Kerrang! article - April 27, 2002
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Tantrums. Beards. Paranoia. Teenage cyber girlfriends.
Has WEEZER frontman Rivers Cuomo lost the plot?
Words: Ben Mitchell Photos: Scarlet Page
RIVERS CUOMO is behaving like a spoilt brat. You join us in Barcelona, sitting in one of Weezer’s three tour buses idling outside the lavish Hotel Art – sea views, Bang & Olufsen stereos in every room, complicated electric curtain-opening devices, that kind of thing. It’s around half-past-three on a warm March afternoon and the band are preparing to leave for the Palau Sant Jordi – an 8,000 capacity arena built for the gymnastic events of the 1992 Olympics – where tonight they will support Irish pomp balladeers The Cranberries.
We are here to discuss Weezer’s fourth album, Maladroit (the name was chosen from fan suggestions on the band’s website weezer.com). Seemingly lacking an immediate hit like "Hash Pipe" from its predecessor, The Green Album, it nonetheless showcases a band instilled with the confidence that only hard touring brings, a band able to tilt their unpretentious pop sensibilities to glam or hard rock without losing, for want of a better word, their Weezerness.
Only matters aren’t going to plan. Rivers Cuomo should have turned up half-an-hour ago for the photo shoot that accompanies this feature, but he cancelled with five minutes to go. Actually, ‘cancelled’ is the wrong word. He simply didn’t turn up, leaving his assistant to apologise on his behalf. The frontman is apparently unhappy with the UK publicist who has accompanied us on this trip – some petty misunderstanding over an incident that happened last year, coincidentally here in Barcelona – and he has decided to sulk about it.
"Once he has one of his turns and the toys go out of the pram," explains one of the Weezer touring party, "You’re f**ked".
RIVERS CUOMO'S eccentricities are well documented. Interviews are frequently conducted with the singer staring at the carpet the whole time and rife with interminable pauses. A member of The Cranberries’ entourage mentions that Cuomo is never seen without headphones, a woolly hat and, of course, the unruly beard has cultivated ("It’s like he’s trying to shut out everything. The bloke’s crackers."), although only the beard will be in evidence later today. Indeed, the same person reports that in Madrid a couple of nights ago, the singer’s fear of mobile phones meant a local technician had to lay out yards and yards of cable to install a landline in his dressing room (Cuomo will later deny this, claiming he is afraid only of bees). One possible explanation for Cuomo’s temperament today could be that he was out until nine in the morning, wandering around the city centre looking for trance clubs.
Whatever the reason, he’s a no-show for now and so it’s left to the remaining members of Weezer – laconic guitarist Brian Bell, affable drummer Pat Wilson – to take up the slack. Bell discusses local fruit and the possible names for when he has a baby – I suggest Ding-Dong, he prefers Liberty – while Wilson comes up with a solution for our present predicament.
"Put me over the cover," he jokes. "I fully endorse that."
Standing on the pavement, newly-recruited bassist Scott Shriner smokes a cigarette with a combination of bemusement and the shrugging diplomacy of a jobbing musician who doesn’t want to blow the pretty sweet gig. After Weezer’s second bassist Mikey Welsh’s behaviour became increasingly erratic and he checked into a psychiatric hospital last summer, Los Angeles hard rock journeyman Shiner was brought in as a temporary touring replacement before eventually joining full-time. With shoulder-length hair and rippling tattooed arms, he certainly upsets the geek chic apple cart that has so far been Weezer’s stock-in-trade. As Shriner cheerily climbs aboard, the bus pulls away for the 20-minute trip to the venue (Cuomo will emerge from the seclusion of his room later to make the journey alone as he always does).
Nearing the Palau, a call comes through stating that Cuomo is prepared to "play ball" as long as the offending publicist gets off the bus immediately and is not seen again. To his credit, rather than make a song and dance about it, the thoroughly undeserving object of Cuomo’s distaste decides that the singer’s co-operation is paramount in us getting the job done and swallows his pride. The bus pulls over and he walks the hour-and-a-half back to the hotel.
"That’s so stupid I couldn’t possibly comment," says Shriner.
"Great," adds Wilson. "He’s in one of those moods. We’ll probably have an interesting day too".
THERE'S NO doubt that Rivers Cuomo is a gifted songwriter and an important figure in American music right now. Similarly, there is no doubt that he is not equipped with the emotional tools to deal with people in a normal way—someone, who, without the cotton-wool of fame, would not get away with this kind of thing without receiving a bloody good kicking on a fairly regular basis. But get away with it he does because, well, that’s just the way it works when you’re "the talent."
Following a brief soundcheck, I decide to test the rumour that Cuomo will not make eye contact with strangers. As he leaves the stage by way of a side ramp, I move into a position where it’s unavoidable for him to ask me to get out of his way. Never breaking his gaze from the floor, he looks slightly panicky before hopping off to the side and heading for the solitude of his dressing room—separate from the rest of the band, of course.
