Weezer: The Men in Black

Within a span of three months, Weezer released two albums, embarked on a massive tour alongside the Pixies, got nominated for a Grammy Award, and had a Saturday Night Live skit written about them. You would think this was the height of their career, when it’s really just another peak for the award-winning and chart-topping alternative rock foursome. Weezer is one of the most recognized names in modern music, whether it be for their own hits such as “Beverly Hills” and “Feels like Summer,” or for their cover of Toto’s “Africa”—which only proves their career has been diverse and creative. I got to speak to co-founder and drummer, Patrick Wilson, about their musical change over time—as well as the music industry’s.

I have to congratulate you on the Grammy nod for Pacific Daydream. I’m so glad the album got the recognition it deserves. How did you find out about it? What was your reaction to hearing the big news?

Thanks so much! I actually was told by our manager in a text. A text! So, I guess that is kind of how we all found out. It was really wild and completely unexpected. Loved it, though.

I know that you’re currently on tour with the Pixies. What has that experience been like, working with them and being on the road with them?

It’s a joy to see them play every night, because they are so good, and the show is so great. I can’t believe how many cool songs they have. I go out and watch them every night. It’s really fun.

I want to talk a little bit about Weezer (The Teal Album.) What was the process like for selecting which songs to cover? Did you each bring in a list of your all-time favorite songs and then choose which ones you could cover best, or was there more structure to what songs were chosen?

I’m not sure how, but somewhere there was a list of songs that worked for us. I can’t remember where that list came from, but we just sort of whittled it down to the songs that we liked the most as listeners and musicians. Really, it was an easy process to record. It went really fast and I think it turned out really great.

I imagine the reason you guys did a covers album stemmed from the massive success of Weezer’s cover of Toto’s “Africa,” but did you ever think towards the beginning of your band’s career that you would release an album made up entirely of cover songs?

No, never! [Laughs] I think Rivers [Cuomo] really came up with the idea. He was saying how “Africa” was being received so well, so we should cover a whole bunch of songs, but we shouldn’t tell anybody that we were releasing it. It would be a surprise and a mind-blower.

It was! I know fans were excited to have a little more music to hold onto before Weezer: (The Black Album) comes out.

Yeah! A lot of people did roll their eyes or do something like that, but it was a fun thing for us and it’s ok for a band to do that. It’s ok for a band to put out a fun record.

On the topic of Weezer: (The Black Album), what can you tell us about it? Do you have any songs in particular that you can’t wait for fans to hear or maybe some songs that you’ve been itching to play live?

Oh, yeah. There are a couple songs that I am super excited about. I can’t say more about it, but I think a lot of the core fans will be pleasantly surprised. And then, there are a lot of modern takes, as well. I just got to read two magazine reviews that got to review it and they both gave it four stars, which I couldn’t believe. I’m very optimistic about it. It’s pretty different.

I was going to ask, what was the writing and recording process like for Weezer (The Black Album), as compared to Pacific Daydream, or Weezer (The White Album)? Was it a whole new experience, or did you maybe go back to some earlier roots of yours?

It was very modern in the way that Dave Sitek approached it. He’s from TV on the Radio. He’s a very modern record producer. I would go to his house and we would sit around and talk for a while and we would basically then just go bang out some ideas. The way that he assembled them was really interesting. I don’t think it’s a place that you can get to in the moment. It’s more like something that is created from many ideas, so in that sense I feel like it’s super-modern.

What do you think perhaps influenced this album? Are there any themes that we might notice throughout?

I sort of joked when I first heard it shaping up that it sounded like a cross between Schoolhouse Rock and Public Enemy. You know, I say this every time we put out a record, but I read an interview with Damon Albarn from Blur and he says something along the lines of “You go into a studio and you think you’re going to be drastically different and you think you’re going to push yourself and try a bunch of new things, but in the end, you always kind of wind up sounding like yourself.” I think that’s true on this album, as well, it’s just exciting that it is a fresh take on the way that Rivers writes songs. It’s definitely not like Weezer (The Blue Album) over and over again.

Speaking of past albums, how do you choose what songs make the cut for your setlist, with over 25 years of music under your belt?

Well, Rivers has actually written a program that weights all of our songs according to different criteria. I’m personally not a fan of that approach, but I think it’s fun to try. He’ll throw weird curve balls all over the place, but I think, for me, the setlist is killing when there is no lull at all in the arc of the set. Really, it’s just trial and error. I mean, you don’t really know if anything is going to be right until you play it that night.

I was thinking about it the other day, actually, this new album is going to be, like, our 13th album…. And all of them have at least one fairly popular song on it, so yes, it would be easy to just look at Spotify data and say ‘Oh, these are the songs that everybody wants to hear!’ But not everybody is on Spotify, so you really have to feel it out. For me, it’s really a feel thing. I fundamentally don’t trust a data-based approach to music, but, that said, I can’t argue with it when it seems to work… even 13 albums in.

Of course. Now, being as this band has been around for a while, and has had success in each era of its career, how do you feel that the music industry has changed since you first started?

Well, I mean, I feel like we were one of the last bands through the door culturally that were allowed to use the old method of getting noticed in a cultural way…. It used to be a big thing when a record came out. People were talking about it. Nowadays, I was told something, like, every day 3,500 songs go up on Spotify. You can’t really corner people’s attention the way you used to. Let’s say the Smashing Pumpkins are putting out a new record in 1995, then people are really anticipating it. But it almost doesn’t really matter how great your music is now, there is just too much in the culture to compete with. The attention is really hard to gain. I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying that nobody really buys records anymore. [Laughs]

That’s true! What I see a lot now is bands putting out things like “If you buy the physical copy, you’ll get a presale code for tickets!” Things of that nature to get the people who appreciate the record and the band to buy the physical copy and even go to a show.

That’s the thing: people who actually buy records are real fans. Maybe we just came up in a strange, golden age of music where albums were serious cultural signposts for people. Once the Internet came along—and to a lesser extent: video games—it became more of a background thing, which is probably how music was looked at before the explosion of rock ‘n’ roll. Really, though, I think we are more popular than we ever have been, despite the industry selling fewer and fewer albums, and continuing to move toward a streaming model, but I can’t really complain about that.