Addicted to Noise article - December, 1996

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Online interview with Weezer
Publication Addicted to Noise (Link)
Interviewee Weezer
Interviewer Clare Kleinedler
Date 1996
Title Weezer's Uncomfortable Success
Format Online
External link Link (Via Wayback Machine)
Associated concert Weezer concert: 11/02/1996
Weezer concert: 11/03/1996 (a)
Weezer concert: 11/03/1996 (b)
References See where this interview is referenced on Weezerpedia

Weezer's Uncomfortable Success
Author: Clare Kleinedler (Addicted to Noise)
Published: 1996


No one --least of all the members of Weezer thought the band would be as successful as they are now. And sometimes, they just don't seem to know what to do with it.

"Oh no. I don't want to get out."

Weezer singer/guitarist Rivers Cuomo is a bit nervous. The stretch limousine we are riding in has just pulled up to the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, and even though show time isn't for another five hours, a small group of fans have already lined up on the sidewalk out front.

"Is there another way into the club?" asks Cuomo, getting increasingly agitated. A case of the stuck-up rockstar who doesn't want to deal with annoying fans? No, quite the opposite. Cuomo is, believe it or not, embarrassed over the fact that he is arriving in a limo and not a regular car.

"Um, let's get out on the street side and not the< sidewalk side, OK?" he says, as if that will suddenly avert the crowd's attention somewhere else. With that Cuomo reluctantly slides out, allowing yours truly to go first in hopes that the fans will see me and turn their heads away long enough for him to run inside.

Not a chance. The second Cuomo emerges, the teenagers surround him and he politely signs autographs. And although I can't hear the chatter between him and the group, something tells me that he's probably explaining that the limo was not his idea.

To say that Cuomo is down-to-earth is an understatement. To say that he is just an average guy would be an out-right lie. Somewhat of a '90s Amadeus, Cuomo is intensely passionate and focused yet full of self-doubt and questions.

Nevermind that he fronts a band that's sold over two million records; Cuomo still worries about the little things, and the more popular Weezer gets, the more he has to worry about. During a photo shoot earlier in the day, Cuomo puttered around, being careful not to talk too loudly or get in anybody's way. He is so dead quiet that I make a conscious effort to break the ice by asking how their recent tour of Japan went, knowing full-well that Cuomo is fascinated by the country and its people. Immediately he perks up and talks a little about what a great time he had while Weezer was there.

"Have you ever been there? Because if not, you should really go sometime," said Cuomo.

I tell him that yes, I have not only been there, but I was born there. I'm half-Japanese.

Turning scarlet, Cuomo buries his head in his hands.

"I'm sorry," he stammers, obviously apologizing over the line in the song "El Scorcho" that reads: "God damn you half-Japanese girls."

No offense taken, I tell him, but Cuomo is visibly embarrassed. The fact that this rockstar even cares what a journalist thinks, or what anyone thinks for that matter is very telling of the kind of person Cuomo is, and the kind of band Weezer is.

THE DARKER SIDE OF WEEZER

No one is as surprised as the members of Weezer by the success that came following the release of their self-titled debut album. The band that used to get booed off-stage in its early days was suddenly a household name.

Weezer spawned a few hits. "Undone (The Sweater Song)," "Say It Ain't So" and "Buddy Holly" gained momentous airplay on radio stations all over the country, and MTV decided it liked their style and picked them to be the new alterna-video-wonders by playing a heavy rotation of the three clips. "Buddy Holly," with it's catchy Beach Boys-like pop hooks and the now infamous "Happy Days" video directed by camera-wiz Spike Jonze, became Weezer's reluctant theme-song. The image of the four bandmembers standing on-stage at Al's Diner singing with cheesy grins on their faces was how the world came to know them. The press immediately labeled them with terms like "fun" and "sweet."

"Sweet is a nice thing. Fun, music that makes people happy...it's all good," says guitarist Brian Bell. "But if you listen to the new record, there's a darker side to it. There's a darker side to us."

Pinkerton, the band's sophomore effort, is proof that there is a much darker side to Weezer. A concept album, the record is the story of the last two years of Cuomo's life, or love life more specifically. The songs, all by Cuomo, were written in chronological order to tell a story. After coming down from the high from the success of Weezer, Cuomo found himself back in school, living in a world that was a stark contrast from the rock life of the previous two years. Temporarily disabled from a painful leg surgery, Cuomo went back to college, opting for a hermit's life of being almost totally alone.

These feelings of alienation and uncertainty are the dominating themes of "Pinkerton." The album starts off with "Tired of Sex," a reflective song about the emotional consequences of casual sex. "Getchoo," and "No Other One" deal with issues from a former relationship. The second half of the album starts off with "The Good Life," possibly the finest song on the record. The lyrics describe Cuomo's struggle to come out of his shell and get "back to the Good Life," something he lost sight of during the previous year's struggles.

