interview with Rivers Cuomo - April 2002

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Redone - the Weezer Saga
By Joe Robinson; Interview by Steve Reynolds

Don't call it a comeback -- they've been here for years! Buoyed by a radio-friendly debut album - featuring a string of catchy hit singles penned by enigmatic frontman Rivers Cuomo - and a large following of rabid fans, Weezer became one of the biggest bands to emerge during the alterna-rock craze of the mid-'90s. But it all came crashing down in the wake of the group's commercially disastrous second disc, Pinkerton. A despondent Cuomo went into hiding, and his band went on indefinite hiatus. It would be five years before Weezer would return to their perch atop the alternative nation.

Formed in 1992, Weezer were one of the most popular up-and-coming acts on the competitive Los Angeles club scene for more than a year before being signed to DGC Records. The quartet's self-titled debut (which became known to fans as The Blue Album) dropped in May of 1994 and quickly propelled Weezer to the top of the charts. The disc's well-crafted and unique take on pop music - catchy surf-infused tunes, overdriven guitars, understated virtuosity - struck a nerve with a crowd worn out on grunge grittiness.

The disc's quirky first single, "Undone - the Sweater Song," introduced Weezer to the world, but it was the charmingly sentimental "Buddy Holly" that became the band's breakout smash - the cut's Spike Jonze-directed video scored four Moonmen at the MTV Video Music Awards, including Breakthrough Video and Best Alternative Music Video. "Say It Ain't So" made it three hits in a row for Weezer, and The Blue Album has gone on to attain triple-platinum status.

After a bit of a break - Cuomo took time off to attend Harvard University, drummer Patrick Wilson and bassist Matt Sharp formed a synth-pop project called The Rentals and guitarist Brian Bell resumed work with his former band, the Space Twins - Weezer returned in the fall of '96 with Pinkerton. The band's sophomore release was a self-produced platter that boasted a raw edge and emotional frailty that contrasted with the singsong simplicity of The Blue Album. The disc's first single, "El Scorcho," failed to catch fire, and sales of Pinkerton quietly smoldered well below gold status. (The disc eventually scored a gold plaque in 2001.) A despondent Cuomo went into seclusion, holing himself up in his L.A. pad and refusing visitors. Despite a growing cult following, five years would pass before Weezer committed another song to tape.}}

In the downtime, Sharp left the band to concentrate on The Rentals. Cuomo eventually surfaced in Boston with former Juliana Hatfield bassist Mikey Welsh; the duo turned in a few performances playing under the not-so-secretive moniker the Rivers Cuomo Band. By 1999, Welsh had taken over the vacant bassist spot in Weezer and the band was rehearsing in Los Angeles. A handful of successful club shows later, and Cuomo had regained the confidence to take Weezer back on the road.

Weezer made their official return on the 2000 Warped Tour and the response was overwhelming. A full-scale headlining tour was lined up and dates for the jaunt sold out almost instantly. The Christmas EP - available to Weezer fan-club members only - emerged at the start of 2001, tiding over hardcore followers while Weezer readied their next full-length effort. Their self-titled third album (aka The Green Album), which dropped May of last year, debuted at an impressive No. 4 on the Billboard 200 chart, erasing any thoughts that Weezer were washed up. The disc marked a return to the Nirvana-meets-the-Beatles simplicity of The Blue Album, with singles like the riff-driven "Hash Pipe" and the breezy "Island in the Sun" quickly becoming modern-rock staples.

With last summer's arena tour in support of the disc on the horizon, the band suffered a sudden and unexpected blow. Welsh mysteriously disappeared and later turned up in a psychiatric hospital. Scott Shriner quickly was called in as his replacement.

Weezer have been touring the globe ever since then, stopping every so often to record new material. Known for being Internet savvy and fan friendly, the quartet spent much of last year posting demo versions of tunes to get feedback from its fans. By the start of this year, Weezer had wrapped up work on their forthcoming fourth album, Maladroit, due May 14. Much to the chagrin of Interscope Records execs, Cuomo and the boys personally sent out eight-song advance promos of the disc to radio stations and various members of the media. A standoff between camp Weezer and Interscope ensued, with Cuomo eventually relenting; he sent out follow-up letters asking that the disc not be played on the air. But the damage was already done - Maladroit cut "Dope Nose" already was in heavy rotation at many stations across the country.

