DIW article - July 2003
By Frank Valish
After releasing two albums in 12 months, Weezer are taking a break from the strenuous task of being alt-pop's greatest comeback story. In the meantime, past and present members of the band are showcasing old and new projects that will once and for all prove that Rivers Cuomo isn't the only Weez with talent. Frank Valish spoke with Matt Sharp about his solo career; Pat Wilson about The Special Goodness; Brian Bell about Space Twins; and Mikey Welsh about his paintings and that big knife Cuomo shoved into his back.
The story of Weezer is one of highs and lows, brilliant successes, and the occasional debilitating disappointment. Everyone knows the story: Four Beatles-inflected lads rise to fame in the age of grunge - catapulted by a song abut a pop icon eerily similar to themselves - fall from grace with an ambitious dark follow-up, and subsequently drop out of view altogether. In the meantime, the band gains a legion of new fans and then stages a remarkable comeback, returning to form and favor. It's astory of rags to riches, then back to rags, then onto riches 10 times over.
However, as is often the case, it's the myth of Weezer that might be more interesting than the fact. First there was the departure of bassist Matt Sharp shortly after the band's second record, 1996's Pinkerton. Most recently, second bassist Mikey Welsh exited the band and then headed straight to the psychiatric ward - and was quickly replaced by Scott Shriner. There are rampant rumors about leader Rivers Cuomo wielding heavy-handed dictatorial control of thegroup, that he vetoes artistic suggestions by fellow band members and doesn't allow them to mention side projects during Weezer interviews.
Now, as the band takes an indefinite hiatus, current and former Weezer members are coming out of the woodwork with projects of their own, begging the question: Why now, why so long coming, and is this slew of releases somehow related to the myths that shroud Weezer?
NO ONE ELSE
For those who might have forgotten, Matt Sharp played bass on those first two classic Weezer records - 1994's Weezer (a.k.a. The Blue Album) and Pinkerton - before leaving in 1998 to steer The Rentals full-time. He succeeded in following up that band's debut album of new-age bliss (1995's Return of the Rentals) with another set of rave-inspired rock (1999's Seven More Minutes) and then, somewhat unceremoniously, completely removed himself from the music business. As Sharp explains it, making Seven More Minutes was a grueling process of invention and reinvention peppered with legal battles that nearly prevented its release. Sharp describes flying all over Europe trying to finish the record and sparing no expense. It seems that, when all was said and done, he just burned out.
"Making that record was a pretty exhausting and monumental experience," says Sharp. "And after putting all that time into it and dealing with the process of just trying to get it off the ground, I wanted to go out [on tour] with this large band where it was an enormous celebration every night. And by the end of it, I think we had played four shows total. SO it was all this work and years of [problems] to have it add up to four shows in Japan."
So he retreated to Leiper's Fork, TN, located about 25 miles southwest of Nashville. The county Web page's map boasts not much more than a school, a library, a few restaurants, churches, and a senior citizens center. However it was here that Sharp spent the better part of the past three years holed up in a small house with no TV or radio, writing the songs that will make up his eponymous solo debut. They are quiet numbers set mostly to piano and acoustic guitar and recorded with the help of Greg Brown (ex-Cake), Josh Hager (ex-touring Rentals) and Kurt Perkins (a Nashville pianist). Sharp envisions his new songs as the complete opposite of Seven More Minutes' craziness, and he opted for a sound that is patient, sparse, and moody.
"I didn't necessarily make a record that was indeed for people to listen to," says Sharp. "And what I mean by that is, it's a great record to have on in the morning when you're starting your day and you're not really paying attention, or when you're sweeping up the house before your girlfriend comes over. Just put it on and don't worry about it. Don't think about it so much, because it's definitely not a record that's meant to, in any way, grab your attention or grab you by the throat and shake your head around. It's not asking you to listen to it at all."
Sharp hopes that he album will usher in a new era for him. It's no secret that his departure from Weezer led to hurt feelings - and brought to light inner-band tensions - but it seems that he's about 180 degrees from where he was back in the mid'90s.
"I don't really have much to say about any of that stuff," says Sharp, who hopes to release a solo LP every year, with EP's in between. "I've had some funny times. I've definitely had some times where I've gotten a phone call or run into Mikey way back then and him just sort of looking at me and going, 'Help me.' And I said, 'You know, kid, you're on your own and good luck.'
"I've definitely heard some hysterical things," he continues. "None of which I can pass on, but you just go, 'Oh God, that's just ridiculous.' There's a whole group of people who, to be on my good side or something, want to tell me all the absurd and awful things about [Rivers], and they feel like that will maybe put them in my good graces. Usually I just say, 'I don't really want to hear it.'"
