Popular Sounds interview with Karl Koch - March 8, 2008
For most Weezer fans out there, two things have remained synonymous - Weezer and Karl Koch. Karl has been there since the beginning of Weezer; And I truly mean the very beginning of Weezer. Since Karl has been with Weezer, he's seen it all, in every place imaginable on Earth. Quick! Think of any remote song or situation you may have heard about Weezer or Rivers Cuomo (Weezer's creative force) and chances are Karl Koch was there. Karl's role within the band could be defined more by what he hasn't done for/with the band than what he has done.
Besides being involved with Weezer, Karl does sporadically work on his own independent musical vision. Karl's project is called Karlophone. Now, It's not what your probably thinking it is musically (Weezer?) . Karlophone is a fusion of sampled music and original live recordings. In my opinion, It's one of the most entertaining and endearing independent musical projects out right now.
Very recently, I had the wonderful and surprising chance to interview Karl Koch. I asked him a lot of things, Weezer and non-Weezer related, that many Weezer fans have been wondering about for years. He was one of the best interviewee's I've ever had. Karl really didn't hold anything back, save for any thing about "Album Six" (Weezer's new album, coming out "soon") which is understandable. Karl described at length about a lot of the things many Weezer fans have been wondering about for years, and I mean years. I honestly believe if you have a question about Weezer, Karl is the man to go to, due to the fact he can give a wonderful non-biased answer. So I enjoy the interview and go out and buy Karl Koch's new album album, I Must Find This Karlophone. You will be very glad you did!
Mathew: You've been with Weezer, well, basically forever! But what exactly do your job duties entail today?
Karl: My only official task right now is to keep up the website (Weezer.com) - the news, and expanding/filling the other sections etc. Overseeing the (websites) eventual re-launch/redesign. But depending on what’s going on, I’ve been assigned to various other things, and may again. Projects, re: photography, video, historical archiving etc. It can be confusing. In the old days, it was much clearer what was required, but it was also far less creative.
Mathew: When Rivers was writing The Blue Album was he listening to a lot of The Beach Boys at the time?
Karl: Yes, but also many other things. Keep in mind that the Blue Album was written from fall 91 till summer 93, and a LOT of changes and new influences drifted in and out in that period. I would say The Beach Boys, The Pixies, The Velvet Underground, Nirvana, the Beatles, The Descendents and numerous other bands were in Rivers' (not to mention Pat Wilson's - who wrote the music for 3 of the songs) mind during that 1 1/2 year period.
Mathew: You mention the Beach Boys, as long as you've known Rivers, how high on his list of music he likes, do you think he would have the Beach Boys at?
Karl: Since he really got into them in 92/93, I’d say probably top 10 for sure.
Mathew: On your "Weezer Recording History" section of Weezer.com, You write that River’s covered “Surfer Girl” by The Beach Boys. Have you heard his cover version of this song?
Mathew: How does it does it compare to the original by the Beach Boys, in your opinion?
Karl: It’s excellent. While nothing really compares to a Brian Wilson production, the Rivers demo is delightfully crunchy and Weezer-ish. I kinda prefer it to the original. That may be my nostalgia over the time and place it was made though.
Mathew: Was the Surfer Girl cover in the running to be included on Alone: the Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo?
Karl: I’m not sure. I think it may have been a candidate early on.
Mathew: Was “This is the Way” really THAT close to being included on Album Six, as stated in the liner notes of Alone?
Karl: I honestly don’t know, as I wasn’t present when the events described in Rivers liner notes went down.
Mathew: What are your honest opinions of “This is the Way”?
Karl: It’s OK, as an R n B song. I picture somebody like Robin Thicke or Maroon 5 doing it, but not a good match for Weezer. To me, it would require considerable retooling to feel like something Weezer should be pursuing. Maybe that’s what Scott (Weezer’s current bassist) was implying, I don’t know.
Mathew: While writing Pinkerton was Rivers significantly influenced by any 1 band or composer?
Karl: Probably less outside influence from bands than on the Blue Album. I think there was more self confidence and less need to look to outside sources. But clear influence from Puccini of course, if not musically, then theme and vibe wise.
Mathew: Can we finally set the record straight with this question. How much of an influence, if any, do you think Matt Sharp had on Weezer’s first two albums?
Karl: I think musically very little, outside of being on the same page and approving of what was being written. But in terms of the bands vibe and such, at least through mid 1995, a good deal of influence, in that he was sort of Rivers confidante and brother, boosting his confidence and such.
He was also a foil in terms of he was quite opinionated and I think Rivers to a degree looked to Matt's approval to continue pursuing a new song or idea. They would bounce stuff off of each other - not musically but in terms of the scene, what was or wasn’t cool, etc. That sort of influence was important at a time when there was no sure thing at all. Note that during the making of Pinkerton, this dynamic was already changing - if it had not changed completely by then. The success, the 94/95 touring, Matt releasing the first Rentals album, Rivers going to Harvard.... things were just totally different by 1996.
Mathew: Do you think Weezer's last three albums (Green, Maladroit and Make Believe) would have sounded significantly different if Matt Sharp was still Weezer’s bassist?
Karl: I don’t think their actual 'sound' would have been much different, but it’s very interesting to think what would have happened in terms of Rivers songwriting and song selection if Matt had stayed. Matt leaving definitely destabilized the band for a good while, pulling out a key counterbalance and influence to Rivers. Now, it’s entirely possible that Matt staying would have caused the end of Weezer, period, as things were getting rather weird and ugly anyway, with The Rentals being an increasing priority for Matt and that not sitting well with Rivers etc.
