interview with Karl Koch - April 1, 2004

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He Who Weezes Loudest
An interview with Weezer archivist Karl Koch
By Will Fresch - Managing Editor

When discussing bands, there are often several pieces of the puzzle that go unnoticed. Sure, the band-members themselves receive their fair share of recognition, but there is usually a network of people running around behind the scenes making sure things run smoothly. For Weezer, this "network" consists of Karl Koch.

For over ten years, Koch (pronounced "Cook") has sat alongside the post-grunge fab four on a bus that has been through its share of hills and valleys. Koch's is a perspective that millions of Weezer fans can only dream about, until now. On the new DVD, Video Capture Device, fans can step into his shoes thanks to hours of footage compiled by Koch over the years. Coupled with the re-release of the group's 1994 debut album, Weezer fans have reason to celebrate.

Koch, who continues to assist the group in as many ways as possible, recently phoned in to discuss the two recent releases.

Crazwire: For those readers unaware of exactly who you are and what you do, discuss your numerous roles with Weezer over the years.

Karl: I do several things for the band. First and foremost, I'm their friend. I've been their friend since the early nineties. We go back quite a ways, since before they were a band, actually. I'm the semi-official photographer and video-documentary guy; I guess what you'd call the archivist for the band. I save everything. In years passed, I've done almost everything else. I've tour managed. I've driven the van. I've tuned the guitars. I've fixed the equipment. I also run

CW: How have you seen the band's interaction with their fans evolve since the advent of the internet?

Karl: It's evolved drastically. In, well I guess what you'd call the old days, we didn't have our own website or anything. It really wasn't until The Green Album came out in 2001 that Weezer even had a site. Up until that point, I was kind of piggy-backing my comments onto a fan's site known as "The Rebel Weezer Alliance". That was kind of how we got into it. Before that, we were clueless. In the few years after Pinkerton and before The Green album, there was really a period where the band wasn't really doing much. I had a computer, but I was just learning how to use a computer period, let alone contemplate the significance of the internet. Rivers [Cuomo, vocalist] was doing the same thing off where he was, in Boston. I think the pioneer was really Pat [Wilson, drummer], because he always had a laptop dating way back to '95. There was no way to really communicate with the fans. We learned about what were called newsgroups; I've almost forgotten what they're called because they have been replaced with message boards and instant messengers now. Anyway, once we discovered that there were people discussing the band on a regular basis, it was a revelation like, "Holy cow!" I remember thinking, "If only the band was doing something, we could see how people commented on it." Back in the old days, we had a fan club. We had some wonderful girls running it. They would tell us what fans were writing in. They would get on the newsgroups and send out the occasional mass email. Via them, we were getting feedback, but it was minimal. I mean, there was snail mail and what people would tell us after a show, and that was about it. Now, it's like you get real-time reactions to every single thing that happens. It's crazy, but it's good to know if you've done something the fans like or something they hate. I don't know what [the Internet's] long-term implications are. I don't know if it will change the way people do their art, but it might.

CW: The DVD, Video Capture Device, which you produced, features hours of Weezer footage that you have collected over the years. Being the "archivist", how did you choose which clips to include? You must have had thousands of hours to sort through.

Karl: Yeah, thousands of hours of horrendously bad footage. It was a very arduous project. I had a vision from the get-go that I wanted it to be really retrospective. But, I didn't want to film a documentary that you might see on the Discovery Channel or something. I wanted it be like, "Here's the footage, pieced together to show the evolution of a band." It kind of equally represents all the albums and all of the members of the group and everything. In doing so, there were a lot of challenges because, in many cases, there was really a terrible selection of footage for certain time periods and certain events. In the early days, I wasn't really archiving so much as I was driving the van and tuning the guitars. There wasn't much time to film, so there wasn't a hell of a lot of good footage from back then. Plenty of footage, but not a lot of good footage. It was really a matter of weeding out a few better, yet still flawed, parts and combing that with a lot of performances like their David Letterman performance from early on. We knew that that was a serious fan favorite. I wanted more TV stuff like that, but it's very difficult to clear and it's very expensive to clear. There were a lot of things like that that we couldn't use due to licensing problems or legal issues. Or, in some cases, pieces looked great, but the sound was horrible.

