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Jim Adkins

Jimmy Eat World

“Songwriting for me is finding what the idea is and exploring it. You're not questioning it, you’re just going with it." Watch Jimmy Adkins of Jimmy Eat World dive into his creative process and why he’s always played with Ernie Ball strings.

Transcript

Jim Adkins:
Guitar playing is the conduit for the idea. It's how I think, just over time and playing and just like playing so much, it's like when I have an idea for something, I'll pick up a guitar.

Jim Adkins:
My parents made me take piano lessons when I was really little, and I'm forever grateful for that. I just want to say, mom and dad, thanks a lot for forcing me to take piano lessons. But what really got me into guitar was probably like the birth of MTV era music videos, like being a little kid and seeing like the Rock You Like a Hurricane video, Rock Of Ages and Foolin'. Like, "Man, that looks rad. I want to play guitar instead of piano," so I started taking guitar lessons.

Jim Adkins:
You start out playing guitar and then it's like, "How do I make sound?" And then then it's like, "How do I make the sound that I'm supposed to?" Then it's like, "How do I make the sound I want to hear it?" When I was crossing over into that phase of how do I make the sound I want to hear, I was starting to get into like punk rock. You just get older and are interested in different things. I went from like the more technical virtuoso players to the more like no rules, punk rock kind of vibe people. I didn't feel like I would ever be that kind of technical shredder of a person, as much as I wanted to practice. That was kind of like bumping up against how do I make an identity for myself?

Jim Adkins:
I have like every Guitar Player magazine, every Guitar for the Practicing Musician issue from like '88 to '92. Somewhere in my parents' house, I have like a box of like all guitar ... like any gear or any advertisement back then, like I would get around to checking it out.

Jim Adkins:
It's the honest truth. I went through every string, and Ernie Ball felt like the best. That's it. I've tried them all and it was the best, so that's what I play.

Jim Adkins:
I was probably playing like tens to start out with. I've always thought the heavier strings just feel better, not for only the sake that they'll stay in tune better if you're pushing harder, but just like sonically I feel like it feels better. I borrowed a buddy's Telecaster, and it had twelves on it, and I was like, "Oh man, this is amazing!" As I got more comfortable with playing, I moved up to the Power Slinky's to 11, and now I play the medium gauge. Like if this is medium, I'd hate to see heavy. It's 13 with a wound 26 G string, 13 to 56.

Jim Adkins:
We've been a band for maybe 23, 24 years now. I think what's kept us going is just the sense of trying to keep things fun. You're playing music, it should be fun. And trying to find new ways to challenge ourselves, new ways you can kind of put yourself in a slightly uncomfortable position to achieve growth. That could look like trying to like attempt something really complex, or it could look like trying to give yourself a lot of restraint. It's just trying to keep things different. The reward you get from hearing your idea exist is like what keeps it going, for me anyway.

Jim Adkins:
I do have a really structured way of looking at songwriting and about guitar playing, especially when guitar playing is like featured in anything. It's really back to a very basic elementary school level of like theme variation, theme. If you look like at solo from from The Middle, it's state something, say it again with a slight variation, then it changes, but it repeats that variation.

Jim Adkins:
It's really methodical, how I want to hear something. I don't come from a background where jamming happens. Even when I was a kid, like we would get together and we would play like other people's music. I don't sit around and jam. Everything is very thought out. If I pick up a guitar and someone says, "Play something," I'm like, "Okay, I've got to think about this for a minute." Like I've been playing guitar since I was like eight years old and I still like I just don't think that way. I've got to kind of see it out in my head of like, "Okay, I'm doing this, and then it'd be interesting to do this, and then it'd be interesting to do this, and then it'd ... it should probably finish this way." I guess I just like I overthink everything. That's my style is I overthink everything.

Jim Adkins:
I think I had the moment where I said to myself, "Yeah, I guess I could do this. I could just ..." Maybe 2007, maybe our fourth album as a band like, "Oh, I guess I'm doing this."

Jim Adkins:
As a kid, it was just fun. The goals that we set for ourselves were really short term and relatively achievable, and we'd hit them and then we'd have more short term, relatively achievable goals. It's just kind of kept going that way. Even when things started really taking off, like with the commercial success of The Middle and Bleed American, it was still like just this thought that we're kind of getting away with something and you really can't take any of it that seriously. We were proud of our work, but you can't take it seriously. I mean, come on. That's ridiculous.

Jim Adkins:
Then when the dust settled from that and we were still working, I was like, "Oh, I guess I'm doing this. Cool." Even today, it still feels like a little bit like I've got to remind myself that, yeah, this is what I'm doing. It still feels like I'm just getting away with something and it's going to disappear any second.

Jim Adkins:
Songwriting is basically like, for me, it's finding what the idea is. You're exploring the idea. You're not questioning it. You're just going with it. I guess when we're writing music with the band, it's like the worst thing you can do is self-censor. You have to just chase the idea to be the most realized version of what that idea wants to be. Then you make a decision if it's good or not. You collect all those, and then after a while you have an album's worth of of stuff.

Jim Adkins:
You have to be honest about what you like, and that means waving a flag pretty high with you, your opinion, because I think that's the only way something's really going to translate. Like you could make identical copies of something that's already, that works. It might work for a minute, but I think what's really going to connect with people on a level that has legs is honesty.

Jim Adkins:
When you're on the cusp of pushing the perception of yourself, I think you're on the right track. Like if you're going forward with an idea and you develop it to a point where you can kind of get a sense of what it is and you're like, "Oh man, I don't know," if there's a little bit of that, then you're on the right track. Or if you find yourself laughing so much, like, "Oh man, I can't. We're going to do this?" you're on the right track.

Jim Adkins:
If you get to the end of the road in pursuing an idea and you're like, "Yep, that's me," it's not worth doing. It's like, "Okay, that's you. Great. Good story." Like where's the story to that? Where like ... I don't know. If you're not pushing yourself, if you're not uncomfortable a little bit, then you're not growing.

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