A typical album cycle for Jimmy Eat World finds them playing about 150 shows. For their latest album, Surviving, they got in 27. They had a big summer trek all mapped out, but when touring shut down do the pandemic, what could they do? They, like everyone else, were stuck, and their fans would have to impatiently wait to hear the new material live.
That opportunity finally came last month when the band launched their Phoenix Sessions concert film series (don’t call it a livestream) with a full-album performance of Surviving. Futures followed two weeks later, and this week on February 12th, they’ll close it all out with their classic Clarity. Each show came with a virtual pre-show, meet-and-greet opportunities, and exclusive merch, approximating the real concert experience as much as possible without leaving your home.
Having watched and participated in other streaming events of various sizes over the last 10 months, Jimmy Eat World were able to learn what worked and what didn’t. “What was really exciting about doing these was it’s not a show, so forget about the idea that it has to conform to what a show looks like,” frontman Jim Adkins tells Consequence of Sound. “It’s not band versus audience setup, like what a stage would look like. So in that, what can you do that’s cool? Where’s the opportunity in that to do something that you wouldn’t be able to pull off on a stage production kind of setup?”
With that in mind, they took over Phoenix’s Icehouse art space, designed an in-the-round setup utilizing various lighting rigs and projections, and played through a trio of albums. They were determined to make the most of the situation by presenting a multi-camera concert film unlike the Instagram live streaming shows or static venue performances many have attempted these past few months. Adkins describes the experience as “a combination of doing TV, like a Jimmy Kimmel, and then it’s like recording an album because what you’re doing is going to tape, and then it’s just making a [live-performance] video kind of all at the same time.”
Whatever it is, it’s worked. The Surviving and Futures performances were marked successes, with fans tuning into the footage for up to 72 hours, expressing their appreciation during meet-and-greet, and generally being, as Adkins put it, “stoked on it.” Thankfully, that’s only encouraged Jimmy Eat World to look forward to the possibility of doing it all again.
“People have told me it’s cool, so I guess we’ll keep doing it,” Adkins says. “I mean, we decided to call them chapters, ’cause we were thinking if this works, why wouldn’t we do every record eventually when it makes sense too?”
For now, fans can catch Phoenix Sessions: Clarity this Friday, February 12th by purchasing tickets here. Check out what else Adkins had to say about the shows and the future of streaming concerts by watching the video above and reading a select transcript below.
On the Phoenix Sessions as a Fill-In for the Surviving Tour
I keep a running tally of our gigs during our album cycle, and usually it gets up to about 120 to 180, depending on whatever kind of opportunities come our way. And I had to stop counting at 27 for our Surviving tour, which is kind of a bummer. So not a lot of people got a chance to see that in person. And there were some songs we never got around to playing in those first 27 gigs, because the record had just come out or we were playing before the record came out, and it always sucks to go see a band play, just all new songs. We know that as an audience member, we know that sucks. So we just were cycling in maybe four new songs a night.
So there was a lot of material we just never got a chance to play for people. And doing these Phoenix Sessions concert films was a way that we could — I guess just selfishly put that out there. And for anyone that might have discovered Surviving and found something that they can relate to in those songs, it’s an opportunity to see us perform them. You know, we don’t know when we’re going to get a chance to do the in-person thing again. So it’s what we can do, making the best of it.
On Getting to Play Surviving Post-Pandemic
It’s funny how, at least with me, when I get a record that I like for the first time, it does take a minute to really build those associations that become important to you. So maybe, you know, it’s like the slightly older material that was our newest record will be maybe more meaningful to people by the time we actually get around to playing it for anybody. Because if you’ve had a chance to kind of breathe with it and live with it and grow… And you know, ironically it’s called Surviving and this is a global pandemic. It’s kind of a strange coincidence there.
On Choosing the Albums for the Phoenix Sessions
We wanted to put out Surviving because that was, you know, our newest album and we didn’t get a chance to perform for very many people in person. Clarity is kind of an old school fan favorite, and Futures is a more, I guess, popular, commercially successful record. So our first foray into this we thought that having that kind of variety would be cool
And, you know, it’ makes it cheaper when you amortize the cost of doing three instead of just doing one. Why do one when you can do three? It’s sort of a ton of work that I wasn’t expecting until we were already waist high in it, but it definitely feels good now that it’s done. It’s one of those things like hosting a giant party that is an ambitious kind of event. You’re super stressed out the entire time, and then when it’s done it’s like, “Let’s do that again.”