CW: Were there any pieces where, you knew of their existence, but were unable to track them down?

Karl: I think there is probably a lot of footage out there in the world that I had no access to because [Weezer] might have done some interviews in Norway or wherever. Those will never see the light of day because how do you contact the guy that did the interview ten years ago, you know? I guess I was really going off of my own personal collection more than pouring through the vaults of Geffen or wherever. I really just used what I had access to, in the immediate sense, and then tried to track down a few things that didn't turn up in the initial sweep. You know, we just tried to have a balance between quality and low-quality and homemade and professional. We tried to give all aspects of the story.

CW: Two segments of the DVD display the band members' lives while making both The Blue Album ("Weezer Goes To NYC") and Pinkerton ("Weezer Goes To Van Nuys"); two albums with drastically different moods. Does the DVD parallel this difference?

Karl: Well, that's interesting. The Blue Album definitely had more fun and frolicking going on. It's funny though, the blue one. They were actually more serious in their recording because there was so much pressure on them. It was their debut, so they had to make a good album in order to have a fighting chance. So, between all of the hijinx, there was some very intense recording going on. The mood was still very high, though. It was like, "This is crazy! How can this be happening to us?" I wish I would have had more presence of mind in the old days. I would have had a lot more neat stuff from the early years. In both cases, I wish I had captured certain moments that I remember that are not on film. They maybe would have told the story a little more accurately. With Pinkerton, you'd think it would be this dismal, dark affair. The funny thing is, the mood that came from Rivers' writing process and the tone that the album gives off actually came from what happened after its release. While recording, it was not terribly different from the blue album. It was serious, yet there was a lot of really silly stuff going on at the same time. The footage reflects it somewhat. I mean, the Pinkerton stuff is a little bit more intense. It certainly looks better; it's nicer film. To answer your question though, I think when you look at the two together, they're not as drastically different as the albums themselves. Once Pinkerton was released, there was a disappointing reaction from the world. But, while recording it, nobody had a clue that it was going to be perceived the way it was.

CW: In the past, Rivers has been very vocal regarding his disgust with Pinkerton. Where does this stem from?

Karl: I think his rejection of it came from a sense of embarrassment. He really put himself out on the line, and it didn't garner the critical acclaim he thought it would. So, I think his reaction is based on - he looked back and said, "I can't believe I was so stupid to put so much emotion out there." I think he looked at himself as having no self control or a blabbering, sobbing idiot. In reality, he made some amazing stuff on that album. There's no doubt about it, but I think he got embarrassed by it. He said, "I'm not going to be that heart-on-my-sleeve guy anymore." Looking at it from his point of view, I can see how that could be embarrassing, but I think, inside, he's proud of those songs.

CW: ... And the rest of the group?

Karl: I think there were always some questions about the music that was being made. These were pretty personal lyrics, and I don't know if they were comfortable in that sense. I know they loved playing the music, though. Production-wise, it was a blast to record. It was very loose. They were all jamming and coming up with neat ideas. Musically, it was almost like "anything goes" so long as it went into the emotional concept that was being set up by Rivers. The rest of the group were happy to play the songs.

CW: Were they happy with the way Pinkerton was produced, or are they fonder of the work they have done with producers Ric Ocasek and Rick Rubin?

CW: I think you'd get four different opinions on that if you asked them. Mine is just a fifth opinion on the pile. Generally, I think each album probably needed the technique they used at the time. I know Pat loves Pinkerton because the drums are so big, you know? It's full of those crazy, huge drum sounds. As far as producing it themselves, I think they would all say, "We probably weren't ready to do that. We probably needed a producer."

