Addicted to Noise article - December, 1996

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Weezer's Uncomfortable Success

Addictedtonoise 1296-a.gif

Photo by Jay Blakesberg

No one --least of all the members of Weezer--
thought the band would be as successful as
they are now. And sometimes, they just don't
seem to know what to do with it.

By Clare Kleinedler

"Oh no. I don't want to get out."

Weezer singer/guitarist Rivers Cuomo is a bit nervous.
The stretch limousine we are riding in has just pulled
up to the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, and
even though show time isn't for another five hours, a
small group of fans have already lined up on the
sidewalk out front.

"Is there another way into the club?" asks Cuomo,
getting increasingly agitated. A case of the stuck-up
rockstar who doesn't want to deal with annoying fans?
No, quite the opposite. Cuomo is, believe it or not,
embarrassed over the fact that he is arriving in a limo
and not a regular car.

Addictedtonoise 1296-b.jpg They're regular
guys. They like
regular cars.

Photo by Anton Corbijn

"Um, let's get out on the street side and not the
sidewalk side, OK?" he says, as if that will suddenly
avert the crowd's attention somewhere else. With that
Cuomo reluctantly slides out, allowing yours truly to
go first in hopes that the fans will see me and turn their
heads away long enough for him to run inside.

Not a chance. The second Cuomo emerges, the
teenagers surround him and he politely signs
autographs. And although I can't hear the chatter
between him and the group, something tells me that
he's probably explaining that the limo was not his idea.

To say that Cuomo is down-to-earth is an
understatement. To say that he is just an average guy
would be an out-right lie. Somewhat of a '90s
Amadeus, Cuomo is intensely passionate and focused
yet full of self-doubt and questions.

Nevermind that he fronts a band that's sold over two
million records; Cuomo still worries about the little
things, and the more popular Weezer gets, the more he
has to worry about. During a photo shoot earlier in the
day, Cuomo puttered around, being careful not to talk
too loudly or get in anybody's way. He is so dead quiet
that I make a conscious effort to break the ice by
asking how their recent tour of Japan went, knowing
full-well that Cuomo is fascinated by the country and
its people. Immediately he perks up and talks a little
about what a great time he had while Weezer was there.

There's a darker side to
Weezer now. Don't let
the cheery backdrop
fool you.
Addictedtonoise 1296-c.jpg
Photo by Jay Blakesberg

"Have you ever been there? Because if not, you should
really go sometime," said Cuomo.

I tell him that yes, I have not only been there, but I was
born there. I'm half-Japanese.

Turning scarlet, Cuomo buries his head in his hands.

"I'm sorry," he stammers, obviously apologizing over
the line in the song "El Scorcho" that reads: "God
damn you half-Japanese girls."

No offense taken, I tell him, but Cuomo is visibly
embarrassed. The fact that this rockstar even cares
what a journalist thinks, or what anyone thinks for that
matter is very telling of the kind of person Cuomo is,
and the kind of band Weezer is.


No one is as surprised as the members of Weezer by
the success that came following the release of their
self-titled debut album. The band that used to get
booed off-stage in its early days was suddenly a
household name.

The album that started it
Addictedtonoise 1296-d.jpg

Weezer spawned a few hits. "Undone (The Sweater
Song)," "Say It Ain't So" and "Buddy Holly" gained
momentous airplay on radio stations all over the
country, and MTV decided it liked their style and
picked them to be the new alterna-video-wonders by
playing a heavy rotation of the three clips. "Buddy
Holly," with it's catchy Beach Boys-like pop hooks and
the now infamous "Happy Days" video directed by
camera-wiz Spike Jonz, became Weezer's reluctant
theme-song. The image of the four bandmembers
standing on-stage at Al's Diner singing with cheesy
grins on their faces was how the world came to know
them. The press immediately labeled them with terms
like "fun" and "sweet."

"Sweet is a nice thing. Fun, music that makes people's all good," says guitarist Brian Bell. "But if
you listen to the new record, there's a darker side to it.
There's a darker side to us."

