The movement from Jimmy Eat World’s modest Christie Front Drive-jocking beginnings to the band’s status as America’s biggest don’t-call-it-emo group probably still bites at its original pop-punk fan base -after all, JEW used to be genuine underdogs, getting dropped from Capitol Records two years before its breakthrough, 2001’s Bleed American, began to improbably spray across MTV and radio. Still, hindsight is always the great revealer, and let’s face it, the band didn’t exactly sell out when American’s Richard Marx-esque “The Middle” hit a chord with millions of wide-eyed teenagers. The band has been slickly combining syrup and sadness from the minute “Lucky Denver Mint,” a truly great single from 1999’s Clarity, first caught some play on Los Angeles’ influential KROQ; after that, it was all a matter of time before JEW’s desperate, chewy harmonies made it into the pop mainstream. If anything, the band has gotten rawer with time and the Gil Norton-produced Futures, a dire run through the emotional gamut which features songs named “Pain” and “Kill,” might be the band’s most brooding record to date. Drummer Zach Lind phoned Buzz from a tour stop in Britain to discuss new expectations, the rigors of recording and how it feels to have something on the radio.
Buzz: Do you feel like the reaction to Futures has been a little different than that of Bleed American?
Zach Lind: When Clarity came out, I think it sold maybe 70,000 copies. To have a record like Bleed American sell over a million records over the span of a few years just creates this weird thing. You have all of these new fans and you have a fairly good amount of old fans-it’s just weird.
Buzz: There seems to be no sign of the backlash that accompanied American’s success.
Zach Lind: There’s less of a backlash because there’s less to backlash against. Once you’ve backlashed once, why backlash again? If there were fans that we lost because of Bleed American, we won’t pretend to sit here and get on our knees and beg them to come back. That’s their choice, and there’s much more to life than music. Over time, people get over it. We don’t write music for one group of people, so we don’t turn anyone away. I think new fans will approach Futures a lot differently than Clarity fans approached Bleed American. I think they’ll approach it with a little bit more of an open mind.
Buzz: There are a lot of new ideas floating around Futures-a duet with Liz Phair (on “Work”), more complicated instrumentation, a lot more angst. Did you have a set idea of what you wanted to do coming into the record or did the direction change on its own?
Zach Lind: I don’t know if there was necessarily something that we went out of our way to do. We tried to make a more cohesive record, a record that fits together a little better. We stressed way more on the songs and making them as good as they could be. I look at a song like “The Authority Song” [from Bleed American] and I don’t know that we did everything in our power to make that song the best it could be, though we tried really hard. With a song like [Futures’] “Polaris,” I know that we did everything possibly in our power to make that song what it was. Bleed American was just fun to make-the songs were more fun and upbeat. Futures was painful, stressful, tiring, exhausting, but, in the end, it was more satisfying. It was a more intense experience. I think we actually prefer the Futures method in a weird, twisted way just because we feel like, if you get through it all, you feel better about what you’ve done.
Buzz: Late last year, you donated a song to last year’s MoveOn.org compilation, Future Sound of America-a blatantly anti-Bush cause. It was the first I’d ever heard of Jimmy Eat World expressing a political bias. Have you continued to take your politics on the road?
Zach Lind: We never made an effort to bring politics on the road. It was just a time where political groups were soliciting artists’ help for things, and it was something we believed in. We were excited about being on a compilation with all the other bands that were on the compilation. No one in the band voted for Bush, but we [usually] don’t like to cross the line. I don’t really agree with saying, “Vote for this person because we are.” If the subject comes up, we always try to encourage people who are looking to us for political advice- which I have no idea why they would want to-to actually become educated on what’s going on.
Buzz: You’re likely one of the few bands playing your style of music-emo, pop-punk, what-have-you-that’s getting that sort of adulation. Do you ever wonder how you managed to succeed when your peers, like Sense Field and the Get-Up Kids, all seemed to hit a plateau?
Zach Lind: We have no idea, and we make no claim to have supremacy over those other bands. Being able to understand or ask what’s accepted in popular society is beyond me. It’s beyond all of us. For some weird reason “The Middle” became a huge hit and that’s really the difference. The Get-Up Kids made a really good last two records, but they just weren’t the type of records that their fans really knew what to do with. As a band, it’s essential to know who you are and what your identity is in terms of being creative. People like you for what you do. That doesn’t mean you can’t grow and you can’t change, but what it does mean is that, if you’re going to make a record that’s completely different from what you’ve done in the past and that’s going to make people scratch their heads, it better be pretty damn good. I think they’re at peace with their decision, though.
Jimmy Eat World will appear at Assembly Hall on Sunday, April 10. The show begins at 7:30pm with Taking Back Sunday. Tickets are $26.