Clarity prevails

Jimmy Eat World proves you can make a good record for a major label after all

For a long time, Jimmy Eat World singer-guitarist Jim Adkins didn't believe Capitol Records was really going to release his band's new album, Clarity. Even after the album was added to the label's official release schedule and the masters had been sent to the pressing plant, Adkins wasn't convinced. Why would they bother? he wondered, skeptical of the intentions of the same label that had given up on the band's previous disc, 1996's Static Prevails, before it even hit stores. It just didn't make sense to him that Capitol was willing to try again, especially after the label gave away more copies of Static Prevails than it had actually sold.

For three years, Adkins expected a phone call that never came, one informing him that the band's services were no longer required, that it had all been some horrible mistake in the first place. After all, when your band is less of a priority at a record label than the company softball team, all you can do is prepare for the inevitable. And even when Jimmy Eat World got the green light to record Clarity, he figured it had a better chance of being shelved in the office of some executive at Capitol than it did in a record store.

Yet there they were, in the stockroom of a Tower Records store in Los Angeles, a stack of thin cardboard boxes packed with shrink-wrapped copies of Clarity, less than a week before the scheduled February 23 release date. After three years of waiting on nothing and getting just that, Adkins was at long last able to let his guard down, the excitement of finally holding a copy of Clarity in his own hands--with Capitol's familiar logo on the back--overshadowing whatever remaining doubts he had.

"I've been sort of not getting my hopes up, because, I don't know, I've heard so many horror stories about bands recording their record and then the label sitting on it for so long, like a year, and it just getting shelved," Adkins says. "So I've been biding my time and not really getting too stoked about it. You know, we sold a good amount of records for us, but for major-label standards, [Static Prevails] didn't sell anything. I was kind of skeptical they'd want to keep us around. But yesterday, we came to the Tower here, and there were the physical copies of it, so I was like, 'Yes, it will happen.'"

A few minutes before this interview, Adkins was in the office of Capitol publicist Donna Salazar doing jumping jacks, trying to expend some of the nervous energy he'd been stockpiling in the weeks leading up to Clarity's release. When he speaks now, he's giddy, punctuating practically ever sentence with "I'm so happy to finally have a new record," almost sounding as though he's still trying to convince himself.

It's hard not to share his enthusiasm, because Clarity is an astonishing record--pop but not in a radio-friendly way, rock that's turned down but not off. The album is a million miles away from the band's first self-titled record in 1994 (released on some friends' label, Wooden Blue Records), a disc that may as well have been recorded by Green Day. Clarity is not only proof of how far Jimmy Eat World has come, but also proof of how far it can go, full of quiet-loud gems that owe more to Bedhead than the Descendents or anyone else, a reference that would have been meaningless four years ago. And judging by some of the songs that didn't make it onto the album--songs the band unveiled at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Denton last November--Clarity is only the beginning.

Until a few weeks ago, though, it seemed like the end. Adkins and and his bandmates--guitarist Tom Linton, drummer Zach Lind, and bassist Rick Burch--had always felt like uninvited guests at Capitol, especially after president Gary Gersh left the company. Since the beginning, it never seemed like they were really even on the label. Capitol publicists hesitated when asked about the band, as though the name didn't ring any bells, until they were gently reminded that the label had released a record by the group in 1996. And finding the band's page on Capitol's Web site practically required filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act: The band wasn't even listed on the roster of bands posted on the site.

Not only that, but Jimmy Eat World and Capitol had so many clashes during the recording of Static Prevails, it was a wonder either side would want to work together again. Before the band set foot into a studio, the label forced it into a rehearsal space in Los Angeles with orders to write a few new songs and rewrite some others under the guidance of a producer the label hired. Then Capitol nixed the band's original choice to produce the album, Drive Like Jehu drummer Mark Trombino, in favor of the hotshot production team of Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf, who had worked with the Toadies, Foo Fighters, and Beck, among others. The band eventually won, sort of, finishing the album with Trombino and then-labelmate Wes Kidd of Triplefastaction. But Capitol insisted on bringing in Rothrock and Schnapf to mix the two songs the label planned on releasing to alternarock radio, "Rockstar" and "Seventeen," pushing the vocals so high up in the mix that they almost came out of the top. Not that it mattered much.

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