Black Album bio
Let’s quickly recap the past few years of Weezer’s existence, shall we?
2016: The band — frontman Rivers Cuomo, guitarist Brian Bell, bassist Scott Shriner and drummer Pat Wilson —release their fourth self-titled album, cheekily dubbed the White Album. It’s an instant classic with fans and critics alike, resulting in a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album. But before White is even released, Cuomo is already discussing its mysterious sibling, the Black Album, with the press.
2017: The band score their biggest alternative radio hit in a decade with standalone single “Feels Like Summer,” an electro-tinged, falsetto-laced pop-rock gem. That song ends up resulting in the creation of Pacific Daydream, a sonic detour on the road to the Black Album, which Cuomo has continued to hype up to whoever will ask him about it. (Oh, Pacific Daydream also gets nominated for Best Rock Album at the Grammys. NBD.)
2018: Well, you already know what happened, don’t you?
“The trajectory of our lives has been forever changed by Toto’s ‘Africa,’” Weezer’s frontman and chief songwriter says.
Cuomo’s not lying, either: The band were finishing up the Black Album and had prepped a new single for release when they decided to humor the @weezerafrica Twitter account, which dutifully — and repeatedly — requested the guys tackle the ’80s soft-rock classic. The resulting cover ended up catching fire, eventually becoming Weezer’s fourth No.1 alternative radio hit and their second-highest Hot 100 charting song of their entire career. But it came at a price: “‘Africa’ blew up so big, it put the original Black Album on hold indefinitely,” says Cuomo. “But now we have a much cooler record.”
Enter Dave Sitek, the sonic mastermind behind New York City art-rock troupe TV On The Radio as well as an accomplished producer, working with everyone from Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Solange. The pairing might not seem obvious on paper, but it turns out Sitek is a Weezer fan from way back, having even seen the band on one of their first tours in 1994. Cuomo sent over a demo of a new song, and Sitek got to work. The result? “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” a funky, groovy track with a light mariachi flavor.
“When I sent over ‘Can’t Knock The Hustle,” I fully intended to be fired on the spot,” Sitek says. “When I wasn’t, I figured Weezer was into taking chances.”
“From the moment we first heard ‘Can’t Knock The Hustle,’ we were like, ‘This is so cool and weird and interesting, he’s gonna take us into a new direction,’” says Cuomo.
While the fate of the original Black Album was still up in the air, the band began working on another album with Sitek, with all new material primarily composed by Cuomo in his home studio on piano before being sent off to the producer for experimentation with the rest of the band. As sessions continued, the clouds parted: The past no longer mattered. This was the Black Album.
“The valley between the Blue Album and Pinkerton shows me that this band has an elasticity,” Sitek explains. “When I was asked to produce, I was like, ‘well, I know they’re flexible, so let’s see how far I can stretch it.’ I view the Black Album as a rubber band and each finger is a song, and it pulls it apart and snaps it back into place.”
This mindset resulted in Weezer’s most sonically diverse album of their career, one which finds members trying new things — Wilson on guitar and Shriner on synth, for example — as well as fostering continued collaboration (Cuomo is especially proud of a song he co-wrote with Bell, titled “The Prince Who Wanted Everything”). Whether it’s a bombastic piano jam like “High As A Kite,” an upstroke-laden earworm like “Zombie Bastards” or a pulsating, synth-heavy number like “Living In L.A.,” it’s clear that Weezer is no longer limited to six strings and a distortion pedal.
“The recording process is really fun, and each song always sounds really different and inspiring,” gushes Cuomo. “If I were to flesh these songs out on my own, it would probably just sound like the same old thing with power chords. It’s not that exciting at this point. It’s really a treat to go into the studio and hear what Dave and my bandmates have done. I love working with great, creative people, and seeing what they can do.”
“When you just have rock guitars chugging, it eliminates the space for interesting things to occur,” Sitek elaborates. “This record was more like, ‘Why mess around when you could fuck around?’ Let’s really pull from the threads of traditional rock ’n’ roll but use the fidelity of the experimental eras in rock ’n’ roll to make something new.”
Cuomo’s lyrical themes on the Black Album pull from all corners of his brain, inspired by everything from social media apps to the Bible, with a heavy dose of influence coming from Joseph Heller’s classic dark satire Catch-22. The result is a collection of songs as lyrically intriguing as they are sonically diverse.
"There are a lot of moments lyrically that speak to the Weezer that I knew, but they also speak to people who don’t know who Weezer is,” says Sitek. “Let’s service those people too.”
After three years of hype, the Black Album is finally (almost) here. It’s actually kind of fitting that it’s completely different from what Cuomo initially conceived way back in 2016, because the only constant is change. And it’s that change that keeps Cuomo & Co. moving forward when so many of their ’90s contemporaries have fallen into Wikipedia obscurity.
“We’re just always trying to blow our own minds with music,” the frontman concludes. “At this point, that means doing things we’ve never done—in some cases, things that no one has ever done. That’s just really getting us off. That might change next year; I dunno. But that’s what feels exciting at the moment.”
- Black Album bio - November 2018, the full interview with Rivers Cuomo and Dave Sitek