We've all heard by now of what can happen when good bands sign to labels that simply don't care about them, and Jimmy Eat World's story is no different than most. The band--singer/guitarist Jim Adkins, guitarist Tom Linton, bassist Rick Burch,and drummer Zach Lind--released its Capitol debut, 1996's Static Prevails, an album that fully utilized its major-label dollars even as it was a bit short on songs, to a deafening silence. But with 1999's follow-up, Clarity, the band garnered attention from a growing base of fans, a bit of enthusiasm at college and alternative radio with the single "Lucky Denver Mint," and a serious lack of support from their label.
"I think no one [at the label] cared," said Lind before conceding, "and I think that it was a case of us not being ready to be on a major label and them not being ready to promote us. Capitol was just sort of the wrong place at the wrong time, but in the end, really, without that experience we wouldn't be where we are today. All in all it was a good thing, it just was really frustrating. At the time it seemed like a waste of time and a big mistake."
So with the band's second major-label attempt again falling through the cracks, even though it was largely due to Capitol's own lack of promotion, the label decided to cut its losses and drop Jimmy Eat World from its roster.
A bit bruised but remarkably unfazed, the band continued onward, firing its management and issuing a pair of releases in 2000 on Big Wheel Recreation, a split EP with the band Jebediah and Singles, which compiled the indie one-offs the band had released over the years, as well as embarking on a tour. "Y'know, we just did some things to make sure that our fans knew that we were still around, and that [just] because we were dropped, we're not going away," Lind explained. "And we basically kept the fan base going. Even though we were dropped the fan base was still growing, I think through word of mouth and just us touring and doing everything we could to keep things going."
Eventually Jimmy Eat World had frugally socked away enough money to begin working on a new album, though it had no idea who was going to release the recording. And while one might assume the group would be more partial to an indie label after the Capitol debacle, one would be wrong. "The thing about Capitol was that it really didn't sour us on major labels," Lind said, "it just soured us on the music industry. We had to learn how it worked. We had to learn about how you work within the system, and I think that for us, indie labels are just as crooked as major labels. It really isn't like an epochal decision for us. It's who's gonna do a better job promoting our record? And that's how we based our decision."
And so, with no manager and no label backing them, Jimmy Eat World began recording their new album on their own dime in Los Angeles, thanks in large part to producer Mark Trombino, who worked on the album for free in the hope that someone would release it and that he'd eventually get paid for his time and effort. The gamble worked.
Early tapes of the sessions began making the industry rounds shortly after recording began and the labels started taking note.
"Within weeks of starting to make the record," says Lind, "we had random A&R people just dropping by the studio, just walking in the door and saying [adopting goofy voice], 'Hey, let's hear some songs!' And it's like, 'Dude, get the fuck out of here.' It was bizarre; people really started talking about the record before it was even done."
That buzz helped to enlist John Silva's prestigious GAS Entertainment as the band's management, and after that the labels began lining up. In the rare position of having every label imaginable vying for the rights to release their album, Jimmy Eat World took the knowledge gained from the Capitol mishap and used it to interrogate each label one-by-one. In the end, said Lind, the choice to go with DreamWorks, the music division of the entertainment conglomerate owned by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, was a no-brainer. "The deal was better and we actually really like the people there. It's a major label but it's owned by three guys who are artists in their own right, and they understand what it's like to be in our shoes."
The deal has paid off in spades. Released in July of last year, the band's eponymous LP (originally named Bleed American, after the disc's first single, but changed following September 11) has increased the band's worldwide following exponentially--they've been drawing strong crowds in Europe and sold-out U.S. shows have become the norm. And while the band regularly gets grouped into the emo camp, the album showcases a guitar-heavy indie-pop/rock band that has finally seized their moment.
(Which raises the question: "Why is emo a bad word?" Lind offers, "It's a bad word because it's very exploitative, I think. All music has emotion, and it's very presumptuous to say that our music has more emotion than, um, Willie Nelson, and Willie Nelson isn't an emo band, or he's not considered one.")
Jimmy Eat World is graced with an abundance of hooks that reveal themselves on first listen, and only strengthen their grasp after repeated spins.
"Bleed American," with its chugging guitars on the verses and anthemic payoff of a chorus, made one of 2001's best modern rock radio staples. "A Praise Chorus" is pure guitar pop bliss, a testament to the enduring nostalgia of a favorite song, with Adkins imploring "Wanna fall in love tonight" as the song refers both to Tommy James and The Shondells' "Crimson and Clover" and Motley Crue's "Kickstart My Heart." And the '70s-styled "The Middle" is an infectious power pop tune that wouldn't sound out of place on any of Cheap Trick's first three albums.
And as for support from their new label, Lind says, "So far I think we made a good choice 'cause Dreamworks has done a great job. . . . We're getting a really good opportunity with this record, so we're just trying to work hard and make the most of it."
DreamWorks, 1; Capitol, 0.