Thoughts from a Green Mind (or, It’s Not Easy Being Green)
Thoughts from a Green Mind (or, It’s Not Easy Being Green) -by Karl
5/15/21 marks 20 years to the day from the release of our 3rd album, “weezer” aka “The Green Album”. This is quite a milestone because at the time, it was considered to be the beginning of a new era - the first new weezer album in 5 years, first since the departure of original bass player Matt, and a fresh new start for a band that the press and many casual fans had written off after Pinkerton’s undeserved slow fade out in ‘97.
So how does one approach an album that once signaled a new era, but is now in the distant past? We can start by saying that the album was the first step toward making weezer a viable long-term band. Making it was a struggle in many ways, but it taught everyone involved that we weren’t kids anymore and the only way to grow as a band was to figure out how to make it work as adults. There would be many more steps to go in that regard, post Green, but the work had its origins in the preparation and recording sessions in 2000-2001.
Green’s origins start in the “dark days”, the very late 90’s, shortly after Matt parted ways with the band. Rivers and Pat were stoked on Rivers’ new song “The Prettiest Girl In The Whole Wide World”, whose mellow shoegazey vibe was inspired by Spiritualized and My Bloody Valentine. This was one of a number of cool styles that would be flirted with - but not kept - as time inched forward. A bit later, Rivers started woodshedding hundreds of demos, searching for what worked while the (initial) poor reaction to Pinkerton still stung. Few of these songs made it too far, but “Island In The Sun” was in that batch, and was later pulled out by Ric Ocasek, whose expert ears knew a great song when he heard one. “Prettiest Girl” unfortunately wouldn’t see release until the Raditude era.
It was not a foregone conclusion to work with Ric again, but his name was prominent on the list of possible producers that were looked into. In the end, it was Ric, which was a pretty clear nod to the past. It had been 7 years since we’d worked with him on Blue, and we were working in Los Angeles this time instead of New York, but the comfortable creative vibes we remembered him for were the same as ever. Rivers was much more sure about what he wanted this time, but time and again Ric showed him how a small change here and there could make a track so much stronger.
While Ric’s presence was familiar, one major new factor was Mikey Welsh, playing bass on Green. But Mikey had in fact been in the band for over 2 years already, playing shows and rehearsing and doing photoshoots and such. So, it was unsurprising that he fit right in and got to work.
What was perhaps the biggest difference was in how Rivers approached the sessions. After a summer in which exciting new songs were coming easily and getting road tested almost immediately, by later in 2000 Rivers felt intense pressure from the label DGC to step up and “return to form”, i.e. don’t flop again as Pinkerton had. That meant suppressing the looser and wilder instincts in 2000 that had led to songs like “Superstar”, “Dope Nose” and “Modern Dukes”, and trying to hone in on a “classic weezer” feel. But at the same time Rivers was now carefully guarding his feelings, as opposed to laying them out blatantly as he had in ’96. So the songs didn’t have the specific quirky lyrical moments that many fans were looking forward to. The songs’ meanings were a lot harder to discern.
This combination led to a suite of great songs that satisfied the majority of fans, but frustrated the hardcore ones. In the ensuing 20 years, the album has been assessed and reassessed many times and now fairly stands as an alt-rock classic.
The ironic thing was that the lead single “Hash Pipe” was in fact one of the loose exciting songs that burst out in the summer of 2000. And it had what had to be the most “un-weezer” lyrics ever, detailing the world of a male prostitute in Hollywood. Somehow the least “classic”, least “return to form” song of the whole lead up to Green remained in the running for the album, and in fact became the wildly successful lead single, which remains a staple of the setlist 20 years later. The other big single “Island” was of course picked by Ric from pre 2000 demos. Only “Photograph” the 3rd single was from the late 2000 batch of “return to form” type songs. Filming and editing the goofy video for that song was one of the most fun things I have done with this band. It was in many ways an extension of the early webisodes that I filmed at Cello Studios during the recording of Green, with the guys zooming around on scooters and generally being as absurd as possible.
The roller coaster of weezer still had a lot of ups and downs to go back in 2001, but the success of Green jump started a period of growth that in some ways, continues today. Rivers continues to experiment with styles and variations of meaning and feeling, the band continues to work as hard as ever, all loving music and recording and playing live. Mikey had to bow out of the band in the middle of Green’s summer promotional push, which could have been a body blow, but the pieces were picked up and we were lucky to find Scott to carry on with. We sadly lost Mikey 10 years ago, but his time in weezer will be forever immortalized on Green.