If Jimmy Eat World’s emotionally-driven songs have ever seemed like miniature stories it might be because frontman Jim Adkins has a longstanding interest in short stories. The musician, who admits he didn’t start reading for pleasure until high school, has always been compelled by American writers like Richard Ford and Thom Jones, who are known for perfecting short form fiction. Jimmy Eat World explored literary themes on their 1999 album Clarity, which features a song called “Goodbye Sky Harbor” that Adkins lifted from a John Irving novel. Since then the band’s fictional tendencies have come in the form of narrative-based songs. On the band’s new album Damage, Adkins was compelled to pen breakup songs, each of which reveal Adkins’ interest in dark-leaning narratives.
Hive spoke with Adkins about why he prefers short stories, how his literary influences pervade his music and why a musical adaptation of Tom Hardy poem is likely not forthcoming.
What was your entry point into reading as a kid?
I think the first book I can remember being really excited about reading was probably Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Which is a strange. I’d always been forced to read Dickens and stuff that I would later like. Reading in early development and junior high didn’t really have an interest for me. I would rather have been out skating or playing guitar or something. Reading for my own enjoyment really didn’t begin until high school. I read a lot of Ayn Rand in high school too. I’m not one of “those people” but I did read it. Her writing style engaged me.
Once you started reading for pleasure, was there a certain type of book you were most attracted to?
I got really into short stories. I picked up a copy of the Vintage Books’ Contemporary American Short Stories. It had people like Richard Ford and Thom Jones and Raymond Carver. I was sort of lost in the bookstore one day and I picked that up. I thought it might be a good way to expose myself to people I might not be familiar with. It just blew my mind, you know? I really couldn’t get enough of that. I gravitate a lot more toward short stories. A really well-crafted short story is a lot like a really well-crafted song. You can get through it in one sitting. I like the idea of trying to compress an idea in a concise way. [The idea of] having your arc be compressed in a concise way is a lot like songwriting.
Have you ever taken something you’ve read and wanted to interpret that into one of your songs?
Yeah. There’s a song of ours called “Goodbye Sky Harbor” that’s mostly about the character Owen Meany from A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I think I just wanted to try to do it. I think because Anthrax always had a Stephen King song on their records, I wanted to try doing it.
Have you done that with any subsequent songs or albums?
I read a lot all the time, I’m sure some stuff sinks in there. Sinks its way into things, but not intentionally. I haven’t read a story and decided I need to write a song around this. It’s never something I rule out, but I don’t think I have done that – not at that level anyway. There was a minute where I was trying to adapt Thomas Hardy poems to songs. It worked to some degree but I haven’t put anything on a record.
Maybe for a future concept EP?
I don’t know if the vernacular would really translate. I don’t know if you’d want to sit through that for a whole album, but it’s kind of fun actually.
Is a particular book or story that you’d recommend to someone that’s been a longtime fan of Jimmy Eat World?
That is a hard question. I think this book of Contemporary American Short Stories is a great place to start. I guess also Richard Ford short stories. There’s a book called Women With Men that’s kind of spinning on everything else we’ve been talking about. Thom Jones, any of his books are really good. Cold Snap. Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine. That’s a good one.
Have you ever written any kind of fiction yourself?
Outside of the music world, no. There’s so much in music that you don’t have to explain. Maybe if you put your proverbial 10,000 hours into writing then you would just think writing, but I just think playing music. And it’s almost that I don’t have to think playing music, it just sort of happens, depending on how I’m feeling. For me it seems like the discipline of writing is a pretty raw, pretty intense discipline. I’ve always been too chicken to try it. You can’t hide behind a smoke machine and leather chaps when you’re writing prose.
Damage is out now on RCA. Stream it below: