You can be the best band in the world but if you sign with the wrong label
than your chances of success are doomed. Fortunately for Jimmy Eat World,
through trial and error and a series of setbacks that would have derailed
a lesser band, they finally inked a deal with DreamWorks, one of the last
big labels that actually still believe in artist development.
What that has meant for the band is they
were given the opportunity to build on their foundation and win more fans
over and to ultimately find major league success. It took awhile for the
band to break out from the underground and gain a foothold with a mainstream
audience after a few false starts other labels.
Eat World’s story is one of perseverance, where the band knew that if they
kept at it long enough a mass audience would eventually pick up on what
they had to offer. Their journey from their beginnings in 1994 to where
they are today has been a long one with a few twists in the road but Jimmy
Eat World are starting to enjoy the fruits of their labor in a big way.
So by having a little patience, it all worked out for the band, the label
and most importantly the fans!
It all started back in 1994 in Mesa, Arizona
when childhood friends Jim Adkins (vocals/guitar) and Zach Lind (drums),
Tom Linton (guitar/vocals) and Mitch Porter (bass) decided to form a band
together. Looking for a name for their new group, inspiration came from
the aftermath of a fight between Zach’s younger brothers, Ed and Jimmy.
After having a fight with Jimmy, Ed took out his frustrations by drawing
a picture of his older brother chomping down on a globe with the inscription
“Jimmy Eat World” below the illustration. The band saw the picture and
thought the name was perfect, so they ran with it.
Like most groups of the past decade or so, Jimmy Eat World took an indirect
route to stardom. They began building a fanbase around Mesa with their
live performances and released several EP’s and singles through a local
record company, Wooden Blue Records in 1994 and 95. Those releases proved
popular with Jimmy Eat World’s growing fanbase and soon Capitol records
became interested in the group.
After a short courtship, the band signed
on the dotted line and found themselves recording their major label debut,
“Static Prevails” at the end of 1995. Despite the momentum behind
the group, bassist Mitch Porter split with the group and was replaced with
Rick Burch, a longtime friend of Tom’s.
With a solid lineup and a major label deal in hand, the group entered the
studio with a mission to make the best possible album they were capable
of. The group’s sound had developed from their various influences to become
a guitar driven power-pop mixed with elements of modern rock and punk.
Green Day had used a similar formula to make their mark on the music world,
but while Green Day leaned more towards the alternative rock spectrum,
Jimmy Eat World’s brand of rock is a bit more straightforward, plied with
plenty of hooks to capture the attention of listeners.
“Static Prevails” provided a good introduction
to the world of the basics of Jimmy Eat World, but some longtime fans were
a little disappointed in the disc, thinking that it was over produced and
the band was following the lead of their record company. Nevertheless,
the album did help increase their fanbase and set the way for their second
By the time “Clarity” hit stores in February of 1999, after being previously
shelved by Capitol, Jimmy Eat World were already the new found heroes of
the emo underground. The irony of course is the fact that the “emo” label
didn’t really apply to the group. While they had some familiar elements
in common with the general frameworks of what had become known as “emo”,
Jimmy Eat World never let those elements confine their sound. Instead,
they branched out with more of a punk edge but also employed a strong powerpop
base to build from, not to mention their willingness to experiment with
elements of electronica.
“Clarity,” was received well by critics
and often sited as one of the best releases of that year. Unfortunately,
Capitol records didn’t seem to put enough behind the album. The only hit
single from the disc, “Lucky Denver Mint," came by way of inclusion on
the soundtrack to the Drew Barrymore movie “Never Been Kissed” and was
released before Capitol even decided to release the album.
While “Clarity,” did once again bring more fans into the Jimmy Eat World
camp, the group wasn’t able to break through to the mainstream in a major
way. It wasn’t for lack of appealing songs, as “Clarity,” is filled with
them. It had more to do with the realities of the modern music industry
and Capitol Records reluctance to pull out all the stops to make them stars.
