Jimmy Eat World has been atop the alternative rock world since they released Bleed American back in 2001. Last year, the Arizona band released their ninth studio album, Integrity Blues, once again impressing critic and fans, and reaching the top 20 of the Billboard 200 for the fifth straight time.
The band has been touring furiously since the release of their most recent record, making stops in Europe, Australia, and, of course the United States. Up next is a string of dates with one of their favorite bands, Beach Slang, followed by another line of gigs with chart-toppers Incubus.
ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with guitarist/vocalist Tom Linton during the band’s short, but much appreciated, downtime to discuss the success of Integrity Blues, how fans’ reactions elevate the band, and to see just what’s next for the band that just keeps producing hits.
Christopher Friedmann: We’re talking today because you’re preparing to head back out onto the road. How is the mood in Camp?
Tom Linton: It’s really good. We took a long break in between this record and the last one. We took a year off, and we were like, “Alright, we gotta do something different. We don’t want to make this another Jimmy Eat World record,” so we went back to our old demos that we had, listened to them.
Some of the demos that we had were really basic, they just a verse-part and no chorus, so we were able to go back and start those songs with those basic ideas, and we also had a producer there for that, which was really nice because he was there from the beginning and helping us with the writing process too. We’d never really done that before. We always had, for the most part, 14 songs done - lyrics and everything - so this one was a lot different from what we’d done in the past, but it was fun.
CF: Integrity Blues has been celebrated as being one of the best albums of your career. Did you know during the writing and recording process there was something special going on?
TL: Honestly, every record that we do, I think we are all so proud of it. Sometimes, like our last record, I was like, “Man this is going to be a huge record,” and I don’t think it did that well, but I still go back and listen to that and there’s great songs on that. So I was really excited to see what it would do.
CF: Do you have any thoughts on why this album is resonating with critics and fans at such a level?
TL: I think we just spent a lot of time. We sat back and we made a record that was a lot different than the stuff we’ve made before. We worked with Justin Meldal-Johnsen and he know a lot about what he wants to hear in songs, and what’s best for songs, and he used that to help us, which is good. I think you hear a lot more maybe electronic stuff happening, which we haven’t done that much of. On this record you hear more of that and it’s in a tasteful way, it’s not over done. We are happy with how it came out.
CF: Now that you’ve had some time to work the songs out on stage, have you noticed anything different about the new material that you are excited to bring to new audiences?
TL: The song “Pass the Baby” is the one that I always like to play, just because it’s a three-part song and starts with this really low bass drone, kind of Nine Inch Nails sounding thing, and then in the middle of the song it goes up to this Pink Floyd kind of acoustic part, and then it goes into, I think, the heaviest riff we’ve ever done in a song, so I think that one is the funnest one for me to play.
CF: You’ve basically been circling the globe since last September. After so many months on tour, do you start feel the effects now more than you used to?
TL: No, not yet. I want to say this is the first time; since we’ve been touring, we’ve all gone back, and we’re like, “Let’s all try and get in shape as much as we can.” I think we are doing a pretty good job of getting kind of fit because when you are fit and playing shows every day for 2 hours, you have to be able to have the endurance to do that.
CF: Preparing for a tour must have evolved since the 90’s - you’ve produced so much more material to share with fans through the years, but can you tell us about the personal dynamic - how has that changed, as you leave families and friends and enter the ‘other-worldliness’ of living out of bags and changing beds every night?
TL: It’s definitely a hard thing to do. Rick and I are both married, but we don’t have kids. Jim and Zach each have three kids, so I think that’s a lot harder on them because they have to see the kids crying and stuff. That’s probably pretty tough for those guys, but in my life I’m just like, “See ya.” [Laughs]. I’m just kidding. My wife gets bummed out. We both get sad...
CF: She’s not like, “Get out of here, I need my alone time.”...[Laughs]
TL: [Laughs] I know she probably is... It’s hard to do.
CF: You are actually headed out on two tours this year, first with Beach Slang and then with Incubus. Could you tell us how those came together?
TL: Beach Slang came about because we needed a band to open up for us, and we are all really big fans of the band. So we just got ahold of them and asked if they would be up to do it. And they were like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Pretty easy, so that’s how that came about.
Then the Incubus came about… They came to us and said, “Hey we want you guys to open up for us,” and we were like, “Oh cool,” we will be playing in front of a lot of new people and maybe they will be playing in front of a lot of new people for them too with our fans, so I think it’ll be a good match.
CF: Might fans see any on-stage collaborations?
TL: Maybe. On long tours like that it usually happens. It’s fun.
CF: Jimmy Eat World has represented a certain voice - a point of reference in the lives of your fans that have matured with you. Do you feel a heightened responsibility that comes with a long term relationship?
TL: For sure. There are so many thing that we want to get right when we do this. We want to make sure that our records sound good. We want to make sure we wrote the best songs for the records. We want our shows, everything from the light shows... we want to have the best person running our lights, all the gear that goes into them.
We want to give them back everything for supporting our band because when you are in a band that’s most important thing are the fans, so we just do anything we can. We take suggestions from the fans. I know we’ve used that before, like online ask fans, “Hey what songs do you want to hear? Are we missing on some songs that you want?” And they would come up with a couple and we will end up playing them through our set. So it’s nice to have that connection with our fans.
CF: As fans go, you’ve recently been to Europe and Australia as well as the U.S., and are preparing to head to South America in March. Can you tell us a little a bit about how your experiences with audiences differ in different destinations?
TL: In Germany, kind of all over Europe, they jump around a lot! And they sing these like fight songs. I never really figured out if it’s like a soccer team or something with those people where they live with these really large chants before you go on. But they really are not afraid.
Sometimes at shows here in the States, you go to a show in L.A. and some kids feel like they are too cool or something and they can’t bob their head or anything. It seems like over there, they’re a little more not afraid to show they are having a good time.
CF: Through your twenty-odd year career you would have been afforded a range of experiences by working in the music industry, but is there one moment that speaks to you on a human level that reminds you why you create art?
TL: I think just when someone comes up to one of us and says, “This music has gotten me through so much stuff, you have no idea.” And sometimes kids start crying, and I think that’s one of the biggest compliments you can get from a fan, your music meant so much to them, and it got them through some tough times. So I think that’s the best thing to hear.
CF: Do you have one you remember vividly?
TL: It just happened in England. We were in England and it was just the same thing, it was like, “Yeah I listened to this record, and I was so down in my life, and I got this record and it’s the one that got me through all this stuff I was going through.” And we were just like, “Thank you so much.” It’s a really big compliment for us because that’s one of the reasons you do it, to make people feel happy.
CF: You finish up this tour, then you go on tour with Incubus, what’s next for Jimmy Eat World? Some down time or are you going back into the studio?
TL: We will be on tour until the end of this year, maybe a little bit of 2018, and then hopefully right back into the studio. We haven’t really talked about, but I hope that’s what we do because everyone is feeling good, and I just think it would be dumb not to, so we will see...