Toronto Star interview with Rivers Cuomo and Patrick Wilson - September 24, 2001
Nothing to Weeze At
Geek rock quartet Weezer is back with a vengeance.
By Ben Rayner, Toronto Star
However successful Michael Jackson's desperate and very expensive campaign to stage a decisive "comeback" this year eventually turns out to be, 2001's most notable musical return to form already belongs to Weezer.
The fuzz-lovin', Los Angeles-based geek-rock quartet was consigned by many a doubting wag to the '90s-alt-rock delete bin alongside Sponge, the Gin Blossoms and Seven Mary Three after its highly successful—and reasonably good—first record, 1994's Weezer, gave way to diminished sales and general fan bewilderment at a far better, if more gangly and "difficult," second album, Pinkerton, in 1996.
No one, thus, quite foresaw the excitement that would greet the first new Weezer disc in five years, another self-titled offering (dubbed The Green Album to distinguish it from the original Blue Album), upon its release this past May. The album popped in at No. 4 on the Billboard album chart, moving nearly 220,000 copies in one week to place Weezer ahead of R.E.M.'s quickly forgotten Reveal and slightly behind dour art-metal ensemble Tool, which returned from five years in limbo of its own the same week to take the No. 1 position with Lateralus.
The dry-witted Weezer lads, shy to the point of being mute, haven't a clue how they managed to brush away the post-grunge curse that kept record buyers away from similarly long-in-the-making records by such mid-'90s contemporaries as Nine Inch Nails (another five-year absentee) and Soundgarden's Chris Cornell. But, they figure, the cult of Weezer never would have had a chance to form in the first place if the band hadn't vanished from sight for so long.
"I can't explain it. We're just so good," quips drummer Pat Wilson, visibly suffering as he sits through an afternoon of interviews with laconic singer, guitarist, songwriter and celebrated oddball Rivers Cuomo.
"Who else would they form a cult around?" says Cuomo. "Who else was popular in the mid-'90s and dropped out in the late '90s who could have a cult around them?"
"Tool," offers Wilson.
"Tool," nods Cuomo. "Tool has a cult. Their cult's bigger than our cult."
Wilson giggles. "We're trying to infiltrate their cult."
A pause, then Cuomo adds: "Offspring's been rocking non-stop, but I think Green Day's setting themselves up for a cult now."
"But," says Wilson, with mock gravity, "they gotta go through the downtime."
In Pinkerton's glum aftermath, Weezer went through, as Cuomo notes, "some serious downtime" ("We weren't doing much of anything") as the band's record label gave up on trying to juice the album's lacklustre sales figures and founding bassist Matt Sharp departed to spend more time on his own group, The Rentals. Wilson wryly laughs it off as "a transitional phase."
Slowly but surely, though, word of mouth and an enthusiastic Internet following inched Pinkerton beyond gold status (500,000 copies sold) in the States, and the disc became a weird sort of grail for a new generation of emo kids who'd probably missed Weezer entirely the first time around. The growing size of the band's in-absentia following became evident last summer, when Weezer succeeded in selling out most of a North American tour with neither the presence nor the marketing push that comes with a new record to flog. The tour also put to sleep stubborn speculation that the band had split up.
"I think that there were so many rumours about us breaking up after Pinkerton that, after a while, you just couldn't take it seriously," says Wilson. "If you talk about breaking up enough, you won't."
"And, you know, it's always the same 30 kids on whatever it is—a newsgroup or a chatroom or a message board—saying stuff. You've got to be careful what you read into those things."
Writer's block certainly wasn't holding Weezer back from the studio. Cuomo reportedly amassed hundreds of songs during the long layoff, of which the band provides only a brisk, 28-minute helping on The Green Album, a commendable comeback reminiscent of the first Weezer record, pitting awesomely fat and distorted riff-rock menace against ooey-gooey bubblegum melodies and neurotic, shy-boy lyrics that tend to have other neurotic shy-boys reeling in an ecstasy of identification and young girls lining up to give Cuomo a much-needed hug.
"I think we were just going after the sound we like," says Cuomo. "I guess we haven't evolved at all since 1992. We didn't intentionally make it sound like the first record..."
"The problem we had was that everything fit too well together and there was too much of the same stuff. That's why we actually pared it down from the 19 songs we recorded. There just wasn't enough variety sustained along the album."
"See, people in Canada, they get it," says Wilson of the album's concise length. "Americans feel like they haven't consumed enough. 'Twenty-eight minutes? Whaaah?'"
Weezer pulled out several new numbers during a promotional gig at Ontario Place's Island Club earlier this summer, so more can probably be expected during tonight's show at Arrow Hall in Mississauga (where, by the way, bassist Mikey Welsh—who checked himself indefinitely into a Boston psychiatric hospital last month—will be replaced by Scott Shriner). The band hopes to get its recent material down on another album for release early in the new year, says Cuomo, "if the record company will let us."
"They should," opines Wilson. "You know what's a good analogy? Like when a video game will come out and there'll be this 'expansion set' for it. We could sort of do it the same way as part of a marketing plan where it'll be like: 'You've played this one, now here's the next phase.'"
BETTER THAN EVER: Riding the success of their last album, Weezer plays the Arrow Hall in Mississauga tonight.