LAUNCH.com interview with Weezer - August 14, 2001
It's Not Easy Being Green
By Craig Rosen
Weezer first hit the scene in 1994 with its thoroughly hooky blockbuster debut (produced by seminal pop god/Cars leader Ric Ocasek) that enticed pop lovers of all ages across the country. Additionally, the album's biggest single, "Buddy Holly," was accompanied by an unforgettable, Spike Jonze-directed video which placed the band into an imaginary episode of Happy Days—one of the best videos of all time, according to VH1. But when Weezer returned in 1996 with the self-produced Pinkerton, it was a classic case of sophomore slump syndrome: The album, dogged by a less commercial sound and a lawsuit from the Pinkerton security company, failed to match the success of the first, and the band took an extended hiatus while leader Rivers Cuomo attended Harvard. Then bassist Matt Sharp eventually decided to take a permanent hiatus to concentrate on his own band, The Rentals. Things were not looking good for Weezer's future.
However, after a successful appearance on the Warped Tour and a few well-received "surprise" gigs, Weezer reunited with Ocasek to record its second self-titled album (aka The Green Album, as opposed to the first self-titled Weezer release, The Blue Album), which has become Weezer's most successful record yet, making the band an MTV and radio favorite once again. Now Weezer is one of the biggest comeback stories in recent memory, but at the same time, it's almost like they never went away.
Recently, the guys from Weezer—Cuomo, drummer Pat Wilson, guitarist Brian Bell, and new bassist Mikey Welsh (who is currently taking a break from the band but promises to return soon)—stopped by the LAUNCH studio in their home turf of Los Angeles to talk about how it feels to be back, and how they fit in the big scheme of things between great bands like Dogstar and Creed (ahem). Here's how it went:
LAUNCH: Working on The Green Album, it was the first time Weezer had been in the studio in a long time. How did the recording sessions go?
Pat: Yeah, we [Pat and Mikey] were pretty much done within a week, just the drums and bass, which was cool.
Brian: I think we finished the record in a month and a half—two months if you count mastering.
Mikey: The toughest part was the pre-production before we got in, because we had like, 80 songs that we had to whittle down to like, 20 before we even went in and started. So that was the toughest thing. We were literally pulling out hair out trying to figure out what songs to use, and but we did a good job. I think the whole thing took like, five weeks.
Pat: Yeah, and that was with endless like minor changes too, so we did pretty good.
Rivers: Plus, we did two albums, actually. We have a whole bunch of songs that are ready to go.
LAUNCH: How many songs actually made the album?
Pat: I think originally we wanted 13, but the record company was like, "You can't have 13." Like how you can't have a 13th floor in a building. So it was either going to be 11 or 12 or 14, all kind of last-minute. As you can see, we don't know anything.
LAUNCH: How was it working with Ric again, and Mikey, how was it for the first time?
Brian: It was almost like there was no lapse in time—it was very natural.
Rivers: Ric seems like a permanent part of our crew now.
Pat: Ric's the best, he's the nicest guy, and you just want to hang out with him 'cause he's so cool.
Brian: I like working with a guy like Ric Ocasek not only because we know what we're going to get and we have a common goal and we're focused, but it's such a great experience. I learn something every time I'm in the studio with him.
Rivers: Yeah, he gives you advice about all kinds of things that nobody else can give you, 'cause they haven't been through the same kinds of experiences that he has, and that we have.
Brian: Yeah, and we'd be kind of cheating ourselves if we didn't have that experience with him.
Mikey: He's got the good vibe about him. He just has this aura of good feelings, and he's just a great guy to be around. Besides all of his ideas about songs, he's the kind of guy you want to spend a lot of time with.
LAUNCH: Had you met him before?
Mikey: No. Well, we played in New York last fall, and that was the first time I met him.
LAUNCH: The last Weezer album, Pinkerton was self-produced. What made you guys want to go back to a producer for this album?
Rivers: We decided to use a producer this time around 'cause we screwed up the last record so bad that no one would play it on the radio!
LAUNCH: Do you really feel that way about the last album?
Rivers: Well, yeah. I remember last time we sent around our single "El Scorcho," and I mean, the program directors would say, "That song is terrible, we hate it! We'll never play it. We don't care how many people call up and request it, it's an awful song, and we're not going to play it." So this time around, they probably couldn't respond any worse than last time!
Pat: Um, I think we wanted to make a more focused record. The last one was like a freakout—in a good way, but it was like, we kind of indulged ourselves, and we thought it would be cool to make a record this time that wasn't so expansive. So this one's more like the first record, in that it's tighter and just more focused.
LAUNCH: Last year when you played some dates, did you road-test some of the new songs?
Rivers: Yeah, we played "Hash Pipe," "Don't Let Go," and "Island In The Sun."
LAUNCH: And how were those songs received?
Brian: They seemed to be received pretty well. They came at a part in the section of the set, like midway through, and there was all this energy at the beginning, people knew all the songs. Our songs are the type of songs that people want to sing to, so they didn't know the words [to the new songs], and they were a bit reserved, and more listening, but after the song was finished, they went crazy.