"The one thing that people have to know about my time with those guys is that while we were working on those records and doing those tours, my head and my heart and my soul were completely invested in the music made. And I think people understand that - especially people who got to see us perform and be with us. I think that they understand how important that time was, as important as rock can be. And that's part of the reason I don't like to talk about it too much - because I don't want to start talking about the negative things and sling mud on a time that so many great memories for all of us."
THE GOOD LIFE
Weezer drummer Pat Wilson was writing songs on his own before his day job's inception, shuttling through strangely named side projects (Bush, 60 Wrong Sausages, Fuzz, Suburban Advantage, The Franklin Mint) that were essentially vehicles for his solo work. Though Wilson has already put out two albums under the name The Special Goodness - the Japanese import known as The Bunny Record and the Internet-only Pinecone - he considers his latest release, Land, Air, Sea (NOS), the band's first proper LP.
"If I could have done everything over, I would have waited until this point [to release a Special Goodness record]," says Wilson. "I think those other attempts were kinda half-assed."
The new-and-improved Special Goodness - which also includes ex-Rocket From the Crypt drummer Adam "Atom" Willard - create power pop that isn't wildly different from Weezer. However, Wilson describes his songwriting as more emotional and less "populist" than Cuomo's, and he talks about the spontaneity and serendipity involved in making the record - an approach somewhat removed from Weezer's finely crafted perfectionist approach. And, surprisingly enough, Wilson plays a mean guitar and sings like it's his calling.
"People ask me all the time, 'Dude, I didn't know you could sing,' and 'Why don't you sing in Weezer?'" says Wilson. "I don't really know how to answer that in my ideal world, I think Weezer would be more like the Beastie Boys, where people were picking up instruments and putting them down and changing shit up, having freak-outs and having a good time. I think people would probably like that. But I don't think that's what Weezer's ever really been about. I think it's really been about Rivers' songs,and it probably will continue to be that."
Though Wilson is committed to The Special Goodness, he says he has no intention of leaving Weezer. HE chuckles when asked about the rumors of band friction, explaining how feelings were hurt when the media intentionally chastised the band for being soft and the abandoned the group in the face of the more challenging Pinkerton. HE even acknowledges Cuomo's reluctance in the past to let anyone speak about side projects in Weezer interviews (referring to an April 2001 CMJ article in which Cuomo interrupted band members mid-sentence), but he says that it was "a pretty isolated incident" and that "[Rivers has] done several interviews recently where he's talked at length about The Special Goodness."
"I just think it's a maturing process, really, for everybody involved," says Wilson. "We were like 23 years old when we got popular, and we have been through a lot of crazy shit since then. We've all just kind of grown up. So I would say that if you have preconceptions about members of Weezer, maybe it's wise to think, People grow."
At this year's SXSW, guitarist Brian Bell played his first show in three years with Space Twins, the band that originally began as a gleam in his eye after the breakup of Carinival Art and before he joined Weezer. However, it wasn't until the hiatus between Pinkerton' and 2001's Weezer (a.k.a. The Green Album) that Bell got serious with old high-school pals Tim (bass/violin) and Glenn Maloof (guitar) and drummer Mike Elliot and solidified the core of Space Twins. After issuing a few seven-inches, the quartet finally completed its debut LP, The End of Imagining, which will be self-released through the band's Web site, www.spacetwins.com.
"Everyone was trying to push me to put it out years ago," says Bell. "But it was like, 'No it's not done.' It's something that hasn't been rushed. And it took as much time thinking about the sequence as anything. I wanted the album to be able to be put on and listened to from beginning to end in a flowing manner and somehow gather some sort of ending synopsis or summary of 'Wow, that just took me for a complete ride.'"
Bell describes The End of Imagining as a varied affair (the band wasn't releasing promos at press time for fear of bootlegging). In addition to take on an Indian raga with Arabic violin courtesy of Tim, the album includes the Pink Floyd-ish "Rings of Saturn" and the "powerful and tight" attitude piece "Yellow Camaro."
"There's a ton more," says Bell. "I would love to put out a B-sides record with some other angles of songs. There's a song we did where we use a mandolin and nylon-string guitar that almost has a Russian-folk quality to it - a beautiful song called 'Laura' that could have easily been on the record but just didn't' seem to fit with the songs around it. I definitely want people to have these songs."
Nevertheless, the question still is why, after six years, are we finally hearing from Space Twins?
