On their recent tour stop in Newport, Kentucky, I had the chance to sit down with Zach and Rick of Jimmy Eat World. We discussed items related to the record and upcoming release of Chase This Light, and also had time to go back and discuss some other topics. Like what really happened with Mark Trombino? And what do they think of everyone being all over Clarity’s balls? Read on to find out these answers and more.
Can you state your names for the record and what you do in the band?
Zach: I’m Zach Lind and I play drums. Rick: I’m Rick and I play bass.
First question – for the current tour, a lot of things about it are very “indie rock” – from the small venues to the mellower songs and having Maria Taylor opening. Is this just something you are using to warm up on a smaller scale before the album release, or is it something else you are trying to sustain?
Zach: I think originally, we wanted to go out and tour in the summer, but we couldn’t do something that we would normally do with bigger venues. So this was a way to ease into it. And otherwise, we would just be sitting at home, doing nothing because the record doesn’t come out until the fall. We wanted to do something in the summer that would keep us busy, so the idea was just to do something where we could play a bunch of songs we have never really played before. The Maria Taylor thing comes from the fact that we were looking for someone who would do more of an acoustic solo deal. There were plenty of acts that we would love to have open up for us, but we didn’t necessarily want it to be a band. When here name popped up, it totally worked since she is really good and really dynamic, but she is still not with a full band.
So are you guys big fans of hers then?
Zach: Yeah – big Azure Ray fans too.
One of the other things I am interested in is this. With all of the successful items in your catalogue, does it surprise you that people seem to latch onto Clarity so much? Everyone seems to discuss it as the definitive Jimmy Eat World album, and something that is entirely genre-defining.
Rick: Yeah, I don’t know why that is – it is a little surprising.
Is it something you guys agree with yourselves?
Rick: I mean, I love Clarity, and we had a great time making and touring on that record. Zach: I think Clarity was probably the first record we made where we had a little bit of experience under our belts. It wasn’t really overthought – there is something kind of spontaneous and fresh about it. But I don’t necessarily see how it is that much better than any of the other albums. That’s my perspective on it. A lot of songs on a lot of the albums are really kind of interchangeable to me. Like “Blister” from Clarity could have been on Bleed American, and “Cautioners” could have easily been on Clarity. I think it is sort of a time and place thing. It is an album where a lot of our fans came to know us through, and there is definitely something to be said for that. I think back when I listen to my first Wilco record, which was Being There, is one of my favorites because of the discovery. Rick: It kind of helps to define your perception of the band.
Do you think that maybe a part of it is how some people tend to be cynical for the hell of it, and always say that “the older stuff is better”?
Zach: Probably, but at the end of the day, it’s not a big concern for us. The fact that anyone is liking any of our albums is a good thing. So at this point, this album will be our what, fifth major release? I feel that at this point we are pretty comfortable in our own skin, and can feel like we made a record that can stand on its own, and with the rest of our material. So at the end of the day if someone is liking one album versus another, it’s not like we take it personally. Rick: And they are all different, so it is natural that some people might like one over another.
As you progress and get a little older, does it seem at all weird to you to see bands citing you as an influence? You go on myspace and it seems like any band that plays straight pop/rock music lists you guys as an influence. Does that weird you out at all?
Zach: It depends on the band who’s saying it. (laughs) If I like the band, that’s cool, but if not, I am wondering where that came from! Rick: I guess it’s cool – it’s flattering. Zach: We work really hard to make records we’re proud of, so if someone can pick up on the fact that we take it seriously, that’s great. And plus, when bands cite someone as an influence, they are not always just talking about the music, but sometimes also the way bands do things. I take just as much pride in the way that we operate as a band, and that’s equal to the creative output we have as a band. That kind of all goes hand in hand. So hopefully the decisions you make as a band really matter, and young bands can adopt that.
You guys had a release come out on Fueled by Ramen a ways back. What do you think of the direction the label has taken lately?
