Going solo: Jimmy Eat World's Jim Adkins
Adkins on shunning the album format, playing barns and Cyndi Lauper
Jimmy Eat World frontman Jim Adkins kicks off a solo UK tour tonight (September 1) in Birmingham to promote a series of solo singles that he's been releasing digitally once a week throughout the summer. Physical seven-inch copies come out on September 11. After two decades fronting the Arizona band, it marks the first time he's toured and recorded alone.
“It was just kinda natural,” he explains. “I’ve been in the band for 21 years now and it’s sort of been there the whole time, and every couple of years you put out and album and you tour that, and we also toured the anniversary of our Futures record. So we’ve done a lot, we should take a break anyway. I just wanted to challenge myself in a new way before we get started with the band again. It’s very different. I’ve done shows by myself before for benefit or charity gigs, but this is the first time of doing it on this scale, and where people buy a ticket to see me. So yeah, it’s daunting.”
He recently completed a US tour, deliberately taking in far-flung towns away from the normal tour routes (“because I can!”), taking the music to people who would normally face a four-hour drive to get to the nearest gig in a bigger city. In one case, he took to the stage in a venue so bucolic, it made Glastonbury's Worthy Farm look like an urban sprawl.
“It was in a 500-capacity barn, and it’s in Maquoketa, Iowa,” Adkins remembers. “It’s beautiful, you drive in and park, and you can camp there overnight and you can get a tractor ride into where the show is. People from small towns and from all over were driving in for the night. It was amazing. I always want to hang out and talk with anyone who wants to after the shows, and all the time people were saying, ‘Hey man, thank you for coming here.’ I actually met a few people that had never heard the band before, who were just coming because they got dragged along and they ended up liking it.”
The first of the solo songs, I Will Go, was released on July 10, and the following five appeared on a weekly basis. Adkins says that the decision to drip-feed the tracks rather than putting them into a traditional album is a response to the changes in the music industry and the way people consume songs.
“I thought about how people listen to music now, and how I listen to music now, and it seems like it’s by track by track,” he says. “It’s not so much album-based any more. In part it was an experiment in that style of releasing music, but also, I didn’t necessarily have the time to do an album. Recording an album, putting a band together and then the whole mechanism behind releasing an album, it’s just a lot of time and a lot of work, and you don’t necessarily have to do that any more. I just wanted to see what would happen if you do less, more often. It’s a lot to ask people these days, like, ‘Hey man, check out my album. Take an hour out of your day, out of all the options you have for your time and just listen to what I’ve done.’ And then you can just say ‘check out these two and a half minutes.’ It’s a much more reasonable thing to ask. It’s an experiment! It’s like the wild west out there now, you can do anything. If you have an idea for something creative, you can do it now, there’s really nothing holding you back. I think it’s an exciting time to be involved in music.”
While the three original tracks showcase his love of classic pop music – he namechecks the likes of The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison, “that sort of world where the songs were a lot more concise and it was a different style of songwriting” – the choice of cover versions for what will become the B-sides are the real surprise, with songs by Beck (Don't Act Like Your Heart Isn't Hard), The Everly Brothers (Give Me A Sweetheart) and Cyndi Lauper (Girls Just Wanna Have Fun).
“When Beck put out the Song Reader album – which is basically just an album of sheet music, there was no official recorded version of it all – I came up with a concept in my hometown where we should do a cover night where we should get local musicians to do Song Reader songs. So I learned to do it and a group of other musicians helped me out, so that’s how that one came to be. It’s funny though, I played classical guitar in collage, and I got pretty good at sight reading, but that was a long time ago. My version compared to what everyone else has been doing is a lot slower, and that’s basically the speed at which I sight read it. I had no idea it was supposed to be faster!”
And why Cyndi Lauper?
“I was messing around with a guitar one day and I was playing that chord progression, and the chords to Girls Just Wanna Have Fun just popped into my head. Usually you find yourself laughing a lot or you find yourself saying, ‘Man, I can’t do this, this isn’t me.’ That’s probably exactly what you should do. So I decided to commit to it and do it.”
The European solo tour winds up in Madrid on September 17, and Jimmy Eat World will start work on their new album – the follow-up to 2013's Damage – in November.
“I think what’s made Jimmy Eat World and our music lasting is we’ve always been honest with what we like as music fans, and we’ve always been honest with who we are as people and how we present ourselves,” says Adkins. “There’s zero chasing of some imaginary rock star ideal. And I think people have responded to that. The people that know who we are and know that the music that we do relates to them, it’s been a lasting bond, and it’s awesome. I feel like doing something crazy and weird would almost betray that at this point. [That unstarriness] is kind of contrary to everything you’d think would work, but it’s kind of worked for us.”
For more information on Jim Adkins, visit his Facebook page.