Hartford Courant article - December 4, 1996
By ROGER CATLIN
Courant Staff Writer Performing in the state where he was raised and started playing rock music should be nothing but a triumph for Rivers Cuomo, 26, the reluctant front man of Weezer. But tonight's show at Toad's Place in New Haven, only the band's second appearance in the state, is being met with some dread by the painfully soft-spoken lead singer and songwriter. "I've tried to avoid it," Cuomo admits over the phone. "It's incredibly nerve-racking." Part of it is the thought of "people I know judging me," he says. "I just feel more pressure in Connecticut than anywhere else in the world." And he cringes when he thinks of his mother's hearing songs like "Tired of Sex," which kicks off Weezer's new "Pinkerton" album with a list of sexual conquests. "I always hope that she can't understand the lyrics," Cuomo says, "I want my female relatives to think I'm perfect." Up until Connecticut, anyway, Cuomo has been having more fun on this tour than last time, when Weezer's 1994 debut racked up 2 million sales. "I think I was just a little bit freaked out and was a real stick in the mud for a while," he says. Even as the band was collecting an armful of MTV awards for its "Buddy Holly" clip in September 1995, Cuomo vanished from the scene by entering Harvard University for a year. Recovering from a leg operation while he took mostly music classes, he was constantly worried about being discovered as a rock star. "I was always expecting somebody to come up to me and harass me," says Cuomo, who declined speaking to Rolling Stone at the height of Weezer's success. "After a month, I realized no one knew who I was, and no one cared," he says, "That was both a relief and also kind of depresing." It wasn't easy to start writing for a second album after an 18-month lapse. "There was a lot of false starts. A lot of pulling my hair out," he says. "It was a very sweet-and-sour experience. Because I was really lonely, it was cold, and my leg hurt. I was a nobody again, instead of a star. "But at the same time I was happy to be alone and in touch with my creative self." Weezer had a few songs that were written before the band became famous. "Tired of Sex" was crafted three years ago this month, as were three other songs that begin the album. The distraction of success and the start of school brought Cuomo massive writer's block until he finally wrote "Pink Triangle," a song about an ill-fated relationship with a lesbian. "You can hear, the very first line sounds like a guy sitting down to start writing songs again: 'When I'm stable long enough, I start to look around for love,'" Cuomo says. "That was the first line I wrote post-success. Because for that year and a half, my life wasn't stable enough for me to write." It was "Across the Sea," the poignant song sparked by a fan letter from Japan, that let him know he was really on the right track. "I feel like, probably more so than any other song ever that I wrote, I managed to capture a really complicated, beautiful feeling with melodies," he says. As for the words, the fan will earn some royalties from the song. "She basically wrote the lyrics to the first verse and part of the chorus, too," Cuomo says. But when the band toured Japan recently, Cuomo decided against meeting her. "I would have been way too embarrassed." An obsession with Japanese women so permeates the new album that it's named "Pinkerton," after the captain in the opera "Madame Butterfly." When it was released in late September, "Pinkerton" was tangled at first in litigation by the detective agency of the same name. ("I never heard of that detective agency," Cuomo says.) But sale of the album was probably hurt more by the reluctance of radio stations, particularly the influential K-Rock in Los Angeles, to play the first single, "El Scorcho." Still, most of the shows for the band's current tour have sold out — something that wasn't the case the last time Cuomo played Connecticut clubs with any regularity — as part of high school groups. Honoring E.O. Smith Back then, the teenager known as Peter Kitz was in the metal band Avant Garde and a Kiss tribute band before that called Fury. Playing in a band while going to Mansfield's E.O. Smith High School — which he honors by naming his publishing company E.O. Smith Music — didn't make him a big rock star on campus, however. "No, I was never a rock star in high