Guitar Player interview with Rivers Cuomo - July 2002

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"I think producers and record companies would welcome guitar solos if players could come up with ways to make them sound fresh and exciting." - RIVERS CUOMO

ALT-SHRED

WEEZER'S RIVERS CUOMO SAVES THE GUITAR SOLO


BY MATT BLACKETT

PHOTOGRAPHS BY CARL KOCH


Each generation rebels against the one before. This was never truer than in the '90s, when alternative/grunge poster-boy Kurt Cobain and his followers gleefully pounded musical nails into the '80s metal coffin. Lo-fi, gut-level guitar playing was in, virtuosity was out.

Before the dust had settled from the alternative explosion, however, a band out of Los Angeles called Weezer came along to challenge the guitar anti-heroes. Mixing radically distorted guitars, catchy pop hooks, and geek-chic visuals, Weezer—and its leader and chief songwriter, Rivers Cuomo—became a huge part of the alt-pop revolution. But rather than deny his hard-rock roots, Cuomo displays them proudly, and he has never been afraid to break alternative music's unwritten rule against loud, prominent guitar solos.

And yet, Cuomo has never been wilder than on Weezer's current release, Maladroit [Geffen]. The album is wall-to-wall guitar, complete with crushing rhythm lines and intricate, ferocious solos. Indeed, Cuomo might be the missing link between Judas Priest and Nirvana—a cutting edge, modeern-rock icon who isn't afraid to shred and shred again.

"We try to get the tunes recorded and then move on," says Bell. "We think you get better results that way than by thinking about the songs for years."

Guitar Player: You've always played leads, but not with this kind of ferocity

Rivers: On the previous album, I had seriously retreated from lead guitar. I was pretty much just quoting the vocal melody, and I got deluged with criticism from our fans. As we were recording Maladroit, I would post mp3s of rough mixes on our Web site so fans could voice their opinions. A lot of them said, "That solo is terrible! Why aren't you shredding?" So, I'd go back into the studio the next day and just go for it. The fans seemed to like that a lot better. Looking back on it, I'm really happy to se some wicked guitar work on a modern album.

Guitar Player: Almost every solo is doubled. What's your process for double tracking?

Rivers: I like to go with the exact same tone for both tracks. Some producers change the guitar or the amp, but sticking with the same setup feels more realistic. It sounds like just me, rather than two different versions of me.

Guitar Player: How did you compose the solo to "Dope Nose"?

Rivers: What I did for that solo—and for a lot of my favorite solos on the record—was sing the lines over the rhythm tracks. Then I went back and learned what I had sung. That method is becoming more and more common for me. It insures that the solo is singable and memorable, rather than just coming from the muscle memory in my fingers. I used that same technique for the leads to "American Gigolo," "Keep Fishin'," and "Take Control."

Guitar Player: Your solo in "Fall Together" sounds like it's doubled in the beginning, one track in the middle, and then doubled at the end.

Rivers: That's exactly what's happening, and that's the creativity of Tom Lord-Alge, who mixed the album. I just did a normal double all the way through—it was his idea to bring the double in and out. I was stoked when I heard that. I think it takes the listener on a little ride.

Guitar Player: You're known for taking control of things—you manage Weezer yourself and often direct the band's publicity. Did you ever agree with Lord-Alge's approach to the mixes?

Rivers: I tried not to criticize him on the first listen. I like to sit with the mix first, rather than go with my knee-jerk reaction. For example, the first tune he mixed was "Take Control," and it was so radically different than what we had envisioned that we all panicked. I told him, "Step aside, dude. I'm mixing this one." Then I listened to both mixes 24 hours later and I realized my mix was horrible and his was amazing.

Guitar Player: The guitar interlude in "December" is one of the nicer moments on the record. Was that written out?

Rivers: That was a total miracle. I had my solo mapped out, and Brian [Bell, Weezer co-guitarist] had his counterpoint line, but we had never heard each other's parts. We just mashed them together to see what would happen, and it sounded beautiful.

Guitar Player: How did you record the basic rhythm tracks?

Rivers: I played a stock Gibson Explorer into a new Marshall—a JCM 2000, I think. I would laydown a part with Brian, and then double it.

Guitar Player: The tones are huge, but defined.

Rivers: I'm not really that happy with my rhythm tones—I think they're too overdriven. Everything on my amp was on 10 and, in retrospect, I wish I would have cleaned it up a little. I think Brian's tones are better. The definition you hear is coming from him.

Guitar Player: What was the recording medium?

Rivers: Pro Tools.

Guitar Player: Maladroit doesn't have a real "Pro Tools" sound. What's the key to capturing a raw sound with a high-tech recording system?

Rivers: I think a big part of keeping the energy up is tracking together. What you're hearing is all of us in a room jamming. We track the vocals the same way, with all three of us feeding off each other's energy and bleeding into each other's mics. When you track that way, you can't make the recording pristine and perfect, but the vibe is more than worth it. Also, we don't copy and paste or loop anything—which helps keep the tracks sounding raw.

Guitar Player: How did you get the rich clean tones on "Death and Destruction"?

Rivers: All I did was switch to the rhythm pickup on my explorer and roll the volume back a bit. I really like the sound of that tune.

Guitar Player: Maladroit doesn't have many clean tones. In your mind, do they instantly make a tune wimpy?

Rivers: There are lots of great recordings where the clean tones sound really heavy. I just don't have such good instincts for crafting those tones, because that's not what I grew up listening to. I usually resort to maximum distortion and leave the clean stuff to other players.

Guitar Player: How does it affect you when you do use a clean tone?

Rivers: I end up getting funky, which isn't a good thing for me. I was meant to rock.

