CDNOW.com interview with Rivers Cuomo - May 2002
Weezer: As Dope As Ever
Tequila, Ritalin, and lawsuits: Weezer's Rivers Cuomo tries to look on the bright side.
By Kristin Roth
CDNOW Editorial Staff
To be a fan of Weezer is to ride a roller coaster with far more twists and turns than anyone could anticipate. Some of the more recent curveballs include the vaguely explained sudden departure of replacement bassist Mikey Welsh in August of last year; the band's decision to send out advance music from their latest album, Maladroit, to radio DJs and music journalists without their record label's knowledge in March; and a lawsuit brought against the band by its original bassist, Matt Sharp, in April.
What's next? Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, phoning in from the band's Japanese tour, told CDNOW what to expect from the group that always serves up the unexpected.
CDNOW: How is touring in Japan a different experience than touring in the States?
Rivers: It's becoming more similar to the States…as is the rest of the world. When we first got here in '96, it was insane. These people were totally out of their minds. Wherever we went, the train stations, the hotel lobby, the venue, anywhere, there would be like 100 people waiting for us with like little gifts and all bowing to us. And then at the shows in between the songs they would go dead silent and just hang on every word or sound we made and be totally still. Each time we come back here it's less and less like that and more like just jaded American rock kids. I think it's a different generation. I think when we first got here, kids were still innocent, and they were just really starting to rebel. There was this incredible energy at that time, but that was five or six years ago, now.
CDNOW: Where did the inspiration for the songs on Maladroit come from?
Rivers: They were written over the last year. I guess there wasn't really an inspiration, just music. Like just pick up a guitar and start strumming some chords, and bam, there's a song. That's about it.
CDNOW: What were the circumstances surrounding the composition of the first single, "Dope Nose"?
Rivers: It's not about anything. It's just a bunch of garbage lyrics. [It was] six in the morning. I had three shots of tequila, and I forget how many milligrams of Ritalin, and I just went in my backyard and sat down. In like half an hour I was just like foaming at the mouth, and I just wrote it in one manic burst of about three minutes. Sitting there in the chair, composing in my head. Not even with a guitar. Just all in my mind. Bam. There's "Dope Nose."
CDNOW: You and the rest of the band personally sent out an eight-song album sampler to radio DJs and music journalists without the consent of your record label, Interscope. What made you decide to do that? Didn't you worry about bootlegs or MP3s getting out?
Rivers: I was just anxious for approval. No, I don't care [about music piracy]. As long as our music is getting out there, I don't really care how it happens. Yeah, Interscope [was pretty upset]. Everything is cool, now, though.
CDNOW: As a result, radio stations started playing "Dope Nose" pretty early on. Did that push you to release it as the first single?
Rivers: Well, when I sent it out to all the radio stations, I asked them, "What song do you think should be our first single?" and a lot of them said, "Dope Nose."
CDNOW: This album has its share of dark lyrics, but there are a lot of upbeat melodies, too. How did that combination emerge?
Rivers: I don't know. I'm always trying to be upbeat, and I'm always shocked at how I misperceived myself because everyone always writes about how negative and pessimistic and misanthropic I am. So I think I have to take a look at my writing process because something is going wrong because I'm really not that kind of a person. I don't feel like that when I'm writing. I mean yeah, well, sometimes things don't work out, but I'm not a bitter person. I'm not an angry person. I always try to look on the bright side, and that's what I feel when I'm writing music. It's weird that it just comes out so pessimistic.
CDNOW: Maladroit means "weak," "inept," or "awkward." In what sense did you mean it when you named the album?
Rivers: I didn't choose it for its meaning. I just liked the way the word looked and sounded, and I liked the vibe it had. It didn't really have any meaning or significance. I think a lot of my lyrics are not worth looking into at all. But if people want to, I have no problem with that. I personally can think of better things to do [laughs].
CDNOW: Why did bassist Mikey Welsh leave the group in August of last year? Is Scott Shriner a permanent replacement?
Rivers: Scott Shriner is a permanent replacement, now, yeah. I can't comment on Mikey Welsh. I have not spoken to him since the day we played Leno. I haven't heard from him.
CDNOW: Why did you pick Shriner?
