Foundations: Jimmy Eat World’s Jim Adkins

Band's founder on five favourite LPs...

Clash speaks to Jimmy Eat World founder, lead vocalist and guitarist Jim Adkins about five albums that helped shape him into the musician he is today.

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Def Leppard – ‘Pyromania’

So this came out back in 1983 – just how old were you then?

I must have been second or third grade. What’s that in real money? (Laughs) I love it. Um, eight, maybe. Nine-ish. I think I got into it through MTV – I’m the oldest of two brothers, so I didn’t have the older brother to introduce me to this sort of music. But that was a time when the more theatrical metal videos were all over MTV, and I guess Def Leppard just looked rad.

And was it Def Leppard that made you want to play the guitar?

I was actually taking piano lessons at the time, for a couple of years before that. My dad played guitar, though, and seeing videos like that on MTV pretty much sealed the deal: I wanted to play guitar.

I’m not kidding, this is totally for real, but on my way to piano lessons, my mum would let me buy a cassette, like, every other week or so. I remember one day, we’d left early to call into the music shop, I had Nena’s ‘99 Luftballons’ in one hand and Def Leppard’s ‘Pyromania’ in the other. And I think if I’d gone with Nena, my life would have turned out very differently.

Even at that age, as someone who was studying music, did you detect that Def Leppard were putting out metal with real pop undertones? That this was a very accessible strain of metal?

I think they were definitely going for it – all of the songs on this album are hook-based pop-metal I suppose. I didn’t realise it at the time, I just kind of reacted to it, which I think kids do. I didn’t see a distinction between what Def Leppard were doing and what pop bands were doing. Hooks were hooks.

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The Jesus Lizard – ‘Goat’

So we’ve progressed to 1991 now. What is it about ‘Goat’ that really connected with you?

I got into The Jesus Lizard after I’d been playing guitar for a while. When I first started, I’d gravitate towards the virtuoso, shredder-type players. Like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and so on. I’d want to listen to whoever was on the cover of Guitar World – I’d assume that guy must be good. But then I’d look at the tabs and realise that there was no way I could play that. So I got to the point where I realised I’d never be a player like that.

But, that said, I didn’t really want to be that type of player. And then I heard Duane Denison play, and he opened my eyes onto a different kind of player. He covers rhythm and lead, sort of at the same time, and I liked how there was something that wasn’t, quote-unquote, solo about what he was doing. He blurred the lines for me on what could be the foundation for a song, and it was really exciting to listen to.

The way his guitar sounded, too… it’s still something I can’t emulate. You can dress it up or down, however you like, but when he plays a chord you can hear the notes in it, not just the saturated mush. So that gives him options on where to go with a song. He can base melodies on the lower notes he’s making. It was really interesting, I suppose, the way he developed movement within the songs.

The Jesus Lizard formed in Texas, and you grew up in Arizona. I’m wondering if there was any geographical connection to the band, given the relative proximity of states, which endeared them to you more than what was happening at the same time up in Seattle?

I actually always thought that The Jesus Lizard were from Chicago – but perhaps that’s because they were signed to Touch and Go. It actually makes a lot more sense, thinking about it, that they come from Texas. But I don’t necessarily think that there was any geographical connection.

It was when I was into ‘Goat’ that I’d started first playing with other people – not in proper bands, yet, but in the sense that we’d jam things. So I became more aware of record labels. And if you were on Touch and Go, for example, that meant something. You could expect a Touch and Go release to have a particular lean; just as Amphetamine Reptile had a lean, and you could expect Alternative Tentacles had a lean. Sub Pop… I suppose Sub Pop was always a little more diverse, and would take out-of-the-box chances. But you know what I mean.

I think, then, the label was more than a brand of approval – it was, like, a step in the filtering of what a new record might sound like. It’s like 4AD stuff, at a time in that label’s history – it all sounded like it belonged on 4AD. That doesn’t happen so much any more. But it’s like the Dischord label – before playing a new Dischord album, you’d have an idea of where that music would be coming from, right off the bat.

And ‘Goat’ is the first of a few of your choices here with Steve Albini on board in a producer role – the others being ‘Seamonsters’ and ‘Under The Bushes…’. Is that a knowing connection, or just a coincidence?

I think a Steve Albini record can be whatever the band in question wants it to be, because he doesn’t bring a whole lot of ego to the process. He just brings his engineering experience. It could mean Cloud Nothings, it could mean Low, it could mean Page and Plant! You know what I mean? He doesn’t really have a ‘sound’ that he likes to hear on those records. So I guess it’s just a coincidence. At that time, in the early ‘90s, a lot of people were using him; and that coincided with a developmental time for me.

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The Wedding Present – ‘Seamonsters’

Another album from 1991, and one that found its makers taking a leftfield stylistic shift. What appealed to you about ‘Seamonsters’?

