Photo by Debi Del Grande
Scott Shriner, 49, sounds happy. Over the phone, his excitement about Everything Will Be Alright in the End is apparent. When I gush about “Eulogy for a Rock Band”, calling it my favorite off the record, he agrees. He insists that was the moment he knew their next album would be special.
“It’s a little bit down stroke, kind of dude rock,” he says. “That groove in particular is so rewarding for me, and Pat [Wilson] was like, ‘I’m loving this song to death!’ We really have different taste in music, so for all of us to enjoy the same thing is pretty remarkable.”
Thirteen years later, it’s hard to believe that Shriner isn’t an original member of Weezer. He joined in 2001, shortly after the late Mikey Welch left due to personal reasons, and made his proper debut on 2002’s Maladroit. Since then, he’s been a part of all the rituals surrounding Weezer — the iconic videos, the lengthy tours — though Everything Will Be Alright in the End marks the first time he’s working alongside Ric Ocasek.
“I was really excited,” Shriner admits. “I always loved the Cars, and Ric’s a real iconic figure for me. I was always a little bit more of a new wave guy than a punk guy. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but we wound up being great friends and instantly bonded.”
It wasn’t easy, though. Earlier this summer, Shriner openly discussed his work with Ocasek, stating: “He is very serious, and not pulling any punches. Like, for one song, we were considering doing a section where we actually whistle, and he said, ‘That’s the single worst idea I’ve ever heard.’” I bring this up to him.
“I appreciated his brutal honesty,” Shriner insists. “I really believed him when he said something we were doing sounded amazing, and I believed him when he said it sounded like crap. I can trust and appreciate that.” He discusses a time he was criticized by Ocasek for his backup parts, areas he eventually improved upon thanks to the commentary. He adds, “The last thing any of us needs is someone just to say yes to anything.”
That’s what makes Ocasek essential. After all, his resume with the band speaks for itself. The Blue Album remains a classic, the Green Album reignited their career in ways later albums couldn’t, and this latest outing follows suit. Despite this being their first time working together, Shriner isn’t lost to Ocasek’s power over Weezer.
“He kept it grounded,” Shriner agrees. “The guy has some magic to him. We would even start playing a little different when we heard he was on the way.” In an Entertainment Weekly profile this summer, Cuomo is described as checking in and out of the studio each day exactly at 5:30 p.m. like clockwork. Shriner adds: “I think Rivers put the work in, and our job is to help get that magic and make it work as a band. Ric comes in and puts some extra focus on it and keeps us from going astray. It’s a magical combination.”
This attention to structure is what drives Everything Will Be Alright in the End. Not since Pinkerton has a Weezer album sounded so focused and altogether cohesive. Gone are the corny jokes, the FM radio grabs, and the unnecessary collaborations. Instead, Cuomo pairs up with songwriters who don’t thwart his vibe or sound: Jacob Kasher (“Back to the Shack”), Daniel Brummel and Ryen Slegr (“Eulogy for a Rock Band”), Justin Hawkins (“I’ve Had It Up to Here”), Joshua Berman Alexander (“Lonely Girl”, “Da Vinci”), Patrick Stickles (“Foolish Father”), and Bethany Cosentino (“Go Away”).
Hawkins’ contribution is noteworthy for clearly influencing Cuomo on guitar and falsetto, but it’s really only Cosentino who’s an obvious collaborator. Yet, unlike “I Can’t Stop Partying” or even Ryan Adams’ contribution to Hurley on “Run Away”, “Go Away” sounds legitimately like a Weezer song. It’s cute, but never fully indulges on the twee, keeping it at a safe distance from the distortion and angst. It’s one of the album’s many highlights.
Photo by Meghan Brosnan
“Rivers and I wrote the song about four years ago,” Cosentino, 27, tells me. “We were in west LA, and it was almost like a blind date: You’re really nervous about it. I hadn’t been doing this for that long. So, when I was driving to see him, I called my mom and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m having a panic attack.’ I literally was going to write a song with Weezer, my No. 1 favorite band, and I was meeting my most favorite person ever.”
