Chicago Sun-Times interview with Brian Bell - June 29, 1997
No Hack Appeal
Up-and-Coming Weezer Gets by With Little Help from the Press
By Wayne Bledsoe
As an interview with Weezer guitarist Brian Bell ends, he lets out a sigh of relief.
"Thank goodness I didn't have to talk about the 'Buddy Holly' video again," says Bell on the phone from his San Francisco hotel room.
Despite being more than two years old, the band's video for the song "Buddy Holly" is still what comes to most minds. The video, which featured the band performing on the set of the '70s TV show Happy Days, won four MTV Music Awards and helped push the band to the top of the alternative rock charts and turn the group's debut album platinum.
Despite the success, Weezer never became a music press darling. The group's noisy pop hooks and lovably warped lyrics seemed to be part of no particular movement. The songs were maybe too smart and funny. The sound was loud but unapologetically addictive. And, while that singularity made fans all the more dedicated, it didn't help gain the group feature spreads in major magazines.
The group's second album, Pinkerton, received raves from some critics but confounded others.
"I wish we were more of a press-darling band," Bell says. "I'd love to see our pictures on magazine covers. I guess we're just not good-looking enough."
Perhaps the group's opening slot on a tour with No Doubt will help change that.
"Yeah, we're going for that stadium rock thing," says Bell, who adds that Weezer is playing the group's singles and most recognizable songs during the tour, including "Undone," "Say It Ain't So," "El Scorcho," "The Good Life" and "Pink Triangle." And for added recognition, the group will play "Friends of P," the alternative rock hit by The Rentals, a side-project band led by Weezer bassist Matt Sharp.
Bell, who grew up in Knoxville, Tenn., was invited to join the band in 1993. Weezer was in the midst of recording its debut but was in danger of disintegrating. Bell replaced guitarist James Cropper and helped reinvigorate the band.
The success of the group's debut proved that Bell's enthusiasm was well-placed. Still, when Weezer singer-songwriter Rivers Cuomo took time out to attend Harvard, rumors spread that Weezer was again on the verge of breaking up. More fuel to the rumor was added when Sharp's group The Rentals became a success.
Cuomo is Weezer's primary songwriter and vocalist. And, as a creative outlet, each of the other band members has his own group.
Bell says the success of the side bands does not put the future of Weezer in jeopardy. Bell's group is called Space Twins. Bell reports the group recently completed a demo and landed a good gig, opening for Veruca Salt, prior to the start of Weezer's tour.
Drummer Pat Wilson has a group called Special Goodness, which should have an album out on Geffen Records in the fall.
Bell says he would love for Weezer to be one of the first bands to stick together while each member had a hit record with his own group. Still, Bell admits that he, Wilson and Sharp were a little taken aback when Cuomo presented the group with the songs for Pinkerton.
It was an even more thoughtful collection than the songs on Weezer's debut, dealing with depression, procrastination, a crush on a lesbian and the search for a meaningful relationship.
"The lyrics were all very personal, and I think sometimes when you get too personal people just can't latch onto it," Bell says.
Yet, when recording began, the rest of the band put their signature touch on the music. In a rare move, the instruments and vocals were recorded at the same time.
"We recorded it live and caught that live sound and feeling," Bell says. And the sound was deliberately more abrasive than on the first record.
One of the most arresting tunes on the disc is "Across the Sea," about Cuomo's obsession with a fan letter from a Japanese girl; the album's title somewhat reflects the song. "Pinkerton" is the name of the American naval officer who betrays his Japanese wife in the Puccini opera Madama Butterfly.
Unfortunately, when the album was released, Pinkerton Security and Investigation Services was not in the mood to recognize the literary reference and sued the group for trademark infringement. The case was settled out of court and allowed the group to keep the album title.
"Yeah," says Bell, "and I had to sign something saying I wouldn't talk about it."
Bell says Weezer plans on taking another nine-month vacation after the summer's tour is over. Each member has his own projects to attend to, but he says he's sure Weezer will reconvene — despite what is reported in what Bell calls a very misleading and inaccurate article in the magazine the Alternative Press.
"It doesn't take but about a week to get into the swing of things," he says.
No Doubt, Weezer, Face to Face
7:30 p.m. Thursday
New World Music Theatre, 19100 S. Ridgeland, Tinley Park