On the Phoenix Sessions as Concert Films, Not Livestreams
It’s not a livestream! Yeah it’s streaming, but it’s not live. It’s funny how everything is just called “livestream” now. It’s like two years from now, we’re going to be referring to your video content as livestream when it has nothing to do with live or streaming; it happens to appear on the Internet and it’s content. “It’s livestream!” No, it’s a concert film.
What was really exciting about doing these was it’s not a show, so forget about the idea that it has to conform to what a show looks like. It’s not band versus audience setup, like what a stage would look like. So in that, what can you do that’s cool? Where’s the opportunity in that to do something that you wouldn’t be able to pull off on a stage production kind of setup? So you can do wacky projection stuff on walls. First of all, if you don’t have to be on stage, you don’t have to be in a venue; anywhere that has a power outlet, you can set up cameras. Whatever it looks like. It’s like making a live music video, a music video that’s shot where what you’re seeing is what you’re hearing. And there’s no rules except what you can imagine, really.
On Playing in the Round
It feels cold to me when I see things like that, where it’s band versus audience and there’s no audience, or a socially distanced audience. I’ll take it if that’s the only thing that’s there, but it’s not. I just think it’s a missed opportunity, you know? Our idea was don’t even try to replicate what a live show looks like. Like us feeding back on what each other is doing — we’re the only people that are there, so might as well riff off each other instead of trying to get that connection with a listeners. You’re waiting for that feedback to come at you from what you’re performing for somebody, but there’s nobody there, so it was just like, “I don’t know if this is any good.” But if you’re setting up in a semicircle or a complete circle, you can at least play off each other and build something together that way.
On the Process of Recording the Shows
We would only repeat something if there was a camera mess up or something happened, technical issues. We kind of just cruised through everything as fast as we could. We shot Clarity one day and then we shot Surviving and Futures on another day.
We were hoping to spread it out to be like a day a shoot, but we ended up with some COVID issues came up. We had to compress things. It’s rock and roll, man! Nothing happens exactly the way you planned it! We were just kind of going with it.
On Continuing Streaming into a Post-Pandemic World
I think the things that work from what people are discovering now, I don’t see why that can’t continue. I think it would be great to outfit your workspace with a decent camera setup, because why wouldn’t you want to communicate directly with your fans and shoot something cool?
There’s so many prosumer packages out there with cameras and editing software, that you could basically set up your own multicam setup in an independent venue, you know, and maybe build that into your ticket price. “Do you want to offer your fans streaming access to the show? We provide you with a multicam shoot and mix the audio.”
Why couldn’t you do that? I think there’s there’s opportunities here that are exciting, but you gotta be looking for them instead of just being bummed out on how it’s not the same.
On What Those Opportunities Could Be
It’s a great thing for a band like us where we have albums and projects that we’ve worked on that are hitting kind of important milestone anniversaries. Does it really make sense to tour on that? I don’t know. Maybe not, maybe not.
Maybe we put together a really cool looking concert film or actual livestream of it, and celebrate it with the fans that want to come check it out. But we don’t have to, you know, spend a month on tour and burning live markets when we could be promoting our new album or something else. That’s a great example of that; you can perform an album that is like 20 years old, like Bleed American or Static Prevails, any of our albums.
I would hope there’s a group of like punk rock kids now that are getting into DIY video production. I guess that’s the case now. You know, you have punk rock sound people who kind of worked their way up and ended up running sound at a venue and then make friends with the band, and then now you’re a live engineer. There’s gotta be people out there now that are doing that with video and multicam kind of shoots.
On Future Phoenix Sessions
I mean, we decided to call them chapters. [Laughs.] Cause we were thinking, if this works, why wouldn’t we do every record eventually, when it makes sense to? I think it’s cool
On What to Expect from the Clarity Phoenix Session
When you’re making records, you have your initial idea and then you have the recording process where it kind of gets fleshed out beyond your idea. And then you have another band meeting at that point and say, “How the hell are we going to do this with all this extra stuff we put on here?” And then you start performing that for people, and after a while the songs kind of take on a new life as things work or things get changed around or added or taken away. After a while, your songs don’t really sound like anything — the sound sort of hints at the album, but there’s things that might be missing from there.
This time, going back to listen to Clarity — and the other two records too — we kind of had that band meeting again by listening to the album and deciding, okay, what’s happening here? Are there things that we’ve just kind of skipped over in just how the songs developed over time? Like little riffs and things that just get added that aren’t on the album. Are there things on the album when we could be doing? So we had that band meeting and kind of looked at what’s happening, what could happen. We have another live musician with us now who could cover some of these extra parts that we weren’t able to do when Clarity came out — ’cause we didn’t have enough hands. So it’s exciting. I think we are presenting these songs probably more like the album live than what our shows have been for a while.