Jim Adkins believes in taking risks. “We wanted to shake everything up,” the Jimmy Eat World frontman says of the group’s new album, Integrity Blues, out tomorrow. After recording their last several records in various members’ home studios, Adkins and the band headed to Los Angeles last fall to work with producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen, whose recent résumé includes work with artists like M83, Paramore, and Tegan and Sara.
The resulting LP features some of the band’s most adventurous musical statements in years, such as “Pass the Baby,” which builds from moody electropop to explosive hard rock, and the title track, which sets Adkins’ voice against soaring ambient strings.
“As a band, we came to a place where we realized that in order to really grow we needed to check ourselves and check on some of our default responses to musical problems that come up,” says Adkins. “We’ve been doing this for so long, and there’s good and bad to that.”
During a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Adkins discussed Jimmy Eat World’s fresh approach to recording, moving beyond “finish-line-type goals” and embracing his inner metalhead.
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How did you work on shaking things up on this album?
If we run into a musical problem, say you want a certain part of a song to feel a certain way, without even talking about it we can just execute it because we’re a team and we know our strengths and we’ve done it before. We have this sort of shorthand communication as a band because we all know all our strengths. So we really had to check ourselves and ask, “Is this the best, most effective way to get this thing to happen, or is it just something that we’re comfortable with?” Maybe there’s a different way. So for this record, we purposely wanted to work with someone we’ve never worked with and make a record in a way that we haven’t made one in a while. All those things pushed us away from the zone of comfort, because really the zone of comfort is a zone of fear. You’re afraid to break out of this familiarity. There’s nothing good about feeling comfortable.
How did that strategy play out in the recording process?
When we got off touring for our last big cycle for Damage and then did shows for the 10th anniversary of the our Futures record, the first thing we wanted to do was get right in and start working. But then we thought, “Why?” So one of the things we did after we stopped touring last time around was that instead of going to the studio to crank something out, we decided to take a year off from anything band-related, which was something we hadn’t done in like 20 years.
Personally, where I am in life right now mirrors that sentiment of just starting to say yes to stuff and having no idea where those things are going to take you, and it’s exciting. The first single, “Sure and Certain,” sums up the idea that if you’re cruising with blinders on and are just goal-driven, it’s limiting because you’re missing out on what’s immediately around you. If you’re unwilling to open up and say yes to things that might seem scary, then you’re just missing out on so much.
What inspired the title track?
“Integrity Blues” is one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written. Sometimes doing everything you can, in the best way you know how, that can feel like lonely work. But the only way out of that is action, and “Integrity Blues” is a song about coming to terms with all the things that you’ve decided are going to do it for you in life. It’s a common theme in the record, which is why it’s the title track.
You have these expectations of validation from relationships, or a job or self-medication, this feeling of, “This is going to do it,” and none of it really does. Those are all very fleeting things. If you pin your self-worth and happiness on finish-line-type goals, you’re always going to set yourself up for disappointment. Because once you achieve them, once your partner comes back to you, once you get that job, now what … you’re done? That idea of integrity mattering is that you can accept that the best any of us have is to always be in a state of progress. That doesn’t mean that you’re always going to be happy, but happiness is one of those finish-line-type goals. The point isn’t to be happy all the time. The point is to sustain yourself in a way that makes you feel good about just being you.
“The point isn’t to be happy all the time.”
How would you describe the overall changes in the group’s sound on this record?
Musically, as much as I say we wanted to shake things up, that’s still a subjective thing, and you’re never going to escape yourselves. The band is still playing and it’s still me singing, so it’s going to sound like Jimmy Eat World. It’s a still a guitar-based melodic-rock album. If a song is going to do something, we want to make sure that it was doing it to the fullest extent that it could for what we feel the song needed in the way that Jimmy Eat World likes to hear it.
Was the hard-rock breakdown at the end of “Pass the Baby” a spontaneous thing that happened in the studio?
Well, “Pass the Baby” was a song that’s been laying around for a while. The song itself is about manipulation and how your short-term gains sometimes come back and blossom into something that’s not really what you expected or hoped for, and having to reckon with that.
I explained to Justin [Meldal-Johnsen] that the song does this thing at the end where it stays within the melodic elements that have already been established but it completely changes the vibe and intensity. And he was like, “OK, we’re definitely doing that then.” Plus, we just love to rock. We love to rock! Deep down inside, we’re just eighth-graders who love metal, so you’ve got to throw a bone to that kid sometimes.