Weezer are not about to take a rest. The band already is hard at work on album number five. (The group's official website claims a February 2003 release date already has been secured for the disc.) Cuomo & Co. kick off their Dusty West '02 tour on April 23 in Edmonton, Canada, with openers Pete Yorn and AM Radio, and will begin a Japan trek on May 16 in Sendai.

Cuomo recently spoke with us about posting Weezer songs on the 'Net, fanatic fans, the controversy over Maladroit and the group's latest bassman, Scott Shriner.

Hot Water Music

Rivers: I didn't expect that we would get in so much trouble [for putting our new demos on the Internet]. We just put our songs up as we were recording them just to let people hear them - see if we could get some advice back from the fans. Radio stations started downloading them and playing them on the air. There's one song in particular, "Dope Nose," that's really starting to take off. I think the record company is just surprised because they're not used to a band being able to achieve any kind of success on their own without the record company's help.

[Interscope Records] were uninvolved with the whole process. [They were] only vaguely aware that we were even in the studio. Next thing they know, they're hearing our song on the radio and [they] kind of freaked out.

Tired of Fame?

Rivers: Our fans are incredible. But, at the same time, that rabid quality can be used against us. If we make a song that they don't like, they attack us with the same rabid quality.

We've just gone off into our [own] universe here. We don't have a manager anymore. We don't discuss things with the record company. We don't have any real contact with the traditional music industry, so we're kind of a wild card doing our own thing. Therefore, we make tons of mistakes.

[Personally sending out advance promos of Maladroit] seemed like a reasonable thing to me. Take a bunch of the songs that we'd finished recording and send them out to radio stations and press and write a little letter with it - but I guess it freaked some [record execs] out. So, now I've had to write another letter to all the radio stations asking them to please not play the song.

El Scorcho

Rivers: That live quality of Pinkerton but with a little more clarity...that's exactly what we were going for [on Maladroit]. The record says we produced it, but we didn't do anything. We just went in and played our songs, so it's kind of un-produced. It's really simple.

If anything, it should say, "Produced by the message-board fans." They were listening to the demos every night and posting their criticisms. We would take those into the studio the next day. Most of [the feedback was] really mean and unjustified, but even that is good. That's what producers do sometimes. They just say really mean things to get you all pissed off. I really think it [helped].

I love the sound of this record. It sounds like a band rocking out in the studio, which very few modern records sound like. I'm really happy with the results and I think we'll do it again.

I Can't Help My Feelings

Rivers: ["Dope Nose" has] been kicking around for two years now - actually, only a year and a half. It's weird. It seems old because we've come up with a hundred songs since then, but it's really not all that old. Now, we have this enormous backlog of songs that we can draw from. I think we'll be able to crank out a lot of albums real quick. I hope so. We tape most things [that we practice]. That's another good thing about the message boards. They'll remind us of old songs that were cool that we forgot to record. For example, "Slob" is another one that's on the new record. That was actually a song from the summer of 2000 and it was really cool, but we just forgot about it. Then the fans on the message board kept saying, "Hey, you guys gotta play 'Slob.'"

My Name Is Shriner

Rivers: [Scott Shriner] was the first guy to audition [for the bass position vacated by Mikey Welsh], so we just went with him. He seemed cool. He's got a really heavy approach. He's got a gold tooth. He's an all-around badass, so we went with him. He's really enthusiastic and really creative. He's got a great attitude. He's always trying to come up with more background parts or bass parts - trying to make things better all the time.

I got my start as a writer in an environment in which I felt like no one was enthusiastic about me. So, I'm pretty good at being a self-starter with no emotional support around me. But, it doesn't hurt to have enthusiastic people playing your songs.