Seller's Market

Jimmy Eat World doesn't have a record label, a distributor or a care in the world.

Ask anyone involved in the underground rock scene what the future portends, and there's a good chance they'll sing the praises of emo, post-rock, post-hardcore, or whatever names happen to be in vogue at the moment. Call it what you will, indie rock -- and all of its outgrowths -- has proved its staying power over the past decade. And hipsters aren't the only ones getting wise to this fact, as demonstrated by the recent success that indie outfits have found with mainstream audiences. Emo-popsters the Get Up Kids and the Promise Ring both placed videos in MTV's Alternative Nation recently; Hot Water Music and Snapcase made a strong showing of the more visceral version of the style at this year's Warped Tour. Heck, these days, it's not uncommon to see select Jawbreaker singles bid up to $40 on eBay.

The irony is that "indie" has, for the most part, become merely a stylistic term rather than the powerful label it once was -- a sort of linguistic badge worn by a universe of artists who eschewed music politics as usual. For indie bands, record deals, when they existed, were with small, independent, office-in-the-basement operations and nevermajor labels. Today, of course, things have changed. Almost every big name in the indie-rock echelon is spoken for by a record label, and often by a major. For Jimmy Eat World, one of the few emo standard-bearers to remain unsigned, this fact could be the signal of impending artistic Armageddon. Hailing from Mesa, Arizona, the act lacks any sort of American recording contract. Its members, however, aren't sweating the situation.

"Our primary concern is making our next record," says singer/guitarist James Adkins. "We're doing it on our own. After that, we'll figure out the label thing."

Adkins's seeming ambivalence toward signing the dotted line with some third-party entity makes sense considering the textbook treatment the band received on its first voyage out, a two-album deal with Capitol that expired after the release of Clarity in 1999. Though the deal hardly resulted in any blockbuster-type breakout, it provided just the push the band needed to continue rolling on its own. Today, Jimmy Eat World is big enough to tour without difficulty, and -- more important -- equipped with a bankroll fat enough to fund its own recording sessions. It might be easy for Adkins, then, to feel that Jimmy Eat World is fully capable of operating completely autonomously.

It's an idea that pleases him.

It means, among other things, that he and his bandmates (bassist Rick Burch, drummer Zach Lind and guitarist Tom Linton) can do pretty much what they like, when they like. Next month, for example, they'll spend a few days recording in Los Angeles, then take a trip out to New York City for this year's CMJ New Music Marathon, then return to L.A. for more recording. Without a label to hover over it while in the studio, Jimmy Eat World hopes to seize the freedom afforded by its lack of a contract.

"You're not even listening to anyone's creative input or suggestions. It's not even an option," Adkins says, as he reflects on his band's control over its next record. "It's extremely cool for us, for the record-making process. It will be interesting to see if it works. I know that labels like to feel included, like a part of making a record."

Lack of a recording contract hasn't kept Jimmy Eat World from releasing a couple of albums itself in recent months. Boston's Big Wheel Recreation recently issued a singles compilation, titled simply Singles, that collected many of the band's previously out-of-print tracks from various seven-inches. It also issued three new songs on a split EP with Australia's Jebediah (who joins Jimmy Eat World on its current tour). This recent output helped kick the rumor mills into overdrive: Talk of a potential long-term alliance between the label and the band has been spread by Internet gossips. According to Adkins, it's just the latest installment in a string of Jimmy signing rumors.

"People love to talk," he says of the glut of misinformation that surrounds his band. "We have been humoring different labels and listening to their spiel. People at different labels have expressed interest. I guess people hear that we are talking to somebody or we had lunch with somebody once, then the telephone game starts from there, and all of a sudden we're signed to MCA for six records and $1 million."

When the bandmembers do choose a suitor, they will certainly do so carefully. None of them, Adkins says, want to repeat the experience they had with Capitol Records. Though there's no bitter blood between the band and its former imprint, Adkins says Jimmy Eat World couldn't have been freed from the company at a better time.

"Capitol is just a fucking mess right now. We didn't really sign all that spectacular of a deal to begin with," he says. "They got a new president, and every little head of every department since we were there has left the company or switched job descriptions, so by the end of the deal there, every small relationship we had built with anybody at the label was gone. We were pretty much invisible there, and it wasn't going to get any better. If you are on a major label and nobody knows who you are, it's just a bad situation."

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