Rivers: Or they were just being nice, and they hated them.
Mikey: It's interesting playing new songs in the middle of hits, 'cause people are going crazy for the first half of the set, and then people are listening to every little note, so the response is good, and then you go back to hits. So it's like, kind of difficult to do, I think. But it worked out well.
Pat: People were pretty psyched. There were a lot of bootlegs, so towards the end of the tour I could see people singing the words. It was pretty cool.
LAUNCH: It's my understanding that the label really wasn't thrilled that "Hash Pipe" was this album's first single.
Pat: Man, every day I heard a different story. One day they're insisting it's the single, the next day people are unhappy. MTV loves it, MTV hates it...
Mikey: You can't believe anybody.
Pat: I don't believe anyone until I see something.
Rivers: The only thing I heard is that MTV has a problem with it because of the title, which I guess they can't say. Which is so odd, 'cause it's one of the most vulgar channels. They play some of the grossest stuff on there. But they're not going to be able to play our song unedited. Even though I'm hardly saying anything bad. I don't even know what I'm singing about. It's just a bunch if gibberish, but I guess it offends them.
LAUNCH: I noticed there are a lot of girl songs on this album.
Pat: That's true—there are a lot of girl songs.
Mikey: I have to agree with that.
Rivers: Yeah, I don't know why that happens, but nine times out of 10, it ends up being about a girl. But you know, I don't think I'm alone in that—it happens to a ton of other writers, too. That just seems to be what inspires you to write a song, whether you're happy or sad or pissed off. It's usually the root of the emotions—there's a girl involved somewhere.
LAUNCH: I guess on the last tour, girls were throwing underwear up onstage?
Brian: Yeah—I think these things, now with the Internet it's so easy for people from all over the country to interact with each other, that somehow it's a trend, somehow it got online to throw your Superman skivvies. Someone thought it was funny to throw underwear at that moment. I think it's become like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Pat: There's this whole" undies of love" thing on the Weezer message board that's a hot topic. I don't know how it got started, but they're huge underwear.
Mikey: They're ironic panties.
Pat: It freaks me out. That is just so weird—like, you go out and buy a huge pair of underwear to throw up onstage at the show? I really don't inspect them that close. I would prefer underwear from girls that were wearing them at the time to store-bought, large underwear.
Mikey: It's all shapes and sizes. I think we had both kinds.
Rivers: I'm into it.
Brian: I have a good collection at home now!
LAUNCH: You guys were on the Warped Tour last year, before you had a new album out. How was that?
Mikey: I think if it wasn't for the Warped Tour, we wouldn't be here right now. I think we owe some gratitude to the Warped Tour.
Pat: It was just so well-received. And we were like, coming out of clubs, so it was cool.
Mikey: I mean, we were rehearsing to do a record at the time, but I think we were still a little bit lost and weren't still sure what we were going to do, and we went out did that and the reception was so amazing, it was so inspiring, that we ended up touring the rest of the summer and kept going, kept working.
Rivers: The Warped Tour is what really gave us the shot of confidence for us to get our thing really going again. 'Cause until that point, I had been just sitting in my room, just wishing that I could be playing music.
Brian: Believe me, we were so ready to get out there in front of an audience!
Rivers: Yeah, we were jonesing.
Brian: We basically paid them to play. We didn't get any money. We were touring in a van, we lost money, but it wasn't about that, it was about getting out there, and we were really excited. Nervous and scared, but it really went well.
Rivers: And then when we got that reaction, that's what we needed to get our confidence back. And then we came up with all these new songs and went right in the studio, and here we are.
LAUNCH: Were you surprised by the reception?
Rivers: Yeah, I thought we were going to get killed on that tour!
Mikey: We thought we were going to get killed, lynched, but it was great. I mean, the fans were great, and the other bands were the weirdest people that ended up being Weezer fans, so it was great, it was fun.
Brian: It was really weird. I forget who was playing before us—there were two stages, one band was playing and people were throwing stuff, and the next band was playing and people were chanting, "Weezer!" during their set. It was like, "What's going on? This is bizarre!" I was not prepared for any of that.
LAUNCH: Any particular moments on the tour that stand out?
Pat: They did one show in Phoenix, in like, a parking lot that had a dirt track around it, and we're like, in a van at the time, and we were backed up against one of the generators. It's so hot, is it like 120 degrees out, and there's a generator pumping out 300-degree heat. It was the nastiest, most unwelcome atmosphere, it was horrid—but it was cool at the same time.
LAUNCH: Any bands that you guys really liked?
Pat: I really dug Jurassic 5, and I like NoFx.
Mikey: Lunachicks—they're fun to watch every day. Bosstones were great. Green Day, they were fun to watch.
Pat: Those guys are losers, though.
LAUNCH: There have been a few lineup changes since the last Weezer album. How have those affected the band?
Pat: Well, they were perceived as problems at the time that needed to be solved, so in that sense it's been positive, but I think we were able to continue because of them.
Brian: I think the recording process is much faster.
Rivers: We sound a lot heavier now. Mikey plays really loud and aggressively.
