The rock star/journalist relationship has encountered some definite turbulence of late. Don't believe it? Check out the new Radiohead documentary, Meeting People Is Easy, now out on video. Meeting People reveals a band weary of awards and accolades and energy-draining sold-out performances and, yes, endless streams of stupid questions from endless streams of stupid journalists. The film reveals the hard-rock life as, well, a hard-knock life.
Not so, says Jim Adkins, singer/guitarist for Jimmy Eat World, a fledgling college rock quartet with an artsy, lush production aesthetic that draws occasional Radiohead comparisons. Adkins recently caught most of Meeting People, and though he enjoyed the film's artistic and musical content, he did admit to finding Radiohead's martyr-esque behavior a bit boorish. "I'd rather be in their position than working construction," Adkins says.
Thankfully, the boys in Jimmy Eat World will not be laying drywall anytime soon. They're too busy touring behind Clarity, their second release on Capitol, an influential record for mainstream and college radio alike. That tour brings the band to the Grog Shop on Wednesday, June 9. One assumes we Clevelanders could hear them on our modern-rock station--if we had a modern-rock station. But Adkins might not see the end of the End--Northeast Ohio's recently deceased bastion for hip music--as such a bad thing. Consider "Your New Aesthetic," a track from Clarity, which lobs grenades into the modern-rock-radio arena. "Imitate and water down . . . Let selection kill the old/Take back the radio," the lyrics shout, before concluding with "But it takes more than one person/So everyone jump on/I'll miss you when you're just like them."
So if selection kills the old, who goes first?
"Been awhile since I've tuned in or bothered to tune in," Adkins admits. "It's probably us--the whole emo thing."
Ah yes, the emo thing, a lame title attached to any band with loud/soft dynamics, prominent melodies, and remotely sensitive lyrics. No matter. Adkins and the rest of the band (Tom Linton on guitar/vocals, Zach Lind on bass, Rich Burch on drums) have gotten used to it. Clarity wields definite emotion, not to mention a barrage of creative instrumentation--bells, chimes, keyboards, drum loops, violin, cello. With good friend Mark Trombino handling production duties, Jimmy Eat World has fashioned a deep, complex record, a drastic departure from their more straightforward debut, Static Prevails.
"We didn't have this plan like, 'Okay, after we make this record we'll make a bigger record,'" Adkins says. As for playful accusations of maturity--Clarity contains much more subtlety and much less screaming--Adkins notes simply that "it's been three years since Static. I think we've grown up a little bit."
The band proves equally adept at conveying that depth and maturity in a live setting, where most subtlety-deprived audiences would rather have their asses kicked. "We do a lot of karate kicks," Adkins offers. Maybe, but it still takes Zen-like levels of concentration to coax a studio rack like "Goodbye Sky Harbor" into full bloom in a live setting. The version on Clarity runs over fifteen minutes long, breaking down into Beach Boys-style a cappella vocals before a cacophonous series of drum loops sends it back to earth. You try that with four guys in front of a few hundred people.
Jimmy Eat World routinely does. "It started out real simple, with no real ending," Adkins says of the song. "They were all live parts first; we sort of disassembled them to record them."
Lyrically, Clarity mines themes of transition and potential, with lines like "My lungs are so numb from holding back," "Here you can be anything, and I think that scares you," and "If I don't let myself be happy now, then when?"
"It's not a conscious thing," Adkins admits. "There's a lot of songs about doin' your own thing, growin' up . . ." He pauses. "I hate just flat-out telling people why I write a song. It's more fun to make it your own, I guess."
"Goodbye Sky Harbor" hints at the band's climb from Arizona clubs to Capitol: "So here I am/Above palm trees so straight and tall/You are smaller/Getting smaller/But I still see you." While Adkins admits the song has a literal connection (his house is adjacent to an airport), he also cites the John Ir-ving novel A Prayer for Owen Meany as inspiration. "With his characters, you see them grow up and get old," Adkins says. "You get a sense of a character through [its] whole life, not just one incident."
Could that same principle apply to Jimmy Eat World? Could a long and distinguished career lie ahead? Until they know for certain, the band will keep on touring, cutting records, and dealing with slovenly journalist types, just like Radiohead does.
Not that Adkins minds. "It wears you down. You can only do it for so long," he says of life on the road. "But like I said: It sure beats having to punch in somewhere. I like meeting people."
Jimmy Eat World, with No Knife. 10 p.m., Wednesday, June 9, Grog Shop, 1765 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights, $8, 216-321-5588.