After milling around the backstage area for an hour—during which time Cuomo is referred to unaffectionately as "Elvis"—Bell asks if I’d like to interview him while we’re waiting for Cuomo to put in an appearance. After some smalltalk about the local wine, conversation turns to how Bell copes with the singer. Does he, for instance, think Cuomo is weird?
"He is and he isn’t." is the diplomatic reply. "From an outside perspective, yes, but the definitely has a very kind side. Question it if you like—you might not understand it—but I think that he always has the best interests of the band in mind. He doesn’t like to go along with the norm of what’s easy…"
Bell also claims that he himself can be just as difficult, depending on whether he’s tired or hasn’t had his coffee. This isn’t convincing though, because firstly Bell is unfailingly polite during what has become a fairly joyless day, and secondly no-one would really care if he flounced off anyway; rightly or wrongly, the centre of attention is Cuomo.
It’s while I’m talking to Bell that Cuomo finally arrives. With his green combat jacked, trademark glasses, spooked rabbit stare, and, of course, that beard, he resembles nothing so much as the sort of person you generally see picking off young families and staff members in McDonalds with an AK-47.
With the sun setting, photographing the band before it gets too dark is imperative, so the interview is cut short. Bell looks disappointed but resigned to the fact that he is very much second banana to Cuomo, the supposed genius with his myriad "idiosyncrasies".
WITH AN hour to go until Weezer are due to play, Cuomo’s assistant informs me that Rivers feels ready to field questions and leads me to his personal dressing room. A guitar and a few candles are the only personal touches on view, though Cuomo sits at a desk in the corner, his attention absorbed in sales figures for The Green Album—part of his responsibilities as the band’s manager—displayed on a laptop computer. I ask if it’s alright to take a seat on a white sofa and tell him to give me a shout when he’s ready.
"I’m ready now," he replies, turning his folding chair to face me over a small coffee table. And so we begin…
Do you consider yourself a normal person?
I consider myself a normal person in extraordinary, abnormal circumstances. I think if anyone were in my position they would end up acting like I do.
Why did you pull that little rock star trip today?
There’s incidents like that all the time.
I think you’ve been childish, a bit "toys out of the pram". Do you know what I mean?
I think so (laughs). Well, I try to give myself complete license to do whatever I want at any time regardless of how it affects other people and … I think the benefits I gain artistically from living like that outweigh the costs of, um, all the problems that I have with society.
Everyone hating me.
What kind of person does that make you?
And you’re alright with that?
Yeah, I’ve tried all different kinds of ways of living and I’ve discovered that this is the most conducive to creativity, acting on whim regardless of consequences.
With no consideration for other people?
No. Occasionally, I’ll have pangs of conscience but I try to overcome them. To me that’s a small price to pay.
PERHAPS TO compensate for his earlier awkwardness, Cuomo is lucid and friendly this evening. Certainly, there are none of the difficult moments that seem to be part and parcel of talking to him and, rather frustratingly, he is rather charming in a clumsy sort of way. Nonetheless, the damage has been done and any idea of tiptoeing around him has long gone out of the window. When I put it to him that rumours are circulating that he’s a terrible cocaine fiend, he seems genuinely surprised.
"I tried it once but it didn’t do anything for me," he claims.
Another rumour has Cuomo forbidding emo kingpins Jimmy Eat World from making eye contact with him when they supported Weezer on tour last year.
"I didn’t tell ‘em that," he explains. "I talked to them everyday! I think that came from a show we played with them in London. Someone that day told them not to look me in the eye, I think, but it wasn’t me and it wasn’t anyone associated with my crew. I think it’s a wonderful idea, but I hadn’t come up with it at that point."
Cuomo maintains that he isn’t shy at all, so why all the walking around gawping at his shoes?
"I just don’t want people to talk to me", he says.
And how about that beard? Reminiscent of cracked Beach Boy Brian Wilson, perhaps?
"Everyone says that, but it’s just a beard. Why does it have to mean Brian Wilson? Millions of guys have beards, not just me and him."
Conversation turns to Cuomo’s love of football. He claims to have played on the left wing for an amateur team in LA ("How am I at crossing? Great!"). As with a recent Kerrang! Interview when Cuomo suddenly claimed he was a huge fan of full-body massages, I suspect this to be a lie, but apparently not.
"No! Why do you think I’m full of @#%$? The massage thing? That was mostly true too – the guy twisted my words but the substance of what I was saying is true. Everyone thought I made it up but I didn’t. I play soccer too."
Cuomo seems to delight in being contradictory, though not all of it rings true. Despite having completed part of an English Literature degree at Harvard, he claims to never read anything more weighty than music magazines. Asked about whether his is happy with the "game-playing" of being in a band, he says he is content.
"If there’s too much, I draw the line and say I don’t want to do this anymore, then I go concentrate on music or playing video games or something". Do you play a lot of video games?
"No, actually I don’t. I’m not really interested in anything. Just rocking".
Strangely, considering the die-hard nature of the band’s followers and the "Cult of Weezer," Cuomo seems to have little fondness for the fans, whether celebrities such as Chino Moreno or otherwise. His current favourite album is, he says, The Blueprint by Jay Z—probably not a Weezer fan….
