Gene Simmons Tongue article - June 4, 2002
Weezer Gives Good Shred
Still Battling Self-Loathing And The Bass-Player Problem, Geek Rock Deity Rivers Cuomo Finds His Way To The Hard-Rocking Maladroit.
Writer Erik Himmelsbach
The members of Weezer sit in a chill-out room at Hollywood’s Sunset Sounds recording studio, staring deeply into nowhere, softly shaking their heads in that I’m-focused-really-hard-on-the-music sort of way. Singer/songwriter Rivers Cuomo plays deejay, the bearded, down jacket-wearing ‘puter rock jock hunched over a titanium laptop like a jr. Unabomber. Now blaring: vintage Rush.
The outside world does not exist. For this moment, at least, the band’s lives revolve solely around an Alex Lifeson guitar solo. “Listen to that shred,” Cuomo says, mesmerized.
“You could plant corn with that shred,” chimes drummer Pat Wilson, who, by the way, behaves the way a drummer is supposed to behave – as smart-assed comic relief, a geek with attitude. But he speaks the truth underneath his veneer of sneer.
This isn’t irony. This is prayer – a roomful of fans in a makeshift house of worship. Perhaps deep inside their pointy little heads, Weezer imagines themselves as Rush – a well-lubed music-making machine that rocks the socks off of each and every town with majesty, pomp and a modicum of intelligence, leaving only echoes of shred and clouds of dust in their wake.
Well, it was a beautiful thought while it lasted. “I’ve got to take some more advanced calculus to figure out this song,” notes Scott Shriner, the band’s new bassist, breaking the spell, as A Farewell to Kings blasts the room.
Besides, as Wilson explains, marquee pretensions don’t fly in Weezerville. “I think rock stars tend to leave this band,” he sarcastically notes, bringing nods and chuckles all around. No further explanation is necessary: Original bassist Matt Sharp left the band in 1998 to pursue his rock star dreams with The Rentals. (Remember them?) And Sharp’s replacement, Mikey Welsh, recently pulled a Syd Barrett, flipping out and going MIA last summer, eventually surfacing in a Boston psychiatric hospital. He remains in New England.
Welsh’s departure remains something of an open wound. Cuomo, usually indifferent when answering questions, turns downright terse. “We can’t comment on that,” he responds, not bothering to look up from his laptop.
With his hard-rock pedigree, Shriner seems a round peg in Weezer’s square hole, the kind of guy you’d find at two in the afternoon playing Ritchie Blackmore solos on a Flying V at Guitar Center. “I heard [Shriner] was covered in tattoos and had a gold tooth, and I thought, ‘That’s perfect,’” Cuomo recalls. “He played with us once and I immediately knew he was the right guy.”
Weezer led a charmed existence for exactly one album. On the strength of shimmering outsider pop hits such as “Buddy Holly” (and its memorable Spike Jonez-directed video) and “Undone (The Sweater Song),” from their 1994 Ric Ocasek-produced debut (Weezer, a.k.a. the “Blue” album), they became known as purveyors of “geek rock,” a shiny antidote to grunge griminess.
Then, alas, came Pinkerton. The initial response was tepid (it was Rolling Stone’s Worst Album of 1996). With jagged musical edges and a lyrical content that revealed its author’s innermost sexual peccadilloes, it’s not an easy listen. And Cuomo has been backtracking from it ever since. “That is the most personal album of all time,” he says. “I think I probably knew the whole time I was doing it [that] I shouldn’t be doing it.”
With his confidence shaken, Cuomo retreated to his studies at Harvard, got braces, had one of his legs shortened, and pondered the pros and cons of life as a pop star. With the band in limbo, Cuomo became the subject of rumors, many of the Brian-Wilson-in-the-sandbox variety: drugs, isolation, bizarre behavior. “I feel like nobody has any idea what I’m actually like, judging by the articles I’ve read,” he says. “The press has dubbed me crazy or cracked or weird. I think I’m extremely normal and bland.”
There were half-hearted attempts to record in the latter ‘90s, but little came of it. “I had to go on a journey,” Cuomo says of that period. “I just wasn’t ready.” Intraband relationships had become so strained that by early 2000, they were communicating solely through management.
An offer to tour Japan in Spring 2000 brought them back together. The frenzied response caught the band off guard, so they joined that summer’s Warped Tour. “We were kind of already trying to make it roll at that point,” Cuomo says. “But when we heard that offer, it gave us such a positive boost.”
The band’s now been on the road and/or recording for two straight years, an unparalleled stretch of stability. Strengthened by the steady work, the once-fragile group dynamic is solid enough that Welsh’s disappearance was just a pothole in life’s world tour.
Their well-oiled vibe is apparent on Maladroit, which comes a mere year after the comeback “Green” album. Their most organic recording, it screams with assured, arena rockin’ energy. “It’s less of an event now,” Cuomo says of recording. “We just go in and play our songs and leave.”
Though Cuomo describes Maladroit as unproduced, the fans – the loyal, long-suffering, but brutally honest Weezer Army – had a major hand in shaping the album. “During the day we record and at night we put up the day’s work [on the Weezer.com website] and they would shred it,” he says. (The files were taken down in late February by decree of the band’s label, Interscope, whose current relationship with the band is icy. Weezer released a nine-track advance of Maladroit to the press without Interscope’s knowledge, according to Cuomo, now doubling as the band’s manager). Cuomo himself regularly corresponded with the faithful via email to discuss arrangements, vocal nuances, guitar solos, and the like.
The correspondence is telling. More than anything since Pinkerton, it seems to provide a window into the psyche of the fragile artist. Cuomo’s a platinum-selling rock songwriter with four albums under his belt, yet plainly is still full of gut-wrenching uncertainty and doubt. He tells one fan:
The irony is that what I really want to do, if left to my own devices, is write songs without those ultimate climax points. The only reason I bring up Nirvana and the Beatles is because they managed to do this. It’s not that I want to copy THEIR formula, it’s that I want to invent my own. Clearly, I have not achieved this yet. Sometimes I’m tempted to give up, but I want it so badly that I can’t.
I count on people like you to slap me back into reality if I’m just chasing a dream.
It sounds as if the fans pushed all the right buttons. The band mostly jettisons its rigid, stop-on-a-dime pop in favor of a loose, live-in-the-studio approach. The guitars interact in strange and unusual ways, and the songs have a warm elasticity: Highlights include the heavy duty “Take Control,” punctuated by an Eddie VH-ish solo; “Fall Together,” with its finger-lickin’ ZZ Top-by-way-of-the-Meat Puppets boogie; and “Dope Nose,” a rousing anthem you will hear on the radio all summer long.
Rush stops playing, and Pat Wilson has an idea. “Phil Collins – now there was a guy. Fuckin’ Phil rips,” he says. The sincerity of the comment is irrelevant. “I’m here to say that Phil doesn’t get enough props. He makes me want to get a headset and microphone and join these guys in harmonies.”
A pause is followed by mental lightbulbs turning on. “Do you know how stoked people would be? People would lose their minds,” Cuomo excitedly reacts. Back to work: Cuomo hunkers down at the laptop and the MP3 search begins. Abacab anyone?