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After a band have been together with the same lineup for nearly 20 years, it's understandable (even expected) they'd lose some of the vigor that defined their salad days. But that's not the case with Jimmy Eat World, who have been together since their teens.
Ahead of its eighth studio album, Damage, which drops on June 11, the Mesa, Arizona, natives have returned to the small clubs in the musical outposts of their home state, in cities such as Casa Grande, Wickenburg and Flagstaff, to showcase the band's new material. Not that it was necessary, but playing these rooms that hold no more than a few hundred people has reinvigorated the band and given them a greater appreciation for what they've accomplished.
"These are places where a lot of bands don't play and that we haven't played before," guitarist Tom Linton explains. "We played in a really small place in Yuma, and it was a totally different experience to be playing those rooms that were so small and hot. It reminded us of our start."
In the summer of 2012, Jimmy Eat World headed to Los Angeles to work with producer Alain Johannes (Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures) on Damage, which was a shift from how they'd done things on their previous two, when they would send tracks back and forth with a producer as they developed. The band have said on Twitter that they benefited from working with Johannes on a daily basis, that it gave the project the spark it needed, just because everyone was in the same room.
"There was so much new stuff we did, but the main thing is that [Johannes] let us be ourselves," Linton says. "There was no filter since all of us had the same goal in making a really good record."
The themes tackled by singer/lyricist Jim Adkins are unlike anything the group have worked on before. The band leader has been quoted as saying that the songs that comprise the album are inspired by the struggle of adult relationships.
Jimmy Eat World's third album, 1999's Clarity, has morphed from discarded afterthought into contemporary classic. Granted, this is a classic piece of revisionist history; the band are now considered one of the forefathers of the emo movement that spawned countless angst-ridden, teenage garage bands. But the album's lack of commercial success got them dropped by Capitol Records. However, Clarity was the album with which Jimmy Eat World began to find its voice.
Clarity may have built them a core fan base, but it was 2001's Bleed American that smashed in the proverbial front door. Jimmy Eat World became the subjects of a bidding war between labels that suddenly expressed an interest in their music. The album was a critical and commercial success; they landed on mainstream rock radio on the strength of the title track, "Sweetness" and "The Middle" (their biggest single).
"It was the right place at the right time," Linton says. "There were a couple of ones that people really liked and still like. It's pretty crazy that when we play those songs—those are the ones the crowd reacts to the most."
Twenty years in, Linton says that he and his band mates often talk about how far they've come. They're still passionate about writing and playing music together, which has allowed them to solider on while many of their contemporaries have disappeared.
"The main thing is that we were all friends before starting the band," the guitarist says. "Jim and Zach have known each other since preschool, and I've known Rick since we were 12. We started playing really early and among friends. Making music with people you really like helps you have fun and keeps it going as long as it has."
As for the immediate future, Jimmy Eat World will be hitting the road in support of Damages. Their first major show will be at KROQ'S Weenie Roast in Irvine, followed by a stop in San Diego before heading to Europe in June, then playing North America through the end of the summer.
Sure, when a band have been together uninterrupted as long as Jimmy Eat World have, it would be easy to phone in an album or show from time to time. But they manage to stay motivated and continue to play before huge crowds while releasing music they are proud of. Not bad for four kids from Mesa.