How do you feel about Deftones?
All different kinds of musicians seems to respect us for some reason but I don’t really feel reverential towards other artists like it seems like they do towards us.
Do you think Weezer fans will like Maladroit?
Probably not. Weezer fans don’t really like our albums.
What about Pinkerton (1996’s darkly personal and spectacularly unsuccessful second album)? It seems a lot of fans want more of that.
They sure do. They’re not going to get it, though, not from me. I don’t like Pinkerton. @#%$ it’s a @#%$ album! I wish people would leave it alone.
Do you think that your fans like you and the band more than the music?
No, they hate me too (laughs).
What makes you say that?
It’s just a feeling I get from them screaming at me, hurling insults at me, writing me mean letters…
What a jerk I am.
Do you think that’s fair?
EVEN BEFORE ‘Maladroit’ is released, Weezer have another album—at the moment referred to by the working title Number Five—most complete, with a tentative release date sometime in February 2003. A prolific patch for the band, it would seem.
"We don’t feel particularly prolific," Cuomo counters. "It doesn’t seem like it’s all that much effort. It’s pretty easy."
Of the 1,000 songs Cuomo has reputedly written, he says most of them are "terrible." Discussing Maladroit further, mention is made of lost love as a theme.
"I can’t remember," he says, "I’m moving away from love songs, though. I think I’m becoming more inspired by different things now."
Cuomo claims he is not in love at the moment ("Hell, no!"), though he does have a girlfriend albeit not in the traditional sense: "I have a cyber girlfriend. I met her on the internet."
Are you making this up?
Does she know who you are?
Yeah, I met her at weezer.com
How racy does your on-line interaction get?
It doesn’t get racy at all, really. She’s still in High School.
So how old is she?
Eighteen … barely legal.
I ask Cuomo if there’s anything else he’d like to discuss, at which point he holds up a laboratory beaker full of white wine.
"This…out of a measuring cup?! For measuring what? The booze! That’s pretty insane, isn’t it?"
Comparatively speaking, not really.
SHORTLY AFTER eight o’clock, Weezer take the stage under their customary Van Halen-inspired ‘W’ prop. Watching from the sides are a couple of The Strokes in town to play a club gig.
Weezer open with "Dope Nose," the mooted first single from Maladroit, and play a 50-minute greatest hits set for an audience who are clearly marking time until The Cranberries lollop on to foist two hours of heavy-handed folk rock onto them. The finale of Weezer’s jaunty first hit single "Buddy Holly" is met with something bordering on enthusiasm. As the rest of the band leave the stage however, Cuomo’s lengthy freeform feedback solo is not.
According to Cuomo, Weezer is essentially his band, in that anyone but him could leave and it would continue.
"Definitely. Definitely," he confirmed when asked if this is true, going on to insist that this does not cause problems, indeed, "it helps things to run really smoothly."
So what he is saying, really, is that he is in charge?
"Yeah, I’m the boss and there’s a very clear hierarchy. We all know our place."
Afterwards, Shriner, Wilson and Bell unwind in their dressing room over a modest deli platter. After some talk about the evening’s performance—the general consensus being the audience were rather subdued but otherwise it went well—I put Cuomo’s comments regarding the inessential nature of their presence to the other three members of Weezer.
"Good for him. Good for him," mumbles Shriner, who looks like he could break Cuomo in half if pushed.
"Is that what he said?" asks Wilson. "That’s probably true. It is his band, man. I don’t think that’s a strange comment."
"It definitely would not sound the same if he left," concedes Shriner. "It could sound great in a different way. Nothing’s going to stop the show for him and that’s part of the reason why I got in here."
"It’s a survival thing really," offers Bell weakly.
SO WHAT have we learned about Rivers Cuomo? Leaving with Bell to catch the Strokes show—still going ahead even though an EU summit has prompted a riot, as 1000 anti-globalization protestors get a leathering from armed police—he gamely makes eye contact, bids us a meek farewell and makes his way to a waiting car.
Earlier, as our interview time drew to an end, I asked whether he had any spare cigarettes.
Cuomo, a non-smoker, picked up his walkie-talkie and 30 seconds later his assistant appeared with a fresh pack of Malboro Ultra Lights. A conspicuous flexing of star muscle or an attempt to rebuild the bridges he has burnt in such an infantile fashion? Are we dealing with a fragile talent, some kind of misunderstood visionary, or just a nasty little twerp with a few catchy tunes? Perhaps the answer lies in our closing exchange…
Was this a typical day for you?
Yeah, pretty much every day is exactly the same which is how I like it. Unfortunately I’ve got this little cough which has got me a little out of sorts, but other than that it’s been a very good day.
Very good! So you don’t feel bad about your behaviour?
No. I’m proud.
And for the first time today, I don’t doubt what Rivers Cuomo says for a second.⬤
WEEZER's new album, 'Maladroit', is released on May 20 through Polydor.