school," says Cuomo, Class of '88. "I was always a bit of an oddity. When I was in ninth grade, we were picked on and ostracized. By 11th grade, we were tolerated. And by 12th grade, people gave us a certain amount of respect. But we were never rock stars, just the weird guys who did music." When Avant Garde broke up, Kitz reverted to the name Rivers Cuomo, and his second L.A. band, Weezer, was formed with a second set of roommates who were each similarly raised on third-rate metal in other parts of the country. Side projects When Cuomo went to Harvard a year ago, the other members of Weezer got busy with other projects. Bassist Matt Sharp had the biggest success with "Return of the Rentals." The Rentals also featured drummer Patrick Wilson, whose own solo project, Special Goodness, has an album due out next fall. Guitarist Brian Bell hopes to release the album by his own side project, Space Twins, next fall as well. Despite all this outside activity, "There's surprisingly little tension about solo projects," Cuomo says. "We all understand that everyone is going to do their thing when the Weezer tour is done. I don't think anyone has a problem with that." But Cuomo wonders what will happen once Weezer loses its multi-platinum appeal. While he praises band members as songwriters, Cuomo isn't about the allow them to contribute songs to Weezer albums. "This band plays my songs," he says, "The album is so autobiographical, it would be very strange for one of them to help me write my autobiography." The undertow of loneliness and pain on "Pinkerton" doesn't mean Weezer, known for its "Happy Days"-themed video for "Buddy Holly," is turning dour. "I don't know. See, when I wrote 'Buddy Holly,' I thought it was a serious song," Cuomo says. "People took those songs as funny and fun, goofy and lighthearted. But I never thought so. I don't feel like I'm being more serious now, just more literal, more direct." Weezer plays an all-ages show at Toad's Place, 300 York St., New Haven tonight. Doors open at 7:30; show starts at 8:30 with a set by Ash. Tickets are $15. Information: (203) 562-5589.
Cuomo's band one of three to evolve from Avant Garde
By DAVID DALLEY
Special to The Courant They were five young metal fans who called themselves Avant Garde, although, as Rivers Cuomo quips now, "It was anything but." Nevertheless, soon after Cuomo graduated from Mansfield's E.O. Smith High School in 1988, the five band members packed their guitars and hair mousse and moved to Los Angeles, chasing their rock fantasies under the lights and into the metal clubs of the Sunset Strip. Of course, nothing happened as planned. The quintet, which used to play Bridges Cafe in East Windsor and free concerts in Vernon's Henry Park, soon broke up. And out of that breakup came three new bands, all making it in Los Angeles. Besides Cuomo (known then as Peter Kitz) and Weezer, there is Kevin Ridel's band Ridel High It's a pop trio as catch and anthemic as Weezer, with a debut album, "Recent High Scores," out next month on the hip independent label My Records. And Justin Fisher, formerly of Storrs, plays in Shufflepuck, a pop act signed by Interscope, also known as the home of Nine Inch Nails. "[Avant Garde] just kind of sucked," admitted Ridel, who grew up in Vernon and now lives in Santa Monica. "We were trying to be kings of our instruments and just disregarded the idea of writing good songs. We were striving for technical prowess, but we still couldn't really play." As Ridel, 27, grew older, he lost his appetite for metal's flash, fashion and attitude. "I've given that up for songwriting," he said. So who does he like these days? "Tom Waits. Richard Butler. And, of course, Rivers Cuomo," Ridel said. "I think I've ripped off a lot of his melodies." Ridel is not surprised that Cuomo has achieved such success with Weezer. But one person is: Kenneth Holton, Cuomo's high school music teacher, a classical theorist (and decided not a metal fan) who listened to Avant Garde just to encourage a favorite student. "He was fascinated by heavy metal.…He had very long, teased hair all around his head. My chorus got a reputation for having the kid with the long hair," remembered Holton, now retired. "It's been really interesting for me. [With Weezer] I hear a lof of harmonies and the chord changes of pop songs. I was really surprised to hear all that coming through. [Cuomo] rejected all that entirely in high school."