Rockpile article - May 2002
Who's afraid to rock?
Rockpile's Alyson Mead joins Weezer in the studio for a behind-the-scenes peek at New Album#2
It's an unseasonably wet night in West Hollywood. Cars shush by in the rain, quietly taking people to their destinations. This makes two unusual occurrences in one night—the quiet and the weather—both so very un-Los Angeles. If I didn't know better, I'd assume an earthquake was going to rip the ground open next and swallow us all for a litany of forgotten sins. But I'm on my way to visit Weezer in a local studio where the band is working on its fifth record, the follow-up to this year's Maladroit (due to be released early this summer). Given the circumstances, I want to believe the gods are on my side. My belief in divine providence is confirmed once inside, where a 27-inch television blares VH-1's Beat the Geeks. A music-minded geek is about to lose his medal on the quirky game show--an already ironic choice of programming for the band best known for perfecting the nerdy chic. I point it out to Brian Bell, guitarist and all-around personable guy, who remarks, "Oh yeah, it goes with our geek rock aesthetic."
Welcome to the world of Weezer
Weezer's fans are numerous and proud, an army of self-described misfits,unafraid to carry the flag of loserdom. In fact, Maladroit was named by a fan in a contest held on the band's website.
"I thought Rivers came up with the name," admits Bell. "It was definitely better than Weezer Red or Weezer III. He told me it was a fan's idea. Sometimes I'm the last to know."
MALADROIT (adj.) lacking in adroitness, unskillful, awkward, bungling, tactless (from Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language).
"The songs on Maladroit are different from the last record, kind of a cross between our Green record and Pinkerton," says Bell. "They're pretty loose because we weren't too careful about perfection. At the same time, they're perfectly structured songs." Watching Weezer work, it becomes obvious the boys like to go on vibe and feeling as much as concrete notes and lyrics. You won't find them doing 30 vocal takes on one errant syllable. They do like to sing their vocals all at one time, which is a rarity these days--unless you're in TLC or Destiny's Child (few of us are so blessed). The effect lends a party-like atmosphere to many of the record's tracks, and it wouldn't be Weezer if there wasn't a party somewhere nearby.
"The Stones probably did that," notes bassist Scott Shriner. "The Beatles probably did that while they even played together. Maybe we can do that next year."
"It really adds an energy and really lifts everyone's spirits to be singing in real time," adds Bell. "The Blue record was like that,and the first record, the Green record. Pinkerton I barely even remember."
"That's because you were all on drugs," Shriner laughs, quickly adding, "I wasn't around back then."
Bell shakes his head. "There were some black days then," he smirks with a wry chuckle. "I don't know how we made that record."
"I don't like how you're living your life
Get yourself a wife
Get yourself a job
You're living a dream
Don't you be a slob."
—"Slob" from Maladroit
Cuomo, the diminutive but (these days) fully bearded genius behind the Los Angeles band's songs says only his "cyber girlfriends" can take him away from his music-centered life, or influence his prodigious output in any way. He moves about the studio calmly, a non-bloated and far more focused Brian Wilson, exchanging very few words with the engineers and his fellow band mates. His low-key charm and sly humor has clearly become infectious. When a mic goes out during one take, he jokes about the number of U-87s he's blown so far, claiming, "Those other mics were evil."
While their laconic manner and collegiate chic (think two-tone sneakers and baseball shirts under polyester overshirts or well-worn ski jackets), the guys take it all in stride. There is a distinct energy pervading their space, a quiet sense of confidence things will eventually get done. A deep friendship lingers underneath respect a (dare I say it) professionalism shows how serious they are about making music. Tonight they're recording an as-yet unnamed song the band wrote earlier in the afternoon. "I think it had the name of a number earlier," laughs Bell. It's this combination of discipline and abandon defining Weezer's charm.
"You made your sacrifice
Now I'm going to pay the price
Tell me what to do
Tell me what to do
Tell me what to do"
--Title To Be Announced.