The album after the
album that started it all.
Addictedtonoise 1296-e.jpg

Pinkerton, the band's sophomore effort, is proof that
there is a much darker side to Weezer. A concept
album, the record is the story of the last two years of
Cuomo's life, or love life more specifically. The songs,
all by Cuomo, were written in chronological order to
tell a story. After coming down from the high from the
success of Weezer, Cuomo found himself back in
school, living in a world that was a stark contrast from
the rock life of the previous two years. Temporarily
disabled from a painful leg surgery, Cuomo went back
to college, opting for a hermit's life of being almost
totally alone.

These feelings of alienation and uncertainty are the
dominating themes of "Pinkerton." The album starts
off with "Tired of Sex," a reflective song about the
emotional consequences of casual sex. "Getchoo," and
"No Other One" deal with issues from a former
relationship. The second half of the album starts off
with "The Good Life," possibly the finest song on the
record. The lyrics describe Cuomo's struggle to come
out of his shell and get "back to the Good Life,"
something he lost sight of during the previous year's

"I think I was becoming frustrated with that hermit's
life I was leading, the ascetic life. And I think I was
starting to become frustrated with my whole dream
about purifying myself and trying to live like a monk
or an intellectual and going to school and holding out
for this ideal, perfect woman," says Cuomo. "So I
wrote that song. And I started to turn around and come
back the other way."

Addictedtonoise 1296-f.jpg
Just because the
songs are personal
for Cuomo doesn't
mean the others
can't enjoy playing

Photo by Anton Corbijn

For the rest of the band, playing songs that are so
personal for only one member isn't a problem.

"We just don't really look too deep into it. We know
there's a story that's inter-connected with the lyrics,"
says Bell. "I think that's brilliant to be able to pull it
together. To work with someone who has that ability is
definitely a privilege."

The album also showcases the artistic growth of
Weezer. The debut album, which was produced by
ex-Cars singer Ric Ocasek, contains more formulated
pop songs smoothed over with high studio gloss.
Although the songs on Pinkerton are very much pop,
the feel is very raw, with some hidden hooks and
catches that come out after a few thorough listens.
Bassist Matt Sharp (who's side project, the Rentals,
released a hit album last year) and Bell contribute
more vocally, creating a thicker sound to many of the

Experience and opting to produce the album
themselves this time around had a lot to do with the

"[Our] singing has finally matured. We used to warm
up for two hours by the piano matching harmonies
because we couldn't do it," says Bell. "When we did
the record this time we all just sang together and it was
like bang! And it was there. Before it was like, 'OK,
this word, do it again.' Ric Ocasek was very pristine
about that. This time, we were like, 'Sounds good to
me! I don't feel like singing it again.'"

Sometimes being in
a popular band is
like being a bug in a
jar, huh boys?
Addictedtonoise 1296-g.jpg
Photo by Anton Corbijn


The show at the Fillmore is packed. Weezer is back
full-strength to the absolute delight of the sold-out

With ferocious energy, Weezer pound out every song
from their current album and most of the songs from
their debut. Bassist Sharp is all over the place, making
goofy comments and doing virtual backflips to get the
crowd going.

Cuomo, on the other hand, is very low-key, keeping his
gaze toward the floor speakers and saying nothing
between the songs. Nonetheless, his presence is felt
through his intense vocal style. Cuomo spits and howls
out the words that tell his personal story with a force
that gets everyone's attention. Their live performance
has an almost punk feel to it, and as if to prove this
theory, the crowd merge into a mosh pit before the end
of the first song.

Backstage is...well, cramped, considering that the area
is about as big as a closet. But nevertheless, the mood
is high and drinks are being consumed in celebration
of another great performance.

