A Conversation with Jimmy Eat World's Jim Adkins
Mike Ragogna: Jim, you have a new studio album, Invented. What's the band's roster this time out?
Jim Adkins: It's me, Jim Adkins, playing guitar and singing, Rick Burch playing bass, Tom Linton on the other guitar and vocals, Zach Lind playing drums, an assorted cast of extra players here and there like string session people, and a lot of the female backups on the record are by a local, Phoenix person named Courtney Marie Andrews.
MR: And you've got Mark Trombino.
JA: Yes, that's correct.
MR: Now, the reunion starts with a tour centered around your earlier album, Clarity?
JA: We did a tour over America where we were kind of celebrating the tenth anniversary of our record, Clarity, and at the San Diego show, we met up with Mark who had worked on that record with us. It had been kind of a long time since we'd hung out with him and it was nice. At that point, there were maybe five or six songs that were written for the new record, and we just wanted to see what he would do. We'd work out of our rehearsal space in Tempe, and then we'd send him over the Internet the multi-track session of what we were doing. Then, he would do a mix, send it back to us with some production ideas of his, and we would incorporate those, and re-record them. It was like trading tapes over the Internet.
MR: But this album was completed together since you guys ended up in the studio together.
JA: Yeah, here and there. Mark would work out of his house, and every once in a while, he would come out to Arizona where we were, and we would do whatever we could do. Then, at the end of it, I went over to his place in L.A., and we just wrapped up the odds and ends and the last bits of mixing.
MR: Now, the music on this record sounds like classic Jimmy Eat World, but the lyrics you wrote are from a different perspective. You wrote using the objective writing method?
JA: Yeah. What I would do, just as an exercise, really...maybe about three years ago, I started just randomly opening up Cindy Sherman's untitled film stills or Hannah Starkey photographs, and just take ten minutes to work through everything I could think about the character that was in the image. The goal wasn't to end up with songs; it was just to get my brain in the mindset of working. After a time, I started going to the more interesting things I thought of in those sessions, and I started expanding those into tunes--there seems to be more of those types of ideas in songs than anything else. So, most of the record is using that as a jumping off point.
MR: I see. It isn't so much that the songs are about those photographs. It stimulated an exercise about back stories, and you ended up applying them to new songs.
JA: There's always a scene or a sense of mood and place that I'm trying to write about in a song, and the meaning might be there, but I'm kind of creating the scene for it. Working for most of the songs on this record, the scene was already there, it was just totally devoid of any meaning. It was up to me to kind of fill in the meaning for it. What are the decisions being made in this instant? Who is this person? What's their life like? And then the rest of the song is just sort of built up around that.
MR: In your first track, "Heart Is Hard To Find," you not only have an intense string arrangement and an intro full of acoustic guitars, but some fine lyrics like, "I can't compete with the clear eyes of strangers."
JA: Oh, thanks. I'm really proud of the work that we did on this record. I can say it's my favorite.
MR: In your opinion, what kind of growth has happened between those earlier records and now?
JA: You know, I think we just know a lot more about how to get the sounds that we want, not just in a technical way. Having this much history working together, it's really a comfortable creative process. There's really no need to explain where one of us is coming from when we're trying out an idea; everyone else just steps in line, and tries to see it to completion. So, the biggest difference is in our working method. We're just in a comfortable place where it's easy to be vulnerable with your ideas, it's a comfortable place for that, and that doesn't come easily.
MR: You have the song "Coffee And Cigarettes" in which you're name checking The Dead from At Fillmore East, Otis Redding's Greatest Hits--great records to be referencing in a song.
JA: It's just kind of things I'd picture the character would have on repeat as they're driving across country.
MR: It's a really nice touch. In "Stop," you have the line, "You don't have to be the prettiest if you have a mind and willingness. No one stops a girl who knows what she's got."