Zach: I don’t really know, to be honest. I’m not too familiar with the change. I know John and he was one of the few from indie labels who would actually pay us. John and Vinnie do it together…
Well, Vinnie isn’t with FBR anymore…
I think that is due to the change I am talking about.
Zach: Back when we were working with them, they were doing more of the ska stuff under the Vinnie influence, which was cool, but we just appreciated that he did his job really well. He released the records, he paid us, and that’s more than a lot of indie labels we’ve worked with have done. But as far as anything else, I have no idea what’s going on.
It’s probably best anyways.
Zach: I just know he has worked hard and has gotten his label to a place, and I guess am just happy for him.
Okay, so I apologize if you guys get this question all the time, but can you talk about what soured the relationship with Mark Trombino? It seems like in a short time, he went from being like a fifth band member to almost being cut out entirely.
Zach: Yeah, we can talk about that. There might have been an element of it that went towards being soured, but I think what it comes down to is that we were in the middle of making Futures for the first time. (laughs) Mark was producing the record, and I think it was really just circumstances and a bad situation. We overestimated the batch of songs we had, and figured we’d sort it out as we went along. Rick: We will throw it all up in the studio and see how it’s going to settle, see how it falls into place.
When you say “overestimated”, you mean you thought the songs were better than they really were?
Zach: We felt like we had an album, and at the end of the day, the breaking up point was the realization that we didn’t have an album, and that we needed to step back and cut off the recording process to move forward. In that decision-making, there was some tension. Mark had some bands coming up that he was working on, and there was only a certain time window. So here we are saying we have to stop, while he is a few months away from starting another project. So it didn’t look good, and it was very confusing. I chalk it up to circumstance, and in that tension, things rubbed a little bit, and there was some tensions on both sides. But at the end of the day, I still communicate with Mark, and he’s a really talented person but I think it got to the point where we had worked together so much where there was an element of getting almost too comfortable with a person. Just the fact that we thought everything would fall into place drove that home. And that’s not Mark’s fault, or even ours. It’s just kind of the way things happen when you are working with someone over and over again. It was really good for us to go back and make Futures again. After we left the studio with Trombino, we came up with “Polaris,” “Work,” “Pain,” “23” – the songs that really gave Futures its heartbeat, you know? Those songs came after that.
So that was a good decision, it seems.
Zach: For us it was, but if you were to go ask Mark, he might not think so. We don’t hold anything against Mark, and we hope he doesn’t hold anything against us, but at the end, it was just bad circumstances. It really wasn’t this volatile thing – it was just the realization that we should try to make records with some other people. So going in with Gil Norton was really helpful for us – we learned a lot. And this time, kind of producing it on our own with some outside help from Butch Vig was great as well. We didn’t go back to Gil, but went with someone new. We kind of found that this was a little more of an enriching process to go in with different people.
So did you ever look back at some of the songs on Futures and wonder what might have happened if you went with what Mark did for a track?
Zach: I think we sort of have that since we still have the versions of songs we did with Mark. It’s not really an indictment on Mark – it is more just where the band was at. We need to take more of the responsibility for the fact that we just kind of went into the studio and the guns just weren’t blazing, and that’s not Mark’s fault. I think that it’s circumstance. Even the Stay On My Side Tonight EP – “Disintegration,” “Closer,” and “Over” were three songs that were from that Trombino session that we kind of rehashed. But essentially what’s there is a lot of what we did with Mark.
Well, it seems though like those songs got a really positive response when they did come out on the EP. So was that because you reworked them at all or do you think those were just the best songs off the Trombino sessions?
Zach: A little bit of both those things. The reworking of those songs, but also at the heart of those, there were some really cool things. In my mind, the best moment of that whole EP is the bridge of “Disintegration” where Jim does that little chant vocal thing and that didn’t come until later on. Some of those things didn’t come until later on, and we did a lot of arrangement switching that made more sense. So I think it was a little of both, but the core of those songs, along with Trombino’s input, were cool to begin with.
How has working with Butch Vig been compared to those two, then?