Most rock band studios are festooned with beer bottles and the requisite hoochies, but scattered waters and one seriously picked-over fruit plate are the only vices evident in Weezer's functional room. Chad, the engineer, presides over a huge board while Karl, the band's webmaster and honorary "fifth member," sits on the couch doing his daily update of the site and returning some e-mails about royalty payments and the band's upcoming U.K. and Japanese tour dates.
When I ask about Maladroit's recording process and the seemingly endless barrage of new songs, Bell explains Weezer is naturally self-motivated. "There weren't any deadlines on us by the record company," he elaborates. "But instead of soaking up sun and drinking piña coladas, or whatever people do in Miami, we were basically in a recording prison compound. We weren't allowed to leave the parking lot."
"We couldn't leave until we got certain things worked out," adds Shriner. "It felt like a year and a half, but I think it was really six days."
"I'm just a regular white guy who's afraid to rock." —"Mad Kow" [sic]
"Welcome to the big rock show," laughs Chad after one particularly rollicking take of another brand new song. Truly, Weezer's sound has gone heavier since last year's Green record, which reset the bar for the short, tight, radio-ready pop song. "Dope Nose"—the advance single from the new record—features even louder guitars and soaring solos sounding more arena than emo, more riff than noodle. The single's solo goes aerial in a particularly Rick Nielsen fashion, and Weezer seems to practically name-check bands in brief musical interludes throughout the record. But it's the sex, the disappointment and exploitation, the collective darkness of Los Angeles seeping into track after track and making this former garage outfit pack such a punch.
Part of this move away from their earlier, more navel-gazing sound might stem form the addition of Shriner on bass last year. The tall and practiced ax-wielder has an open, friendly smile and an anything-for-rock demeanor. Wearing a leather vest over a t-shirt, sporting numerous tattoos and a large skull ring on one hand, he's the seeming opposite of Cuomo and the other members, at least in the fashion sense. Somehow his influence fits right into the direction Weezer has been headed in the past two records.
Since Cuomo is constantly pushing himself to write new material and the band's goal is to release and tour behind a record "yearly or bi-yearly," Bell and Shriner must help to flesh out Cuomo's creations. "We go in with nothing, and we have the ability to extract all these hooks and cool parts in songs that weren't there before," says the roughest looking Weezer bassist. "Though Rivers comes in with most of the songs, he's said that he wants to start doing some of my songs and Scott's songs soon."
Despite the focus on thicker textures and ball-outs, snarly guitar sounds, there are two ballads on the new record, which should make more than one hardcore Weezer fan happy. No longer will they have to peep the B-sides of obscure British seven-inch singles to find songs like "Death and Destruction," which could simultaneously be about the coming together or falling part of a relationship under the influence of outside forces. Though power chords open the song, they dissolve into shimmering wave of plucked strings and abrupt lines of softly sung vocals and three lightly strummed closing chords. It's a song right at home in any one of the past five decades of music, and it proved how effective Cuomo can be when he allows his feelings to show. While the frontman isn't recalcitrant, what he shares is rarely enough to help you really understand the process behind his songs.
"The music is there when I calm down," Cuomo reflects. "The lyrics come when I get upset."
"Every time I call you
You find some way to ditch me
So I learn to turn and look the other way."
--"Death and Destruction" from Maladroit
"That had some positive energy, some positive chi," remarks Cuomo after another take of a song written just yesterday. Of course, even when you see his face, you can't tell if he's kidding. Nothing on it moves, no features twitch or quiver. There are just his eyes, sweeping back and forth, taking everything in. One can't avoid the conclusion Cuomo is luck to have music with which to express his feelings—using anything else would prove too clumsy, too bewildering. For now, humor and music seem to be all the tools Cuomo and company need for communicating.
Meanwhile, the singer has given the official "OK" on this latest song.
"It clocks in at a meaty 2:26," notes Chad from behind the mixing board.
"That's an opus magnum," laughs Cuomo, clearly enjoying every minute of this. And why shouldn't he? The three-minute pop song is overrated anyway.