Jim Adkins has fronted Jimmy Eat World for longer than many people reading this have been alive—22 straight years, to be exact. Throughout that time, the band has rarely taken more than a few months off, touring hard, putting out cult-classic albums like 1999’s Clarity as well as mainstream hits like 2001’s million-selling Bleed American and 2004’s gold-certified Futures. During the band’s brief moments of respite, Adkins has played the occasional solo show, typically around his home state of Arizona, but never really had a big enough block of time to commit to creating a full-fledged solo album. It turns out that he still doesn’t have that block of time, but he was able to eke out enough space in his schedule to lay down a handful of solo songs as part of a six-week digital singles series that also includes covers of Cyndi Lauper, the Everly Brothers and Beck, and he’s currently rolling that material out on an intimate solo tour of some of the lesser-visited corners of the United States. Substream editor in chief Scott Heisel caught up with Adkins before his show in Springfield, Missouri, to discuss his songwriting process for solo material, his appreciation for a good cover song and if he’s ever met the other Jim Adkins.
When you were working on these solo songs, did you always know you wanted to go out and deliver them in this guerrilla way, with a track a week?
JIM ADKINS: Writing is something that I’ve never censored myself with—there’s no agenda. When you’re working on something, it’s just about making a complete idea. It isn’t until later on when you find homes for your ideas. I knew I wanted to do something different from a “rock band album” this year. Everything kind of naturally fit into the place that it has. I thought about how people listened to music now. It’s more and more by track, whether it’s a playlist or a curated streaming service. People rarely listen to full albums anymore. For me, in the timeframe I have and to accomplish the things I want to do, it didn’t feel like the right moment to put in the time and expense of making a full album. For me, I don’t necessarily have to do a whole album of stuff—I can do less things more frequently and accomplish the same goal.
Is that to say you’ll have more material coming down the pike after this first 7-inch series runs its course?
Yeah, absolutely. Jimmy Eat World is getting back together in December to start writing, and that will take priority, but I hope this will be an ongoing thing. There’s really no reason for it to be harder than you write a song, you like it, you record it, you put it out.
I was really intrigued by the cover song choices you made for the 7-inches—most people probably don’t have the Everly Brothers, Beck and Cyndi Lauper all on the same playlist. Each time someone does a cover song, I think it reveals a little bit more about them. What do you think these three cover song choices say about you?
It’s all based on me hearing something and thinking that I could contribute to it. I’m not trying to make it better; I’m not trying to do karaoke versions where you’re just pretending you’re in the band and it’s fun. But you can take what you like about a song, really think about it then turn it around and try to develop that thing. That takes a cover song and makes it yours. That’s what I like to do. With the Beck song [“Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard”] that’s gonna be on the B-side of the third single…
That’s from his Song Reader sheet music project, right?
Yeah. I just barely looked at YouTube clips of that song. I wanted it to be purely based off of sheet music. It’s funny, because it turns out Beck plays it a lot faster and different than one I did.
I feel like a lot of fans might think that when you are covering Cyndi Lauper or Rihanna solo, or when Jimmy Eat World covered Taylor Swift a few years ago, that you’re being ironic on some level, because they assume that it’s impossible for a “serious musician” to want to play a pop song. But it seems like you have a genuine appreciation for these songs.
If you think about why you like something and you can identify that, then you’ve succeeded in relating to it. If you can turn around and develop that into something of your own, musically, then it’s truly rewarding. I’m a child of pop music when you get down to it.
“I Will Go” really sounds like something separate from Jimmy Eat World, based on the structure and instrumentation—I love the trumpet especially. Where did that come from?
It’s purely about exploring where I think the song wants to go. The idea of doing a brass section is fun because I had never done something like that before, and it was just screaming for it. If it wants to go there, don’t fight it, go there. It’s an instinctual sort of thing.
Jimmy Eat World has tried all different facets of rock ’n’ roll over the years. So how do you know when a song is meant to be a solo song?
I think it comes down to process. If I sit down and say, “I’m going to work this way for this day,” your idea wouldn’t exist without that process. If you say, “Okay, I’m going to be the only one involved. It starts and stops with me. It’s done when I say it’s done. There’s nobody else to run shit by. I have to make the final call on what the best version of a song should be,” your idea wouldn’t exist if you didn’t put those sorts of restrictions on yourself. It’s setting out to say, “I want to work this way,” and then just doing it.
Your current solo tour is hitting a lot of places off the beaten path—I doubt you’ve ever been to Maquoketa, Iowa, before now, for example. What was the reasoning for that?
It makes things challenging and also rewarding. These places I’m going—and a lot of that places I’m going to in Europe in September—are places the band hasn’t been to in a while or maybe ever. The reason for that is pure expenses. I’m a dude with a guitar. if 100 people show up, that more than pays for itself.
Is there anywhere on that European stretch you’ve never been before?
I’ve never been to Tel Aviv, Israel; that will be interesting. I just constantly try to engage and focus on being present wherever I am and whatever situation I’m in. After doing this for 21 years and touring for most of it, it’s kind of what I do now. It’s second nature to try and be active every hour. If you throw on top of that places you’ve never been before, or places you haven’t been to in 20 years? Then it’s really awesome.
When I saw you in Toledo, the crowd was going crazy for an encore but you politely declined. You’re doing a number of shows in Germany, though, and as I’m sure you know, Germans demand encores no matter what.
“Ve have vays to make you play more.” [Laughs.] We’ll see what happens. I hate doing that, though—planning out an encore makes me feel like an asshole.
One last question: How difficult has it been for you to establish your solo identity online, given there’s a smooth-jazz guitarist with the exact same name? Are you familiar with the other Jim Adkins?
You know, I reached out to Jim Adkins the other day, and he wrote back and said he’s had a similar experience over the years where he’s had to explain to people that he’s not the guy from Jimmy Eat World. [Laughs.]
It’s probably pretty good for him, though. I bet he gets a lot of accidental Spotify plays.
Or vice versa. Someone searching out some smooth jams to listen to finds one of our stoner-rock songs and then just gives up on Jim Adkins entirely.
If you two did a show together, that would be worlds colliding. I think everyone would love that.
I would love to do a split 7-inch with him. S