"It's a really good question," acknowledges Bell. "It's just something that came with maturity. It came with a maturity of not only the music, but as people, and [with Weezer members] finally realizing that [these solo projects aren't] a threat to anyone. It's only good and it really is just expression and art. It's not a competition."
Bell goes on to discuss the effect that Sharp's departure had on the morale of the band and how it fostered a bit of inner-band paranoia, causing subsequent side ventures to be viewed as threats. He talks about immature communication skills and makes references to "underlying jealousy and backstabbing" that once occurred within the band. However, like Wilson, Bell talks about growth and maturity, and he seems offended when asked about Cuomo's control over the group.
"I joined the band knowing that Rivers was the songwriter and it was his band," says Bell. "So it wasn't like I was coming into it thinking that it was something that it wasn't. I let him know that my role in the band would be this, and I also let him know when I joined the band that I had been doing my own thing but that as of joining the band I would do whatever I could to help Weezer out.
"I think I understand Rivers as well as anyone, and I think he's misrepresented a lot," continues Bell. "I think it's unfortunate for him that people think that he's so difficult. He's a unique person. I like to use the world 'unique' over 'difficult.' I feel he is a close friend and also a colleague."
THE WORLD HAS TURNED AND LEFT ME HERE
Following his stay at a psychiatric hospital, The Green Album bassist Mikey Welsh briefly played with ex-Mighty Mighty Bosstone Nate Albert in Boston's The Kickovers; lately, however, he's been cultivating his childhood love of visual art, studying painters such as Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning.
"Whenever I had downtime in the past, I would try to work on art as much as I could," says Welsh, who now lives in Vermont with his wife and new puppy. "[Rivers] and I lived together for about a year out in LA, and at the time I was messing around with painting because we had a lot of downtime. But when I left [Weezer], I was in the hospital for a while and I decided that [being in a band] was something I didn't want to do anymore. I was really burnt out and sick of everything involved with the music industry. I wanted to really isolate myself and just completely go in a new direction. And with painting now every day, I can't even imagine being in a band again. It's an impossibility to me because [painting is] a much more satisfying thing artistically, and it's much more gratifying personally to be able to work by myself and not have to deal with other people's egos and their bullshit."
"It's really important to me and I take it very seriously," continues Welsh. "I really hope that by the time I'm 34 or 35 I can be considered a good, important artist and not just the rock-star guy who paints. I don't look at it as this kind of cutesy, charming little Syd Barrett thing of this guy who goes crazy and starts making paintings."
It certainly seems that Welsh has left his Weezer past far behind him - but what of his departure from the band? Through his musical contribution to the group wasn't significant, Welsh was the guy who lived with Cuomo during Weezer's post-Pinkerton dry spell and was pivotal in resurrecting the band.
"I remember Rives and I living in our apartment together, watching the Metallica Behind the Music over and over again," says Welsh. "We would high-five each other. And this was when he was in the middle of his writer's block, when everybody thought Weezer was washed up, one-hit wonders. I was like, 'Man, I totally believe in you. I'm your brother. I'm right here and I'm not going to leave.' I mean, I was in that band for fucking two and a half years before we even played a show. And I believed in him."
But for Welsh, the truth hurts. He talks about his "massive nervous breakdown" at the height of Weezer's Green Album success, of just "melting down" due to drugs and pressure. Welsh also talks about feeling abandoned by his friends.
"All I know is that one week, I had these guys in my band that were like my best friends and 15 different people at our record label who thought they were my best friend - publicists and assistants - and the next week I was in the hospital and that was it," says Welsh. "I was all alone. End of story.
"The whole thing with Rivers and I," continues Welsh," I think it's really complicated and it's wrapped up in a lot of emotion. All I can really say about that guy is that he doesn't do well with big success. He and I were very, very close; we were like brothers, and I don't know - he's able to completely shut down, like a block of ice. All I can say really is that if I told you exactly what happened with me and how I left the band, and you printed it, he'd probably try to sue me. Because if our fans knew the truth of what happened, I don't think they'd like him very much."
He goes on to talk about all that's been rumored, like a cathartic avalanche - the dictatorial band control, the psychological mind games, the creative blacklisting, the humiliation, the whole nine yards. Suffice to say, Welsh's viewpoint is certainly a far cry from Wilson and Bell's portrait of growth and maturity. (Unfortunately, Cuomo declined DIW's request for an interview.)
"I don't want to come off like I regret [what I accomplished with Weezer], because I'm totally proud of everything I did in that band," says Welsh. "And I'm sure they miss me all the time. I'm sure Pat misses me because I know that he has a big heart in there somewhere. But that's just the past and I couldn't be happier. I think that things happen the way they're supposed to, honestly."