"I think I was becoming frustrated with that hermit's life I was leading, the ascetic life. And I think I was starting to become frustrated with my whole dream about purifying myself and trying to live like a monk or an intellectual and going to school and holding out for this ideal, perfect woman," says Cuomo. "So I wrote that song. And I started to turn around and come back the other way."

For the rest of the band, playing songs that are so personal for only one member isn't a problem.

"We just don't really look too deep into it. We know there's a story that's inter-connected with the lyrics," says Bell. "I think that's brilliant to be able to pull it together. To work with someone who has that ability is definitely a privilege."

The album also showcases the artistic growth of Weezer. The debut album, which was produced by ex-Cars singer Ric Ocasek, contains more formulated pop songs smoothed over with high studio gloss. Although the songs on Pinkerton are very much pop, the feel is very raw, with some hidden hooks and catches that come out after a few thorough listens. Bassist Matt Sharp (who's side project, the Rentals, released a hit album last year) and Bell contribute more vocally, creating a thicker sound to many of the songs.

Experience and opting to produce the album themselves this time around had a lot to do with the change.

"[Our] singing has finally matured. We used to warm up for two hours by the piano matching harmonies because we couldn't do it," says Bell. "When we did the record this time we all just sang together and it was like bang! And it was there. Before it was like, 'OK, this word, do it again.' Ric Ocasek was very pristine about that. This time, we were like, 'Sounds good to me! I don't feel like singing it again.'"

JUST LIKE THE REST OF US

The show at the Fillmore is packed. Weezer is back full-strength to the absolute delight of the sold-out crowd.

With ferocious energy, Weezer pound out every song from their current album and most of the songs from their debut. Bassist Sharp is all over the place, making goofy comments and doing virtual backflips to get the crowd going.

Cuomo, on the other hand, is very low-key, keeping his gaze toward the floor speakers and saying nothing between the songs. Nonetheless, his presence is felt through his intense vocal style. Cuomo spits and howls out the words that tell his personal story with a force that gets everyone's attention. Their live performance has an almost punk feel to it, and as if to prove this theory, the crowd merge into a mosh pit before the end of the first song.

Backstage is...well, cramped, considering that the area is about as big as a closet. But nevertheless, the mood is high and drinks are being consumed in celebration of another great performance.

Sharp and drummer Patrick Wilson are nowhere to be found, but Bell and Cuomo hang out casually with some of the guys from Superdrag, who are opening for Weezer on the first leg of the tour. GreenDay's Billie Joe and wife are hanging out also, and several fans have smuggled their way in to get autographs from the guys.

I approach Cuomo just to say goodbye and thanks for the interview. Without more than two words, he takes my hand and pulls me in for a hug. For what felt like three or four minutes, Cuomo stays put, not saying a word. In that moment, I felt as if he was trying to communicate something...it's as if he was tired of talking and explaining himself and just wanted to convey a message without saying anything. Finally, he spoke.

"That was a stressful interview, huh?" he says, with an apologetic look on his face. Cuomo is referring to the grueling hour-and-a-half conversation I had with him earlier in the day. I tell him yes, and that I was probably more stressed out than he was. Impossible, he says.

"It's hard to talk about myself, you know? I hope I wasn't too boring," says Cuomo, still holding my hand. "I'm glad I did it though, because I thought it was good. Really good."

With that, he hugs me again for what feels like forever. As corny as this may seem, at that moment I felt like I finally came to understand a piece of Rivers Cuomo. Like the rest of us, a part of him is insecure, lonely and desperate for people to accept and understand him, plain and simple. Being a rockstar doesn't make it easier. In fact, from what I got from him, it makes it all the more difficult.

THE WEEZER FAN CLUB

Dealing with being famous isn't something the guys of Weezer whine about regularly. Considering that only a few years ago the band was playing to about five people in the clubs of Los Angeles, they all realize their good fortune.

It all started in 1992, when Cuomo decided to head out west from Connecticut to chase his dream of becoming a rockstar. Sharp, who hails from Virginia and Wilson, who comes from New York had come to L.A. for the same reasons. Shortly after meeting, the three, with local guitarist Jason Cropper, formed Weezer and immediately hit the Hollywood club scene.

After a few short months, Weezer was signed to DGC Records and began recording. It was during this period that Cropper left the band to attend to his pregnant girlfriend and Bell was called in as the replacement, completing the current Weezer line-up.

Although "Buddy Holly" eventually made Weezer huge, it wasn't an overnight success. The band toured constantly, playing gigs wherever they could, gaining enthusiastic fans along the way. Weezer fans, by the way, are a rare breed all on their own. It is not uncommon for Weezer-manics to drive hundreds of miles to follow the band on tour.