With Ric [Ocasek], he was a real guiding light on the first album. I think going back to him for the third one was an attempt to draw all of that in again; to have somebody on board to make sure it's "crisp and clean with no caffeine." That sort of thing.

I think they've all come to agree that they prefer to have a producer on hand; somebody to take control and say, "This is what we're going to do today, guys. We should record this song and we should leave that song alone for now." Of course, they can argue against such a person and say, "Wait a minute, what about this song? We hate that song!" But, to have that person in place, especially someone who has such a strong personality and a gift like Rick Rubin does. They're all very pleased that they have found him.

CW: Why the decision to issue the deluxe Blue Album now, nearly ten years after its initial release?

Karl: Originally, it was Universal coming to the band and offering to do it. The've been re-releasing a lot of records lately as part of their Deluxe series. I don't know who is in charge of that series, but somebody thought it would be cool to do some modern records as well as their classics. Like, they did Sonic Youth's Dirty and some other not-so-old records. So they came to Weezer and said, "We're interested in doing the blue one. What do you think?" It was tossed around. When I was given a vote, I said that we should definitely do it and that it's a great idea. I think they all agreed and said, "Yeah, let's try it." Why now, I don't know. It wasn't so much a ten-year anniversary thing, but it's very nice that that's how it turned out to be, because ten years is such a milestone in the genre. I don't think it was offered as, "Hey, 'you guys wanna' do a ten-year anniversary edition?"

CW: Was the group reluctant to issue a "new and improved" version of an album already considered perfect by so many people?

Karl: I can't speak for them entirely, but based on Rivers' general reaction to such things - he, in particular, usually likes to hold back if possible. He doesn't see a need to revisit or go back and change things. He's always kind of thinking ahead. "What's the next song I'm going to write?" "What's the next thing I'm going to do?" So, to go back and do this, I think he acquiesced and said, "Okay. If that's what you want to do, that sounds good." I think, of all the guys in the band, he would have been the one to question it the most like, "Why do we need to do this kind of thing?" Everybody else was open to it.

CW: What can you tell us about the group's forthcoming album?

Karl: The timetable on it has kind of shifted numerous times. At this point, it's being said that they will be finished with this album sometime in the summer; maybe the end of summer. Whether that means the album comes out this year is anybody's guess. Generally, with an album finished by the end of the summer, the record company could release it by Christmas if they want to. You know, there are a lot of "maybes" and "what ifs" in that scenario, but I think the goal is to be done recording and have a finished, good album all mixed and ready to go by the end of the summer.

CW: What are your thoughts on the album, so far? What sort of a completed product do you envision?

Karl: What I was hearing, I was very happy with. I'm not sure about the completed product, but I can comment on the songwriting in general. There's been a real shift in the last year in terms of the direction of the songwriting. I would say the songs have become meaningful, if that makes sense. I think there was a real kind of a generic quality going on for a while. There was a reluctance to open up. But, since about a year ago, there has been a lot of opening up going on; a lot more writing that actually means something to the writer as opposed to being written to sound a certain way. I can just hear it in the unfinished tracks and the demos that have been going on in the last few months. There has been a lot more power. In addition, Rivers has always been on a real quest to hone his songwriting craft. So, coupled with that more meaningful edge that I spoke about, Rivers has written some absolute blockbuster songs; great, great writing. He's really worked hard on avoiding the tossed-off, easy solutions. He's made a real effort to weed out the lesser material.

CW: Of all people on the face of the earth, you seem the most fit to write a biography on the group. Have you considered a book?

Karl: In a sense, yeah. I'd really like to do a book that is more focused on photos. Obviously, there would be a story being told as well. You know, when somebody is so close to something, they might not be - I think it would almost have to be co-written by somebody who has looked at things more from the outside. It's funny. Everyday, I add more historical info to the website. It's as if, in some strange segmented form, I'm writing it already.

Video Capture Device and Weezer - Deluxe Edition were both released March 23. Find out more at