JA: "Stop," I guess, is a song about jealousy. Basically, we were having dinner one night before a concert that my wife, my friend, and I were going to, and this girl came up to us and asks if we're Jimmy Eat World. I said, "I play in the band. We aren't Jimmy Eat World." She introduced herself as an aspiring porn actress, and she was eating dinner there with her dad, and, I guess, her fiancé. I just started thinking, "That would be insane." The jealousy, and the weird place that you'd have to be to accept that situation as a relationship would be really, really hard for me or anybody, I would imagine. So, the song is about what it might be like to overcome, not exactly that, but something like it. The jealousy that would come from being with someone whose professional life would demand that they be more open with themselves than you can securely handle as an interested partner.
MR: This album's single is "My Best Theory."
JA: Yes, that's right.
MR: What's the theme of its video?
JA: I'm not exactly sure how it's going to turn out, but we're shooting for a cross between THX 1138, and Heartbeeps.
MR: (laughs) Are you guys sci-fi fans?
JA: Oh, yeah.
MR: Well, there's a question. What are some of your favorite works?
JA: I like Philip K. Dick stories a lot. It seems like there are a lot of film adaptations of his stuff that always makes the top ten list of sci-fi, freak out movies like Blade Runner.
MR: Apparently you are well read, sir. So let's go back to the Cindy Sherman and Hannah Starkey books for just a moment. Why those particular books? Were those the ones that sort of hit you the most at the time?
JA: I sought those out because I liked, in the work I was doing, that I was able to focus on either one or a small group of characters. It was just easier to expand on that. Songs come from a first person perspective. So, it just seemed like an easier way to work. The main character is the focal point of the image, and it just seemed like a good way to go at it.
MR: That pretty original. What's your tour going to be like for this year?
JA: It's going to be more on than off for probably about a year now. We'll be in North America starting on the 21st, I believe. Then we'll be going through the U.K., and continental Europe in November, then we'll be back in the states in December.
MR: And the album gets released in September?
JA: Yeah, September 28th I believe, in America.
MR: What kind of advice do you have for up and coming artists?
JA: It's got to be rough out there. There's never been an easier time to do exactly what you want with computer recording, and it's never been harder at the same time because everyone has those tools at their disposal. I would just say there's so much that you can't control with it all that you have to be in it for the right reason; you have to be in it for yourself. You always have to make sure that you're doing your best work, be completely doubt free that your work is the best you can do because that's really all you have at the end of the day.
MR: That sounds like something you might apply to your own work.
JA: Sure. No one is going to like one hundred percent of what you do. There's no guarantee that people will like five percent of what you do, but the only way you can get to a point where that's acceptable is if you're one hundred percent proud of it. After that, it doesn't matter. Criticism or praise is just kind of the opinion of strangers.
MR: Beautiful. Is there anything in the news right now that's got your eye? Is there anything that's concerning you right now?
JA: What isn't, man? There's just too much to talk about there.
MR: There are a few songs on this record that, though your classic sound is still intact, feel like you're trying on some new shoes.
JA: Well, we're always trying on new shoes, I guess.
MR: Let me ask you about "Action Needs An Ambulance." What the heck is going on in that? I'm trying my best to figure it out.
JA: Well, you were one of the lucky people who got a wrong title to that track. The tune is actually called "Action Needs An Audience."
MR: I'm actually going to print this, that's hysterical.
JA: I think there were about thirty promo copies that went out with the wrong title for that, and I have no idea why.
MR: I was trying to figure out what the whole deal with the ambulance was, when really, I was Emily Latella.
JA: You're not the only one. The local weekly here was doing an online blog about it and I was like, "What? That's an odd typo." Then I saw it again and iscovered that it was a common trend.
MR: While we're on that song, could you go into what it's actually about?
JA: I'm not exactly sure what it's about, but I can tell you how it came to be. It was an older idea for a song, and I was just not happy with the lyrics I was coming up with. Our other guitar player, Tom, used to sing quite a bit on our early, early records. So, we just dropped that on his desk and said, "Let's see what you can do," and he came back with that. So, that's a song that Tom wrote the lyrics and sang.
MR: My favorite song is "Heart Is Hard To Find." Can you go into its background?
JA: Our last album was more about discovery. The sense of when everything is a big deal and everything is exciting. I think for Invented and "Heart Is Hard To Find" especially, it's more about the character taking a real stock of their situation, and the kinds of decisions that they come to in that moment. "Heart Is Hard To Find" is just kind of a rock-bottom assessment of your position. It's just a struggle song, I guess.
