Jimmy Eat World guitarist Tom Linton says headlining a show in his hometown was a dream come true.
“I saw my first concert here – it was The Cure,” Linton said an hour before playing at the Mesa Amphitheatre recently in this Phoenix suburb. “I went out there today and I lay out there on the grass and just looked at the stage. I can’t describe this feeling. It’s craziness.”
Before the band took the stage, the largely teenage crowd chanted, “Jimmy, Jimmy.” They sang along once the band started playing.
Jimmy Eat World’s self-titled album went platinum in September and launched a summer hit, “The Middle,” which peaked at No. 5 on The Billboard Hot 100. The band toured the country with multiplatinum acts including Green Day and Blink-182, made the rounds of major talk shows, and had videos for singles “The Middle” and “Sweetness” appear regularly on MTV.
Their guitar-driven rock melodies have been dubbed “emo-rock,” or emotional rock, and draws comparisons to acts such as Weezer, Dashboard Confessional and The Get-Up Kids.
But success was a long time coming, Linton says. “We didn’t think we were going to make it.”
Since Jimmy Eat World formed in 1994, making it has required endless touring, fighting for recognition from their own label – and then starting over from the beginning.
The band is made up of singer-guitarist Jim Adkins, 27; Linton, 27; bassist Rick Burch, 27; and drummer Zach Lind, 26 – childhood friends who got together in high school and started playing gigs in the Phoenix area.
They quickly scored a deal with Capitol Records and got a crash course in the music industry, learning that getting signed didn’t mean their albums would get heard. With little promotion, the first two albums – “Static Prevails” and “Clarity” – never found a wide audience.
The band then took it upon itself to book its own gigs.
“We were playing on campuses during lunchtime,” Linton says, laughing. “That’s all we had: the money we had to record our record and our van.”
In 1999, an effervescent pop tune called “Lucky Denver Mint” from the “Clarity” album was leaked to an influential rock station in Los Angeles. Its modest popularity, coupled with the band’s discontent with its label, pushed Jimmy Eat World to make changes.
“It’s frustrating when you’ve recorded your record and it’s done, and six months go by and you have no idea when or if the record label will put it out,” Adkins says. “Little things like that were a lot harder to get than common sense would make you think.”
Jimmy Eat World eventually bought its own albums from Capitol and went to Europe to play music and have fun, Linton says. They wanted to make a new album, but without major label money, the guys had to take on odd jobs to finance it.
“Once I worked at this plastic company and I had to count out 100 pens and put them in a bag,” Linton says. “It was just to survive because we weren’t really making money on the road.”
Their former engineer and producer Mark Trombino initially waived his fee to produce the album. He was reimbursed later on.
“I did it because I love this band,” says Trombino, who has also produced Blink-182. “I knew the record would find a home.”
It did. The album caught the attention of other labels, and Jimmy Eat World signed with DreamWorks.
On stage, the band has a clean-cut, regular-guys appeal, wearing T-shirts and jeans as they play to body-surfing fans.
Linton attributes the band’s longevity to the members’ strong bonds.
“The most important thing is that we’re friends and we’re getting along,” he says. “We’ve toured with bands; they go to their separate buses and they don’t get along and they don’t speak to each other. And I don’t understand how that works.”
Adkins agrees. “It’s all about writing songs and playing, as silly as that sounds. There were no designs for global domination.”