But say hypothetically they had somehow worked it out and kept going - well, in my opinion all sorts of stuff would be different, including the actual "phases" Rivers went through and therefore his resultant songwriting. In that way, the 3rd + albums would have been different - it would have simply been a whole different vibe in the band - not better or worse necessarily - but different for sure. But it’s sort of like speculating what would be better or worse if the sun was green. The right answer is more like: it would just be different.
Mathew: Is it hard for the guys, when writing new material, especially Rivers, to try to appeal to older fans who love The Blue Album or Pinkerton. While tying to please new fans who like newer songs such as Perfect Situation or Beverly Hills?
Karl: Such considerations do not make it into Rivers songwriting process at all as far as I know. I don’t think they factor into the other guys' songwriting either, but I’m less sure about that.
Mathew: What does River's usually say, if anything, when fans continually clamor for Version 2.0 of the Blue album or Pinkerton?
Karl: I’ve not heard him comment on this.
Mathew: Have you seen Rolling Stones - Top 100 - Guitarists of All-Time article, a couple years back?
Karl: I remember this.
Mathew: Were you surprised that Rivers was not included on this list.
Karl: Not really, I guess.
Mathew: Did Rivers ever have a problem with not being included on the list?
Karl: I really don’t think so. If he had/has any concern over being recognized, I think it’s in terms of songwriting, not guitar playing. Actually he'd probably laugh at any guitar playing accolades considering his near total abandonment of working on guitar technique way back before Weezer started, in favor of working on songs.
Mathew: We all know Rivers Cuomo demo song collection is vast, of all the demos Rivers has recorded, what % do you have in your personal collection?
Karl: Actually it’s currently a small %. At one time it was probably 90% or more.
Mathew: Using numbers 1-7, 1 being your favorite, rank all the Weezer/Rivers Cuomo albums?
1. Weezer (The Blue Album)
3. Songs from the Black Hole
4. Make Believe
5. Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo
6. Weezer (The Green Album)
(4 and 5 could flip, its hard to say, I like different things about them)
Mathew: What are your top 5 albums of all-time?
Karl: Oof! So hard, with the caveat that this list is just a snapshot of my head right now:
Isaac Hayes - Hot Buttered Soul (His 'Walk On By' alone makes this the best soul album ever)
Minutemen - Double Nickels On The Dime
The Beatles - Revolver- (Proper UK track list)
The Clash - London Calling (I should say Combat Rock, my first real LP purchase, but I know London Calling is a better album)
DJ Shadow - Endtroducing (I cant front, the man changed the game for me)
Mathew: What do you think about Pet Sounds?
Karl: It’s one of the top 3 most important albums ever. It’s probably the most beautiful album sonically. It only missed my top 5 above because I can’t say I’ve listened to it much in the last 5 years, but I devoured it for many years.
Mathew: Do you have any Beach Boys albums, besides Pet Sounds?
Karl: I have all of The Beach Boys albums, in many cases multiple copies of the LPs and CDs too.
Mathew: With that said, The Beach Boys - Love You album. I actually enjoy the b-side of it, any opinions on it?
Karl: Yes indeed. That’s actually a pretty strong album for their 70s period. It contains the hilarious song about Johnny Carson too!
Mathew: What band, or solo artist, have you been really listening to a lot lately? It doesn't have to be a new modern artist, just someone you've been listening too and enjoying recently?
Karl: I really dig Band of Horses. I was clueless till I heard "Is There a Ghost" in the Lakai Shoes skateboarding DVD. I’m also checking out Dead Meadow these days.
Mathew: We're you pleased with the success of sales of I Must Find This Karlophone?
Karl: Actually no, it sold worse than the first one, which is a bummer because I feel its way, way better than the first one. But I can’t expect too much, I haven’t toured and I basically sent out like 100 promo copies to College Radio and DJ's - that was the extent of my marketing campaign. But I am VERY grateful for each sale I’ve gotten. Thank you to everyone who bought my stuff, and because it’s on iTunes, it’s cool that I’ve sold some digital copies.
Mathew: Will there be a follow up to the Karlophone – I Must Find This Karlophone before 2009?
Karl: I would love that! But I can’t say for sure. Actually, at the rate at which I work, I’d think a 2008 release would be very optimistic (unfortunately). But who can predict the future. I can say I’ve finally started working on it. But I’ve got a long way to go.
Mathew: You said you've begun working slightly on new Karlophone material, any samples you've been messing around with that would surprise your fans?
Karl: I actually don’t know what would be considered a 'surprising' sample. I do sample some things that are one-of-a kind recordings, stuff no one else could have. But I’m not in the habit of revealing what I use. I also use stuff that if you collect old records, you might know. I try to shy away from things that have been used before, or at least used a lot before. I made the mistake of sampling some pretty "classic" material on the first Karlophone record. In my defense, I was actually ignorant at the time of the 'classic' status of those samples - I thought I’d found stuff that hadn’t been used, but my hip hop collection was fairly small at the time so I was missing some essential history and didn’t realize I was "biting". Anyway, I’m trying to get more creative as I go.
And there it is! I want to thank Karl Koch for all the interesting and juicy tidbits and facts about Weezer and Karlophone! I hope some of the questions Weezer fans have been wondering about for years have finally been answered. Finally, if you haven’t gotten the picture by now go buy Karlophone – I Must Find This Karlophone! It’s really a terrific record that I’m sure will surprise all of you in a good way! Weezer and non-Weezer fan’s alike!
P.S. Karlophone – I Must Find This Karlophone is even available (in limited editions) on Vinyl, yes VINYL! So seriously, why haven’t you bought it yet? Also, look out for Weezer’s “Album Six” due out Spring/Summer 2008, but I’m sure all of you know that by now!