MR: And it crosses so many genres that it'll probably earn you more Jimmy Eat World fans from other formats.
JA: We'll see.
1. Heart Is Hard To Find
2. My Best Theory
4. Higher Devotion
6. Coffee And Cigarettes
10. Action Needs An Ambulance
(transcribed by Ryan Gaffney)
A Conversation with Pete Yorn
Mike Ragogna: Pete, you have a new, self-titled album, but I'm a little confused about its timeline. You recorded it with Frank Black, right?
Pete Yorn: Correct.
MR: Of course, we know Frank Black from the Pixies and his many projects on and off camera. Pete Yorn was recorded somewhere around the time of the Mike Mogis produced Back And Fourth album, right?
PY: Right. Before it, actually, like two weeks before.
MR: What was the genesis of that project?
PY: This was the summer of '08, and I knew I was going to work with Mr. Mike Mogis in Omaha to make Back And Fourth sometime later in '08. So, I had that set and ready to go, and I had the songs picked out and everything. Then, all of a sudden about two weeks before I'm supposed to go, I get an email from Frank Black and he says, "Hey man, want to record some songs?" That happened because we had a mutual friend who I didn't know was really close to him at the time, and I played her some of the new music I was working up on my guitar and she was like, "You should record with Frank Black." I said, "That would be great," but I didn't know him or anything, she didn't say much about it, and I didn't think much about it. Then, a week later, I get an email from him saying, "Hey, let's record some tunes." So, she was for real. I talked to Frank and said, "Yeah, I'd love to do some stuff." But I wasn't sure logistically how I was going to do it. I talked to my manager, and I remember, at first, he was like, "What do you mean? You're going to Omaha, you've got to do that, stay focused." And I'm like, "What do you mean? I've got to go work with Frank Black. That guy is one of my heroes."
So, we talked about logistics a little bit, and Frank said, "I've got some players up in Salem, Oregon, and I've got a little studio my friend has. We could do it up here." I was thinking maybe we'd just bang out an EP, like a little five song thing, but he said, "No, man. We'll go for a few days and we could make a whole record." I was thinking I'd be happy just to get one song, but the cool thing was that I had written so many songs that were ready to go, and it worked out that I had the material. So, I just bought a ticket, Frank picked my up at the airport in Portland, got me a hotel room, and was like, "Alright man, play me what you have." He hadn't heard anything before I went up there, so I just pulled out an acoustic guitar and started singing him these songs. We worked on them a little bit, then, the next day, we went in and started recording them. We went for five days, and I got the flu on the second day and felt like s**t, but we got it done. It was a really interesting session, and Frank was really cool to work with. I learned a lot from him, and it was interesting.
MR: This is a really solid record. Plus you have Back And Fourth which you started recording a couple of weeks later, it also being a solid record. This was a really fertile creative period.
PY: Yeah, I had a lot on my mind. I was just writing a lot. It's weird because if I listen to Back And Fourth, that's the more introspective, mournful, regretful record, and then I listen to the Black record, and it's got a lot more faith, moving forward, and power in it. That's what I like about it--when I listen to it, it gets me up off the couch and gets me pumped up, and I need that in my life at times. So, it's good.
MR: When did you record your album with Scarlett Johansson, Break Up?
PY: Recording-wise, I did that first. I did that one at the end of '07, maybe earlier, but I've lost track. Regardless, I did that a good deal before Back And Fourth or the Black record. That was also a fun experience.
MR: But wasn't that album released a little bit after Back And Fourth?
PY: Yeah, Back And Fourth came out in June of '09, and Break Up came out in September of '09.
MR: You've had a good run with this being your fifth solo studio album?
PY: Fifth solo studio album if you don't count Break Up because that's a different thing. There is a lost sixth album, which is my real first one, that I still have yet to put out. It's this record I made in '98 with a guy named Don Fleming, and it's a really cool record. One song from that album made it onto musicforthemorningafter, is called "Simonize," the last song on musicforthemorningafter. What happened was I made this record and I loved it, but then I got into a whole different thing making music for musicforthemorningafter, and I just got caught up in that. So, that's the record that came first, but I do have, technically, six studio records in the can.
