After the bandmates decided it might be best to spend some time apart, how did Jimmy Eat World reunite to record the band’s ninth album, Integrity Blues? Even more importantly: Why? On the latest episode of The Andy Greenwald Podcast, The Ringer’s Andy Greenwald met up with Jimmy frontman Jim Adkins to consider creativity, writing that sounds like whining, and what it’s like to get older and still walk to the edge and look over.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Why Make a Ninth Record When You’ve Already Got Eight?
Jim Adkins: Can you believe it? Nine records.
Andy Greenwald: It’s not just that I can’t believe it. It’s that I feel like I’ve seen you quoted a few times already talking about this record saying the fundamental question wasn’t necessarily where we’re gonna record it, who we’re going to record it with … It’s, “Why would we even do it?” What is the need? What does it mean to have a ninth record when you consider the previous eight?
J.A.: There’s definitely a level of self awareness with us as people and with us as a band that feels new. It’s beyond the nuts and bolts of it all. What’s really behind it? I mean, we can go into the studio and bust something out. But why? Do we have an answer for that? With the songwriting, with the music itself, there’s the context of it, like your story, your setting, your scene, and the adversity that’s presented in that. But what the song’s really about is what’s behind that.
A.G.: Behind it in terms of the emotional whatever that’s fueling the song?
J.A.: Yeah. What’s really behind that?
What to Do When Your Writing Reads Like Whining
J.A.: You gotta explore something to a point and then just see the answer to it and not just sound like complaining.
A.G.: So it’s asking a rhetorical question, an artistic question, in the song, lyrically?
J.A.: You get hung up on the details on it rather than what’s behind it. And it took me a minute to figure out that’s what I should write about — instead of exploring the problem — is, “What’s really the solution?” You get in an argument with somebody and there’s this intense desire to be right. Do you really want to be right? Or do you want the real issues to be resolved? You can get caught up in that part of it that you don’t realize. That’s not what you really want here.
A.G.: It’s the battle versus the war.
The Writing Process … Minus the Writing
A.G.: Do you still primarily write lyrics first?
A.G.: So are you writing down these ideas?
J.A.: Never. Never.
A.G.: You never do lyrics first?
A.G.: Always do music first?
J.A.: Well, I’m always writing and what I would do is maybe go back and hunt down random things that I can draw from. But it’s always music first.
The Hidden Rewards of “Taking a Break”
J.A.: We were winding down touring, and we were beginning to work on new stuff, getting together, jamming, and that would reach a point, and then we’d move on to the next thing. We weren’t really finishing anything. I came to the realization that, well, I put forth to the guys an idea about maybe we should just take a break, and maybe, maybe …
A.G.: I can feel the nervousness behind that question even a year or two later as you’re asking.
J.A.: We’ve never done anything like that.
A.G.: It’s always been going back into the cycle.
J.A.: It was just something that we really needed to do. It’s really fascinating how this all ended up, because everything’s reinforced itself as it’s gone on. All these actions, slowly kind of opening yourself up to moving outside your bubble and being rewarded by experiencing things that were beyond your expectations. Then that’s like, “Oh, cool. I didn’t expect to find myself here.” That sort of gives you encouragement to take another step. And that gives you encouragement to take another step. And some of those things are rewarding, [and some are] less rewarding than others, but the general trajectory is, if you’re willing to explore ideas, if you’re willing to check your ego and say that maybe my idea for what I need is limited …
A.G.: Or a construction of what you’ve already known.
J.A.: Exactly. When you’re willing to check that and explore something that is unfamiliar, or new, or possibly difficult, or scary … It’s always a reward.
Considering the Ledge As You Get Older
A.G.: As someone who just moved out of the same place he’s lived for 17 years, I’ve only recently realized how much desire we all have for comfort, and familiarity is as much a crutch as it is a benefit and stepping outside of it. But it gets harder as we get older, to do it. And it’s particularly interesting to hear you talk about this because a lot of when Jimmy Eat World first gained fame and attention and devotion was because you were such a brilliant chronicler of a certain set of younger emotions. Where younger people are on the precipice, afraid of what they’re going to do next, of what’s possible in their life, and we equate that feeling, often, with being, like, 17, 18, 20, 22. As we get older, it gets harder to go back out on the ledge.
J.A.: I would categorize our earlier stuff as being focused on more the idea of discovery and that being a exciting thing.
A.G.: A little bit scary, but exciting.
J.A.: There is a flip that kind of switches as you get older and you have experience and those things aren’t so scary. What do you do? But the truth is that discovery is still there, waiting for you, you’re just not willing to go get it.
A.G.: You’ve taken yourself out of …
J.A.: There is something to be said for when you’re involved in a creative endeavor, or you build a skill, or you develop a competency with a craft. You have strengths, and that’s valuable. But to just take the path that exploits those traits all the time, you don’t get new strengths. There’s no chance for growth in that.