It’s hard to believe that it’s been 16 years since Mesa, Arizona quartet Jimmy Eat World came blasting into mainstream rock radio with Bleed American, a forceful collection of catchy, bittersweet, guitar-heavy tunes. Songs such as the title track, “The Middle” and “Sweetness” still pack enough wallop to inspire us to play the latest Madden NFL. The album marks, for many of us, a specific moment in our lives.
Since then, Jimmy Eat World has released five discs, each more sophisticated in terms of songwriting and production. On last year’s Integrity Blues, the critical consensus seems to be that the band found a way to merge the pure ebullience of Bleed with enhanced lyrical and sonic maturity. Indeed, Jimmy Eat World hasn’t lost the ability to craft a surging rocker (e.g., “Sure and Certain”), but fans and critics are also dazzled by yearning ballads like “The End Is Beautiful.” No surprise, then, that singer-guitarist Jim Adkins strives to balance songcraft and confessional poetry when it comes to writing, while keeping the process, to a degree, mysterious.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Adkins says, during a recent chat with Vegas Seven. “It meaning the entire creative ambition. I try not to spend time analyzing what I do. I just go.”
That said, he pauses long enough to attend to the nuances (chord changes, rhythms, bridges) necessary in building the perfect song. The confessional part is where he figures out in which direction the song needs to head.
“There are definitely moments when something feels appropriate to the vibe,” he says. “Sounds strange, but often a song tells you where to go as you work on it.”
Which isn’t to say Adkins, 41, still picks up a guitar, waiting for the muse to suddenly drop the brick of an idea on top of him. Rather, he went in knowing what he wanted to accomplish, as he does on another standout Integrity cut, “It Matters,” about how damaging emotional cues can be to lovers on the brink of ruin.
“My method now is so different from when I started out,” he reveals. “Today I try to be aware of where I want to go instead of just exploring all the time. When you’re younger, writing is about discovery, which is its own reward. You’re not really thinking about the range of options. Now I know more about what I want.”
That sense of confidence is evident in the evolution of Jimmy Eat World’s snarling guitarwork. It tends to sneaks up on the listener these days, starting out restrained, muted, before finally stepping into the ring to punch your lights out.
“With the guitar, I go in two directions,” he insists. “I want to challenge myself to be better technically, but I’m also aware of how little I need to do to get the impact I want. The challenge is in determining where the rest notes belong.”
It’s also sometimes challenging to figure out to which demographic Jimmy Eat World belongs. With more and more headlines like “Relive your emo years” being applied to his band, does his increasingly retro status bug him?
“There’s nothing you can do about it,” he says, shrugging it off. “We just got done playing Lollapalooza in South America. We finished our set, and here comes Duran Duran. Every song the band played was a timeless hit, fresh and alive. If people can say [that] about Duran Duran, then nostalgia isn’t something I dread. You just have to be thankful people give a shit at all. It’s an insane compliment to have songs that still connect with people.”
Jimmy Eat World
April 21, 7:30 p.m., $28, House of Blues inside Mandalay Bay, houseofblues.com/lasvegas