Because of the lack of support, within six months of the release of “Clarity,”
Jimmy Eat World had left Capitol Records.
No one could dare call Jimmy Eat World
an overnight success. But another overused cliché’ does apply, it’s
darkest before the dawn!
Most bands have one shot at the big leagues.
It’s almost impossible for a band to continue after leaving a major label.
At this point most groups would dissolve but the members of Jimmy Eat World
felt that their best music was yet to come. The exception was that they
would record their next album on their own terms. That was exactly what
they proceeded to do..
Jimmy Eat World entered the studio to record
their third album without the backing of a label. Unrestrained from expectations
from a record label and paying for the album out of their own pocket, the
band was free to write and produce the music they wanted, getting back
to their indie roots but also using what they had learned over the course
of their career.
When the band emerged from the studio, they knew they had something special
and once DreamWorks got a whiff of what Jimmy Eat World was up to musically,
they stepped in with a deal. Ironically, Capitol approached the group
wanting a second chance but Jimmy Eat World had been there and done that
and wanted to try their luck with another team behind them. The irony
goes further, Gary Gersh who was the president of Capitol when Jimmy Eat
World signed their deal ended up as the group’s manager along with his
partner John Silva.
Jimmy Eats World’s break through album
hit stores in July of 2001 on DreamWorks Records with the original title
of “Bleed America”. (After the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September
11th, the title was changed to “Jimmy Eat World”.) Fans and critics
instantly began singing the album’s praises. Many felt that the group had
taken another giant step forward in the much the same way that “Clarity”
topped “Static Prevails”. The album ended up on many critics “best of”
lists for 2001 but the major breakthrough for the band would come in the
months to come.
The band had fine-tuned their power-pop
sensibilities but without sacrificing their rock credentials. Unlike other
bands saddled with the “emo” label, Jimmy Eat World’s power-pop focus made
their music almost universally attractive. In fact, old school guitar power-pop
fans who can’t stomach “emo” have fallen in love with Jimmy Eat World’s
Because of 9/11 the band experienced a minor setback when radio stations
began pulling the first single “Bleed America” from playlists. Unlike Capitol,
DreamWorks took a long view with Jimmy Eat World. They knew they had a
powerhouse album on their hands and took the old fashioned route of letting
an album mature and reach a mass audience over time instead of the practice
most major labels use now where they release an album, give it six to eight
weeks to stick and if it doesn’t, they move on to the next project.
DreamWorks long view along with the band’s
patience paid off throughout 2001 and 2002 as the band gained momentum
and sales of the CD steadily climbed. Jimmy Eat World knew they had a great
album and since it was released they have been out taking it directly to
fans with almost nonstop touring including a major tour with Green Day
and Blink-182 in 2002 that was dubbed the “Pop Disaster Tour”.
When the group wasn’t winning fans over
on the road, their singles, ““The Middle” and “Sweetness” were catching
the attention of radio listeners and MTV viewers. In July of 2002
DreamWorks proudly announced that “Jimmy Eat World” had gone platinum and
even now seven months later it shows no signs of letting up.
A lot of lessons can be learned from the Jimmy Eat World story. One is
the fact that getting a deal is only half the battle; you have to get a
deal with the right label. Think of the folks at Capitol who are kicking
themselves for dropping the ball and letting this band slip through their
hands! But the most important lesson that can be learned from Jimmy Eat
World is that dreams still can come true if you’re patient and keep your
goals in focus and don’t let setbacks derail your aspirations.
Quality music will always have an audience
but the sad reality of the modern music industry is that most of the time
the best music goes unheard by the masses. That was once true of Jimmy
Eat World, but the story of their success has only just begun. While Jimmy
Eat World is the exception, rather than the rule, they truly embody a play
on another overused cliché’, “If you play great music, they will
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Live photos by Adam Bielawski
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Keavin Wiggins is the founder and editor of Rocknworld.com
Adam Bielawski is an iconoFAN Contributor.