Interview with Jimmy Eat World guitarist/vocalist Tom Linton | By Tim Anderl
In October 2016, Jimmy Eat World released Integrity Blues, the latest in an almost three decade long career as emo-rock’s nice guys. Though the record is perhaps heavier than anything in the band’s canon, they’ve retained the passionate call and response vocals and jangly earworm guitars that fans have come to love and expect from them.
The band will continue to support the record during a long stretch of tour dates this Spring and Summer including jaunts with Beach Slang and Incubus, and trips to South America, Canada and the UK. New Noise recently caught up with guitarist Tom Linton before the dates commence to discuss about his career, lessons learned, and whether retirement is in their future.
Jimmy Eat World has outlasted most of its contemporaries. What do you think is the thing that has kept your endeavors on the tracks?
I think it is because we were friends before we started the band. Jim [Adkins] and Zach [Lind] have known each other since preschool. I met Rick [Burch] when I was around 11 or 12 years old. We were friends before that band started and I think that helped a lot. I think some bands put ads in the daily newspaper, “Looking For Guitarist,” and you just never know what kind of person you’re going to get when you do that. Those types of bands don’t last long. I think because we’ve known each other for so long and because we are all pretty mellow it seems to work.
There’s a chemistry that you have with your friends that is different from the relationship you have with your co-workers.
Have there ever been struggles or catalysts that have made you rethink making this artistic path a career?
I’ve been through a couple things. Everything started happening really fast for us when we first started. We put out a self-titled CD and then got signed to Capitol Records. We put out two records for Capitol, Static Prevails and Clarity, and were bummed because we felt the label wasn’t doing much for us. So we fought really hard to leave the label and they let us go. So that was a tough part for us, not having a label doing anything for you. Especially when we had a song on the biggest radio station in California. The label was like, “Oh they’re getting played.” “Lucky Denver Mint” was on KROQ and it seemed like they didn’t even know we were on the label.
So finally they let us off the label and I think when a lot of people heard that they thought, “Oh no, you got dropped.” The truth was that we wanted to be off the label. We knew we had fans, so we went and toured, saved up all of our own money. So with that money we’d earned — we didn’t take money from anyone else – and we paid to make Bleed American, our top grossing record, we paid for it.
So that part of the mythology, about circling the wagons until you found a new home at DreamWorks was correct?
What have your proudest accomplishments with the band been?
That’s a tough one. When we first started it was just to make a little 7” record that we could sell. Then it was just to be able to play shows, and then maybe to play shows outside of Arizona. So, all of the accomplishments have been really small things…I’m trying to put my finger on one. The Bleed American thing. I’m really proud of that.
I’m proud that we were able to go out and do that. We are going to South America in a couple of month and we haven’t been there yet. It will be our first time going over there so that will be another thing I’ll add to the list. Yeah, I don’t know. There have been a lot of places we’ve been able to go and things we’ve been able to see.
Making records in some of these great recording studios…there have been so many things that we’ve been able to do throughout our career that when we were starting out we had no idea we’d be able to do.
Have you ever gotten a piece of advice from someone you really admired that stuck with you?
Most people just say, “Don’t do music.” There have been a lot of people who have said, “Tom, don’t do music.” They’re kind of right. I’ve had a lot of people tell me, “Don’t go into the music industry,” or “Don’t play in a band.” It is a tough business. I have friends who have been playing in bands for a lot longer than I have and they are still out there doing stuff. As long as you’re having fun, it’s fine. It is weird when you are searching so hard and convince yourself I have to get signed or this isn’t going to work. There are so many other ways to put out records. Being signed isn’t the think that you need to get your band going, especially these days.
Do people that have a career similar to yours make a plan for retirement?
We’ve never sat and talked about that. If people stop coming to our shows we’ll probably stop. We’re lucky enough that people are still coming to our shows. We’re 41 and 42 now.
You guys still look young though. You’re still in good shape and sound amazing.
Cool. Thank you. Yeah, I think when people stop coming to our shows or stop buying our records we’ll call it. Hopefully that doesn’t happen anytime soon because we’re all still having fun.
What are the moments on Integrity Blues that you are most proud of?
I think “Pass The Baby.” There are three parts to it…
It is the one with that heavy, heavy breakdown at the end right?
Yeah. It is totally different. That’s what we were going for with the record; to make a record that is different. That is one of the songs where I think we accomplished that. That was one of the old demo ideas that Jim had. I think he had the first part to start, but he always wanted it to go into some crazy rock thing but wasn’t entirely sure how to get it there. So it was really fun working with Justin [Meldal-Johnsen] and the other guys to figure out what we were going to do with it. We’re all really happy with how it turned out.
That song is really way different than anything you’ve done before.
What do you believe or hope that this records place is in the larger story of Jimmy Eat World?
I hope that people walk away saying it is the best record we’ve ever done. We worked really hard on it and spent a lot of time tweaking on the songs and getting them to a place that we’re really happy with. I just hope that people really love the record.
I believe this is one of your best records.
Thank you so much.
In the early days of the band you sang lead on some of the songs. Is that something that we can expect more of in the future?
When we first started out I sang some songs. We never sat down and said, “Jim has a better voice” even though he does. So we never sat down and said, Tom will do this or Jim will do this. But there were a couple occasions where Jim said, I think you’ll do better than I will on this one, so you take this one. It just turned out like that. There was no real plan. I’m happy. Jim is a great singer with a great voice. But if there is a song laying around that we don’t get to maybe I’ll jump on that and get to work on that one. That’s usually what I do. They just don’t turn out that cool [laughter].
Bleed American and Futures had some messages that were super poignant at the time and given the current political climate they seem to make sense again. Do you believe that some of the things that you’ve said in the past are particular relevant given the way the government is going?
We want people to get out and figure out for themselves what they think is right. We’re not a preachy band, and we don’t address political stuff too much, but yeah, in “Futures” Jim says I hope things are better in November. I think we still hope things will get better, although I don’t know that it did this time.
For more on the tour dates, visit: http://www.jimmyeatworld.com/tour/