Zach: Well, Butch’s role was different than Gil or Mark’s. He wasn’t there every day – he was there maybe a few times during the process of making the record. So his help was kind of from afar. We would post stuff up on a secure website, and he would listen and say, “That sounds cool…try this or try that.” For us, when we were making the album on our own, we had an engineer with us – Chris Testa – and we would be going down this path where we would wonder if we were on the right track, and it was kind of just a safety net.
So he was really more like a consultant than a full-on producer, yeah?
Zach: Exactly. He was in LA most of the time, and we would send him stuff. It was really just to keep us in check, where we would think something is really good, and then would wonder if we were crazy, you know? So we would show it to him, and he would tell us we weren’t crazy, and that it was good. You can get into kind of that bubble when you are making that record, so it is good to have someone you respect on the other end.
Did he ever come back and tell you guys something sucked?
Zach: Not once, actually. Rick: No, not once. (laughs) Zach: He was a really positive guy – that’s one of his strengths. He’s just really enthusiastic and positive about what’s going on, and bands need that. You don’t need a “yes” man, but bands need someone that is excited about what he is doing, and is challenging you. He is definitely a great person for that.
So, here we are now getting to the point where we are gearing up for the album release, and we haven’t heard anything, at least in terms of recorded material. So what do you tell people when they ask what to expect the new record to sound like?
Rick: It is definitely Jimmy Eat World, for sure. It is another evolution – it is more melodic and happier overall than Futures was. Zach: I think it is out lightest album too. I mean, there is some rock, and there are some burners on there, but not very many. There are a lot of acoustic songs. It’s not like a mellow record or a downer record – it is a lighter one. It is kind of a bounce back from Futures – you think of that record as a bit of a darker one, and this one has ones that are really upbeat and almost party-like. But there is also one mellow song on it that is different than any other mellow songs we have done before, so that is pretty cool. It’s called “Gotta Be Somebody’s Blues” and that would be a favorite for the hardcore Jimmy Eat World fans, since it is one of my favorites. All in all, I think fans will like it, and quality-wise it is definitely up there. And it is definitely our best-sounding record – the sonics of it are really, really great.
Do you think that is because you guys have been able to take more of a proactive role in how it sounds that you’re happier with it?
Zach: We spent a LOT of time recording it.
Um, yeah – we noticed. (laughs)
Rick: (Laughs) I think being in our own studio that we built up and being comfortable – it is essentially our home and Chris is a great engineer. He would never stop when you have a great sound, but he would always challenge you to beat it. Sometimes you would, but sometimes you would go back to that sound before, but it was a lot of fun. Zach: We took a lot of time deciding the best ways to do a bunch of different things on the songs. A lot of it was working in our studio – we had all of our shit there. Everything was just sitting around. Typically when we used to record, we would go to LA, and we would not bring everything. This time, we had everything. Rick: It was like, “What would it sound like with that on it? Well, plug it in and let’s go!” Zach: There are some photos of our studio on our website, and it just looks like a fucking bomb went off in there. (laughs) It was kind of like pick up whatever, and it was fun that way. After making a record, I don’t think we could ever go back.
So, you obviously took your time recording the record. Did it make you more comfortable lyrically and in other aspects of the writing/recording process?
Zach: That would definitely be a Jim question, but I think this album was a little easier coming lyrically than the last one. Jim takes what he says lyrically very seriously, so there is always going to be moments like that. He doesn’t do it flippantly – he is always careful to have lyrics that matter to him, and he thinks are strong. So with that standard, there are always going to be moments where it takes a few weeks to figure out lyrics here and there. But when the end product is there, it’s worth it because he doesn’t sing about stupid shit. I think lyrically, it is exactly what people are going to expect.
So when you guys create a record like this, is there a conscious effort to write pop songs that are accessible and are hits, or do you just write and people latch onto it?
Zach: I think it is a little bit of both. We will come up with a batch of songs, and there will be certain ones we just know is a hit. But we look at those songs and try not to deny what they are. If a song is really catchy and appealing, we don’t think, “Well, how can we fuck this up and make it indie rock?” We just want to let the song do what it is doing in the best way possible. I guess that is our approach. If a song is definitely not that, then we think how we can still make it interesting. Rick: We just treat each song as having its own life, and let it grow in its own direction, you know? Then kind of pick out later on.