Rivers: I just called this guy in L.A. that knows a lot of musicians and I said, "Send the baddest, meanest, most evil guy you got." And he sent Scott. And I said, "OK, cool. You're in." [It was] that easy. He's got a gold tooth. There's no requirements. It's like, "Come on in. Let's see what you can do, and I'll give you plenty of support and just give you plenty of space to be yourself, and encouragement. Let's see what happens." That's what it was like. It's not like there was a predetermined role that I was trying to fit him into.
CDNOW: Can you comment on the lawsuit that Matt Sharp has filed against the band, in which he claims he wrote songs on your previous albums?
Rivers: The only thing I will say is that it's completely without merit. I'm not going to talk about it in the press. I'm just going to court.
CDNOW: Why did you produce the album yourselves this time?
Rivers: We didn't have a producer. I think independence is our default mode, and we don't really look for help unless someone is forcing us. We're together all the time. We're always playing music. We're always onstage. We're always in the studio, or we're rehearsing. And we don't feel like, "Oh, we're going to make an album now. Let's go bring in this totally different person out of our normal routine." That just doesn't make sense to us. This is what we do. Just press record. That's how we make an album.
CDNOW: Does your desire for independence have anything to do with why you decided to let your manager go, as well?
Rivers: I guess it is related. I mean here's somebody that doesn't really … he's not in the band. He doesn't play music, and yet he's kind of hanging around, trying to tell us what to do. We don't really need that. I don't see why anyone would want that.
CDNOW: Your albums have begun to lean heavily toward hard rock. Why do you think that is?
Rivers: I grew up on metal, and I learned how to play the guitar by playing metal, and I was always in metal bands as a kid. So, really the aberration was the first two Weezer records. I was very consciously repressing my actual self. Unfortunately, millions of people then came to identify that style with the quote real Weezer or the real Rivers, which is not the case at all. I think now that I have more confidence and more experience, and I've just been doing this so long, I can't force something that's not natural anymore. I have to let my instincts come out. I think over time you just learn to be more natural and to not force things and accept who you are.
Whereas, when you're younger, you kind of have this ideal style in your head. You just have to do it and force your bandmates to do it. Anything that's forced can't be sustained for a long time. The road wears you down, and anything that's forced falls away by necessity.
CDNOW: Are you playing any music that's in progress at your shows?
Rivers: There's probably about two songs a night that are completely unfamiliar to anybody, including us some of the time. And we just rotate those around with a bunch of new songs. Like tonight we're going to play one of Brian's songs, and he's going to sing. For this tour, we'll rotate around two of Brian's songs and one of Pat's songs. And we've actually been playing one of Scott's songs, too.
CDNOW: Would you consider yourselves all close friends?
Rivers: We're together literally 365 days of the year. We don't take any time off, and a large part of every day we're together playing mostly. I do definitely set aside several hours of every day, where I'm just by myself. I guess we all consider ourselves friends. It's just I'm not like a friend kind of guy. I'm so focused and so into working, it's like I don't just like watch football games with the guys. I was always super-focused from as far back as I can remember. Even being like 5 years old -- very focused, and I've just gotten more so as I get older. I don't have any personal relationships. I don't talk to anybody. It's true.
CDNOW: Except for journalists.
Rivers: Yeah, it's kind of ironic. I'm far more open with reporters or people that I've never really met or don't know at all and will never talk to again than someone in my family.
CDNOW: Where do you get your inspiration for song lyrics if not from relationships with other people?
Rivers: I think I have the same feelings as anyone else, and I'm sensitive. But I guess I just live my life on a much smaller scale than most people do. I make the most out of the experiences I have.
CDNOW: Where does your intense drive come from?
Rivers: I can't really define it, except to say that I feel like I was designed and built to do exactly what I'm doing on the very deepest level. Like I'm a machine designed by evolution to rock, to be in a band, to travel around the world playing music, to write songs, to sing onstage, be in front of people. All of these things just arise out of me naturally. I don't ever want to do anything else but play music.
CDNOW: Is this all you can ever remember wanting to do?
Rivers: Yeah, in one form or another. I mean when I was very young I thought I wanted to be a professional football player. And in a sense, that's just another incarnation of being a rock star.