Dotmusic.co.uk interview with Patrick Wilson - September 16, 1996
Preparing for worldwide success
By Mike Pattenden
Last year, we had cause to thank bubblegum surf-grunge quartet Weezer, not just for one of the most enjoyable debut albums of 1995, but also for one of the year's cleverest videos. Their knowing take on Happy Days, directed by Spike Jonze, broke the single "Buddy Holly" worldwide. "When we saw the video, it was like 'wow, this is great'," says Todd Sullivan, the Geffen A&R who signed the band. "Then we thought 'oh God what sort of light does this put the band in?'. It could have been interpreted as them being a highly-disposable pop band. Fortunately, they proved they were more durable."
"Buddy Holly" captured Weezer's off-the-wall sense of humour and their geeky, college book image perfectly and its host eponymous album, produced by The Cars' Ric Ocasek, matched tongue-in-cheek loser lyrics to thrashy garage rock, overspilling with witty hooks, goofy harmonies and neat melodies.
In the US, where the post-grunge scene had switched to the dumb and dumber dynamics of Green Day, its timing could not have been better. Weezer's label, Geffen, had another hit on its hands as the album rapidly sold 2m units in its home country and another million around the world.
But it also had a fairly unhappy band, as the LA-based four-piece struggled to come to terms with stardom and a non-stop tour schedule that stretched on endlessly. "Yeah, it's true we got pretty burnt," agrees drummer Pat Wilson. "We played the same songs for two-and-a-half years. The desire to stop touring was definitely there. We weren't prepared for that level of success and it was difficult to get a perspective on what was happening to us."
This time around, though, as the band prepare to release the follow up, Pinkerton, they are more prepared for the pressures. "We won't have a problem dealing with any future success," says Wilson. "In fact, we just want to make sure it happens as much as possible."
But this is not to say that making the second album has been without its problems. Where the debut featured songwriting credits for Wilson, Pinkerton, named after a character in Madame Butterfly, is all frontman and songwriter Rivers Cuomo's own work. "Was there tension? Absolutely!" says Wilson, smiling at the understatement. "There was a total lack of communication. We all had our own ideas and we all write stuff, so things got very frustrating because we were unable to contribute. But we've reached a position where we accept Weezer is the product of a single vision and that it's probably better for that."
The knock-on effect of Cuomo's autocratic approach is that the other three members, Wilson, bassist Matt Sharp and guitarist Brian Bell, now pursue their own sidelines. Wilson's is The Special Goodness, a Dave Grohl-style project with an album written and recorded on his own that Geffen picked up. Sharp, meanwhile, returned to his former outfit The Rentals and Bell went back to his own group, The Space Twins.
For Cuomo, however, Weezer could itself be the sideline. Having enrolled at Harvard to study music last year, he now has to tackle what is known as The Ash Syndrome - the dichotomy between study and rock'n'roll. "Schools out, so it's OK to be in a band at the moment. Later on it might be a problem, but I can take time out, defer work for a term," he said after the band's sweltering Garage gig on the eve of Reading.
But all distractions have now been placed to one side until the album has run its course. However, one other problem remains with the project; Cuomo is refusing to do any interviews to promote it. For Sullivan and Geffen this presents something of a problem. "Rivers is happy to do in-store appearances, he's very willing to get involved with that sort of promotion and also to tour - he's going to be on the road for some six months with this, but he doesn't like talking about the music, he'd rather people interpreted it. It can be very frustrating, but we have to respect that."
Pinkerton, weighing in at 10 tracks and a breezy 32 minutes, boasts no significant departures, but features a noticeably freer sound with more complex arrangements to the fore - a reflection of the increasing tightness of the band. "Lyrically, the songs are all pretty simple, there's no real hidden agenda - what you hear is what you get pretty much but musically it's a lot more complex," says Wilson.
The album was recorded in two stints over Christmas and Easter, during Cuomo's college vacations, in New York and Boston with the rest of the band flying in to complete the sessions. This time the four opted to take over the production duties. "We made a conscious decision not to get any names in," says Wilson. "With the first album, Ric allowed us to sound how we wanted. This time around we simply chose a good engineer because we're all students of music and sound and we know what we want."
So can Weezer win the world over twice? Sullivan thinks so. "Oh definitely, and they've taken chances this time. Where the last album was really strict and disciplined, they went in this time very soon after the songs were written and then played very loose. It's a very brave record in that respect because the spontaneity shows. There's a lot of anticipation for this record and no one's going to be disappointed."