I didn’t have the context of the band’s earlier albums – this being their third – but I just heard ‘Seamonsters’ and was like, Woah. It was a weird album. Here was a band ready to sit me down and have me listen to amp’ noise for 40 minutes – and that was cool!

I’ve always respected The Wedding Present as a band that writes good songs, as simple as that sounds, you know? But I think ‘Seamonsters’ was the combination of these bitter love songs, in a way… slightly bitter, injured, heartbreak songs. I’m always a sucker for those. It sounded like nothing else that was presenting itself like that, like nothing else out at the time.

John Peel was a huge supporter of The Wedding Present. Is he a DJ whose influence was felt stateside, when you were a teenager?

I became aware of John Peel later. At the time, we’d be going into record stores and see ‘Peel Session’ releases, y’know, in the imports section. So we were aware, but we didn’t appreciate what it meant if John Peel got behind your band, and how much of an endorsement that was. It’s almost like getting the support of a great blog.

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Guided By Voices – ‘Under The Bushes Under The Stars’

So this was – is – the ninth Guided By Voices album, released in 1996. And there have been what feels like hundred since. Do you think Robert Pollard almost writes too much to be recognised as the talent he is, by the wider public?

Yeah man, I think even the most diehard GBV fan is struggling to keep up with his output. He’s definitely written some songs that resonate more than others, and there is a lot to take in. But for me, this record, and GBV in general… there’s something about them. They’re so perfectly broken. Take a song like ‘Drag Days’, and it’s such a cut-and-dry, perfectly arranged song. It’s simple, and perfect, and there you go.

Pollard writes a lot of fairly brief songs – he says what he needs to quickly, concisely. Is that a style of songwriting that’s rubbed off on you? I notice that your new album, ‘Damage’, is only 10 tracks, and under 40 minutes long.

I think so, exactly. That sort of songwriting does appeal to me. ‘Under The Bushes…’ is probably the album that focused me on starting to write in a way that says everything I wanted to in a brief period of time – and to express the mood and the theme that I wanted to convey as simply as possible. Just try to have a complete tune in a short amount of time – I think that’s always a goal of mine. But it’s almost as challenging as making something really, really long. And I do listen to a lot of longer songs – but GBV cuts away all the fat, and gets right to it.

‘Under The Sea…’ was a step up for GBV, production wise. As Jimmy Eat World has progressed through its albums, have you found bigger budgets a distraction, or have you been able to take access to better facilities in your stride?

Well, that’s something we’ve always tried to achieve: to be on that line between challenging and accessible. Accessible music, but not insulting, you know? We’re not pandering to anyone or anything; we’re still, I hope, being intelligent about the hooks we’re using. So it’s something that’s kept in mind, for sure, not to go overboard with studio facilities and kill the songs by trying to make everything too perfect.

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The Jesus And Mary Chain – ‘Honey’s Dead’

I think, with this 1992 album, JAMC were trying to draw a line under what’d come before, and almost start anew. I mean, do you name your album ‘Honey’s Dead’ unless you don’t want to distance yourself from one of your greatest hits?

You know, I’ve never really thought of it that way. But I can see what you’re saying. I like how JAMC were developing their songs, and what they were using, what musical devices they were using, to build dynamics. There are subtle things that really move these songs along – extra percussion loops, or some feedback-y noise appearing halfway through a song. Again, it sounded like nothing else I’d really heard up until then – familiar, but alien too. It was perplexing in a way, because I couldn’t work out how they’d done some of it.

I’ve always liked the drums in JAMC. That’s something I’ve strived to rip off ever since! But I love the songwriting, you know? It’s brash, abrasive… but with a sweetness underneath it all. It’s very pure.

It’s a pretty tenuous connection, but JAMC had a single from ‘Honey’s Dead’, ‘Reverence’, banned from Top Of The Pops. You faced your own controversy, of sorts, when renaming your fourth album from ‘Bleed American’ to a self-titled disc in the wake of 9/11. How uncomfortable was that, taking a piece of work that you’d already released and renaming it?

Well, in terms of the JAMC thing: you can’t get better publicity than that, can you? What kid doesn’t want to hear a banned record?

But with ‘Bleed American’, we’d worked too hard on it to have something get in the way of an audience objectively listening to it. It wasn’t that hard of a decision for us to make. And when we made that decision, a couple of weeks after 9/11, we had no idea what would happen in the world, so felt it was a respectful thing to do. Perhaps it seemed a bit silly, to us, too, because the song ‘Bleed American’ (retitled ‘Salt Sweat Sugar’) is about dysfunctional American youth. I don’t understand how that could be construed as anything to do with terrorism, but there you go.

We really just thought it’d be a great 20-year marketing plan… we could rebrand the record on an anniversary edition! The press will be talking about this for years! (Laughs)

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Jimmy Eat World’s new album, ‘Damage’, is released via RCA on June 10th.

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