Interview with Weezer: They Want You To

California’s Weezer is a band that needs little introduction. But we’ll give it a try anyway. Their debut self-titled, affectionately referred to as the Blue Album, is a bonafide rock and roll mid-‘90s success with its self-deprecating but upbeat songs about love, nervous breakdowns and social awkwardness. And despite the album’s outsider status, you now can’t hear “Undone – The Sweater Song” at a college gathering or bar without being deafened by the crowd sing-a-long.

But the band’s had some down moments as well. Their sophomore album, Pinkerton, was widely panned on release but found a cult audience and has since been heralded as one of the finest albums of that decade. It’s now in the process of getting the deluxe edition treatment from the Weezer camp.

Still, that’s the past. Since then, they’ve continued to enjoy both mainstream success and lasting devotion from their dedicated fans. Singles like “Hash Pipe,” “Keep Fishin,” “Beverly Hills,” “Pork And Beans,” and “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” have kept them in the radio charts, as well as continued exposure for their inventive music videos. They’ve released roughly an album every two years for a decade, not including solo and side project recordings, such as frontman Rivers Cuomo’s Alone recordings, guitarist Brian Bell’s projects Space Twins and The Relationship, and drummer/guitarist Patrick Wilson’s The Special Goodness.

So it’s little wonder the band’s able to stay so visible with such consistency. But they’re not afraid to take risks, having learned to follow their artistic gut after Pinkerton. A few years ago, the band staged “Hootenanny” shows, during which fans could bring their own instruments and play along with Weezer. They bundled a Weezer Snuggie with bonus editions of their latest album, Raditude. And recently, drummer Wilson has taken up lead guitar duties (they now use veteran fill-in drummer Josh Freese live) to change up the stage show. They’ve simply done what they’ve wanted to do, never considering whether their label would be happy or any other corporate rock nonsense.

In fact, their long relationship with Geffen Records may be at an end, with Cuomo announcing on MTV’s Subterranean that Raditude is their final record for the label. “We are out of our record contract,” clarifies Bell. “But we’ll see if we’ll do some more with them. That’s up in the air.”

Late last year, it was touch and go for a moment after Cuomo’s bus skidded on some black ice in upstate New York, as the singer was hospitalized. As Bell reports, Cuomo recovered well and the band’s back on their feet, already back on stage in 2010.

It looks like 2010 is shaping up to be something of a festival year for you, is that correct?

Yeah. We’re really excited to be back on the road. Things were looking kind of bleak for a second, seeing how Rivers would recover from the bus accident. He seems to be doing fine. We’re very lucky. We already had one show in Florida. And it went really well. We’re back in it.

How many dates did you end up missing because of that accident?

I think we only really missed about three dates but one of them was unfortunate because we had to cancel Salt Lake City and that’s where my sister and my nephews live and they were all excited and my nephews were going to bring friends to the show and it was quite a letdown.

I guess you’re rescheduling them this year?

I hope so.

Are you still using Josh for drums live?

Until further noted I believe, yeah. I’ll find out I guess on rehearsal day (laughs). I would imagine so. I don’t know why we would switch it up. It’s great. He’s so solid. The show’s really energetic and fun. Rivers is not playing as much guitar so he’s freed up to do other things. Run out in the middle of the crowd with his mic and put on a show.

Obviously you and Pat have been playing together for years, but is it slightly different live looking over and Pat’s playing guitar and not Rivers?

No. Pat’s always played guitar. He actually wrote some of the riffs from the Blue Album on guitar. He’s an extremely proficient guitar player. He can play Eddie Van Halen solos note for note, so he’s actually a quite good lead guitarist. And that kind of guitar playing doesn’t interest me whatsoever, so I’m glad that somebody can do that if we need that.
Rivers does do a thing with his guitars, you hear it and it’s definitely him playing. Like ‘Say It Ain’t So’ or something, and he still plays that live. Things that only Rivers can do, he’ll grab the guitar and do it, so it’s really no loss.

I wanted to get back to the Hootenanny performances for a second. How were those?

It was fun. It was more like the collective energy of so many different people. It was kind of taking a Guitar Hero concept to a more tangible concept. Not playing along with the band but playing with the band. Not that that was a preconceived thing. The songs are somewhat simple, and that was kind of the idea was to bring our audience in to making the music with us.

What kind of energy and what will happen? We definitely like to throw ourselves into situations and see what will come out it. And it was very surprising sometimes how musical it could be. Sometimes it was cacophonous too. That was part of the fun too, trying to keep the song going when somebody’s completely out of time with a tambourine or something. I don’t know how it sounded back to people, but seeing smiles on people’s faces playing along and really getting into it was quite enjoyable.

I’m glad it’s something we didn’t run into the ground and do too often because toward the end of it, people started dressing up in costumes and making it more about themselves rather than getting the spirit of it. I’m glad we kind of stopped doing it.

You guys are working on a Pinkerton reissue this year. This would be the second album you’ve given that kind of treatment to after the Blue Album right?

There will be more photographs and a really nice booklet that goes along with it. I believe some unreleased tracks that were recorded during that time. I haven’t seen the final version of it, so I don’t want to speak too much about it because I don’t know what I’m talking about (laughs).

But yes, we are coming out with a re-release of Pinkerton and I hope to gain some new fans. That album has definitely taken on a life of its own and became more successful after the fact and more accepted. At the time, it wasn’t, especially critically acclaimed. In fact, I think it was one of the worst records of the year by Rolling Stone that year, and then later it was hailed.

Yeah, they put it in their hall of fame.

Hall of fame, yeah. (laughs) So that just goes to show the fickleness of the music business and industry. As an artist, you just have to do what you believe in at the time, whether it’s accepted or not. You just have to keep going with it.

Is there a rarities release planned for this year or next year?

Yes. That’s true. I’m not sure if that’s what we’re calling it, but that should be pretty good actually. There are a lot of songs that never saw the light of day and some of my favorite ones. There is a song called ‘Waiting On You’ I’ve always wanted to have on an album from our back catalog. It’s one of my favorite Weezer tracks ever, and I hope people get to hear that. I love a song called ‘Devotion;’ that might be on the Pinkerton re-release.

Weezer performs at the Bamboozle Festival at the Meadowlands Sports Complex on May 2.