Jim Adkins, the singer of Arizona alt-rockers Jimmy Eat World, says that his band’s latest album Damage is an adult break-up record. It’s a raw and wounded collection of songs, far more stripped-back than anything in the band’s recent discography. The album represents an attempt by a guy in his 30s to pick through the wreckage of a broken relationship in a mature and grown-up fashion.
“When it comes to love songs, I guess the ones that deal with tough times are just more interesting to me,” Adkins says. “I wanted to approach the topic with as much honesty as I could, without feeling like a fraud… Relationships are different when you have more experience, there’s more of a grey area between right and wrong in arguments.”
Take a song like album closer ‘You Were Good’ – as break-up songs go, it’s less of a ‘screw you’ than a sad send-off. “The complexities of having a mature relationship, or dissolving a mature relationship, are endless,” he continues. “It’s messy – it’s really fucking messy – and it’s not easy. There’s a lot to write about.”
I ask Adkins how many of the album’s lyrics are based on personal experience, but it seems he doesn’t like to talk about this too much. The emotions on the record are his, he says, but he has chosen to put them in the mouth of a character, as a short story writer would.
“Even the most insane, out-there science fiction writer has to ground their work in some kind of observation and experience,” he says. “The person who’s speaking the story, he doesn’t do anything out of white-hot passion. He’s in a calm period after his initial reaction to things. That’s where you get the real complexity, but also where some of the harder stuff starts to come out.”
From here, our talk turns to the sound of the album. The songs on Damage are simple and unadorned, as if Jimmy Eat World are standing in your living room, bashing out the songs on guitar, bass and drums. “In the past, we’ve always reached for the best recording we could get, without giving a lot of thought to how we’d be able to play the song live,” Adkins says. “You hear of people using the studio as an instrument – we did that for a while. This time around, we wanted to do things very simply – the songs on Damage all started out on acoustic guitar.”
Adkins is fond of quoting the Jesus And Mary Chain’s maxim that, if a song isn’t worth playing on acoustic guitar, it isn’t worth keeping around. This principle underpins the songs on Damage, and I put it to Adkins that this holds true for a lot of contemporary pop music. I put it to him that if Katy Perry’s detractors, for instance, heard some dude with an acoustic guitar playing ‘Teenage Dream’, they would probably find that they liked the song. He laughs, and says he agrees.
“That’s the thing with modern pop,” he says. “A lot of the animosity is aimed at the artifice of it all. Everything sounds computerised and perfect – pop music production today is about trying to correct the errors of humans, whereas I think you have a better chance of connection with somebody if you leave all that rough and raw shit in there.” He pauses for a second. “Mind you, that goes the other way too,” he says. “You can make something really stupid sound cerebral and intelligent by fuzzing it all out…”
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN
Damage out now through Sony.