Weezer’s Brian Bell Was ‘Overwhelmed’ By Maladroit Material

In light of Weezer’s new album, Hurley, plopping earlier this week, here’s a look back at a Maladroit-era interview with guitarist Brian Bell and bassist Scott Shriner. Previously unavailable online, it was conducted in February 2002.

[For more from-the-vault Weezer content, check out my April 2002 interview with frontman Rivers Cuomo.]

It’s not difficult to argue that Weezer is one of the most head-scratching bands being played on contemporary rock radio. From their inception in 1992, they have led a career spiked with anomaly. Singer/guitarist Rivers Cuomo – a one-time Harvard student – is regarded as a master of simple, catchy pop phrases. Weezer’s sophomore effort, Pinkerton, essentially tanked, and yet the band returned five years later with remarkable sales and sold-out arena shows. On top of it all, former bassist Mikey Welch vanished during last summer’s tour, only to resurface in a psychiatric ward.

On the strength of surf-infused pop-rock radio cuts like “Buddy Holly,” “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “Say It Ain’t So,” Weezer catapulted their 1994 self-titled, Ric Ocasek-produced debut to double-platinum status the following year; by 1998, the album had sold three million copies.

A cult phenomenon emerged as the band dipped out of the public eye after1996’s Pinkerton flopped – Rolling Stone gave it the dubious Worst Album of the Year honor. But retroactive appreciation for the effort, as well as sporadic, unannounced club appearances, transformed a younger generation of fans into hard-lined devotees.

Last year’s rebound effort – a second eponymous disc commonly referred to as The Green Album – scored double-platinum and boosted Weezer to arena-rock status. After extensive touring, the band cranked out Maladriot, a CD modeled by both the group and its fans. Now, they have headed back into the studio to lay out a fifth, as-yet-untitled disc.

Maladroit – scheduled to arrive April 30 via Interscope – boasts 13 tracks: “American Gigolo,” “Dope Nose,” “Keep Fishin’,” “Take Control,” “Death and Destruction,” “Slob,” “Burndt Jamb,” “Space Rock,” “Slave,” “Fall Together,” “Possibilities,” “Love Explosion” and “December.”

“Dope Nose” has already received tremendous airplay, though it cannot be considered an official single just yet. For Maladroit, Weezer took some early initiative and – without their label’s approval – sent out an eight-song sampler to radio and press across the country. Though Cuomo, at Interscope’s request, would quickly issue a statement asking stations to hold off playing the songs, the tunes caught on nonetheless and sparked premature interest in the album.

The band also treated fans to Maladroit sneak peeks while on the road early this year. As original guitarist Brian Bell tells ICE, “A lot of these songs on Maladroit we were playing live before people even heard them, to get some feedback and to come up with parts in front of people,” he says. “Dope Nose” and “Burndt Jamb” in particular were two selections unveiled early in the game.

Weezer devoted a month to recording and mixing Maladroit – they started in late December 2001, wrapped up in late January 2002 and hit the road for a brief tour immediately afterwards. Bell states, “While we’re not touring, we’re trying to record as much as possible. In case something terrible happens or we finally do want to take a break, we’ll have all these songs.”

According to Bell, the songs were, by and large, written before entering their Los Angeles studio. “The chord progressions were together,” he says, “[but] not necessarily the beats we were going to put on them or any secondary parts. A lot of that stuff was brought about in the studio – a lot of banging our heads against the wall and trying many different things.”

Bell elaborates that while recording, “I was trying to search for a song within the song; [I] tried to find alternate rhythms to throw in there. Searching for every hook I possibly could. I think hooks are something we’ve always strove for. We try to find as many as possible, throw them all in and then, if there are too many, take them out.” He references “Keep Fishin’ ” specifically, from which the band snipped some extra vocal layers.

To be expected from a band with as rigorous a production schedule as Weezer’s, their song catalog has swelled considerably since sitting down to create Maladroit. They had 24 songs to choose from for the album, though recording was completed in mere weeks. “We pretty much get songs by the fourth take,” Bell reveals. “If we don’t feel like we’ve gotten it by then, we move on, maybe try it another day, or skip it completely. We have about 300 songs to choose from now.”

When asked if an extensive back catalog facilitates the album production process, Bell replies, “It’s not a bad thing. But in the same regard, when you’re trying to make a record and have so many songs to choose from, you’re overwhelmed.” He notes that the band rarely recycles old material for future efforts.

To help pick songs from the Maladroit sessions for the album, Weezer enlisted its vibrant Web community; their official site, http://www.weezer.com, has logged more than 8.2 million hits to date. As reported in ICE #179, Cuomo and company posted 13 demos online earlier this year, including “Dope Nose,” “Keep Fishin’,” “Possibilities,” “Slave” and “American Gigolo.” (The demos have consequently been removed from the site.)

The title Maladroit is actually a fan suggestion; the word connotes an inept or awkward person. “Somebody asked me today at a coffee place, ‘Is the next record going to be called Weezer again?'” Bell cracks. “And I said, ‘No, it’s Maladroit.’ I get these looks like, ‘Cool!’ but no one seems to know what [the word] means. I honestly didn’t, either – that shows you how smart some of these fans are.”

Due to the heavy reliance on fan input, Bell is hesitant to single out Weezer as sole album producers. “But,” he says, “credited, it’ll be Weezer. We didn’t really have an outside, objective opinion other than the 10,000 fans and engineers. And anybody else we asked on the street.”

In discussing specific tracks, Bell says, “I’m happy with the backgrounds on ‘December.’ It’s kind of Disney-meets-the-’50s. The album has three breathing points: ‘December,’ ‘Death and Destruction’ and ‘Burnt Jamb.’ All the rest are pretty dense.” “Death and Destruction” was recorded in one take and promptly voted as a Maladroit selection.

“Space Rock,” one of the aforementioned denser tracks, wound up sounding much different than what fans may have originally heard on the Web site. “It really wasn’t one of my favorites going in, [but] then after mixing and putting some ear candy on it, it turned out to be really cool. Spacemen 3-ish, but it definitely rocks, too. … It’s aptly titled.

“I think ‘Take Control’ is my favorite. There’s a different drum sound on that one, the guitars are really tight and crunchy and there’s a really cool effect on my vocal that makes it sound like a guitar note bending. It’s a very compact song and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be a single choice.”

Scott Shriner, who replaced Mikey Welch last year after his unorthodox departure from the band, likens the album to an amusement park ride. He tells ICE, “You start off, everything’s kind of cool, you see some bumps ahead, you go to hell, you’re on the way out, you kind of see there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, then you get the shit kicked out of you again, then you’re at home, you’re in heaven and it’s beautiful. Then you cry and go to sleep.”

The band has already put to tape seven potential songs for their fifth disc, which they hope to release before the end of the year. “We’ll be in the studio till the end of time,” Shriner declares. “Either we’re going to tour or be in the studio recording, that’s all there is to it.”

Originally published as the cover story of ICE magazine in March 2002.

Related stories:

• Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo In 2002: ‘I Think I Had A Falling Out With The Fans’
• Pete Yorn On Musicforthemorningafter: ‘It’s Too Clean’

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