Sharp and drummer Patrick Wilson are nowhere to be
found, but Bell and Cuomo hang out casually with
some of the guys from Superdrag, who are opening for
Weezer on the first leg of the tour. GreenDay's Billie
Joe and wife are hanging out also, and several fans
have smuggled their way in to get autographs from the

I approach Cuomo just to say goodbye and thanks for
the interview. Without more than two words, he takes
my hand and pulls me in for a hug. For what felt like
three or four minutes, Cuomo stays put, not saying a
word. In that moment, I felt as if he was trying to
communicate's as if he was tired of
talking and explaining himself and just wanted to
convey a message without saying anything. Finally, he

We forced him to
talk. And we're not
Addictedtonoise 1296-h.jpg
Photo by Jay Blakesberg

"That was a stressful interview, huh?" he says, with an
apologetic look on his face. Cuomo is referring to the
grueling hour-and-a-half conversation I had with him
earlier in the day. I tell him yes, and that I was
probably more stressed out than he was. Impossible, he

"It's hard to talk about myself, you know? I hope I
wasn't too boring," says Cuomo, still holding my hand.
"I'm glad I did it though, because I thought it was
good. Really good."

With that, he hugs me again for what feels like forever.
As corny as this may seem, at that moment I felt like I
finally came to understand a piece of Rivers Cuomo.
Like the rest of us, a part of him is insecure, lonely and
desperate for people to accept and understand him,
plain and simple. Being a rockstar doesn't make it
easier. In fact, from what I got from him, it makes it all
the more difficult.


Dealing with being famous isn't something the guys of
Weezer whine about regularly. Considering that only a
few years ago the band was playing to about five
people in the clubs of Los Angeles, they all realize
their good fortune.

It all started in 1992, when Cuomo decided to head out
west from Connecticut to chase his dream of becoming
a rockstar. Sharp, who hails from Virginia and Wilson,
who comes from New York had come to L.A. for the
same reasons. Shortly after meeting, the three, with
local guitarist Jason Cropper, formed Weezer and
immediately hit the Hollywood club scene.

After a few short months, Weezer was signed to DGC
Records and began recording. It was during this period
that Cropper left the band to attend to his pregnant
girlfriend and Bell was called in as the replacement,
completing the current Weezer line-up.

Although "Buddy Holly" eventually made Weezer
huge, it wasn't an overnight success. The band toured
constantly, playing gigs wherever they could, gaining
enthusiastic fans along the way. Weezer fans, by the
way, are a rare breed all on their own. It is not
uncommon for Weezer-manics to drive hundreds of
miles to follow the band on tour.

How many times
must it be said?
Regular cars,
thank you.
Addictedtonoise 1296-i.jpg
Photo by Jay Blakesberg

Two fans in particular played a major part in spreading
the word of Weezer back in the early days. Known
only as Mykel and Carli, these two sisters showed up
at every gig the guys played, often bringing cookies
and friends to support the struggling musicians.
Eventually the two became friends with the band, and
when Weezer did hit it big, the band asked them to run
the fan club that was now desperately needed. Mykel
and Carli now put out a quarterly newsletter, with the
help of fans and the bandmembers. They hang out at
shows and hand out backstage passes to members,
have meetings and generally keep fans updated on
what's going on with Weezer. Cuomo even penned a
song about the sisters, simply titled "Mykel & Carli."

Even with all of their success, the guys of Weezer
realize it is their fans who keep them in business. It isn't
unusual for Cuomo to write responses to fan letters or for
Wilson to spend hours chatting with fans after
shows. Bell recently spent the day teaching guitar to a
child with leukemia whose dying wish was to hang out
with Weezer. And Sharp showed his appreciation for a
group of girls who had driven all the way from Los
Angeles to San Francisco by putting all eight on the
guest list for the Fillmore show.

"Is that another mob
over there? Eep!"
(That's bassist Matt
Sharp, by the way)
Addictedtonoise 1296-j.jpg
Photo by Jay Blakesberg

Not that being mobbed everywhere they go is always a
pleasant thing. The downside of fame is something each
of the bandmembers has had to deal with, and all admit
that it has been somewhat of a struggle.

"When we first started out, I was overwhelmed that we
had fans and would go out of my way, bend over
backwards to sign every little thing," says Bell. "But I
don't like people grabbing at my shirt or any of that kind
of stuff. Yeah, it's definitely a weird thing, and I try to
remain grounded through it all and don't let it go to my

For Cuomo, the downside of fame comes in the form of
the media. Being misunderstood has become routine for
the singer, whose paranoia of the press has kept him
from giving interviews in the past. Constant criticism is
something Cuomo finds hard to swallow.

