Knoxville News-Sentinel interview with Brian Bell - July 23, 1995
A Decision in the Desert, A Message on a Machine Equaled Good Fortune for Weezer's Brian Bell
By Wayne Bledsoe, News-Sentinel entertainment writer
Weezer guitarist Brian Bell has just missed his flight from Spain to the United States.
"It's OK. I might miss a rehearsal, but I hardly need to rehearse anymore," says Bell in a phone call from Barcelona, where he has been vacationing.
Bell, who was raised in Knoxville, is a quick study. When he was invited to join Weezer two years ago he had one weekend to learn the songs the group was about to record.
Two years later, Weezer is a solid success. The group's songs, "Undone - The Sweater Song" and "Buddy Holly," and accompanying videos became hits, and their debut album has been certified platinum. It's what Bell, 26, has wanted all along, but he admits he is surprised to actually be in a band that made it.
Bell says he first latched onto music at age 4 when his parents, UT geography professor Tom Bell and Pond Gap Elementary School principal Linda Bell, took him to an Elvis Presley concert at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium.
"That kind of changed my life, seriously," says Bell.
In 1989, after graduating from Bearden High School, Bell moved to Los Angeles, where he eventually landed a spot as bassist in the band Carnival Art. The group signed with Beggars Banquet Records and recorded two albums.
"I gained a lot of knowledge and experience recording and touring and all that, but the sad fact is if you're on a major label and you don't sell enough records you'll get dropped," says Bell.
Carnival Art changed its name to Jerkwater and worked out a new sound in hopes of landing another record deal. During that time, Bell became acquainted with the members of Weezer.
"They started playing on the scene, and I instantly saw something unique in them," says Bell. Grunge was the buzzword in music, but Bell says Weezer was playing more "happy-go-lucky" songs with heavy guitars, vocal harmonies and very catchy hooks.
Bell would go home after Weezer shows and find himself singing their songs.
"I didn't even necessarily want to be in their band," says Bell. "They for some reason were in with the wrong crowd and playing at the wrong venues. I wanted to help them out any way I could and I wanted to play a show with them."
Bell, though, was tired of being with Jerkwater.
"At this point, I was pretty much fed up with being the small guy and, like, constantly struggling," he says. "I was sick of starving."
One night in the late summer of '93, while driving home from a disastrous "rave" show in the desert, Bell decided to quit the group.
Waiting for him on the answering machine at his apartment was a message from Weezer bassist Matt Sharp.
"I had no idea why he was calling me," says Bell. "We hardly hung out together at all in Los Angeles. We just exchanged numbers to play a show together, and I knew that they got a record deal and were recording in New York City."
The next day Sharp called again.
"Matt was just beating around the bush, and Rivers (Cuomo) took the phone from him and said, 'Do you wanna join our band?' And I thought about it for a couple of nanoseconds and said, 'Yeah.' And he's, like, 'Well, can you sing?' And I kinda lied and said, 'Yeah, I can sing ' "
The next day Bell received a demo tape with four of the songs the band was recording. He made an audition tape, adding his vocals and guitar to the songs, and shipped it back overnight.
A Weezer member called back the next day, told Bell he was in and sent him plane tickets to New York. By the next week, he was in the studio recording with producer Ric Ocasek.
Bell replaced guitarist Jason Cropper, who left on acrimonious terms. And, while Bell was enthusiastic, the rest of the group seemed dispirited.
"Everyone was so pessimistic about the whole ordeal it was just about to fall apart and never happen. Rivers (singer, songwriter of the band) played me a rough mix of some of the songs I hadn't heard yet, like 'In the Garage,' 'Holiday' and 'Only in Dreams,' and I was, like, 'Oh my God, this is really good.' I definitely saw the potential when I heard those songs for the first time. So I think I brought a sense of optimism to the band."
The disc was finished in September 1993 but was not released until nearly a year later. Meanwhile, Bell continued working day jobs. While delivering food to Propaganda Films, he ran into an old friend, Spike Jonze, whom he had known when Jonze was a photographer for the skateboard magazine Thrasher.
"I was going around the corner, and Spike was sitting there," says Bell. "And he's, like,'What are you doing?' I said, 'I'm delivering food. What are you doing?' And he was making all these calls, and he was in charge of Propaganda Films in this area. I'm, like, 'Man, you really work fast.' And I say, 'I'm in this new band Weezer.'
"And he's like 'Hmmm.' And we're both thinking, or I THINK he was (thinking, 'Well, maybe I'll make your video one day,' and I was thinking, 'Maybe you'll do our video.' "
Weezer's record company chose "Undone - The Sweater Song" for the band's first single, and Weezer chose Jonze to direct the video.
Both were hits.
But it was the next video and single, "Buddy Holly," that really cemented Weezer in music fans' minds.
"'Buddy Holly' was the song that nearly didn't get on the album," says Bell.
Jonze convinced the group the video should take place in the '70s hit TV show Happy Days, with the band performing at Arnold's drive-in. Clips of the show were edited together with shots of the band, and Al Molinaro, who played Arnold's owner, Al, was brought in for some new footage.
The video went into constant rotation on MTV.
The group's latest single "Say It Ain't So," has not moved as fast, but it is catching on.
Weezer will begin recording a second album next month, but don't expect any songs from Bell.
"The primary songwriter for Weezer is Rivers Cuomo, and we just add our finesses and our parts," says Bell. "I have my own band, and Matt has his own band. Matt's band's called The Rentals, and my band's called The Space Twins. And he's actually probably negotiating as we speak with a record label right now."
Bell says there are rumors that the group is breaking up, but they probably stem from time the group has scheduled off. He was recently in Knoxville for a couple of months and took a French class at the University of Tennessee. Cuomo also plans on pursuing his education during breaks from touring.
Cuomo, who was born with one leg shorter than the other, recently had his leg lengthened. His recovery shaved a week off the band's European tour, and at the Knoxville performance, Cuomo will use a leg brace and a cane.
As for the present, Bell is content to be spending another day in Barcelona.
"One of my fascinations with Spain and the reason I'm probably here right now is because I grew up in this neighborhood called Spanish Trails out in Karns," he says. "Every street is named after a Spanish town. I lived on the corner of Cordoba and Granada. And the only difference that I've found between Spain and Tennessee is Dolly to them means Salvador Dali and Dolly to us is Dolly Parton. Other than that it's very similar."
Weezer, Teenage Fanclub, That Dog and The Tuffskins will perform at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 26, at the Tennessee Amphitheatre in the World's Fair Park. Tickets are $17.50 in advance, $20 day of show, and are available at Tickets Unlimited outlets.