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March 14, 2005
Most acts you hear on the radio these days lack one key element: a past history. Largely the product of mass marketing and the 'industry of cool,' these radio-pandering acts rarely fight their way up from the underground to the top of the charts. The result is a media clog of Ashlee Simpson incidents, American Idols and the potential for Janet Jackson's right breast to become a celebrity unto itself.

Jimmy Eat World, however, managed to circumvent this pattern. No stranger to record label antics (Capitol dropped the group when 1999's Clarity failed to make a mainstream splash), singer/guitarists Jim Adkins and Tom Linton, bassist Rick Burch and drummer Zach Lind finally struck radio gold with 2001's Bleed American (renamed Jimmy Eat World after September 11th) - an album they recorded and paid for without the help of a major label.

This past October the outfit released Futures to many awaiting ears. The band had a lot on the line - keeping their credibility earned from years struggling underground, without losing mass public support for their poppy melodies is no small task.

Drummer Zach Lind, however, says the only pressure the band felt was self-inflicted.

"We don't want to make a bad record. That's our pressure," he said. "I think that the added pressure of this album was merely the fact that there are more people waiting. This is the first record we've made where we haven't been under the radar, and, knowing that, I think it makes you feel even more strongly about making sure you've done everything you can to make a good album or an album that is, at the very least, the best you can do."

"In terms to being credible, that's really up to different people to decide," said Lind. "We stopped worrying about being credible a long time ago."

But for Jimmy Eat World, some elements for a meaningful record are inherent in the creative process, whether long-term legitimacy concerns them or not.

"We just try to be honest. We try to be a band that doesn't insult the intelligence of the people who like the band, but there's plenty of people who don't think we're credible," he said. "We can't really bother ourselves with worrying about that."

Although high sales and credibility have a penchant these days for being negatively correlated, as far as numbers are concerned, J.E.W. have no reason to worry. Debuting at No. 6 On the Billboard charts, Futures is the band's highest charting release to-date. But, to their credit, the band wasn't just trying to repeat their successful formula from Bleed American.

"Overall, it's a darker record than Bleed American," Lind said of Futures, "I think it's a lot more dark than our past stuff."

Early reports of the album from September 2003 placed it as a harder-edged - almost metal - twist to the Jimmy Eat World sound. But the end result is more Matchbox Twenty than Metallica, an evolution Lind attributes to the recording process.

"I think, at that time, half of the record that is now Futures wasn't even written," he said. "We felt what we had as we started, once we started making the record, we realized that it wasn't there."

What developed during the sessions was a greater capacity for political sensibilities. Jimmy Eat World was growing up. Its members, now in their late 20s and early 30s, became more politically active within the past heated election year

"You kind of wake up to the real world and realize that there are decisions being made that are going to affect your kids down the line," Lind said. "I think when something affects you to a certain point, it's going to come out naturally through your creative expression. And I think we sort of reached our boiling point where it actually seeped its way into the creative process and it wasn't something that we wanted to shy away from because it was really something natural for us to address."

The darker blanket covering Futures was also incidental.

"It's just the water that was in the well," he said. "We normally don't set out to make a certain kind of record. We start finding out what the record is going to be like when we make it. It's not like any particular event is more outstanding than anything else."

Jimmy Eat World's decision to replace longtime producer Mark Trombino with Gil Norton explains some of the changes made on Futures. Lind insists that the split with Trombino was amicable, but necessary.

"We just needed a change of pace. This would have been our fourth album in a row working with Mark, and I think it was a situation where the familiarity was becoming a hindrance rather than a quality. It kind of got stale. It wasn't really anything having to do with Mark or his ability to produce bands. I think it was more specific to our situation."

The result is Jimmy Eat World's most mainstream sounding rock record yet, which some long-term fans may shy away from in favor of the group's indie rock past. Often considered one of the more timeless records of its genre, Clarity helped the band gain esteemed underground status, especially amongst emo circles.

"It seems like more than any other album we've made, people are really connected with Clarity. I think that's great. We're appreciative of that. Futures is not a competition with Clarity or Bleed American. It's sort of the best we can do at the moment. As far as we're concerned, if fans decide they like one album better than the other, then we're just glad they like it at all."

Just don't peg the group as an emo band. Lind hushes the rumors that the group hates the term, but says they don't really acknowledge it.

"I think any band, if they're claiming to be a part of a specific subgenre or something, you're kind of sealing your own fate," he said. "Like everybody who was running around and saying they were nu-metal - where are they now? For us, anything more than being a rock and roll band makes us feel uncomfortable."

Genre labeling aside, Jimmy Eat World's catalogue certainly has evolved since the bands first full length, the more punk Static Prevails. Despite the variances, Lind says he can't choose a favorite.

"Making an album is like having a family portrait taken every 3 years for us. Of course 10 years ago you look dorky and have braces, but it's not like one is your favorite because that was just sort of us at the time."

"We could probably record Static Prevails now and make it so much better. We could probably sing better, play better, erase songs for ones that flow better - but then we'd be denying the experience that we went through almost 10 years ago in making that album."

After the release of Futures, Jimmy Eat World still have plenty planned for 2005. Lind says they expect to spend most of January and February in the studio, followed by a European tour. The group is also finishing up a 4-song EP to be released early this year.

"I think for us, it's fun. With a lot of new ways in which EPs can be released and be available to people, like iTunes, it provides a place for songs that didn't necessarily make the album. Or if you want to do a cover of something, it's a pretty cool way to do stuff," he said.

Jimmy Eat World are no strangers to iTunes. They previously used the pay-per-download service to release a two-song Christmas EP as well as the Firestarter EP, featuring their rendition of the mid-90s electronica hit by the Prodigy.

As for the direction of digital music, Lind says services like iTunes are a step in the right direction for the consumer, not just the artist and industry.

"I think we need to think of some way for people to be excited about getting music online in a way that helps the artist," he said. "I think that's going to be really important."

"As time goes on and as people make choice in how they get their music, I think it's going to be inevitable that they're going to start realizing that the choices that they make are affecting the product that they get," he said. "If people keep taking it to download without paying, I think it's going to start showing up in the mainstream. People from reality shows are going to start getting record deals a lot quicker because [major labels] know it's something easy to sell."

This end result leads back to the problem at hand, an occurrence that shadows some of the group's earlier struggles.

"If you have a band that's starting up and they're young and need support from a record label, and they need time and care and energy to develop, then that becomes more of a problem," he said.

Futures may point Jimmy Eat World towards the beaten path, but forging their own trail through radio and industry resistance has earned the group a legitimacy that perhaps one day will become the industry standard.

--
Natalie B. David
A fresh graduate of the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia, in her spare time she can be found clumsily manipulating words and phrases for LAS and Beautiful/Decay magazine, hungering for sushi, naming inanimate objects or pondering the existence of stiletto heels. If you see her, you should buy her a cup of coffee because, chances are, she probably needs it.

See other articles by Natalie B. David.

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