Interview: Jimmy Eat World's Tom Linton on their new album, 'Integrity Blues'.
Having entered their third decade as a band, you could forgive Jimmy Eat World if they were a little bit tired of making music together, but guitarist Tom Linton has let us know that it’s actually quite the opposite. The four-piece from Arizona took the longest break of their careers (a grand total of six months off) before coming back to create ‘Integrity Blues’, their ninth album, and in doing so discovered it’s a lot harder not being together.
Jimmy Eat World perfectly sum up the pop-punk adage that making music with your friends is the best feeling there is, and their new album is packed with the warmth of that kind of contentment. Even the track-titles from ‘Integrity Blues’ make clear, optimistic statements - ‘It Matters’, ‘You Are Free’ - and lines like, "It doesn’t have to hurt anymore," from ‘The End Is Beautiful’, are all definitively positive and settled, something that perhaps is to be expected from four guys now into their 40s. The record proves that this is a band that has outgrown the teenage angst we knew and loved in songs like ‘The Middle’, and evolved into something that we’ll probably love even more.
Ahead of the release of ‘Integrity Blues’, out on October 21st, we chatted to Linton on the phone about their new album, Taylor Swift, and their secret to staying together.
"...why make another Jimmy Eat World record if it’s just going to be kinda the same thing? So we tried to do something different, we found a producer that was going to push us harder that we have in the past. I think it’s important to have a record that’s different sounding and to not keep doing the same thing every record...."
COUP DE MAIN: The new single is 'Sure and Certain' - how did that song come about? Why did you choose to release it as a single?
TOM LINTON: It’s one of the older ideas that we had - before we started recording, we had a big batch of songs that we went through and found which songs would be the best, the most fun and the most interesting to us, and ‘Sure and Certain’ was in that category. It wasn’t really complete until we got into the studio and we started working on it with [producer] Justin Meldal-Johnsen, and when it was completed we were just happy with how it turned out. I think it’s just we chose that single because it’s a good representation of the record, showing that it’s a little more upbeat than the last record.
CDM: So you came into the studio with some songs ready to go - was there quite a few that you had already written? Or was it more of a collective project once you got into the studio?
TOM: There were about four songs that were complete I would say, and the rest-- what we did was, we went in with the producer and showed him about 30 or so ideas that were really small, like there would just be a verse of one song or a chorus of another song or a verse and a chorus, just little pieces of songs, and then went from there.
CDM: Your producer Justin has also worked with the likes of Paramore, Young The Giant, and one of our favourite kiwi bands The Naked And Famous. Can you tell us a bit about what it was like to work with him?
TOM: He’s awesome! When we sent him the songs, we just wanted to see what his notes were and he came back with all these ideas that were really good, and we knew right away. We didn’t meet with any other producers, after one talk with him we knew he was the right guy. Looking at the stuff he’s done in the past, with those bands you mentioned, and the likes of M83, and he’s also played in a lot of bands too - Nine Inch Nails and Beck for a long time - we knew he was a great musician, and he was the right one for the job.
CDM: There’s definitely a sense of positivity and certainty around both the new song and the record as a whole, especially in terms of not letting expectations dictate reality. Was that intentional when you set out to make the new album?
TOM: Hmmm, I don’t know - especially lyrically, I’m not sure what Jim [Adkins, singer and songwriter for Jimmy Eat World] thinks - but I think so though. On the last record, ‘Damage’, it was a lot more about the problem, whereas this album is more about the solution. I want to say that he was aware of it, and wanted to make a more positive record this time.
CDM: Is that a reflection of where you all are as a band, that more positive space?
TOM: Yeah, for sure! We took the longest break that we ever have since we’ve been playing as a band, for twenty-something years, and it was just nice taking a break and coming back refreshed - we were really excited and ready to play.
CDM: Speaking of the break, was it difficult to come back after some time away, or were you ready for it?
TOM: We were ready for it. After about five or six months, I was sitting at home being all like, “Alright, I’m ready, I’m ready to start up again!” It was a much needed break, but I think we all definitely missed it.
CDM: What prompted that break, was it just exhaustion?
TOM: I just think we were so used to doing the same thing, the same cycle for the nine records that we’ve done - we go on tour for a year-and-a-half, then we take a month off, then go right back into the studio - so I think we just needed that time to step away from the band, to figure out what we wanted to do.
CDM: With a new album cycle, I would imagine that after nine records you’ve become pretty well versed in it. Do you have a favourite part - recording, or touring, or anything else?
TOM: That’s a tough one, both recording and touring are totally different. I think maybe recording, because you get to see the ideas in their really basic forms, and then see it being completed, then seeing the final product when it’s totally done, just seeing it grow is the coolest thing for me.