MR: I know that a lot of people love musicforthemorningafter, it introduced a lot of people to Pete Yorn. But with each album the writing just keeps accelerating.
PY: Thanks, man.
MR: When it comes to art versus commerce, do you find yourself having to sit more in the latter camp because of your increased output?
PY: I think I know what you're saying. I'll say this--a lot of people who are paid only to be business minded are like, "You're crazy putting three albums out in a year." And I really couldn't care less. For me, it is expression. It would be one thing if the songs on all three records were things that I didn't feel like I wanted to say. To me, all three records sound so different, are totally different expressions, and are all things that I want to say. So, if I focus my effort on making the strongest record that I can and putting my energy there, I believe that the business part of it falls into place a lot more simply than some might think.
MR: Did you get the final mixed version of Pete Yorn in the midst of working on Back And Fourth?
PY: Before. The whole thing was done in five days, so I had a final mixed version of it when I went to Omaha, and I loved it. I remember, I was sick as a dog for a week while we made the record, and when I was in the studio, it was hard to tell if it was good or s**t. I was fighting through being sick, but I was getting along with Frank, and he was definitely adding some cool stuff and bringing stuff in a really interesting direction. It wasn't until the plane home that I put on my headphones to listen to it a little bit. So, I was on the plane listening to it and I was like, "This stuff feels good." It had a good energy to it, and It was a lot more sparse of a record than some of my other work--there are not many overdubs and it's just pretty simple. At first, I was a little worried that it might need some things, but as I listened to it, it just had this energy to it. There was something about the way it was recorded that without certain things being there, other things just seemed bigger. So, all the things I was worrying about ended up becoming my favorite things about the record. I've been excited about this record for quite some time, and I'm really happy that it's finally getting a release.
MR: How do you contain yourself when you know you're sitting on an album like this but your mission is to record yet another album? That must have been a very hard period for you.
PY: It was painful, frankly. For me, everything has been a reaction to a mood. If I do something that's introspective or I'm in that kind of place, then I bounce out of it with something else, something more like the Black record. So, I feel like I had to have both, but I remember at the time thinking, "This record feels so good. Right now I just want to do this. I don't even want to go to Omaha." As it worked out, I went and had an opportunity to work with Mike Mogis which was awesome, but I remember like a couple of days before that, I almost bailed. No one knows this but us and everyone else we tell about this now. But I was thinking of bailing because I felt like I had a fun record that I liked and I didn't want to waste my time there. But then I went and made Back And Fourth, and you know what? It was a really rewarding experience, and I left there having learned a lot and getting to watch Mike Mogis work, which is super cool, and I think we came out with a really strong record there as well. If the master plan was laid out by the man upstairs, this is how it was meant to be, so I'm not going to question any of it.
MR: That album also was a wonderful collaboration, so I can understand how you could be conflicted having already recorded another kind of record.
PY: It taught me, if anything, to capture stuff while you can. If I had gone the other way and just focused on the Omaha record and not worked with Frank, then who knows what would have happened, but I I wouldn't have had this record that I love. You've just got to go with the experience, and sometimes when you might not feel like doing something, you have to force yourself and see. The main thing is taking all the experiences and being able to learn from them to keep moving forward, you know?
MR: Yeah. Let's talk about another one of your songs, "Rock Crowd." That seems like a song of gratitude to your fans, is it?
PY: It is, in a big way. I wrote that song in Vegas, and I remember I was at my friend's bachelor party, for some reason, being my own worst enemy in that time of my life, and I couldn't enjoy myself. I wasn't into being in Vegas. I had crazy anxiety, and I remember everybody going nuts because it was July seventh, '07, which was 7/7/07 on the calendar, so it was supposed to be the luckiest day to be in Vegas.
