With the 2013 release of Damage, Arizona-based four-piece Jimmy Eat World found reason to celebrate: their eighth full-length, one that found favour with both fans and the press, was co-produced by the band themselves (with Alain Johannes), and it was their first on the RCA label. It was also the band’s seventh album in a row to feature the same four members.
Former bass player Mitch Porter left in 1995, and since then the lineup has remained unchanged. It’s a rarity in the realm of punk rock bands, and guitarist Tom Linton has a theory on why the current lineup has been able to stay united.
“We were all friends before the band started and I think that’s a big part of it,” says the 42-year-old Linton, reached on the phone from his home in Chandler, Arizona. “Jim [Adkins, vocals] and Rick [Burch, bass] have known each other since preschool and I’ve known Rick since we were 12. We started playing music in high school when we were kids. We all get along and that makes it fun.”
That Jimmy Eat World are able to maintain a level of fun in their job is evident on Damage. The album is a no-nonsense collection of the classic riff-driven pop-punk with which Jimmy Eat World firmly established themselves on their 1999 release, Clarity.
Yet peel away the layers of the new record and a haunting lyrical presence is revealed. Damage has been described by lead singer Adkins as an album that examines “adversity and emotional injury”. Writing records with a specific theme in place has become part of Jimmy Eat World’s collective drive, spearheaded by Adkins’ desire to continue experimenting.
“It’s a way for him to just step out of the box and try something different to help with the writing process,” explains Linton, adding that the “last couple records” have also featured a consistent theme throughout.
With the change in label, Jimmy Eat World also chose to change up their standard recording procedures. The band’s success throughout the past two decades has afforded them the ability to record mostly in their own studio and rehearsal space, Unit 2 in Tempe, Arizona. But realising how easy it can be to fall into habit, Linton and the band took to Los Angeles to record Damage. The result sounds fresh and energised.
I put it to Linton that this change, including the fact that Jimmy Eat World funded the recording process themselves while searching for a new label, led to the palpable energy of Damage.
“Back in the day, when we first started playing, that kind of artistic freedom was very important to us,” Linton says. “But we ended up having to put pressure on ourselves because the last few records were recorded in our own space, so it’s gotten very easy for us to get lazy. So if something wasn’t going right, it was very easy for us to say, ‘Oh, forget it, we’ll just come back and work on it tomorrow.’
“But for this record we said, ‘Let’s go somewhere we really like, Los Angeles, and let’s work with someone we really like.’ We got hotel rooms and just recorded in [Johannes’] house. It gave us a timetable because we had to be in and out at a certain time. It was nice to do that and made us very efficient, I think.”
Though Linton seems continually thankful that the foursome has remained intact for so long, the momentum of the band seems to be such that moving forward is much more important than celebrating the past. He admits they’re approaching the ten-year anniversary of their 2004 release Futures and they’re “going to do something special for that”, but that’s as far as they’ll go in terms of re-hashing history.
As for a greatest hits collection to look back on their 20-year existence? Don’t bet on it. “You know, we’ve never talked about that. For now, we’re just going to keep working on new stuff. But we haven’t talked about doing a ‘greatest hits’ record. I don’t know if we’ll ever do one.”
Jimmy Eat World’s fans might not even be so receptive to the idea, either. Linton details how some of them make great efforts to travel to many of their shows and have a habit of calling out for some of the lesser-known material. Having developed such a loyal fan base, Linton says he and the band are always conscious of how approachable they are. It’s a refreshing sentiment, and there’s no trace of it sounding forced. In fact, in his laidback manner of speaking, Linton describes the interactions as just part of the job.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without [the fans], so we try to talk to them, we’re always available in the club or by the bus after the show and we’re easy enough to get a hold of. We definitely listen to what our fans want and make changes if the fans want to hear something specific.”
After two decades, Jimmy Eat World seem to have it all figured out. Routinely throughout our conversation, Linton comes back to the idea that serves as their anchor: friendship first. “Young bands sometimes don’t understand that that is the most important thing you can do – play with people you can get along with.”
Jimmy Eat World play with Panic! At The Disco and Alkaline Trio at The Hi-Fi on Monday February 24. Also catch them alongside Green Day, Avenged Sevenfold, The Living End, Placebo and many more at Soundwave 2014, Sydney Olympic Park, Sunday February 23
Damage out now through Sony