Guitar Player: What's your live rig these days?

Rivers: We're still going with Line 6 Pod Pros, which are dialed-in to sound like the Marshalls on the record.

Guitar Player: Do you even have an amp on stage?

Rivers: Now I do. For a while I didn't, and it didn't make that much difference. The amp is just sort of an emotional crutch. We got into touring with Pods when we were playing bowling alleys and places like that, and it was a lot simpler and much better for my singing, because there was no volume on stage. Now we use Pods because I think they sound better than amps—which is really sad. But, playing in arenas, there are too many variables with mic positioning and stage sound to get a consistent tone from day to day. We run the Pod Pros direct to the board, and they always sound great.

Guitar Player: Why didn't you use them on the recording?

Rivers: I brought it up, but the engineer instantly shot that idea down. He wanted amps.

Guitar Player: What are you bringing for guitars?

Rivers: I bring a lot of guitars, because I'm still trying to find the perfect one. I'm taking Explorers, Flying Vs, Strats, and Strat copies. My Starts all have Seymour Duncan TB-1 humbuckers in the bridge position.

Guitar Player: Is it true that guys are nearly finished with the follow-up to Maladroit?

Rivers: That's true. We've played some of the new tunes for a while, though.

Guitar Player: What's the new stuff like?

Rivers: It's going to be a more personal album. The Green Album was very non-emotional, Maladroit is us starting to come out of our shell, and now we're all feeling confident, and we want to express that.

Guitar Player: How does this new confidence affect you from a guitar-playing standpoint?

Rivers: I've cleaned up my sound a bit—it's punchier and has more definition. For the latest sessions, I used a plexi Marshall and spent more time having fun with my guitar tones. I'm not doubling my tracks this time, so we're all coming up with more interesting and complex parts because there's more sonic space.

Guitar Player: Do you remember the first solo you learned?

Rivers: I'm sure it was from a Kiss song, but I can't remember which one. Later, I spent a long time learning Yngwie stuff. When I saw an Yngwie songbook on a store shelf, I cried tears of joy, because I never could have figured those solos out otherwise.

Guitar Player: That's a pretty big leap, from Kiss to Yngwie. What were some of the transitional bands?

Rivers: I dug Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, George Lynch, and the Scorpions. In fact, the guitarist I hear the most in my playing is Matthias Jabs from the Scorpions. Another huge influence was Quiet Riot. When I heard "Metal Health" on the radio for the first time, it crystallized everything for me. I thought, "Here's this new sound that belongs entirely to me and my generation. This is how I want to identify myself as a metalhead."

Guitar Player: You're the first guy in a long time to not only admit these things, but to wear them as a badge of honor.

Rivers: I've been saying this stuff all along, but I guess no one ever believed me. If you look at the liner notes to our first album—which came out in 1994—there is a clearly visible Quiet Riot poster.

Guitar Player: On the radio stations that play your records, you're one of the few guys who is doing blazing solos. Why don't most of the nu-metal guys solo?

Rivers: I bet they really want to solo, but they haven't figured out their style yet. Maybe when they try to take a solo it sounds dorky to them.

Guitar Player: When your band came out into the post-Nirvana '90s, there was a disdain for lead playing.

Rivers: Yeah, I definitely felt like I had to hide my love for the guitar because it wasn't "cool." I think people have to get over their inhibitions and just go wild on the instrument for the guitar to be truly vital again. That's what this album is all about: Turning off the brain, rocking, and seeing what comes out.



BRIAN BELL's SENSE OF SPACE

GUITARIST BRIAN BELL IS THE SONIC foil to Weezer leader Rivers Cuomo. Here Bell details his role in Weezer and the difference between playing with Cuomo and fronting his own band, Space Twins.

Guitar Player: I read that you joined Weezer three days before the sessions for the first album.

Brian: Not exactly—the album was already in progress when I joined. They sent me a tape with my parts already mapped out, and I tracked them.

Guitar Player: How has your job changed over the years?

Brian: Now I come up with my own parts, but that's true with everyone in the band. Anyone can throw ideas on the table, and we all weed through them. The basic idea is any part on any instrument should be memorable and hummable. That's our sound.

Guitar Player: What's the difference between your roles in Weezer and Space Twins?

Brian: In Weezer, I focus on complementing Rivers and his melodies, whereas in Space Twins I'm the lead singer—which requires a different mindset. I play in more of a strumming style, and I let the other guitarist play off the vocal. Also, I typically get one guitar track in Weezer. In Space Twins I'll put down a bunch of tracks.

Guitar Player: Do you and Cuomo ever change up your roles in Weezer?

Brian: Yeah, we're working on two new songs—"Yellow Camaro" and "Nice to Meet You"—where I sing and Rivers just concentrates on the guitar, which he really likes. We played "Yellow Camaro" live in Portugal, and we were both nervous as hell because of the role reversal. We hadn't felt that way in years.

Guitar Player: Pick a tune on Maladroit and describe your parts.

Brian: On "Dope Nose," I play all the little twiddly lines and the answers to the vocal during the verses. In the chorus, I do the Lynyrd Skynyrd-type noodles. I played a Gibson SG through a Marshall MKI. I like the SG. It's sort of a happy medium between a Les Paul and a Strat. It has top end, but it's still beefy. On "Death and Destruction," I used my favorite guitar—a Fender Telecaster Thinline—for the clean, chimey parts.

Guitar Player: Did you take any of the solos on the record?

Brian: No. I get off on rhythm playing—that's my strong suit. Rivers takes all the solos on Maladroit, and he really unleashed his inner shredding beast on this album. He always had that ability, but he had been holding it back. I love to hear him play that way. I think the climate is cool for guitar heros again.