I couldn't sleep, it was like five in the morning, and I just started writing these lyrics out. It's kind of cliché, but the only time that I felt normal was when I was on stage. Everything leading up to that during the day was just not a good scene, and I didn't feel good. I don't know, this idea came to me like, "Rock crowd, put your arms around me." It was something acknowledging the fans and how they get me through, especially during shows. Afterward, I remember thinking that maybe it would be my lucky charm because I wrote it on 7/7/07, it could be a cool thing. The song turned out well and I played if for Frank. He had some cool production ideas on it, and I think the version that we got together is a good representation of what I had in my head.
MR: Yeah, it's a cool track.
PY: My whole thing in the end is the line, "When you're done, put me back where you found me." That, to me, acknowledges that some people can lose themselves in the glitz of it all and being surrounded by people like that. But for me, when it's over, I come back down to Earth and be a real human being. So, it was important for me to acknowledge that in the song.
MR: You have "Paradise Cove I," as you're designating it, on this record, but you also have "Paradise Cove" on Back And Fourth. What's the story behind that?
PY: The original version I recorded with Frank Black up in Oregon. So, when I went to Omaha, I had the finished Black record with me, and at one point, I was hanging out with Mogis and I was like, "Check out these tunes I just did with Frank Black." Because I was pretty excited about them, and he really loved the song "Paradise Cove," he was like, "Dude, we've got to record that song here." But I told him, "No, that's for the other record." He talked me into it, and I think he talked to the band on the sneak, so I knew that they were kind of jamming this cool version of it and we just captured it. What I like about it is that both versions have a very different feel and a different energy. So, I'm able to enjoy them both, and I think it's the only song of mine that's made it onto two different records in different incarnations.
MR: After releasing many albums, this is your first self-titled one, may artists do ti on their first. Was there a reason for the wait?
PY: People keep asking my, "Why is it called Pete Yorn, it's your fifth record. Your first record is supposed to be called by your name. It's just an abomination calling it that."
MR: (laughs) Right, that's the word I was looking for. Abomination.
PY: The truth is, after I finished the record, among my circle of friends, it was just known as the Black record, and everyone knew that. That's why I made it just a simple black cover because it's just kind of known as the Black record. I just had to put my name on it somewhere so people would know where to file it, but it's the Black record.
MR: You have a couple of introspective songs on here. I'd love to hear your thoughts on one of those.
PY: I have one I'd love to talk about, "The Chase."
MR: Can you go into its background?
PY: For me, I think it's human nature to want what we don't have or take things for granted. That's a theme I delve into a lot on this record, and "The Chase" is certainly no exception. I'm in Santa Monica, California, right now, and I used to live about three minutes away from this beautiful museum called The Getty Center up on a hill in Brentwood. They built it a few years ago as this modern structure, and it's amazing. Everybody's always raving about the Getty, "Oh, if you come to L.A., you've got to go check out the Getty." I lived very close to there and people, when I told them where I lived, were like, "Have you been to the Getty?" and I was always like, "No, I haven't been." Years would go by and I never went to the Getty, and it would always be that thing like, "Why haven't I gone? I know I should go." It was right there and I could always get a chance to go, so there was no urgency to it.
That phenomenon, I think, is very consistent in humans, where they take the things right in front of them for granted, especially relationships or things that they have that they just forget how awesome they are because they see them every day. So, "The Chase," if you listen to the lyrics, says, "I can see you anytime, that's why I don't care. I want what isn't there." That little story kind of sums up what the song means to me, and when I hear it, it reminds me, "Don't take s**t for granted." Because that's a trap that you fall into. So, it kind of helps me have a greater appreciation for things in my life.
MR: Nice, now you're a Jersey boy, right?
PY: Uh huh.
MR: If you poll ten New Yorkers, I'll bet you that seven of them have never been to the Empire State Building.
PY: Exactly, I've never been to the Empire State Building.
MR: Do you have any advice for young, new artists coming on the scene now?
PY: Don't believe anything anybody says about you (laughs).
MR: (laughs) Care to elaborate?
PY: As an artist, in general, that's my advice to any young artist, whatever you're doing.
MR: Short and sweet. Thanks mans.
PY: Anytime, man.
1. Precious Stone
2. Rock Crowd
3. Velcro Shoes
4. Paradise Cove I
6. The Chase
7. Sans Fear
9. Stronger than
10. Future Life
(transcribed by Ryan Gaffney)