CDM: I suppose in a lot of ways it’s the most productive phase. You go from nothing to something in quite a short space of time.
TOM: Yes, exactly! But also with touring you get to go and play the songs out, which is also really cool. They’re both different, but they’re both a lot of fun.
CDM: I’ve heard that you decided to record this album away from home to avoid falling into the trap of familiarity and being overly comfortable, so with that in mind how different was the process this time around?
TOM: When you’re away from home and paying for a studio, I think it makes you work a lot harder. <laughs> We’ve done a couple of records where we live in Arizona, we have our own studio there, and there can be a lot of distractions - you can leave when you want and go home. But when you’re paying for the record, paying for hotel rooms, it puts a lot more pressure on you to not mess around and stay focused.
CDM: So that’s a positive thing for you guys, the immediacy of it?
TOM: Yeah, I think so!
CDM: Jim has said that ‘Integrity Blues’ is about trying to overcome personal struggles rather than getting upset over what your life could be, which is quite an introspective thought. Do you think as a band you guys are getting more personal in your music?
TOM: Yeah, I do - I think we’re getting older and have gone through a lot of stuff, in our personal lives and in the band, and we’ve learned a lot which is coming through in the music now.
CDM: You guys are awesome in the fact that you always seem to be trying new things, every Jimmy Eat World record sounds different - is that a conscious thing?
TOM: Yeah, and especially for this record. When we took that long break, the first time we got back together, that’s one of the things we talked about, like why make another Jimmy Eat World record if it’s just going to be kinda the same thing? So we tried to do something different, we found a producer that was going to push us harder that we have in the past. I think it’s important to have a record that’s different sounding and to not keep doing the same thing every record.
CDM: Were you listening to any particular artists or albums while making the new record?
TOM: We listen to all sorts of stuff, but I don’t think there was anything specific during the making of the record though. Just because we’re so busy, we were down in the studio for about 12 hours a day, so you don’t actually have that much time to listen to too much else.
CDM: So just lots of takes of your own stuff?
TOM: <laughs> Yeah, pretty much! I think the last thing you wanna do when you’re not in the studio getting blasted by music, is put on other music.
CDM: You’ve been a band for as long as I’ve been alive, and as the years go on there seems to be fewer bands in the mainstream. What’s your secret to longevity?
TOM: That’s so funny! Well, we were friends before the band started, I think that plays a big part of it. Jim and Zach have known each other since preschool and I’ve known Rick since we met when we were 12-years-old - we just get along. I think a lot of bands they meet through like an ad in the newspaper, and they don’t really know each other, and that’s probably pretty scary especially when you start touring. You’ve just gotta make sure you’re really good friends with the people that you play with. Knowing each other before the band started, that’s probably the secret.
CDM: Obviously the music industry has changed loads in the time that you’ve been together - how has that impacted Jimmy Eat World?
TOM: A lot of things are easier, like it’s a lot easier to send files! If someone has an idea, you can just send it through, and we can also communicate with the producer. The last couple years just being able to send music through the Internet to whoever we’re working with, so they don’t have to be in Arizona, or we don’t have to be in California during that time. There’s a lot of good things that have happened in that regard.
CDM: Has the way you’ve gone about making music changed over the years, or does it feel pretty much the same?
TOM: With the band, it’s the same. Each song is different, sometimes Jim will come in with a song completely finished, sometimes we’ll just be sitting around practicing and someone will have an idea and we’ll write around that. But that’s pretty much the way it’s always been done, not much has changed, honestly.
CDM: This year ‘The Middle’ was featured in an Apple Music ad with Taylor Swift – how did that come about? Is it strange to know that there will be a new generation of kids discovering you because of that?
TOM: Yeah, it’s really weird! We heard through our management that she wanted to use the song in the commercial, and we were all, ‘Yeah, it’s not gonna happen,’ and then one day I woke up and my parents called me and it had actually happened. <laughs> We were all freaking out, having someone that popular record one of your songs, it’s really insane. It’ll be funny to see when we head out and start touring if we start seeing some of her fans come out - you never know! It was definitely a crazy thing.
CDM: Coup De Main is based in New Zealand, and we’ve been lucky enough to have you guys out here a few times, the last time was 2014. Do you plan to visit us with the new album?
TOM: We don’t have anything booked right now, but we’re thinking sometime next year we’ll come back there. We love playing down there - at The Powerstation right?
TOM: Yeah! So hopefully we’ll be able to get back there.
Jimmy Eat World’s new album ‘Integrity Blues’ is out on October 21st.
Watch the ‘Sure and Certain’ lyric video below…