the kind of love songs that interest me, or I find engaging, are ones that deal more with adversity, complexity with relationships. ... To do that and not feel like a fake about it when I turn around and sing it, I have to approach it from the perspective of observation and experience in the world around me right now, which is definitely more of a place where friends are married and friends have kids and are getting divorces or separations. It is more about writing informed by experience, rather than just overwhelmed with the idea of discovery — you know, like something new, which is kind of what I wrote about a lot in the past."

On "The Middle"

"At the time, I thought it was sort of like a joke because it was just so easy. You know what I mean? Like anybody working in art — if something comes too easily, it might not be as good as something that you labored over. And 'The Middle' happened just within a day. Like, one day, and it was pretty much done — didn't overthink it, just kind of went for it. ... For some reason, that song just clicked with a lot of people. And it's something that we're grateful for."

On the band's name

"It comes from our other guitar player, Tom's, family. Quite a long time ago, his brother Jim was picking on his younger brother Ed — I think they were like 6 and 8, or something — and sort of beat him up. And in retaliation, Ed drew this picture of Jim with a globe in his mouth, saying that he was so fat that he could eat the world, and wrote 'Jimmy Eat World' on it, and put it on his door for him to see when he got home from school one day."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

And if you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. And it's time now for music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MIDDLE")

JIMMY EAT WORLD: (Singing) Hey, don't write yourself off yet...

LYDEN: It was November 2001, just after the September 11th attack, a dark time in our country. And "The Middle," with its peppy tune and rosy lyrics, seemed to satisfy a longing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MIDDLE")

WORLD: (Singing) And don't you worry what their bitter hearts are gonna say...

LYDEN: The song launched the band Jimmy Eat World into stardom. Together now for two decades, Jimmy Eat World is out with its eighth studio album, "Damage."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DAMAGE")

WORLD: (Singing) Are we only damaging whatever we have left?

LYDEN: I caught up with lead singer Jim Adkins when the band's tour stopped in Berlin.

JIM ADKINS: For this album, "I decided to shoot for - just as a basic, basic jumping-off point - love songs. But the kind of love songs that interest me, or I find engaging, are ones that deal more with adversity, you know, complexity with relationships.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WILL STEAL YOU BACK")

WORLD: (Singing) How slowly we built the walls, in years they pile on, I will steal you back...

LYDEN: "I Will Steal You Back." You know, I was bopping around to this, it appears it's so upbeat and catchy in terms of the guitar work, but the lyrics are really raw: how slowly we built the walls, in years they pile on, I will steal you back. And I thought, you know, this is for a relationship that got some miles on it.

ADKINS: Yeah. To approach that subject and that fanatic jumping-off point for writing, to do that and not feel like a fake about it when I turn around and sing it, I have to approach it from the perspective of observation and experience in the world around me right now, which is definitely more of a, you know, a place like where friends are married and friends have kids and getting divorces or separations. And it is more about writing informed by experience, rather than, you know, just overwhelmed with the idea of discovery, you know, like something new, which is kind of what I wrote about a lot in the past.

LYDEN: Are you more drawn to writing about the downs of love, would you say, rather than the ups?

ADKINS: Yeah, I would. Like you were saying there earlier about the upbeat kind of "I Will Steal You Back" music and the lyrics on top of it, that's something I kind of work in on purpose. The thing that makes it more interesting, if you put happy on top of happy, I just don't get anything from it.

LYDEN: Bubblegum goo.

ADKINS: Yeah, yeah. You get bubblegum goo, and no one wants to step in that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WILL STEAL YOU BACK")

WORLD: (Singing) Funny how the smallest lie might live a million times. I will steal you back, you back, you back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MIDDLE")

LYDEN: Twelve years ago, this huge hit, "The Middle," really launched your band into the spotlight. Let's hear a bit of "The Middle."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MIDDLE")

WORLD: (Singing) Hey, don't write yourself off yet, it's only in your head you feel left out or looked down on. Just try your best, try everything you can. And don't you worry what they tell themselves when you're away...

