Mean Street Magazine interview with Patrick Wilson and Brian Bell - May 2002
"I like things to feel right."
By Chris Whyte
At about this time last year, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo carried a hefty load of expectations on his shoulders. Not only was he under the microscope of suits at Interscope Records to maintain "that Weezer sound," but Cuomo also felt a strong obligation to please the cult-like legion of Weezer fans -- a devout group perhaps only akin to The Kiss Army or Trekkies -- who waited since 1996 for a follow-up to Pinkerton.
What emerged from Cuomo’s stress was last year’s self-titled release (commonly dubbed The Green Album) that, for at least some members of the band, turned out a bit stiff and artificial. Speculation could fault Cuomo’s obsessive need to please his fans ("I get so irritated by the pressure and that sense of responsibility to one’s audience," he told Mean Street last year), but guitarist Brian Bell and drummer Pat Wilson each spent an early April morning speaking up in defense of their dictatorial bandmate, to hype their upcoming Maladroit album and pay allegiance to their fans.
"When people are breathing down your neck and watching every move like, ‘Oh no, I hope they don’t do anything weird,’ you’re very restricted," Bell says of The Green Album sessions. "You’re concentrating on playing -- like ... robotically almost." By no stretch of the imagination, however, was The Green Album a failure; it sold more than 1 million copies and had a bona fide hit with "Hash Pipe." It’s just that, as Bell and Wilson both explain, they may have got caught up in the process: making sure every note was on pitch, every drum hit on time.
So, like any smart band should, Weezer learned from their mistakes.
For the upcoming Maladroit -- which the band chose to produce themselves -- the guitars wail with uninhibited abandon, the bass and drums pound with heavy metal ferocity and the "ooh"s have turned to "WHOA"s.
"When you leave a musician to his own devices, yeah, you feel a lot more inspired and willing to take risks," says Bell.
"I think we’re all kind of realizing now that we don’t want to make canned music like everybody else," offers Wilson. "At least 50 to 75 percent of what people see in Weezer is that they’re actual people playing actual music and they can do it in front of you. It’s so simple."
Simple, that is, until personalities enter the mix. Musicians are by nature overly critical and self-defeating, with the men of Weezer being no exception.
"We think a lot about approach," says Wilson. "Should we use a click track or should we just do takes until we get a really good one? Should we cut it up in Pro Tools and make it perfect sounding like everything else on the radio or should we maintain a human feel but just be more precise?"
This is where opinions differ.
"Rivers is very set in methods, so he wants a method," says Bell, "but I like things to feel right. I don’t care how you get there."
To Cuomo’s credit, the last time Weezer self-produced an album that was as musically adventurous as Maladroit -- 1996’s Pinkerton -- record sales suffered. While a half million copies is hardly a disaster, it is considerably less than their multi-platinum debut (also self-titled, but better known as The Blue Album). The press may have considered Pinkerton a stronger record, but to Cuomo (at least at the time) it was a disappointment.
And if record sales are the measuring stick that Cuomo uses for Weezer’s success, then why not duplicate The Green Album?
"You can make a case that the most successful song on there is probably ‘Hash Pipe,’ and that’s the least stiff and most creative song on there. That’s the direction we want to go now," says Wilson. "I think Maladroit took a step toward Pinkerton in that it’s more bombastic. What we’re honing in on now is the perfect combination of creativity and togetherness."
Perhaps more importantly, Cuomo is learning to, at least figuratively, loosen his collar and let his hair down. "With The Green Album he was becoming more and more business minded and, if anything, he’s letting himself have fun a little more," says Bell. "I think he’s having more fun than he was during The Green Album by far."
Much has been made in the past of Cuomo’s leadership role in the band, a position that verges on Pol Pot status. Now, with Cuomo recently declaring himself the band’s manager, skeptics may raise brows even higher.
Although Bell and Wilson don’t have significant pull in steering the Weezer ship, the loyal bandmates wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, according to Wilson, when Cuomo stepped up to the manager post, it consequentially motivated everyone else to be more involved.
"Before I even joined the band I knew that Rivers had the final say, and I was fine with that. I’m glad somebody does, and why not the songwriter," says Bell. "I try to [find a balance with Rivers] but he has final say on everything. Sometimes I go, ‘Is this worth the fight? No.’ But other times, if I feel strongly enough I will fight and usually I will win ... or at least I’ll be heard."
Wilson continues, "I think it’s probably the best thing that Weezer ever did was have Rivers be more responsible for his band. I mean, it’s our band but he’s the guy. It’s cool to see him more involved and I think he had this epiphany that, ‘Nobody is going to devote more energy and care and time to this band than I am.’
"Our whole unit makes a lot more sense because we’ll just sit around and talk about stuff. There’s a portion of the day to kick around ideas or questions about how a certain part of the business works. It’s cool because they’re questions we should have been asking all along. Now it just seems kind of obvious what we’re supposed to do. We’ve somehow boiled it down to these very simple tasks, like make records, tour and just keep doing it."
The May 14 release of Maladroit comes almost exactly one year after the release of The Green Album; impressive for a band that had a five-year void following Pinkerton.
Even more impressive, Weezer is already recording material for a fifth album they hope to release by January 2003. Convention be damned, the band is on a songwriting roll and they’re not going to let major label procedure bog them down.
"Life is short and we’re all going to die," says Wilson. "There’s no reason to stop. We’re too productive right now and it doesn’t make sense to wait around. If I have any advice to give to any band it would be to always work. Waiting around for a record company to make you huge is about the dumbest thing you can do."
Weezer’s new DIY ethic -- something the band had not experienced before due to their quick rise to fame -- included such street-level promotion as posting the majority of Maladroit on their website, personally sending CD-Rs to radio stations (which promptly began airing the single "Dope Nose") and mailing promos of the album (along with hand-written letters) to various press outlets.
Although initially moving forward without communication with Interscope Records, Bell says the label hasn’t put up too much resistance to the band’s new agenda.
"I think the biggest backlash [from the label] was putting songs on the internet," he says. "They were not too happy about it. They feel it’s giving away music for free."
With the new attitude comes a new bass player, Scott Shriner, to replace the AWOL Mikey Welsh who "just didn’t show up one day." Shriner had played in several insignificant (and requested to be unnamed) bands throughout Los Angeles before landing the dream gig with Weezer.
"Suddenly I felt like I had a partner in the rhythm section that was committed to being really, really good and it has definitely raised my level," says Wilson. "He was the first guy to come in and not have a fuzzed-out bass sound, which is a shock because for years that’s all we heard was really over-driven bass. It’s super fresh to have a bass sound like a bass."
The Weezer that Shriner is walking into comes complete with the full-fledged hysteria of its fans. Few bands can pull off a multi-year hiatus only to return to bigger crowds then when they left, few bands spawn endless copycat acts burgeoning out of everytown U.S.A. and few bands can draw several thousand to a secret show under the moniker "Goat Punishment."
"It’s such a special feeling when you’re playing a Weezer show and people are singing the songs so loudly you barely can hear what you’re doing," says Bell. "Something weird was happening from the beginning in a cult fashion. It just sort of escalated and escalated and escalated. I have to say that was more of a surprise, ever dreaming that we have such great fans."
Could this become the younger generation’s Kiss Army?
"Well, there’s a lunch box," says Bell, "so we’re not far from the action figures."
On the web: www.weezer.com