Cover Story
A SIT-DOWN, LONG-FORM INTERVIEW WITH THE HOTTEST ACT AROUND
on October 03, 2014, 12:00am
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“Goodbye heroes, you’ve had a good run,” Rivers Cuomo, 44, sings on “Eulogy for a Rock Band”. “Fifteen years of ruling the planet, but now your light’s fading.” At three and a half minutes, it’s the smartest track Weezer’s pieced together in over a decade and the centerpiece of their finest studio album in just as many years. Nobody saw this coming, but we should have. The writing’s been there all along: on the wall, the couch, the cupboards, and the floor.

In July, drummer Pat Wilson hinted that the album was “going to have the tight structure of the Blue Album with a little bit more abandon like Pinkerton.” Meanwhile, early single “Back to the Shack” has been floating around on YouTube since February, following its high-seas debut aboard the band’s own cruise. Lyrically, the song is quite up front with its own epiphanies (“Maybe I should play the lead guitar, and Pat should play the drums”) and desires (“Kick in the door, more hardcore/ Rockin’ out like it’s ’94”). Weezer’s not holding back any secrets.

We just didn’t buy any of ’em.

As such, Everything Will Be Alright in the End comes as a surprise, stomping and roaring about as the comeback album that both fans and Weezer deserve. Produced by Ric Ocasek, who oversaw their 1994 iconic self-titled debut and 2001’s platinum-selling third LP, the album’s 13 tracks feel like a pristine time capsule that’s been uncovered after two decades and given a focused dusting. It’s punchy, it’s clever, it’s nostalgic. It’s Weezer.

rivers cuomo 1 Weezer: Everythings Alright

Photo by Debi Del Grande

“I’d say, from the very first album, Weezer has had a sense of nostalgia and an interest in classic rock music like The Beatles and Beach Boys,” Cuomo explains over the phone as he strolls around outside. In a little over 24 hours, he’ll perform at Riot Fest Denver, where he’ll once again revisit the band’s debut album in full. “Even from the first album, it already had an old-school feel with two guitars, bass, and drums … doing the same thing bands have been doing for decades.”

But there’s an unshakeable return to form on their ninth studio effort. As Dan Caffrey writes in his Top-Rated review, “Everything Will Be Alright in the End doesn’t just transport us to Weezer’s younger days — it ushers us into their future.” Opener “Ain’t Got Nobody” kicks down the door with a six-string attack that rivals the punky house party of Maladroit. “Lonely Girl” piles on the angst that made Pinkerton so timeless and vital, while “Da Vinci” laces in the cutesy hooks of 2001’s Weezer, a melodic chorus mirroring Pinkerton, and the modern bite that Cuomo’s sharpened more recently.

Cuomo insists that despite the nostalgic sound, there are plenty of “new experiments and innovations in this record that [they] never tried or that never occurred to [them].” I point out his acute vocal work, specifically the glam rock flourishes of “I’ve Had It Up to Hear”, the breathless melody for new single “Cleopatra”, and the hair-raising choruses for “The British Are Coming”.

weezer albumart Weezer: Everythings Alright“Yeah, that’s exactly right,” Cuomo agrees. “Finding these new places in my voice and singing a lot higher, in falsetto, up in that range you’d expect to hear from Judas Priest or something.”

He’s not too shabby on the guitar this time around, either.

“The guitar shreddage is a whole new level, and that last song,” — he’s referring to “Return to Ithaca” — “there are so many shredding guitar parts that Pat [Wilson] has to play one of the guitar lines, and our bassist [Scott Shriner] had to play a double neck bass and have a guitar built. It’s five guitar solos at once.”

The illustrious “Ithaca” is just one part of “The Futurescope Trilogy”, which also includes “The Waste Land” and “Anonymous”. The three tracks close out the album with a cacophony of guitars, percussion, and harmonies. It’s as if Cuomo finally gets to revisit the sweeping rock epics of his alma mater — Love Gun, Metal Health, or Screaming for Vengeance, for example. He hasn’t sounded this alive behind a six-string since 2002’s Maladroit.

“I think whatever elements that sound traditional came as a result of spending time with fans and playing these throwback shows,” Cuomo observes. “It’s not much of a conscious decision. That’s the world we’re living in right now. As artists, we naturally adapt to the environment we happen to be in.”

Weezer has spent their share of time in the ’90s these past five years. In 2010, to support Hurley, the band set out on their successful Memories Tour, which saw them revisiting their self-titled debut and Pinkerton in full, for a good three years. In 2011, Cuomo capped off the year with his third Alone series, subtitled The Pinkerton Years, which came packaged with a collection of essays, letters, photos, etc. labeled The Pinkerton Diaries. In January 2012, they set sail aboard their first Weezer Cruise, which Cuomo calls “a turning point” for the band.