So, how’d it go? “He’s so chill and laid-back, and we immediately got to writing. He had a core of the song already written, and I just kind of worked with melodies and lyrics. It was very organic, and you can sense that in the song. It doesn’t feel contrived. It feels simplistic. I think I added to that.”
There’s a spark in Cosentino’s voice that few musicians ever divulge for interviews. As she tells her story, she begins to sound more stoked about the opportunity than the actual song itself. When I revisit “Go Away” once more after the call, it’s apparent, at least to me, that this excitement is what fuels the song in the long run. That’s why I’m so surprised when she tells me they didn’t actually record the final version together.
“We were supposed to, but I was sick, so I had to do it later by myself,” she adds, though argues: “Because the song was written so long ago, and it was something I would listen to frequently on my computer, I think it jelled well. It still has that sense that we were singing back and forth together. That was the view that the song had, even from the earliest demo stages.”
Looking back, especially knowing the song’s officially on the record, Cosentino couldn’t be happier. “Getting to put my voice not only on a Weezer song but on a song I helped write was huge for me,” she says. “Definitely bucket list-style stuff.”
On the topic of collaborating, Cuomo is quite amicable.
“I think I’ve always had an instinct to collaborate,” he says. “Maybe it stems from what I was saying earlier about my unusual inclination to have deep relationships and not see the audience as faceless mobs but as individuals.” In addition to collaborations with high-profile artists, Cuomo has also led the band through a series of Hootenanny gigs, in which fans bring instruments and jam together.
“I want to get to know them and have them know me,” Cuomo insists. “The performer-audience dichotomy feels artificial, and I have the instinct to break down that wall.”
Photo by Debi Del Grande
Everything Will Be Alright in the End might be the closest Cuomo’s come to connecting to his audience. The whole album is conceptually one long lullaby to the many people in his life, and it’s told through the guise of a bedtime story. After all, Cuomo’s a father himself.
“It’s very complex and multi-layered, and maybe the better term would be concept album,” he explains. “I approached the creation of many different levels, and I spent a few months thinking in terms of one storyline and then working on another, bringing in many parables and analogies. I wasn’t satisfied until it was a very complex quilt.”
Complex is one word to describe it. Alongside references to the band’s past, there’s a great attention to history with allusions surrounding The Revolutionary War, Cleopatra, Leonardo da Vinci, and even The Odyssey. When I ask how much of the work is fact and how much is fiction, Cuomo’s answer recalls Ethan Hawke in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, who argues: “Isn’t everything autobiographical?”
“Everything is based on our lives and events that have happened to us and voices we heard over the past four years or even earlier,” Cuomo admits. “We definitely had a fertile imagination over the last few years and made great use of metaphors and looking back at other classic works of art and drawing on images and stories to help flesh this out.”
A Harvard grad, Cuomo finds inspiration in countless activities, though specifically reading and classical music. Throughout our discussion, he refers to Schumann’s quote about making Bach his “daily bread” and eventually references books by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow) and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons). Both insights are quite telling.
“[Kahneman] has a theory that the mind is made up of two different minds,” Cuomo explains. “One is very intuitive of effortless inspirations and the other extremely effortful, reasoning through problems. Every so often our inspirations are correct. Not always, but it helps to have that other faculty. Hopefully that’s what I’m doing.”
As for Stravinsky…
“He says he has no interest in music created by anyone who isn’t engaging all of their creative faculties, his intellect, and anything he has at his disposable. Use every tool in the box.”
And sure enough, Cuomo starts to feel human. He’s an artist at peace and yet obsessed with the culture around him, absorbing different voices, elements, and ideas. Often it’s something as superficial as a title recommended by Rainn Wilson (see: Raditude). Other times it’s something as deep and personal and affecting as the material that makes up their new album. Perhaps that’s why Weezer tends to be such an irregular beast, no different than the hulking creature grinning in their latest artwork.
“There’s so much room in a work of art,” Cuomo says. “You can balance it all and have it make sense. I can take four years of ideas, get everyone in the band’s ideas, play demos for fans, and see how they feel and talk to them after the show, then let it all simmer for a good period of time … and everything will be alright in the end.”
That hardly sounds like a eulogy.
Photo by Heather Kaplan. Artwork by Cap Blackard (Buy Prints + More!).