Wide Awake With Birthday Cake: An Interview With Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World

by | Sep 19, 2022 | MUSIC

During their original rise to fame, Jimmy Eat World were often referred to as “indie darlings,” but with the constant fluctuations the genre has seen since their breakthrough in 2001, it’s hard to apply such a tag now. Instead, Jimmy Eat World have grown to become a steadying hand in the wider world of rock. Proceeding at their own rhythm, at a pace that at least seems like a new album every three years (though that appearance is somewhat deceptive, as we will learn below), the Arizona quartet are back again with the crank-it-to-11 anthem “Something Loud.” By sticking to their guns and refusing to succumb to the industry pressure for a formulaic cycle of: record an album, release three singles from it, tour extensively, then record another album; they have earned a loyal following that consistently packs their shows and sings along, word for word, as loud as they can. As they set off on the Something Loud Tour, lead singer Jim Adkins spoke with me about the band’s process, life back home, and of course, birthday cake.

You famously asked in “For Me This is Heaven,” “Can you still feel the butterflies?” You started your tour last week; what songs still catch you in the feels playing live?

You know, it’s interesting. I think our new song, “Something Loud,” is actually getting a surprising response. Normally, with any album, or song, it takes a minute for the associations and personal brand that you build with it to really form. And that’s really what makes a song special; when you’ve lived with something, and it is yours. Usually those are the types of songs that people respond to outwardly the most live, and those are never a new song.

There’s a ceiling to how much someone can anonymously rock out to this thing that they just heard or are hearing for the first time. That’s the long way to say that “Something Loud” is really connecting with people. People let you know that they found something in it. It’s rare that a new song does that.

When you are on the road it’s a family atmosphere being in a touring band. That being said, when you’ve got a family, there are certain habits and day to day things that will inevitably drive a person insane. Who has the worst or most annoying habit in the band?

Oh, gosh, I mean, everyone takes their turn being “that guy.” It’s not a dealbreaker, but our bass player [Rick Burch] is late a lot. Not by any significant amount of time, but just like, death by a thousand cuts late.

“The Middle” to date is still your biggest crossover hit. Were there any other songs that you thought would have a similar impact but never hit commercially the way you thought they would, or does that type of success not matter anymore, given the band’s cult status?

I think everything that we do, I feel totally confident playing for somebody as an example of what my band is. I think that’s really the best thing you can do, that’s really the highest expectation you can have, because anything beyond that is really not up to you. Just accept the expectation you put on yourself to make something that you’re proud of. You could definitely hit that, or don’t put it out. Those are your options.

It’s a surprise, which ones of those songs people actually do kind of connect with. From my perspective, I feel like any song would be that type of song that I could put in front of somebody. We don’t really think about a goal or an agenda when we put out music, other than perpetuating our career by releasing music. That’s sort of the thing you’ve got to do. We’re excited about something we did. We made it and we’re releasing it. I feel that if we meet those expectations for ourselves, then enough people might come along with us that we get to continue to do this.

I’m going to fall on the sword for this for my own mistake. With music there are bound to be some misquoted or misheard lyrics. My worst for you guys is the song “Futures.” At the end of the song when you’re singing “we’re wide awake and we’re thinking,” without reading the lyrics, what I originally heard was “we’re wide awake with birthday cake.” What’s your favorite misheard Jimmy Eat World lyric of all-time?

[Laughs] I think that one literally takes the cake so far. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

I can’t be one-upped? There’s nothing worse?

I might have to start singing it that way now! I kind of like that better. It’s actually going to be really hard, now, because I’m going get to that part in the song and laugh. I’m either going to have to actually say that or I’m going to laugh so hard that I don’t say the real lyrics, so I might as well just go all in.

I’m glad Richmond can have a solid impact on you guys!

The “Richmond Remix.”

When you’re not Jim Adkins, the rock star, and you’re back home in Arizona, what’s a normal day for you?

Wake up early, about an hour before any of my kids are awake, drink coffee, do the morning push to get people out the door, then go to our studio and work on something.

So, same grind as the rest of us, but just a different avenue?

I don’t really look at it as a grind, but it does take a lot of work.

You’ve been doing this for 30 years, obviously you have to love it.

If you don’t, you should really do something else with your time. There’s some times where just the volume of work that you have to get through, or meet the deadline or whatever it feels like, it might be fatiguing. You don’t get to complain about it. You need to remember that you chose it, and that you should be having fun.

Back in 2016 prior to the release of Integrity Blues, you said that you had put off going into the studio to record because you didn’t want the cycle to become repetitive, and you would only come back when and if you had something worth playing and saying. Is that still the approach? And how has that shaped things with the records and singles you’ve released since?

It’s still the mantra. I guess in the long run, it’s worked out for us. It’s hard to postgame quarterback the career. I know in the moment, there’s definitely people in the record industry that would have wished we would hurry albums along at a little bit faster pace. It’s typically around three years between our major releases, for whatever reason. That’s the sort of the creative rhythm we’ve found ourselves in. On some level, with how fast-paced media is, and has been since we’ve been a band, that forces you to reintroduce yourselves to some degree. And that’s not the most ideal business strategy.

We feel like if the music isn’t there, and you’re not 100% proud of what you’re doing, nothing else is going to matter. Sure, you can turn around a quick album and work with some producer or mixer person that has had some heat currently. Maybe you do end up with a decent song or two. I just feel for us, and our process, we’d be compromising something. I feel like our listeners, the people that have come along with us so far, are going to hear that, and that’s going to be a block, in connecting something. Nothing is more of a turnoff than trying to chase someone’s approval, and the desperation of trying to meet some sort of commercial success goal is a huge turnoff.

You have made an effort to hit Richmond pretty consistently with shows in 2013, 2018, 2019 and now this coming Tuesday. What keeps Jimmy Eat World coming back to Richmond? Is The National a special venue to you guys?

It’s a really, really nice venue, to start with. We’ve been coming to Richmond to play since ’97. Twisters used to be a regular stop for us back in those days. The National is great because it’s almost just at the line of a bunch of people, but not more, where you lose the individuality of the audience.

The bigger festivals that we will play sometimes, it feels a little bit like you’re Keanu Reeves at the end of The Matrix; there’s this giant swarming thing. It’s like you’re performing for one entity, not people, and it’s really tough. That’s always the trick when you’re playing on those giant shows is trying to find the people, instead of just the entity.

The National is right at that line, where it’s as big as you get, but you’re not fighting that. People are there. And trying to build a connection with the audience, it’s right. It’s just awesome there for some reason.

Your Instagram has link to a GoFundMe for medical treatment for Jeremy Berman. Who is he and how can your fans or anyone help?

He’s just a super sweet guy, and an excellent drummer. We met him through various bands. He came on the road with us for a little bit. And he builds the drums our drummer [Zach Lind] plays. Super awesome dude, and he has late stage cancer. You can go to the GoFundMe link, if you want to support him and his family.

Jimmy Eat World are bringing the Something Loud Tour to Richmond on Tuesday September 20, along with opener Charly Bliss. Tickets are $32 and can be purchased at thenationalva.com.

Top Photo by Jimi Giannatti

Bryan Schools

Bryan Schools

Bryan Schools is a Richmond lifer sans a four year hiatus to Radford University where he received his B.S. in Journalism in 2005. Music, comics, video games and LEGO are his main passions, and if you really want to get into a good conversation with him, ask what his top-five anything are, and you've got a conversation.

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