More than 15 years after hitting the mainstream with “The Middle,” Jimmy Eat World is back with “Integrity Blues,” an album that drummer Zach Lind said is a more grown-up examination of the same idea at the heart of the band’s early-2000s hit.
“It’s funny, in a lot of ways, the album is a much more sophisticated look at the subject of the song ‘The Middle,’” Lind said. “It’s done in a way that has the benefit of the past 15 years and that’s something that we wouldn’t have been able to do back then… I think it’s definitely a product of time and experience.”
The band — including Jim Adkins on vocals and lead guitar, Tom Linton on guitar and vocals, Rick Burton on bass and Lind behind the drum kit — formed in Arizona in 1993 and has been consistently producing new material ever since. “Integrity Blues” is the band’s ninth album, and the group’s tour in support of the record will stop at Chattanooga’s Track 29 on Tuesday, March 7.
Lind said he and his bandmates decided to change their approach when it came time to record the latest album, which hinges on the theme of coming to terms with the fact that as people, no one is never truly complete. In an open letter to fans posted online to announce the album, Adkins wrote “It is about throwing away your default responses to life, accept life on the terms of life and becoming willing to accept the best any of us have is to be in a state of progress.”
Before heading into the studio to record “Integrity Blues,” Lind said the band members took a year away from music “to kind of turn off the Jimmy Eat World switch in their brain and do something else.” The break gave the band members time to focus their energy on life outside of Jimmy Eat World and recharge their batteries a little.
“I think we went in with a little bit more energy and purpose on this record than we had in a while. One of the things we did before making the record is we actually took a year off doing nothing and kind of giving everyone permission for the first time ever since we started, to do other things, think about other things,” he said. “In doing that I think it gave us an added sense of perspective that I don’t think we had … For the first time we really sort of asking ourselves the question, ‘Should we even make a record? Does the world need another Jimmy Eat World record and if so, what does that record need to be?’”
Breaking up the band was never a consideration, Lind said. Rather, the longtime friends wanted to make sure that they didn’t record an album simply of the sake of doing so.
“We weren’t totally sure what we were gonna do but I think once we started talking about it and forming what we wanted to do we pretty quickly decided OK, it’s gonna be an album but the album needs to be really special,” he said. “I think for us it just felt like we can’t make anything that isn’t going to stand up to the best material in our catalog and if we don’t feel that it does that, we shouldn’t put it out. That was kind of like the bar we set for ourselves and I think it had a good effect. We just didn’t want to go and make another one, we wanted to make it something that would maybe surprise ourselves and that’s something we worked toward.”
While the friendships within Jimmy Eat World have remained solid throughout the band’s nearly 25-year career, a lot about the industry has changed, especially when it comes to how music is consumed. However, rather than seeing music enjoyed one song at a time as diluting the work, Lind views the rise of downloads and streaming services as a challenge and an opportunity to raise the bar for themselves.
“It gives artists a lot of freedom to package their music in a way that is different and has a lot of variety,” he said. “In today’s day and age, putting out an album is sort of ambitious, you’re expecting someone to sit and enjoy a collection of 10 or 12 songs.”
To Lind’s way of thinking, the way music is consumed now forces artists to step up their creative game and produce high-quality material, rather than just writing enough songs to make a full-length album.
“I think you want to make it feel cohesive, but I think more than anything the pressure it to make them all really good. What’s the point of putting out an album when there’s going to be the three songs everyone skips?
“The way that music is consumed provides fans more options, but I also think it sort of raises the stakes,” he added. “To me there’s just so much music out there that if you’re going to put something out it’s gotta be good, not just something that’s appeasing whatever fan base you have, you’ve gotta do something to challenge yourself.”
With the new album now under their belt, the band is hitting the road, headlining a string of shows before teaming up with Incubus for nine shows this summer. Although the goal of sending fans home happy remains the same regardless of where the band is on the bill, Lind said the members of Jimmy Eat World do alter their approach to suit the situation.
“If it’s our own show, it’s more about knowing that there’s people in the audience who really care about your songs, so we tend to play longer and we’ll also play sort of more obscure songs that people may not know,” he said. “When you’re opening up, it’s almost like doing a commercial for someone who may or may not have heard of your band or care about your band or whatever. It tends to be geared toward a more concise set. Songs that have had radio play and they may recognize, trying to establish that hey, we’re the band that does these songs that you’ve heard over the years. I just hope they have fun. We play a good cross section of songs in our catalog and pack in as many fan favorites as we can. We really want people to leave feeling like they’ve had a good time.”
And, rest assured, part of that good time will be singing along to “The Middle,” which had a bit of a resurgence lately thanks to Taylor Swift’s recent Apple Music commercial.
“We really don’t get sick of it,” Lind said. “For us, the success of ‘The Middle’ was a sort of pathway for us to build a career and turn this into something that we can do for our livelihoods and I think that to some degree, if anyone is enjoying your music, there’s so much music out there, so if anyone is enjoying our music far be it for us to feel annoyed by that.”
For more on Jimmy Eat World, including a list of tour dates and links to buy tickets for Tuesday’s show, go to www.jimmyeatworld.com.
Andrea Agardy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @swimswithsnark.