Never let it be said that successful bands have less at stake once they get two decades deep into their career—or at least never say it to Arizona emo pioneers Jimmy Eat World. “The standard that we've set for ourselves now gets higher and higher every album we do,” frontman Jim Adkins tells Apple Music. “You're not only making an album, you're basically adding to your catalog. So anything we do has to be as good as the best thing we've done so far. Otherwise, why are we doing it?” The simple answer, as evidenced by their 10th album, Surviving, is that they are extremely good at it—guitar-driven anthems that feel keenly suited to this moment in Adkins' life. “It's like the time capsule of everything I've been thinking about for the last couple of years,” he says, “which is basically the blocks that we put in our own way that keep us from really experiencing life in as meaningful a way as it can be.” Here he talks through a handful of key tracks that best show how Jimmy Eat World have managed to challenge themselves while still feeling true to everything they've done and meant for over 25 years.
Surviving “It's this tune that doesn't have a real discernible chorus to it. It's a good example of us being us, but also trying to push ourselves in a way, but also trying to work within some framework of restraint. There's usually a basic template or a basic parameter we give ourselves. The lines that we color within are something that feels like a traditional pop song, where sections of the tune are recognizable and it has an arc to it. And then we like to see how much we can get away with while it still resembles that. 'Surviving' steps a little bit out—it has the arc that I think is interesting to write, but it doesn't have any of the interior or outline parts, like a normal pop song would. It's more of a crescendo, and it's more or less one riff the whole song. How little do you need to really fully communicate what you want to do, what you want to say?”
All the Way (Stay) “One thing that we were thinking about for that—and for everything, really—the album should have less things doing more. If you listen to a Van Halen album, there's not a lot of overdubs—if any. It's just four dudes, each of them playing their own role, with the exception of maybe backup vocals. If you put a ton of loud things happening and it's just loud, loud, loud, loud, loud, it loses the effectiveness of the loudness. It doesn't sound louder anymore. It sounds like synth. When you start taking things away, then things feel heavier. So with 'All the Way (Stay),' there's sections of the song where you're just listening to the snare drum decaying in the room. There's literally nothing happening for a section of that song—you're listening to air. But it makes what's happening around it, when that comes back in, a lot more heavy. There's a lot of musical devices that are counterintuitive, but when you employ them, it really makes a big effect. And in general, we wanted to take things away as a default position.”
555 “One of the reasons we wanted to work with [producer] Justin Meldal-Johnsen is because he just brings such a wide palette of musical influences and information. Way more than what we have. I have a very surface knowledge of MIDI and synth things, so I can explain to him what I want to try to get or I can lay down something that's a really rough amateur version of what I want and he just knows exactly what to do. It's hard to pin down one exact thing, other than maybe the synth sound in '555' would not be nearly as cool without Justin's knowledge.”
Criminal Energy “It's just such a heavy guitar song. I mean, that's a part of what we do, for sure, but it's so borderline metal in a stoner way. I wouldn't say it's a risk and I wouldn't say it's totally out of character, but I feel like it's pushing our self-perception just enough into that arena of active rock that is not where we live all the time. So I know I'm on the right track when I feel like, 'I don't know if I should do this.' There's definitely a parameter that you need to work within and you need to set for yourself. You can't push your self-perception so far that it doesn't resemble you anymore.”