“It was very close contact with our most hardcore fans for a period of five days,” Cuomo says. “No one had an Internet connection. We just got really close and got to know and trust each other again. We got a lot more in sync with where Weezer came from and who we are in our freest selves.”

rivers 2 Weezer: Everythings Alright

Photo by Debi Del Grande

There have been dicey situations in the past with Weezer’s fans, who certainly have a boiling point. In 2010, self-professed detractor James Burns even ignited a campaign to raise $10 million in an effort to get the band to break up. “I am tired of my friends being disappointed year after year,” he wrote. “I am tired of endless whimsical cutesy album covers and music videos. … I beg you, Weezer, take our money and disappear.” Because it’s the Internet, the news spread fast and the band eventually responded in true Weezer fashion. “If they can make it 20 (million), we’ll do the deluxe breakup,” Wilson joked on Twitter.

With regards to legitimate, diehard fans, I discuss the stratification of their fanbase some 20 years later. Like Green Day, Weezer has a following that includes both young and old. Many of their fans weren’t alive when Pinkerton was released in 1996. This isn’t exactly a problem, but it does create new through-lines and origin stories. A couple weeks ago, Consequence of Sound dusted off American Idiot, Green Day’s blockbuster seventh studio album, for its 10th anniversary. One fan left a very telling comment:

I was 8 when I first heard the album, it was an introduction to Green Day for me, and no kidding it was a whole five years later I realised they had about ten years worth of material before that. Friends I talk to remember the album well, and again I’m not kidding when I say they don’t know of pre-AI material. For this reason I genuinely believe American Idiot, not Dookie, is Green Day’s definitive album.

The same fans could probably argue the same for Weezer. For many, The Green Album in 2001 was their beginning, and it wouldn’t be a surprise given the success of “Hash Pipe” and “Island in the Sun”. Even 2005’s polarizing Make Believe might have won fans over; do you remember how prominent “Beverly Hills” and “Perfect Situation” were at the time? Later albums were just as sticky on FM radio. Yet, despite these differences, Cuomo feels elated.

Artwork by Steven Fiche

Simpsons_Weezer“I feel like this is the greatest achievement in our career,” he says. “It’s a great thing. These are the people that we are with all the time and we’re gonna spend the rest of our lives with. It’s a wonderful feeling that that relationship is more harmonious.” He digresses on his “rocky” time surrounding the band’s debut and how he experienced “a great craving for appreciation and recognition for what [he] thought was such a deep and powerful record.” He never received it.

“As it turned out, the average age of our fans was about 10 years old,” he adds. “It was hard for me to feel any deep connection, and I ran in the opposite direction, and I felt really disappointed and dissatisfied as many do when they get everything they wanted.” He says these feelings influenced “an even more personal record” with Pinkerton. At the time, he said: “I’m not coloring anything or softening anything. This is who I am and if you don’t like it … well, we should probably part ways, and I’m just gonna tell you the very worst parts of myself.”

Despite its widespread acclaim today, the album debuted at No. 19 on the Billboard 200 and received its unhealthy share of negative reviews. Rolling Stone‘s Rob O’Connor called the album “juvenile,” and their readers voted it as the third worst of that year. Meanwhile, Cuomo crumpled into a ball of self-deprecation. In his Pinkerton Diaries, he wrote: “This has been a tough year. It’s not just that the world has said Pinkerton isn’t worth a shit, but that the Blue album wasn’t either. It was a fluke. It was the video. I’m a shitty songwriter.”

weezer rivers Weezer: Everythings AlrightThose years are long behind him now, but Cuomo’s since made peace with that time period. “A lot of those early fans did part ways,” he contends. “But we were left with a core audience of people that really appreciate us despite the ugliness and self-contradictions and reality of who we were.

“That feeling of being appreciated for who I really was … I don’t have the same disappointment I had. I think my expectations were too high, and it takes time to build a relationship. I have an unusually strong desire for a close relationship, and I very easily get dissatisfied when I feel the relationship is just small talk and politeness and shallowness. It takes time to get to this stuff.”

Blockbuster success in the early 2000s factored into that confidence, but this reasoning certainly explains the band’s more experimental last decade: collaborations with Lil Wayne, Lady Gaga covers, and why Hurley from Lost is a part of the Weezer mythos. What’s more, it also lends credence to their latest album and how it may be the ultimate gift to the band.

shriner quote 1 Weezer: Everythings Alright

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

best coast 1 Weezer: Everythings Alright“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.”

rivers final quote Weezer: Everythings Alright

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.

weezer heatherkaplan Weezer: Everythings Alright

“[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!).

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