These days, tons of bands try to be simultaneously sensitive and muscular -- not to mention radio-friendly -- with stirring guitar crunch, sweetly rendered vocal harmonies and heart-on-sleeve lyrics tackling the personal and the political. But few do it as well, or as genuinely, as Jimmy Eat World, which helped pioneer the whole melodic-emo genre upon its 1993 formation. Fortunately, the Arizona quartet hasn't been one of those acts relegated to forefather obscurity while its spawn enjoy multi-platinum success: The band's sixth album, Chase This Light, debuted at number five on the Billboard charts in October. Jimmy Eat World performs tonight -- along with Modest Mouse, Spoon, and others -- at 107.7 The End's "Deck the Hall Ball" in Everett. I chatted with frontman Jim Adkins the other day:
I see you're on the radio-station holiday festival circuit at the moment. Are those kinds of shows strange to do?
Well, we've played all kinds of places -- headlining shows in clubs, opening support slots for stadiums, festivals in the middle of nowhere for nobody. We try to do different things and go to new places. We went to South Africa over the summer. That was a big, big first for us.
Cool. What was that like?
It was insane. We got to do some crazy safari things.
Oh, like Ernest Hemingway?
We weren't actually hunting; we were just looking. We'd be five feet away from a rhinoceros, on the rhino's turf.
Which was more intimidating -- the rhinoceros, or dealing with sketchy club owners back in the day?
The rhinoceros, for sure. There's all kinds of club owners and promoter people out there, but we never had a scary bad time.
So Chase This Light is doing pretty well. Have you been able to step back and assess the album, creatively speaking?
My objectivity kinda comes and goes. Right now I'm in the execution phase, as opposed to the creation phase.
Would you say there's "art" in the performance aspect of being in a band, or is the art only in the creation part?
Oh, yeah, definitely in the performance. I think when you really start playing it for people and there's different reactions to different aspects of what you're doing, it teaches you a little bit about it. When you're in the studio and you haven't seen the sun for two weeks, how people are going to interpret it is the least of your worries. Until you get out there, it's still somewhat of an academic exercise.
So do you come to know your own songs better through the way others interpret them?
Maybe not what their interpretations are, but what they choose to react to. There's what you're setting out to accomplish within the song when you're writing it and recording it, but after you live with it for a while as a done piece, it sorta takes on the life of...it's like what someone else's record does for me. I don't really get into an album for at least six or seven months after I've had it and listened to it.
Oh, yeah, I mean there's definitely things, at first listen, you're like, "Oh this is kick-ass," but a record doesn't really become special to me until I've had it for a good half a year and had time to listen to it, and once you make your own associations with what's happening in your life with the record, that's when it truly becomes something that's less of an abstract "I like it," and more of a concrete "I like this because…"
When you think about your past material, you must have a different relationship to it now that you're a different person, and you're not the same band you were 10 years ago. Do those older songs that everyone wants to hear you play still mean something to you?
Yeah, but it is different and that's encouraging. If it did always feel the same, I think we would have stopped a long time ago.