How Jimmy Eat World made Integrity Blues
Jimmy Eat World tell TeamRock why a long break was necessary before working on their ninth album
Since their formation 23 years ago, Jimmy Eat World have always been at the crossover point between pop-punk and emo. They might be best-known for feel-good tunes like The Middle, but they’ve never been afraid to experiment with slower tempos and introspective lyrics.
Their ninth album, Integrity Blues, is one of the deepest yet in terms of subject matter. After taking a year out from band duties, during which time bassist Rick Burch discovered a passion for distilling, and drummer Zach Lind self-released music with his wife, the band realised their next album had to be a meaningful snapshot of the stage they were all at in life. Integrity Blues was born, marking the start of a new, grown-up chapter for Jimmy Eat World. We sat down with the band to find out more.
You’ve talked about this album being about accepting life and the changed it throws at you. What made you want to write something that philosophical?
Jim Adkins (vocals/guitar): "It’s just part of growing up, which is funny to say being as old as we are. The only thing consistent in life is that it’s going to change, and I think that’s something that gets shown to you over and over as time goes on. I guess [it’s about] finding your way through that – you can look at it as a challenge, or you can look at it as an opportunity. If you look at it as an opportunity you end up in a place where you can grow from it. That’s also been shown over and over again, and the rewards from that are hard to quantify. If you just look at things as an opportunity for growth, you’re always shown something that you didn’t expect. that ends up leading you to a better place."
When you first started writing the record, did you make a conscious decision to talk about things like that?
Jim: "It’s an all-encompassing feeling. I noticed myself getting stuck writing lyrics because I’d instantly see through what I was talking about, and I’d be like, ‘this is pointless’. I’d see through the futility of the struggle of the speaker of the song and would just get stuck at trying to move on. After a while I started thinking, ‘what’s really behind that?’ If the problem isn’t interesting, what’s the real solution behind it?"
Was it quite a collaborative writing effort?
Jim: "It was pretty collaborative, you never clock out of this gig, you’re always working on material. Things might not turn into a complete song right away but you never throw anything out, and over time that generates a big stack of ideas. Some things are closer to being full songs, some things just stay as scraps for a long time, and all of it ends up going through a band editing process and being fleshed out into that state where it’s a real song."
Rick Burch (bass): "This time we brought in a producer really early on, when things were still at the snippet stage. Generally in the past when bringing in a producer, we’ve already developed a lot of ideas into a complete demo version of the song, but this time we started collaborating early on with Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Paramore, Tegan and Sara). It was great to have that outside perspective."
Are there any particular songs that he really brought to life?
Jim: "Going away for a year before we started working on Integrity Blues and just taking total time off from the band helped us refresh our perspective on how we wanted to challenge ourselves. This is our ninth album, and really, why should it exist at all? We had to find that place where we could answer that for ourselves. You’re faced with a musical puzzle when you’re writing and recording, and sometimes you take the easy, familiar road to solve the problem and you don’t even realise you’re doing it, but there might be a more challenging interesting road that you need that outside perspective to bring in and further challenge you. So I guess having Justin in the process was really helpful across the board, we got the feedback we’d never have come up with on our own. A song like Pass The Baby, it always was the concept that it is, but I think that we might not have chosen to develop that to a complete state without him pushing us on."
Are there any songs that went through a total rework from what they began life as?
Jim: "Integrity Blues, the title track, started off as an acoustic waltz kind of thing. I wouldn’t say we reworked it, but there was definitely a handful of different ways we could have gone with making it. It ended up being this unusual ensemble accompanying me just singing. I don’t think we have anything like that on our other records."
Get Right has been called the ‘comeback track’. Do you see it that way?
Zach: "We didn’t really plan it out that way, but I think it was a good song to start off with, and coupled with Sure And Certain, those songs seemed to do a pretty good job of getting people ready for what was coming on the record. One of the main reasons why Get Right was one of the ones we released early was because the UK label really liked it and wanted a rock song to start things off over here."
Now your tour dates have been announced, which songs are you looking forward to performing live?
Rick: "Get Right is like a familiar Jimmy Eat World song."
Jim: "Now that we’re getting to the stage where we’re performing this stuff for people, we’re learning more about the songs. Get Right is fun to play, it’s just more of a rock song. I think the material’s kind of new for people – haven’t had a lot of time to digest it, and if you’re going to hear something you don’t know it’s easier to hear something that’s more upbeat."
Jimmy Eat World release Integrity Blues on October 21 through RCA. The band begin their tour on October 1.