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Jimmy Eat World: We don't consider ourselves anything other than a rock band

Jim Adkins has been at the helm of Jimmy Eat World since he was barely on the cusp of adulthood. Over 10 albums, his idiosyncratic lyrics have found the cracks in the male psyche - and delved into them. Alex Green speaks to Jim and his bandmates about going the distance in an industry that often wills people to fail

Music veterans: Jimmy Eat World have been on the go for 25 years
Music veterans: Jimmy Eat World have been on the go for 25 years

Jimmy Eat World have been doing some soul searching. Once pioneers of the so-called emo scene, the four-piece are 25 years into their careers.

While former label mates and rivals such as Good Charlotte and AFI have fallen off the map, they continue to tour and release albums like clockwork.

You only have to read the title of Jimmy Eat World's 10th record, Surviving, to get a feel for its topic of choice.

"You can just exist, you can survive," says lyricist, singer and all-round nice guy Jim Adkins.

"But are you truly living? Are you pursuing a path of growth?

"Usually that comes down to a decision to face some uncomfortable truths about yourself and maybe admit that you are wrong - maybe admit you don't know everything.

"I try to frame everything I do through that lens of, is this bringing me closer or taking me further away from the path I think I should be heading in?"

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Jimmy Eat World - Adkins, drummer Zach Lind, guitarist Tom Linton and bassist Rick Burch - have certainly had their ups and downs since they formed in their native Mesa, Arizona, in the early 1990s.

Dropped from Capitol Records in 1999, the band's future was uncertain.

But the release of cult hit The Middle, with its motivational lyrics inspired by being cast out by a major label, gave them success they had never imagined.

With fame came its own problems and Adkins' drinking spiralled. He's 43 now and has been sober for a little over six years.

We speak at the annual Q Awards at Camden's Roundhouse in London. The night before, his band played support for Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro at a gig to mark the event.

Instead of tackling things head on, Adkins' lyrics have always wound themselves around a subject.

This is more than true of the 10 tracks that made it on to Surviving.

"There's definitely some elements of Trump rallies that went into thinking about that," he says of the song Criminal Energy, an album standout.

"It's about not wanting to face uncomfortable truths about yourself.

"When you are presented with something that's evidence you might be compromising your moral compass, are you really going to accept that you are going off track? Or are you going to double down on your path?

"It just feels like a lot of the arguments he is putting forward are politically convenient for him.

"To buy into it, in a lot of cases, is settling for an expedient route over your morals."

Jimmy Eat World are not a band known for venturing outside the hook-laden guitar sound they helped carve out, but on this record, they reach for the future by turning back to the past.

"It's funny, with this album we're listening to the same s*** we listened to in junior high," says drummer Lind over the phone the next day.

That music - the heavy metal of Quiet Riot, Ratt and Motley Crue - seeps into Surviving and adds a punk-rock edge that has been missing from their recent records.

Lind admits the band are not clued into today's pop trends.

In fact, he reveals he has gone as far as to ban his son from listening to one of this year's biggest viral hits.

"Every once in a while, when he does something and earns it, I will let my son pick the music in the car," he tells me with a wry chuckle.

"He always goes for Post Malone or... he put a song on called Old Town Road and I banned that from my car. We can't listen to that any more."

He is more careful than Adkins when it comes to discussing politics.

Jimmy Eat World never set out to be preachy, he says, but they hope their fans will weigh the options (another term for Trump in the White House?) before heading to the polls.

"Our style is maybe a little more indirect," Lind says.

"Criminal Energy is exactly that. It's not really our style to be overly heavy-handed in terms of expressing what our personal opinions are.

"What we always try to do is, we all have leanings as a band, and we discuss things more freely among ourselves.

"In terms of our relationship to our fans and what we put out there, we would rather ask people to become informed in their own way and vote with their consciences."

Jimmy Eat World have lasted the distance, it is fair to say.

Despite their protests, they will always be classed among the emo scene of the early 2000s, a genre defined by its heart-on-sleeve yet hard-rocking aesthetic.

Lind is coy, as though he would rather not give voice to the word 'emo'. He calls the term "a little lazy".

"We don't lose sleep over it, but we also don't feed it," Lind explains.

"We don't really consider ourselves anything other than a rock band."

Then there is, of course, the band's unlikeliest of run-ins with super-fan Taylor Swift.

In 2016, the country crooner-turned pop star lip-synced and danced to The Middle in an advert for Apple Music, sending the song rocketing back into the charts nearly two decades after its release.

"We were stoked - it was very flattering. She did that of her own accord, unsolicited," explains Burch with genuine surprise, keen to make clear the episode not some sort of marketing ploy.

"She's been a great fan of ours and it's really flattering that she goes there. It's really cool."

Jimmy Eat World are 10 albums and countless tours down the road. It begs the question, is there an end in sight for the band?

"Yeah, of course," Adkins says with a cryptic laugh.

"There's always an end. Our strategy has always been about setting realistic goals for ourselves and focusing on what we need to do in the short term.

"That's led to a 25-year - I guess I can call it a career now.

"And I guess we'll keep doing that."

Surviving is out now

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