Jimmy Eat World were a band liberated as the year 2000 rolled in. For the first time online, read the full story of 'Bleed American' in their own words.
This feature originally appeared in Issue 178 of Rock Sound (September 2013)
'BLEED AMERICAN' / 'JIMMY EAT WORLD'
RELEASED: July 18, 2001
LABEL: Dreamworks / Geffen
PRODUCER: Mark Trombino
PERSONNEL: Jim Adkins (vocals / guitar),Tom Linton (guitar), Zach Lind (drums), Rick Burch (bass), Rachel Haden (additional vocals), Mark Trombino (programming), Ariel Rechtshaid (additional vocals).
ARTWORK: William Eggleston
Having parted ways with Capitol Records in the wake of their third album, ‘Clarity’, Jimmy Eat World were a band liberated in as the year 2000 rolled in. This time they’d enter the studio on their own terms, and the results would transform their lives forever.
Jim Adkins (guitar / vocals): “A lot of it started with us getting out of our deal with Capitol. In fairness, I don’t think we had any business being on a major label when they asked us to work with them, but there was nothing else going on, and we figured that at the worst, we’d have some funny stories about going to Los Angeles. It turned out that we fell into a group of other likeminded musicians and were able to tour, and to make enough money to record again. The plan was to make an album on our own, and see how it went from there.”
Davey Von Bohlen (The Promise Ring, guest vocals): “I’m not sure how many shows I’ve played with Jimmy Eat World, but it has to be hundreds. They kept it very simple. Their motto was: ‘Make good music and be yourself.’”
Rick Burch (bass): “It all started off as a kind of refresher period for us. ‘Clarity’ had run its course and we’d been released from our record contract, so we were just four guys in a band wanting to make some music. The world was wide open for us at that point.”
Jim Adkins: “Up until the release of ‘Bleed American’, things seemed to be progressing in a certain way. We’d go to a city, play a decent show, and next time we came back there would be four more people there! If we were lucky we’d get a show opening up for a bigger band, but it was really incremental.”
Doug Messenger (studio owner / assistant tracking engineer): “[The producer] Mark Trombino told me that he was working with Jimmy Eat World again, and that he wanted to do something more exuberant than ‘Clarity.’ He brought the band to my studio [Hard Drive Analogue And Digital] one day, and they came in with a bunch of paper bags, filled with cash. They proceeded to pour the cash onto my mixing desk, and it was $13,500. Then they said, ‘How much time can we get for this?’”
With a more streamlined vision and nothing to lose, the band set to work recording in Hollywood. Little did they know that word of their new direction was already beginning to spread...
Jim Adkins: “‘Clarity’ taught us not to censor ourselves; if you have an idea you should chase it up, whatever way it takes you. Our policy was, ‘Let’s try everything, and work out what makes it onto the album later.’”
Zach Lind (drums): “We’d gotten interested in people like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen – guys who wrote really great, big American rock songs. We’d never really thought about that before, as previously we’d been drawing on more punk and alternative stuff. With ‘Bleed American’ we liked the idea of trying to make a record in that vein. ‘Clarity’ wandered quite a lot – it went off on a lot of different tangents and we let it go whatever way we wanted. This was more focused.”
Rachel Haden (That Dog bassist, backing vocals on four songs): “When I heard the songs I was excited. ‘Hear You Me’ moved me, as it did a lot of people. I thought to myself, ‘Yay, now I can be an angel!’ I always wanted to sing like an angel, and this was my opportunity!”
Doug Messenger: “They were clean-cut, American kids who didn’t get drunk or give us any trouble. I was waiting for Murphy’s Law to come and kick us in the ass, but it didn’t happen!”
Tom Linton (guitar): “We had no idea whatsoever what ‘The Middle’ would become, or what it would do for us as a band. When the song was finished no one was thinking, ‘Shit, this is going to make us millionaires!’”
Jim Adkins: “I thought that ‘The Middle’ was a joke song for a while. It was so clear cut and straightforward, I didn’t think very much about it. There wasn’t as much effort behind it so I thought less of it, but in reality, it’s so easy to over-think things. That song taught me that with songs, if it feels right, it’s right. If you get in there and fuck with things too much, you kill it.”
Davey Von Bohlen: “I received a CD with the rough mix of ‘A Praise Chorus’ and a note that said I should ‘scat over this’. When they did release the record, I remember feeling really guilty that I had used pop music lyrics, and likely cost them quite a bit of money in publishing!”
Doug Messenger: “They weren’t signed when they arrived, so we timed it that someone from Dreamworks and someone from Universal would bump into each other at the studio – one came in as the other was leaving. We wanted them to see each other and get competitive, and that happened. Both guys went, ‘Wow, we’ve got to have this band’.”
Transforming them from cult heroes into the fastest rising band in rock, ‘Bleed American’ met with phenomenal success on release. Raising JEW’s profile a hundredfold, it also cleared the way for a long and fruitful career, and true independence.
Rick Burch: “The one bit of bad luck we had was with the title track. It was getting a good reaction with radio, but when 9/11 happened it was thrown on the blacklist: no one would play it anymore. It was incredibly frustrating to have this great song that was making waves, and then having to sort of abandon it. It was like, ‘Okay, let’s shift gears and move onto something else.’ Thankfully it worked.”
Rachel Haden: “It was a crucial time for the band. They were getting a lot of commercial play and that was definitely exciting, but they were always the way they were. They are the hardest working band I know. I had been on big tours supporting bands like Weezer and Foo Fighters – whose humility did slightly disintegrate – but that’s neither here nor there. Jimmy Eat World stayed humble and true.”
Tom Linton: “Suddenly we were getting offers to support all these incredible bands – Weezer, Blink-182, Green Day – all of them super big.
The thing was, we could never really gauge how big we were getting, or how much people genuinely cared. Sure, we’d be playing this huge place, but how many of those people even knew who we were?”
Jim Adkins: “We were proud of ‘Bleed American’ and had every reason to hope it’d help us take another step up, but we had no idea that we’d go from the Highbury Garage to Brixton Academy in London in the the space of a year. It was a pretty wild ride.”
Davey Von Bohlen: “They were just really good, both on stage and off. They knew how to manage their personalities and play off one another. It’s so hard to find that in a creative relationship, so it is really not surprising to me that they are still playing and writing music.”
Doug Messenger: “I’m always surprised they went back to their darker style [after that record], because they could have become so much bigger if they’d built on ‘Bleed American’.”
Zach Lind: “That record’s given us an opportunity to have a career as a band, and to continue doing this for such a long time. I don’t know where we’d be without that.”
Jim Adkins: “A lot of people say that’s our defining record, and in a way it is. It didn’t sink in at the time how big it was, but that album’s allowed us to do everything else since, and I’m incredibly grateful.”
Jimmy Eat World play Reading & Leeds festivals this August. They're doing two sets apiece at each site, too!