Jimmy Eat World’s Jim Adkins On Killing Our Darlings & The Art Of The “Demented Pop Song”

Over 25 years in and now 10 records deep, Jimmy Eat World has returned with their new record Surviving. Described by the band as their most personal album yet, Surviving battles and reconciles with themes of resilience, self-reflection and recovery, just as the title suggests.

The record is especially inspired by William Faulkner’s concept of “kill your darlings” and how the one thing you’re holding on to is likely the same thing that’s holding you back. For frontman Jim Adkins, his “darling” was alcohol. He ditched drinking at 36 and, through this album’s ten tracks, the now 43-year-old shares tales of being a passenger in his body, wrestling with his own ego and learning to be more vulnerable.

Survival also sees the Arizona quartet returning to their musical roots. There are hints of synth on ‘555’ and a brief dabble into some jazz vibes with a saxophone solo on ‘All The Way (Stay)’ but the remaining 8 tracks largely embody the melodic alt-rock musings we’ve come to know and love from Jimmy Eat World.

Sticking to their guns sonically was a conscious effort rather than a result of an unwillingness to take risks, though. Adkins says that staying in their lane takes more skill and restraint than swerving into new genres that don’t make sense for them.

Music Feeds spoke to Adkins about the perfect storm that led to Surviving, accidentally writing an AFI song and the process to create (what he has dubbed) a “demented pop record”.

Music Feeds: You released ‘Surviving’ last week. How are you feeling? Relieved?

Jim Adkins: Yeah! It’s real! There’s a part of me that has trouble celebrating the small victories. It’s never really done but when you’re holding the actual record in your hand, that’s when it’s real.

MF: You’ve described this record as the band’s most personal yet, which is quite a statement to make ten records in. Was this something you were conscious of as you were writing?

JA: I think it just happened. As we get older and we release more and more records, I think our standard for ourselves increases. Everything we do is going to live right next to everything we’ve ever done. You’ve got to feel like you’re accomplishing something with it. What we put out there has to be as good as the best thing we’ve ever done so far. It has to mean something.

MF: You’ve said that the album is inspired by the lies that you told yourself to live life at the minimum. Can you talk us through the process to get to that point lyrically?

JA: You’re right. Surviving itself revolves around this theme of acceptance and the craziness of it all. You don’t like where you are, you’re not happy with anything but to change or do anything else is too scary. The simple fear of the unknown is enough to keep you away from doing something that might get you away from the negative feelings. It’s just fascinating to me because it’s really hard.

I guess when I quit drinking, that’s what illustrated it clearly to me. When you’re on the other side of that and looking up at it, it’s just really difficult. It doesn’t matter what anyone tells you. It could be drinking or addiction or any sort of difficult decision, people tell you whatever about how it’s not that hard and no big deal. You just can’t let it go.

There’s a creative metaphor that William Faulkner wrote, the idea of “kill your darlings” where you’re trying so hard to make things work when really, it’s that exact thing that you should get rid of. For whatever reason you think you need to hold onto it but maybe that’s the thing you need to let go of.

MF: On ‘Delivery’, you talk about the importance of being present in relationships and ‘Diamond’ is about accepting incremental change over instant gratification. ‘Love Never’ is about our tendency to think that relationships complete us. There’s a lot of self-reflection but also universal themes on the record, right?

JA: Yeah, it’s funny how broad the fundamentals really apply. Not every one story is going to be unique but I think what’s behind it are fairly universal.

MF: Did you find the writing process was different this time after being especially honest with yourself?

JA: It wasn’t harder. I feel like it was kind of easy. It was easy because I discovered that when you do confront these things, it gives you momentum to confront other things and retrain the way of thinking so that you kind of look forward to discovery. That’s all that song writing is. Digging around the discovery process.

MF: You’ve been working on some of the lyrics for this record since 2016, around the same time that ‘Integrity Blues’ was released. Is that how you usually work? Release an album and immediately are ready to work on the next?

JA: Yeah, you don’t really clock out of this thing (laughs). The records are like time capsules of everything that happens between records. Some of ‘Surviving’ is butting up right next to parts of ‘Integrity Blues’ for sure.

There’s definitely a handful of stuff that didn’t make the cut. What you need to delegate energy and effort towards, it shows itself as you get working in the process. It wasn’t like a whole bunch of stuff that was discarded, some others just worked better as a candidate for an album song. It happens all the time. We never throw anything away because later on it’s very likely that you’ll have an idea and an older part that didn’t work then, fits right in and is the thing that solves the puzzle.

MF: ‘Surviving’ really ebbs and flows between fast paced rock tracks and more melodic breathers, how did you master that balance?

JA: Yeah, the way things sound is definitely intentional. We wanted to have less things that could have room to do more. It’s like when you listen to Van Halen or Rage Against The Machine even, they’re just like a four-piece band but there’s really not crazy overdubs, there’s not just like a wall of track. Everything has room to spread out in the mix and you don’t miss the other stuff.

When you’re recording, you’re not really limited by much. Any wacky, crazy idea, you can sure try it out! But I think it requires a new sense of musicianship to have restraint sometimes. We were conscious of that going into record, that we should give ourselves parameters.

My whole thing about writing songs, I’ve always felt like the coolest challenge to arise to is a demented pop song. It’s gotta feel like a pop song (laughs) but not pop as in chasing the lowest common denominator. It’s making sure that all of the classic things that feel right are there. I think that at the core of what we do, we are a guitar, melodic rock band and Surviving does lean into that. We’ve got to be honest about what we like and what we think is fun. That could take us down any number of roads.

I think because we always try to put forward this honest representation of the music that we like, it’s left doors open for us. A song like ‘Get It Faster’ from Bleed American against a song like ‘Integrity Blues’ or ‘Goodbye Sky Harbor’ from Clarity, we can kind of do whatever we want and call it Jimmy Eat World. We’re four people who share a common sense of what we like. Not everyone’s going to like what we come up with but I think with that sense of honesty we bring, the right people will like it.

MF: You collaborated with AFI’s Davey Havock on ‘Congratulations’. How did that come about?

JA: AFI is a band that we’re friends with and we got to know them in 2001 when we were both on the Warped Tour. We just stayed in touch and we’re at festivals and stuff all of the time with them. We were working on ‘Congratulations’ and I just thought “Man, this sounds like AFI vocals!”. So I just thought I’m not going to try, we should just get Davey then (laughs). I called him up and he was into it.

MF: Can we expect Jimmy Eat World in Australia any time soon?

JA: Definitely! Australia is one of my favourite places to perform and to hang out. I can’t really confirm any exact dates but we’re trying to put something together for our spring and your fall.

Jimmy Eat World’s 10th studio album, ‘Surviving’, is out now.

Latest on Music Feeds

Load more