Bleed American

Jimmy Eat World

Bleed American

When Jimmy Eat World began work on 2001’s Bleed American, they were free—unattached to any label or schedule, recording entirely on their own time with their own money. “There was the sense that we didn't know where this was going or what we were going to do with it once it was completed,” frontman Jim Adkins tells Apple Music of the album 20 years after its release. “There were no rules for us to follow. We were just making something that we think is rad. That’s it. That was our mandate.”
On the other side was mainstream stardom. After two LPs with Capitol Records—1996’s Static Prevails and 1999’s much-beloved Clarity—the Arizona rock outfit had developed a small but dedicated following as one in a burgeoning scene of emo and post-hardcore bands in the late ’90s, The Promise Ring and The Get Up Kids among them. But where Clarity reveled in added layers of instrumentation, Bleed American saw them embrace a more direct approach, from the swift and wordless hooks of “Sweetness” (originally written for Clarity) to the fizzy romance of “A Praise Chorus” to “The Middle,” a runaway hit (and Taylor Swift favorite) that was inspired by an email from a fan who’d been excluded at school by a clique of friends who claimed they were punks. “She couldn't sit with them,” he says. “Everything I've learned about the punk-rock world is it's inclusive and accepting and there's no such thing as not being punk enough that you can't be part of the club. I just thought that was ridiculous.”
Though the band would temporarily change the album’s title to Jimmy Eat World after 9/11, its sense of openness and possibility ran deep and undiminished. In setting out to make an album for themselves, they’d made one for everybody. “It’s a snapshot of us in our early twenties, curious and trying to protect the rewards of playing music, the part that makes it stay fun,” Adkins says. “I think that comes through.” Here, he shares the lessons he learned along the way.
Don’t Be Desperate “Having a bona fide hit is not at all what we were chasing. And I still don't think it's something you can, really. You might have last summer's novelty song jam, but I think when you're chasing your idea of what an imaginary listener would really like, I think it comes off of as desperate. People can hear that. There's nothing more of a turnoff than when someone's just chasing your approval. What's going to really transcend is if you're honest with yourself about what you're doing and what you like, and putting that forward.”
Simple Is Not the Enemy of Good “‘The Middle’ wasn't high on our radar when we were making Bleed American, in part because it was a simple song and it came together quickly. When you're working, there's just this thing you've got to get over, that sometimes because it took you a lot of effort or struggle to solve the musical puzzle, to complete the song, that somehow that's worth more. Like this thing that just came out of you in two hours couldn't possibly be as valuable as this thing you labored over. At the end of the day, the listener's not going to know any of that or care—they’re going to find a connection in there or they're not, and it doesn't really matter what you, the artist, had to go through to get there.”
Forever Young “The central theme of ‘The Middle’ is something that I still find nuances in to explore now, as a completely different person than the person who wrote that song 20 years ago. It’s still applicable to a lot of situations, this idea that your sense of self-worth isn't based on outside approval. That's something that I feel everyone still fights with all the time.”
Listen to the Voices in Your Head “Whatever it is going on in your head, don't be afraid to put it down in your song; if it's simple or if it's personal, whatever it is, it came to you, and that, it's a gift that you're just rejecting by not exploring it. Maybe it doesn't turn out to be that great of a song, but it's not going to be anything unless you turn it into something, so you might as well explore it.”
Lighten Up “When we came to Capitol in ’95 or '96, there were double-door posters for these alternative rock bands, and none of them actually broke, and I have no idea what any of them were doing one record later. So I knew that it wasn't anything that you could build a whole lot of long-term stock in. At 25, I was just thinking about how much I could get away with. That's what playing in a band felt like: At any minute, this could really end. It's just about enjoying what you're doing, and having fun, and not taking any of it seriously.”
Stay Out of Your Own Way “‘Sweetness’ came to me half-asleep one night, and I got up and I boom-box demoed it. Trying to fill every syllable of the melody up with actual lyrics—in the end it didn't feel as cool as just kind of scatting. It's like trying to withhold that self-judgment for as long as possible, until you actually have something and you can step back from it and put on the hat of an editor. But while you're working, the more you can stay out of your own way, the better.”
It’s Not Up to You “It was kind of odd when people started calling us an emo band, because that just didn't really mean what they thought it means. You could make a case that Bruce Springsteen was pretty emo: The band is at a party, and he's just in the corner working on lyrics—that's about as emo as it gets. I mean, there’s things you can do, definitely, to accurately present yourself. But you've got to adjust your expectations for that. How people are going to take it is totally not up to you.”
Redefine SuccessBleed American reaffirmed my idea of success. Because you do something that you're proud of, and have it either blow up or not. Maybe like 5,000 people buy the record, and they all love it and find something to connect with. Maybe five million people do. Just as long as everybody isn't saying it sucks, I think you're fine.”

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