Brian: With testosterone. Testronic.
Rivers: He's a total badass.
LAUNCH: Mikey, why don't you tell us about your background? You played with Juliana Hatfield?
Mikey: I have no recollection about that.
LAUNCH: But people want to know about your days before Weezer!
Mikey: I just grew up playing in bands in Boston—indie bands, making records, touring around, and that's what I've been doing since I was 18. It's a long history and I don't think I can get into it. It would take up too much time.
LAUNCH: How did you hook up with the guys from Weezer?
Mikey: I met Rivers when he was living there. He was going to Harvard. I met him after a show somewhere, and we just started hanging out and playing in his basement. We actually played some show there, in Boston, and just became friends. And then Matt left, and I think there was a six-month period where I was on tour with someone, and Rivers came back out to L.A. and Matt left and I flew out and started playing with these losers, and that was that.
Rivers: Yeah, I've been playing with him since '97. And then when Matt left it was a no-brainer: Just take Mikey, 'cause he rules.
Brian: And when we were auditioning bass players, I was looking for guys in L.A. while Rivers was in Boston, and then when he came back to L.A., we played with some of the guys that I found, and then toward the end of it all Rivers brings in this guy that he's been playing with in Boston, and I was like, "Why didn't we get with him all along?" But we had to see what our options were. And immediately, we gelled right away, and that was the end of the audition process. And that took about a year.
Pat: Now he's a loser, too.
Mikey: Now I'm a loser, too.
LAUNCH: Tell me about Goat Punishment—I know you guys played a couple of secret shows under that pseudonym.
Rivers: Why the hell did we do that? I don't remember.
Brian: Um, I think we just did it for fun. Just to try out different song styles.
Pat: I actually wasn't a party to that, so you'd have to ask Mikey.
Mikey: Pat wasn't part of the covers thing. But when we did the covers, it was just a really bad time for us as a band. Pat wasn't even here, he was up at his house up in Portland, but we just didn't have anything better to do than play covers, and our friend played drums and it was a very weird time. But when we started doing warm-up shows, we kept the name. I guess we can't keep it anymore, 'cause everyone knows about it.
Rivers: I think some of those Goat Punishment shows were to warm up for the KROQ Acoustic Christmas [last year's all-star benefit concert in Los Angeles]. We had to try out our set, but we wanted to do it secretly, so there would be no pressure.
Brian: Originally, we did covers. That was just for fun.
LAUNCH: What covers did you do?
Brian: We did one show that was all Nirvana, and we did one show that was all Oasis.
Rivers: And then in rehearsal we would do everything from Bette Midler to Metallica.
Brian: Yeah, it was just going through: "What do we want to sound like on the next record?" It was an exercise. "Here's how these songs work, let's see why they worked."
Rivers: It's fun to play cover songs. There's no stress involved, you don't have to worry if the song is good, if the arrangement is good, 'cause you didn't write it. It's somebody else's problem, 'cause you didn't write it. You can just play it and have fun.
Brian: Although we did rearrange the Pixies song "Velouria."
LAUNCH: I understand that you guys played a tribute to Creed with your recent setlist at the Hollywood Palladium.
Pat: I really don't know what to say about that.
Mikey: We did? We just have this long history of love with Creed. I just think that they're one of the most important bands to come out in the last 30 years.
Pat: I actually grew up with the members of Creed, and we kind of have this rivalry, and like, I'm thinking about pouring hot oil all over myself and walking around.
Mikey: They're just old friends and it's sort of a competitive thing.
Pat: We're always giving each other a hard time.
Mikey: It's like, "Scott [Stapp], what are you doing in that video?" So we're always jabbing, jabbing at each other.
LAUNCH: Did you plan on recording any covers as B-sides or bonus tracks in the future?
Rivers: Yeah, I'm sure it will happen again. Yes, I'm sure that we will record some cover songs again.
LAUNCH: Tell me about the first Weezer show ever. You shared the bill with someone of note—who was that?
Brian: Keanu Reeves, right?
Rivers: Yep, Keanu Reeves.
Brian: Great band, great band.
LAUNCH: What memories do you have from that first gig?
Rivers: My memory from the first gig was the most amazingly cathartic experience. Getting up onstage for the first time and singing my songs. I drink one beer, I get totally rocked, and I fall off the stage. So that's my memory from our first gig.
Pat: It was at this now-defunct club in Hollywood called Raji's. And we opened for Keanu Reeves's band, and I think it was one of their first shows, and they were called—I still think they're called—Dogstar. And at the end of our set we all switched instruments and we did an obscure Gary Numan song. I would say that was one of the most fun shows of my life, the very first Weezer show. And then Dogstar came on, and then we left. We got $35 for that show. Which was amazing, because at the time people were actually paying to play.
LAUNCH: How do you feel that it's now 2001—almost a decade since you started, and seven years since the first album?
Brian: I think that the songs are timeless, and it doesn't matter when the songs come out.
Rivers: Yeah, The Blue Album wasn't original in the first place. It's standard, old-fashioned-sounding songs. They'll probably never be in style, and they'll probably never be out of style, either.