Two fans in particular played a major part in spreading the word of Weezer back in the early days. Known only as Mykel and Carli, these two sisters showed up< at every gig the guys played, often bringing cookies and friends to support the struggling musicians. Eventually the two became friends with the band, and when Weezer did hit it big, the band asked them to run the fan club that was now desperately needed. Mykel and Carli now put out a quarterly newsletter, with the help of fans and the bandmembers. They hang out at shows and hand out backstage passes to members, have meetings and generally keep fans updated on what's going on with Weezer. Cuomo even penned a song about the sisters, simply titled "Mykel & Carli."

Even with all of their success, the guys of Weezer realize it is their fans who keep them in business. It isn't unusual for Cuomo to write responses to fan letters or for Wilson to spend hours chatting with fans after shows. Bell recently spent the day teaching guitar to a child with leukemia whose dying wish was to hang out with Weezer. And Sharp showed his appreciation for a group of girls who had driven all the way from Los Angeles to San Francisco by putting all eight on the guest list for the Fillmore show.

Not that being mobbed everywhere they go is always a pleasant thing. The downside of fame is something each of the bandmembers has had to deal with, and all admit that it has been somewhat of a struggle.

"When we first started out, I was overwhelmed that we had fans and would go out of my way, bend over backwards to sign every little thing," says Bell. "But I don't like people grabbing at my shirt or any of that kind of stuff. Yeah, it's definitely a weird thing, and I try to remain grounded through it all and don't let it go to my head."

For Cuomo, the downside of fame comes in the form of the media. Being misunderstood has become routine for the singer, whose paranoia of the press has kept him from giving interviews in the past. Constant criticism is something Cuomo finds hard to swallow.

"It's really difficult to take because it's really myself that I'm putting out there for everyone to judge. And usually when someone doesn't like it, it's because they don't really understand it or haven't really looked into it deep enough," says Cuomo. "...to have [my] creation torn apart by people who don't really care or understand is painful, but not so painful that I'll stop creating."

THE ROAD (BACK) TO VISALIA

It's 2 p.m. in the farming town of Visalia, California, and Weezer is ready to go on. The place is Ragin' Records, and there are about 200 teenagers sitting Indian-style on the cold floor, squealing with anticipation to see their favorite band.

Doing in-stores and autograph signings can become a bit tedious for most bands, but today is different. According to Cuomo, Visalia is the town where Weezer first broke big, thanks in most part to the owner of Ragin' Records who is a friend of the band.

"Believe it or not, I signed my first autograph in Visalia," says Cuomo, laughing at his own words. "Who would have ever thought?"

Weezer walk out onto the tiny stage at the back of the store and sat down, side by side, on barstools. After a few minutes of shushing the over-excited crowd, the band start playing their acoustic set. Immediately the room quieted down to the point that you could hear the sound of guitar picks hitting up against the strings of their acoustic guitars. The band played six songs, including a deadly version of "The Good Life." Although Cuomo has said that he doesn't relive the feelings that inspired the songs while he's performing them, it is clear during this performance that he feels every word. As he sings the lines, "As everything I need/ is denied me/ and everything I want/ is taken away from me," you can see the frustration in his eyes.

After wrapping up the session, the guys sign autographs for another two hours then head off to the venue. The Visalia Convention Center, which holds over 4,000 people, is the largest venue Weezer will play on this tour.

With sterile-white walls glaring in every direction and yellow-jacketed "Event Staff" running around, the place is in stark contrast to the day's earlier gig. The crowd is intimidating as well; the average age here is about 13, and with the youth comes the obnoxious attitudes. Pushing and shoving seem to be the favored methods of communication, and fights break out left and right.

Still, Weezer play another incredible show. Tonight, though, it seems like there is some tension between the bandmembers, or maybe it was attitude directed toward the audience. At one point, Cuomo interrupted Sharp as he introduced "Pink Triangle," and decided to start playing "Say It Ain't So," instead. And at the end of the encore, Cuomo picked up his guitar and threw it at the amps before stomping off stage.

Backstage was also chaotic. Apparently some radio station had given away about 50 backstage passes without informing the band. Cuomo, cornered by about half of the contest winners, sits looking tired and glassy eyed as he dutifully signs T-shirts, CD's and posters. Cuomo looks as if he is viewing the scene as an outsider, staring at the various fans' faces and occasionally asking quietly, "Who are you? How did you get back here?" I gather by his expressions that he is running the experience in his mind in slow-motion, trying to make sense of the whole idea of being a rockstar.

What the future holds for Weezer is unknown. Come February, Cuomo will head back to school, and the others will attend to their side projects (Sharp with the Rentals, Bell sings for a band called the Space Twins and Wilson is working on a solo project). Maybe Cuomo will decide that it's all too much, or that trying to communicate his thoughts and be understood is just too daunting of a task to face. But then again, it's this introverted and contradictory outlook on life, rockstardom and love that keeps us interested in Weezer. My guess is he'll rise to the challenge once again and give us more.

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