LYDEN: I'll bet there are plenty of listeners at home singing that song along right now. Why do you think it caught on the way it did? It just set people on fire.

ADKINS: I don't know. You know, looking back on it, at the time, I thought it was sort of like a joke because it was just so easy. You know what I mean? Like, anybody working in art, if something comes too easily, it might not be as good as something that you've labored over. And "The Middle" happened just, you know, within a day. You know, like, one day it was pretty much done, and we didn't overthink it, you know, just kind of went for it. But it felt like it worked. And, yeah, I don't know, man. I think it's - you're right, it still gets a great reaction every time we play it. It's like, hello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MIDDLE")

WORLD: (Singing) It'll be all right, all right. It just takes some time, little girl, you're in the middle of the ride. Everything, everything will be just fine, everything, everything will be all right, all right.

ADKINS: It's just awesome. I mean, it's a pretty amazing compliment to have anyone identify or find something in what you do that they can make theirs. And for some reason, that song just clicked with a lot of people. And it's something that we're grateful for, and it's an insane compliment.

LYDEN: I'm speaking with Jim Adkins, the lead singer of the band Jimmy Eat World. We caught you now in Berlin where you're in the middle of your European tour promoting this album. Would you say there's something different about touring today than when you were into the success, you know, we were just talking about - the 20-something success? You know, it's some years on.

ADKINS: Yeah. No, I think, like, the longer that we're a band, the easier it is to do what we do. You know, I think we'd given up - well, we're never ever chasing cool. We were always just doing our thing. And it's easier now to appreciate being where we are. And I think that really is powerful fuel for keeping it going even still.

LYDEN: Well, I would imagine the four of you have that many more people to leave behind now when you tour who depend on all of you.

ADKINS: Yeah, I know. It is trickier. We're all married, and two of us have children. And I have three boys. You know, as the kids get older, they're starting to have, you know, real adolescent issues and problems that come up. And it's rough behind away from them. It's busy. It gets busy, let me tell you. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "APPRECIATION")

WORLD: (Singing) We build, we box, we carry on. As people we forgot. Strange we come to find ourselves not knowing we're lost.

LYDEN: It's interesting how a band evolves together. I mean, you're 37. And the fact that you have all remained together, that you are evolving together, is pretty remarkable.

ADKINS: Yeah. We were all friends before we started the band. I mean, I've known our drummer - actually, his mother was our preschool teacher.

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: So I've known him a good, like, 35, 34 years, you know? That's pretty insane, right? I mean, I think he's one of the people I hang out with the most. We didn't, like, answer an ad to be in a band together. It just happened naturally. I've always known that Zach, our drummer, played drums. He knew I played guitar. We'd get together on the weekends and jam Metallica or whatever and just kind of evolved into a real thing.

LYDEN: Let's talk about the name of your band: Jimmy Eat World. A lot of people must think that the Jimmy is you.

ADKINS: It's just a coincidence, really. It comes from our other guitar player Tom's family. Quite a long time ago, his brother Jim was picking on his younger brother Ed. And I think they were like 6 and 8 or something. He sort of beat him up, I guess. And in retaliation, Ed drew this picture of Jim with a globe in his mouth, saying that, like, he was so fat that he could eat the world and wrote: Jimmy Eat World on it and put it on his door for him to see when he got home from school one day.

LYDEN: It is definitely a name you never, ever forget.

ADKINS: Yeah, we're stuck with it.

LYDEN: That's Jim Adkins, singer, songwriter and guitarist with Jimmy Eat World. Thanks so much for taking time to be with us today from Berlin.

ADKINS: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLEASE SAY NO")

WORLD: (Singing) Please say no, please say no...

LYDEN: To hear more from Jimmy Eat World's new album, "Damage," go to nprmusic.org. And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Special today thanks to Simone Orendain, who recorded the ivory-crushing event in the Philippines. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR smartphone app. Click on Programs and scroll down. You can also follow me on Twitter: nprjackilyden. We're back on the radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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