How many songs did you record for the new album?
Zach: We recorded 15 or 16 maybe.
How many will be on the final cut?
Rick: Some of them are not totally done. We realized that we had a great batch of 12 that we would be able to get a great album out of, so some didn’t get as far as others. Zach: There were also some instances where we had more mellow songs than we needed – we didn’t want to put more than two on the record, so we have this one song that is finished and done, but it just didn’t make its way onto the album. So we decided that one is going on the next album. There are a few of those songs, actually. I am hoping we have about four or five songs that we can just keep.
Would you just do another EP then?
Zach: I don’t think we’d put those songs on an EP – I think we’d want to put them on an album. Rick: I think now that we have the studio built – a lot of the time was spent getting things together to build the studio and getting hooked up properly. But now that it’s done, we could go home next week and walk in the door and make the same quality sounds and take something to tape right away.
So we can expect a new studio album every six months?
Zach: (Laughs) I think we’re just trying to shave it down from three years to two. That is going to be our first goal.
This is one of my last questions – I know you guys have things to do. With all the bands breaking up left and right, you guys have maintained a great deal of longevity. What do you do to stay together and avoid imploding? Do you see yourself doing this for the next ten years?
Zach: Well, when I was 20, I didn’t think I would be doing this at 30, so who knows. I don’t know if I can answer that way. I think the reason why it is easier for us to stay together is that we were all sort of friends before. Rick and Tom knew each other really well before they were playing in bands together – they were friends in junior high. Jim and I went to preschool together. So, we all approach the band as something we started just because we liked to make music, and liked being a band. I think the agenda of the band ever supersedes the idea that we are human beings and friends. I think we trust each other, too. If Rick or Tom have a really strong feeling on something, the rest of the band will listen. If Jim has a feeling too, we each give one another the benefit of the doubt. There are a lot of times for disagreements within this group, Tom will say something like, “Oh, I don’t think we should do this song. We should do this.” So we will do things his way, for example, and see it be really successful. So then the rest of us might realize how it was successful, even though we didn’t agree with it. And I think there have been enough of those instances over the past 13 years where you realize you’re not always right. Rick: Sometimes it is good being able to take from four different perspectives, especially since we each have a very different view on things. So, it is nice to be able to trust everyone enough to take those perspectives into account. Zach: A lot of it too is the fact that we have been really lucky, since when we started the band, we started with four equal parts. So everything we do – it is equal. Whether it be interviews, where the other guys are doing one now, and how we divvy up how we get paid – it is all done four ways. So even though one person in the band might shoulder more of the load in one area, it’s the idea that we can’t be us without everybody. I think the way that Jim handles that is really good, because a lot of front guys who are creative forces of the band can easily fly off the handle, and say “Fuck you guys, I am doing all the work.” But Jim is smart enough to know that just writing songs and being a creative propeller of the band is not enough. There is a lot more to being in a band than that. And I think we are all smart enough to realize that. So I think in a lot of ways, I never sense any ego tripping, and we just work to be the best band we can be, where everyone brings something to the table, you know?
Okay, well one more if you don’t mind. A guy on our site wanted to know what the significance on the number “23” is in the song.
Rick: I don’t know. That would be a Jim question. Zach: Maybe you can ask Jim, but he probably won’t tell you. Rick: Maybe he was 23 when he wrote it. Zach: He’ll tell you it is about the Illuminati. (laughs)
Okay, well that is it. I just wanted to say thanks again for your time!
Mmmmmmmm, this was a good read. Nice coming home from work and seeing this, Steve. Made my day already!
Chase This Light is the next album I am dying to hear, and I am so stoked for it. They are such a genuinely talented band who don't get enough credit on a mainstream level, but make quality music that gets better and better every time.
I can't say it any more simple than ... I love JEW!