Once a trailblazing name in the mid-’90s emocore scene, Jimmy Eat World steadily rose to national prominence by embracing a blend of alternative rock and power pop that targeted the heart as well as the head. While the band’s influence widened considerably with 1999′s Clarity — an album that has since emerged as a landmark of the emo genre — it was the band’s self-produced follow-up (specifically the infectious single “The Middle”) that crowned them as major figures in commercial rock. The emo label proved difficult to shake throughout the 2000s, even when subsequent albums Futures and Chase This Light did little to evoke the hard-edged sensitivity of Clarity, but Jimmy Eat World nevertheless remained a league above the generation of emocore torch-bearers they’d helped influence.
Jimmy Eat World formed in February 1994 in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, AZ. Jim Adkins (vocals/guitar) and Zach Lind (drums) had met while attending Mountain View High School; years of playing in local bands had also introduced them to locals Tom Linton (guitar/vocals) and Mitch Porter (bass). The four musicians joined forces and derived the band’s moniker from an argument between Linton’s younger brothers, Ed and Jimmy. The two siblings were prone to fighting, with the heavyset Jimmy usually emerging as the victor. One day, a revengeful Ed resorted to drawing a picture of his cherubic older brother shoving the entire world into his mouth. The caption “Jimmy Eat World” was printed beneath, and the band deemed it a perfect fit. Citing influences from Rocket from the Crypt, early Def Leppard, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Fugazi, and the Velvet Underground, Jimmy Eat World outfitted themselves as a punk rock act and began playing small shows in their native Mesa.
Over the course of 1994 and early 1995, Jimmy Eat World issued several EPs and singles on Wooden Blue Records, an imprint from the nearby town of Tempe. Limited-edition pressings of “One, Two, Three, Four,” “Back from the Dead Mother Fucker,” and split EPs with Christie Front Drive, Emery, and Blueprint would later run out of print, as would the band’s self-titled full-length debut. The band’s audience was steadily growing, and Capitol Records responded by signing Jimmy Eat World in mid-1995, when bandleaders Adkins and Linton were only 19 years old. Porter soon exited the group; Linton’s best mate since seventh grade, bassist Rick Burch, was enlisted as a replacement, and the band marked their major debut with the release of 1996′s Static Prevails.
Three years passed; by 1999, Jimmy Eat World had officially transformed themselves into an emo outfit with the release of their intricate sophomore album on the Capitol dime, Clarity. The record marked Adkins’ emergence as lead singer and principal songwriter of the group, while Linton had handled such duties previously. Unfortunately, Capitol Records had also experienced some significant changes, ultimately culminating in the departure of president Gary Gersh — the same man who signed Jimmy Eat World in 1995. Capitol’s new management balked at Clarity’s sound and intended to shelve the album; it wasn’t until several key radio stations (including L.A.’s influential KROQ) started airing the band’s “Lucky Denver Mint” that the label relented and released Clarity in February 1999. “Lucky Denver Mint” proved to be popular on the radio and in the world of commercial cinema, where it scored a spot in the Drew Barrymore love comedy Never Been Kissed. Jimmy Eat World’s fan base continued to grow, but their relationship with Capitol progressively soured. After the label shelved the band’s third LP, Jimmy Eat World decided to leave the label, and Capitol was happy to oblige.
Although suddenly unsigned, Jimmy Eat World’s powerful rock sound was attracting those overseas, with Clarity proving to be a popular entry on the German charts in 2000. The band responded by financing and promoting a tour throughout the European continent. Singles, a collection of unreleased B-sides and rarities, was released that same year on the independent label Big Wheel Recreation. A split EP with Australian rockers Jebediah was also issued, and the band scraped together the profits from those ventures and entered the studio to record Bleed American (whose title would later be changed to Jimmy Eat World after the horrific events of September 11, 2001). Enlisting the help of Clarity’s famed producer, Mark Trombino (blink-182, Midtown, Drive Like Jehu), the band independently created the record that would effectively launch their high-profile careers. Jimmy Eat World then used the completed product to secure a deal with Dreamworks, who released the album in July 2001. While the hard-hitting title track did moderately well, it was the record’s second single, “The Middle,” that landed Jimmy Eat World a spot on the pop/rock map. Featuring a video populated by scantily clad teenagers, the song also enjoyed heavy exposure on MTV, where a younger audience latched onto the band’s summery appeal. A year after its release, Jimmy Eat World was still a fixture on the Billboard charts and modern rock radio. A third single, “Sweetness,” was released in summer 2002, and “A Praise Chorus” followed soon after, allowing the album to go platinum.
The Dreamworks label closed its doors in January 2004, and Jimmy Eat World shifted things over to Interscope for the release of their fifth album. Futures was released in October 2004 and debuted at number six on the Billboard charts, eventually going gold on the strength of the Top 40 hit “Pain.” The Stay on My Side Tonight EP appeared a year later, featuring a Heatmiser cover and several tracks that were ultimately axed from the finalized Futures track list. Jimmy Eat World continued to tour in support of Futures before entering the recording studio alongside veteran producer Butch Vig, who had produced Nirvana’s Nevermind and the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream before forming a platinum-selling group of his own, Garbage. With Vig behind the controls, Jimmy Eat World recorded their sixth studio LP, Chase This Light. The leadoff single, “Big Casino,” was released in August 2007, and the album followed in October. – Andrew Leahey