"It's really difficult to take because it's really myself that
I'm putting out there for everyone to judge. And usually
when someone doesn't like it, it's because they don't
really understand it or haven't really looked into it deep
enough," says Cuomo. " have [my] creation torn
apart by people who don't really care or understand is
painful, but not so painful that I'll stop creating."

misunderstood is
Addictedtonoise 1296-k.jpg
Photo by Jay Blakesberg


It's 2 p.m. in the farming town of Visalia, California, and
Weezer is ready to go on. The place is Ragin' Records,
and there are about 200 teenagers sitting Indian-style on
the cold floor, squealing with anticipation to see their
favorite band.

Doing in-stores and autograph signings can become a bit
tedious for most bands, but today is different. According
to Cuomo, Visalia is the town where Weezer first broke
big, thanks in most part to the owner of Ragin' Records
who is a friend of the band.

"Believe it or not, I signed my first autograph in
Visalia," says Cuomo, laughing at his own words. "Who
would have ever thought?"

Weezer walk out onto the tiny stage at the back of the
store and sat down, side by side, on barstools. After a
few minutes of shushing the over-excited crowd, the
band start playing their acoustic set. Immediately the
room quieted down to the point that you could hear the
sound of guitar picks hitting up against the strings of
their acoustic guitars. The band played six songs,
including a deadly version of "The Good Life."
Although Cuomo has said that he doesn't relive the
feelings that inspired the songs while he's performing
them, it is clear during this performance that he feels
every word. As he sings the lines, "As everything I
need/ is denied me/ and everything I want/ is taken away
from me," you can see the frustration in his eyes.

"200 squealing Visalia
teens? Urp!"
Addictedtonoise 1296-l.jpg
Photo by Jay Blakesberg

After wrapping up the session, the guys sign autographs
for another two hours then head off to the venue. The
Visalia Convention Center, which holds over 4,000
people, is the largest venue Weezer will play on this

With sterile-white walls glaring in every direction and
yellow-jacketed "Event Staff" running around, the place
is in stark contrast to the day's earlier gig. The crowd is
intimidating as well; the average age here is about 13,
and with the youth comes the obnoxious attitudes.
Pushing and shoving seem to be the favored methods of
communication, and fights break out left and right.

Even on this import CD,
the band's, uh,
appreciation for Japan
Addictedtonoise 1296-m.jpg

Still, Weezer play another incredible show. Tonight,
though, it seems like there is some tension between the
bandmembers, or maybe it was attitude directed toward
the audience. At one point, Cuomo interrupted Sharp as
he introduced "Pink Triangle," and decided to start
playing "Say It Ain't So," instead. And at the end of the
encore, Cuomo picked up his guitar and threw it at the
amps before stomping off stage.

Backstage was also chaotic. Apparently some radio
station had given away about 50 backstage passes
without informing the band. Cuomo, cornered by about
half of the contest winners, sits looking tired and glassy
eyed as he dutifully signs T-shirts, CD's and posters.
Cuomo looks as if he is viewing the scene as an
outsider, staring at the various fans' faces and
occasionally asking quietly, "Who are you? How did
you get back here?" I gather by his expressions that he is
running the experience in his mind in slow-motion,
trying to make sense of the whole idea of being a

What does the
future hold? We
think more
albums and
yellow gels.
Addictedtonoise 1296-n.jpg

What the future holds for Weezer is unknown. Come
February, Cuomo will head back to school, and the
others will attend to their side projects (Sharp with the
Rentals, Bell sings for a band called the Space Twins
and Wilson is working on a solo project). Maybe Cuomo
will decide that it's all too much, or that trying to
communicate his thoughts and be understood is just too
daunting of a task to face. But then again, it's this
introverted and contradictory outlook on life,
rockstardom and love that keeps us interested in Weezer.
My guess is he'll rise to the challenge once again and
give us more.