article - September 23, 2000

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Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo said the band tested out a half-dozen new songs during its recent tour.

Photo by Maurice Ramirez

Reassured By Sold-Out Tour, Weezer Head Into Studio

Pop-rockers to begin recording first album in four years next month.
Contributing Editor Will Comerford reports:

Pop-rockers Weezer will head into the studio next month, bolstered by the momentum and confidence gained from a sold-out North American tour.

"We're all totally surprised," Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo said recently before a show in Lawrence, Kan. "We thought we'd be playing to empty houses.

"[The tour] definitely [has] given us the confidence that we can actually make another record. I think if we had never come out of our garage, and we had just kept rehearsing and playing to ourselves, we never would have gotten anywhere."

Cuomo isn't the only person who regained confidence in Weezer because of their successful tour. Aaron Axelson, music director at San Francisco's KITS-FM, saw the band on the Vans Warped Tour and later at a San Francisco show.

"I was blown away by the reaction — the kids came out of nowhere," Axelson said. "That reaffirmed my belief that they have a rabid fanbase; they've really struck a nerve with their music. From a programming standpoint, you have to pay attention when a band fosters such a passionate audience."

The Quiet Years

Cuomo never stopped writing songs during the group's four-year hiatus, though he said many of his compositions during that time have come and gone.

"They just get forgotten," he said. "Each time I write a new song, I have to drop an old one, it seems. ... So when we go to make a record, we'll probably just pick the latest 12 songs."

Cuomo cited a failed songwriting experiment as part of the reason for the band's inactivity.

"A lot of guys can write songs that have nothing to do with their lives, and they're great, but I don't seem to be able to do that," he said. "For a long time I was trying to write without relying on [personal] events — just writing, purely musically or purely structurally. The songs were kind of good, but they were kind of bad at the same time; they didn't have that much emotional life to them. Then I gave up on that, and I went back to the old personal-experience kind, and that seems to be working much better."

Meanwhile, his Weezer bandmates were busy with various side projects: Drummer Pat Wilson worked with Special Goodness, guitarist Brian Bell recorded with Space Twins, and bassist Matt Sharp quit in 1998 to work full time with the Rentals.

Sharp's departure may have been the biggest blow to the band. "When Matt was in the band, he was always there to cheer me on," Cuomo said. "When he left, it became difficult to get things going on my own."

New Sounds, New Times

With the addition of bassist Mikey Welsh, formerly of Juliana Hatfield's backing band, Cuomo believes the band sounds better than ever.

"We've got the best rhythm section in the world right now. These guys are serious," he said, referring to Welsh and Wilson. Cuomo didn't foresee the new rhythm section changing the band's sound so much as making the studio work easier.

The musical landscape has changed since 1994, when Weezer topped the charts with "Undone (The Sweater Song)" and "Buddy Holly". Rap-rock acts such as Limp Bizkit, Korn and Papa Roach dominate the airwaves at alternative-rock radio.

"[Radio]'s a little harder-edged these days," Axelson said, "but I think there's a place for the band."

Though the band's second album, Pinkerton (1996), showcased a much harder sound and darker lyrics than its 1994 self-titled debut, Axelson was not sure that was the right formula, saying, "It lacked their big, over-the-top hits." The singles "El Scorcho" (RealAudio excerpt) and "The Good Life" failed to impact rock radio.

The self-produced Pinkerton ended up shipping around 500,000 copies, significantly less than Weezer's triple-platinum debut.

"I'm sure [our label, Geffen,] thinks we totally screwed up our second record," Cuomo said. "I feel like it came out exactly like I wanted it to."

The Coming LP

Even so, he said, the label wants Weezer to have an outside producer for the next album, and their studio time, scheduled to begin Oct. 23, will be delayed if they don't yet have a producer. Two of the band's choices — Brendan O'Brien (Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine) and Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins) — are already booked this fall, with Korn and Garbage, respectively. Cuomo said Weezer also sent a demo tape to ex–Cars leader Ric Ocasek, who helmed their debut album.

"Whatever we do, it's going to be our record; it's going to come out the way we want it to," he said, adding that he thought the new songs sounded like a cross between their first two albums.

Cuomo said the band has been road-testing such new songs as "Superstar," "Slob," "Too Late To Try," "The Sister Song," "On the Edge" and "Mad Cow."

"You get a better feel for what's good and what's not good when you're actually in front of an audience," Cuomo said. "They can't sing along, obviously, which is sad. But I haven't heard any boos."

None of the songs is guaranteed to be on the album, however, since Cuomo will keep busy between the tour's end and the studio time.

"I can't wait to get home and start writing some more," he said. "I have a really good feeling about the songs to come."