Hartford Courant interview with Rivers Cuomo - December 4, 1996

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Print interview with Rivers Cuomo
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Scan by Luke Annati
Publication The Hartford Courant (Link)
Interviewee Rivers Cuomo
Interviewer Roger Catlin
Date December 4, 1996
Title Weezer's worry
Format Print
External link Link
Associated concert Weezer concert: 12/04/1996
References See where this interview is referenced on Weezerpedia

Weezer's worry
Author: Roger Catlin (The Hartford Courant)
Published: December 4, 1996

Performing in the state where he was raised and started playing rock music should be nothing but a triumph for Rivers Cuomo, 26, the reluctant front man of Weezer.

But tonight's show at Toad's Place in New Haven, only the band's second appearance in the state, is being met with some dread by the painfully soft-spoken lead singer and songwriter.

"I've tried to avoid it," Cuomo admits over the phone. "It's incredibly nerve-racking."

Part of it is the thought of "people I know judging me," he says. "I just feel more pressure in Connecticut than anywhere else in the world."

And he cringes when he thinks of his mother's hearing songs like "Tired of Sex," which kicks off Weezer's new "Pinkerton" album with a list of sexual conquests. "I always hope that she can't understand the lyrics," Cuomo says, "I want my female relatives to think I'm perfect."

Up until Connecticut, anyway, Cuomo has been having more fun on this tour than last time, when Weezer's 1994 debut racked up 2 million sales.

"I think I was just a little bit freaked out and was a real stick in the mud for a while," he says.

Even as the band was collecting an armful of MTV awards for its "Buddy Holly" clip in September 1995, Cuomo vanished from the scene by entering Harvard University for a year.

Recovering from a leg operation while he took mostly music classes, he was constantly worried about being discovered as a rock star.

"I was always expecting somebody to come up to me and harass me," says Cuomo, who declined speaking to Rolling Stone at the height of Weezer's success.

"After a month, I realized no one knew who I was, and no one cared," he says, "That was both a relief and also kind of depressing."

It wasn't easy to start writing for a second album after an 18-month lapse. "There was a lot of false starts. A lot of pulling my hair out," he says.

"It was a very sweet-and-sour experience. Because I was really lonely, it was cold, and my leg hurt. I was a nobody again, instead of a star.

"But at the same time I was happy to be alone and in touch with my creative self."

Weezer had a few songs that were written before the band became famous. "Tired of Sex" was crafted three years ago this month, as were three other songs that begin the album.

The distraction of success and the start of school brought Cuomo massive writer's block until he finally wrote "Pink Triangle," a song about an ill-fated relationship with a lesbian.

"You can hear, the very first line sounds like a guy sitting down to start writing songs again: 'When I'm stable long enough, I start to look around for love,'" Cuomo says. "That was the first line I wrote post-success. Because for that year and a half, my life wasn't stable enough for me to write."

It was "Across the Sea," the poignant song sparked by a fan letter from Japan, that let him know he was really on the right track.

"I feel like, probably more so than any other song ever that I wrote, I managed to capture a really complicated, beautiful feeling with melodies," he says.

As for the words, the fan will earn some royalties from the song. "She basically wrote the lyrics to the first verse and part of the chorus, too," Cuomo says. But when the band toured Japan recently, Cuomo decided against meeting her. "I would have been way too embarrassed."

An obsession with Japanese women so permeates the new album that it's named "Pinkerton," after the captain in the opera "Madame Butterfly."

When it was released in late September, "Pinkerton" was tangled at first in litigation by the detective agency of the same name. ("I never heard of that detective agency," Cuomo says.)

But sale of the album was probably hurt more by the reluctance of radio stations, particularly the influential K-Rock in Los Angeles, to play the first single, "El Scorcho."

Still, most of the shows for the band's current tour have sold out — something that wasn't the case the last time Cuomo played Connecticut clubs with any regularity — as part of high school groups.

Honoring E.O. Smith

Back then, the teenager known as Peter Kitz was in the metal band Avant Garde and a Kiss tribute band before that called Fury.

Playing in a band while going to Mansfield's E.O. Smith High School — which he honors by naming his publishing company E.O. Smith Music — didn't make him a big rock star on campus, however.

"No, I was never a rock star in high school," says Cuomo, Class of '88. "I was always a bit of an oddity. When I was in ninth grade, we were picked on and ostracized. By 11th grade, we were tolerated. And by 12th grade, people gave us a certain amount of respect. But we were never rock stars, just the weird guys who did music."

When Avant Garde broke up, Kitz reverted to the name Rivers Cuomo, and his second L.A. band, Weezer, was formed with a second set of roommates who were each similarly raised on third-rate metal in other parts of the country.

Side projects

When Cuomo went to Harvard a year ago, the other members of Weezer got busy with other projects.

Bassist Matt Sharp had the biggest success with "Return of the Rentals." The Rentals also featured drummer Patrick Wilson, whose own solo project, Special Goodness, has an album due out next fall. Guitarist Brian Bell hopes to release the album by his own side project, Space Twins, next fall as well.

Despite all this outside activity, "There's surprisingly little tension about solo projects," Cuomo says. "We all understand that everyone is going to do their thing when the Weezer tour is done. I don't think anyone has a problem with that."

But Cuomo wonders what will happen once Weezer loses its multi-platinum appeal.

While he praises band members as songwriters, Cuomo isn't about the allow them to contribute songs to Weezer albums.

"This band plays my songs," he says, "The album is so autobiographical, it would be very strange for one of them to help me write my autobiography."

The undertow of loneliness and pain on "Pinkerton" doesn't mean Weezer, known for its "Happy Days"-themed video for "Buddy Holly," is turning dour.

"I don't know. See, when I wrote 'Buddy Holly,' I thought it was a serious song," Cuomo says.

"People took those songs as funny and fun, goofy and lighthearted. But I never thought so. I don't feel like I'm being more serious now, just more literal, more direct."

Weezer plays an all-ages show at Toad's Place, 300 York St., New Haven tonight. Doors open at 7:30; show starts at 8:30 with a set by Ash. Tickets are $15. Information: (203) 562-5589.


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