Daily Pennsylvanian interview with Brian Bell - July 19, 2001
Post Geek? Weezer Might Be on Their Way
By Jo Piazza
They've been called the post-grunge, post-alternative, post-modern phenomenom, but being post-everything has to make them the forerunner of something — Weezer just isn't exactly sure what that something is yet.
"Maybe we're the classic rock of the future," muses guitarist Brian Bell, after more than a moment's hesitation. "I mean we're definitely going back more and more to the music we grew up listening to, and trying to bring the rock back into alternative rock."
But critics will tell you alternative rock has come and gone. Its hey-day decade of the nineties has faded into the collective memories of twenty-somethings, now pawning their Lemonheads CDs to score a few bucks at the local Disc-Go Round.
I concur to Bell's thoughts that classic rock, the antithesis of all that is popular at this moment, may be the best direction to head in, as he expresses his genuine dislike of pop-music's current status quo. "It seems like the best radio stations are the ones that play classic rock," he tells me. "I can't listen to those alternative rock' stations anymore without getting upset. I don't like the way music is produced now — that grungy Seattle vocal style where all the notes are slurred and the guys say 'yeah' a lot."
Ironic then that the quartet will headline the upcoming Y-100 Fezitval, a historically alternative station and show, notorious for bands that say "yeah" a lot. But Bell is ultimately optimistic about the performance, saying it'll be fun after being off the road for a couple of weeks to drive away the stir-craziness and energy that builds up being at home in California for awhile.
Weezer, who has been touring the U.S. and Japan for their latest release, simply titled The Green Album, is using this time off to film the video for the band's second single, "Island in the Sun." Bell reveals that the trademark Weezer kitsch that has found its way into their videos since 1994's "Buddy Holly," and was absent from the 1996's Pinkerton, will be making an appearance this time around. The video's focus is on a Mexican wedding, a very family oriented and traditional event, which Bell assures me will be a symbolic portrayal of the festivities, absent of Mariachi players and other easily misconstrued derogatory items. LA, he tells me, was a fabulous mecca in which to audition extras for the video.
"Island in the Sun" may be the second song released off the album, but its radio precense is already gaining more strength than the May release of "Hash Pipe", which chat rooms nationwide purport is the result of a drug-induced encounter lead singer Rivers Cuomo had with a Santa Monica tranvestite, though Cuomo contends the only thing he may have been on at the time was a few shots of tequila.
"Island in the Sun," has a very different background from the already heightened urban legend of its predecessor.
Cuomo, who long ago established himself as the working figurehead of the band, recorded it alone on a 4-track years ago. Bell paints a gloriously anal picture of the meticulous Cuomo using a numerical system to govern the organization of his music. He recalls a period a few years back when Cuomo had holed himself away from humanity. As Rivers began to emerge back into society, Bell would periodically stop by his house to poke around and play some piano duets, though the lead singer was obviously cautious about working on any new music.
"I was delicate in getting him to play me new things," Bell remembers. "I knew how he felt about them and that he was very insecure. I walked into his room and there were all these song titles written all over the walls and the first one I asked about was "Island in the Sun," and that is the first one he played for me. Back then it didn't sound much like a Weezer song, but once we all got together it began to take shape."
Even back when no one knew the real title of "The Sweater Song" ("Come Undone") these four guys from all over suburban America have been labeled the "geeks of modern rock." Just when the band thought the unglorified nickname may be on its way out, after critics realized six years ago that the guys may be more than a one-hit wonder, journalists kept coming back with more. Rolling Stone alone has published three articles in the past four months with the moniker placed boldly in the title.
Bell is fairly adamant about refuting the geek image. "Well, its been out with me since the beginning. I don't think I'm a geek."
But Cuomo just oozes geek—the Ivy League nearly-graduate has seemed to flourish in a land of geekdom, making thick rimmed glasses popular for fashionistas and middle school pre-pubescents nationwide. Bell agrees. "A lot of it, OK most of it, comes from Rivers wearing glasses, but he definitely has a better dress sense these days. Personally I don't think I've ever had a bad dress sense."
And even though everyone that thought the label was on its way out was wrong, Bell is more comfortable with the former title than another one that people have begun to pin on them. "Hell I'd much rather be called a nerd than a rock star any day," he soundly explains, in a tone bordering on both humor and outrage.
"I think rock stars are total nerds. Anyone that's extremely egocentric and self-destructive — they're idiots. I'd much rather be a person that reads books about geometry and The Hobbit. I feel like I've always been a part of a cool music scene and I haven't lost sight of who I am, so when somebody calls me a rock star I am kind of offended by it."
And the geek label has stuck, not because of its truth, but because according to Bell, "All people look at in magazines are the pictures, headlines and big black quotes, then they make an instant memo about the band." Thats the reason Bell has canceled his magazine subscriptions and stopped perusing the headlines at grocery store check outs. "The magazines clutter up your house and for some reason they are so hard to throw away."
After nearly a decade of playing together, Weezer seems to be having almost as much fun as they were in the "Buddy Holly" video — almost.
"I think the funnest part about being in any band is the climb," Bell tells me as we close out our talk. He recalls the early days when their van broke down on their way out of the valley to play for a crowd of 10 people in a rundown bar.
"The first time you hear your song on the radio is like your first kiss, and it is never better than that."