Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo In 2002: ‘I Think I Had A Falling Out With The Fans’
“I still get the feeling that everyone’s pissed off and frustrated with us because we don’t sound like we did in 1993,” Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo told me on April 13, 2002. Going through one of the most tumultuous periods of its career, the bandmembers – who had recently fired their manager, and were bucking their PR and A&R reps at Geffen – had just “reclaimed control of ours lives,” in the words of Cuomo.
“It’s all a big mess,” he said, roughly a month before the release of the fourth Weezer album, Maladroit.
That said, they were on something of an artistic tear, holing up in the studio every day and making headway with their fifth record – even though Make Believe wouldn’t drop until three years later.
“I can’t really explain why our output is so massive,” Cuomo said. “It’s not because of hard work, I’ll guarantee you that.”
In this interview – presented in full for the first time anywhere, in light of Hurley plopping earlier this week – he also revealed his irritation with message boards and inclination to abandon his lifelong commitment to vegetarianism.
[For more from-the-vault Weezer content, check out my interview with guitarist Brian Bell and bassist Scott Shriner.]
How are you today?
Very good, thank you.
Are you in the studio?
Right now I’m in my house.
Wasn’t sure if you were recording today or not …
Yeah, I will go down in a few hours.
Are you working straight through the weekends these days?
Yeah. We don’t need days off.
You guys have been working so rigorously … you don’t need time off?
No, ’cause actually we only work three or four hours a day. Yeah, so we can maintain that indefinitely.
Do you get the same amount of work done each day, keep the same hours?
We’re pretty consistent.
You had so many tracks to choose from for Maladroit. With this fifth one, are you going to keep it tighter?
No, we’re going to try to have less to choose from, because choosing is a pain in the ass. We’re very conscienciously limiting ourselves to … maybe, 30 songs?
How many have you done now?
Do you think you might open up song selection to your fans again, on your site?
I dunno. I think I had a falling out with the fans, so I don’t know if they’re going to be involved this time.
I dunno, we’re just always bickering about things.
You mean, people you run into?
Mostly over the Internet.
Is there some sort of an issue that crops up constantly?
No, it’s basically everything. We don’t agree on anything.
You mean, from sound to venue to …
You name it.
So you’re not going to listen to their appeals?
I dunno. I change my mind every few weeks, but right now we’re totally isolated in the studio.
How does that feel, compared to developing your past albums?
Well, we’ve pretty much always done whatever we want. But it’s easier to concentrate when there’s less people around giving their opinions.
At what point do you feel the need to have that opinion involved?
I dunno. Like, if I can’t make up my mind about something. … Like, should I use Guitar A or Guitar B? I’ll let other people listen and see how they respond.
Will you go to bandmembers first?
There’s really no set way of doing things. I’d approach some homeless person on the street just as easily as anyone else.
Has that happened before?
Well, that’s kind of what the Internet is like. Everyone gets their opinion voiced.
So in a situation like that, you’d post an MP3 and use a message board to ask people what they think of the songs?
Yeah, well there’s all these message boards devoted to critiquing us.
Do you think about them often?
Well, it’s kind of going on a lot from Maladroit, but we don’t really do that anymore.
How would you compare Number Five with Maladroit and otherwise?
Well, the other guys are singing and writing more, and the songs are more personal, emotional. Whatever songs they’re singing they wrote lyrics to. At this point, Brian [Bell] has two songs and Pat [Wilson] has one. They said they had some more they want to show us.
Can you talk more about the aesthetic of the fifth album?
Well, for a while now I’ve really tried to avoid having an aesthetic going into the album process. I just want it to be free – you know, go into the studio and freak out and see what happens. As opposed to saying, “Alright, this time we’re going to do a metal album” or something.
Is that what you said going into the Maladroit sessions?
Oh no, it was totally free. We had no idea what was going to come out of that.
I wonder why Maladroit was such a hard album to make. Did it come naturally?
Yeah, it just comes naturally. We never bothered to ask ourselves why. ‘Course everyone else does.
Do you spend much time mixing and editing?
We’re not really involved with editing or mixing at all. What we do is we record a song, and then come back to it a few days later, and then totally re-record it. And then again a few days later. And we play a song again and again like that, and keep listening back to what we’ve done. And gradually the song evolves into something that sounds really complete.
How would you describe Weezer as an evolving machine?
Um … gradually learning to assimilate all of our instincts and prioritize them and take advantage of all our natural energies, instead of trying to repress some, and exclusively feature others.
Now that you’re recording so voraciously, is it hard to get perspective?
I dunno, it doesn’t seem like we work very hard, or that we’re voracious about our recordings. It feels like we slack more than ever, actually. Like I said, we’re only in the studio for a few hours. Most bands are in there 12 hours a day. I can’t really explain why our output is so massive. It’s not because of hard work, I’ll guarantee you that.
What do you do when you’re not making music these days?
I just hang out a lot. Watch a lot of TV. Go to parties.
Fascinated by any shows on television these days?
Are you going to make any more videos?
We just made a video for “Dope Nose.”
How did that go?
Pretty harmless. We pretended like we were playing our song 15 times, and they said, “OK, go home now, that’s it.”
Was it in front of a blue screen?
No, it was set in Griffith Park somewhere.
So what do you think about a greatest-hits or live or box set down the road?
I couldn’t care less about box sets and greatest hits and all that. I just want to come up with new stuff.
What are the “jambs” all about? Are they going to be a series?
[He laughs.] I dunno … when I can’t think of a title, I just call it “The Smiths Jamb” or whatever. Or “Burnt Jamb” or “Serendipitous Jamb.”
Are you going to do any of those live?
Well, “Burnt Jamb” we’ve been doing live for a while now.
Are you already previewing material from Number Five?
Well, most of the songs we’ve come up with since the last tour, so no. Some of the songs are as old as 2000.
Oh really? Which ones?
Um, “Mad Cow,” “Superstar,” “Modern Dukes.” We’ve been playing those for a few years now.
Where did you come up with the “fishing” metaphor?
It just came off the top of my head, and I have no idea what it means.
I thought it was fishing for love or something …
I have not even bothered to find out what the lyrics are about. I think it’s just a going-fishin’ type of song … that’s the rhythm of it, the lyrics just popped up naturally.
Are you much of a fisherman yourself?
No, ’cause I was raised a vegetarian.
Oh, I didn’t know that. Have you always been a vegetarian?
Yeah, but I’m just starting to think about eating meat now, actually.
Really? How come?
I just want to try something new.
If you were going to sit down and eat meat for the first time, what would you choose?
Well, I have had meat a few times. The first thing I had was some kind of barbecued beef in Tokyo.
That’s a good place to start.
It was good.
When are you touring overseas again?
Well, we’re touring Japan in May, and we are doing the Reading/Leeds festival in the U.K. in August.
And then you’re swinging through the States when again?
I think 10 days.
Who’s touring with you?
This tour, it’s Pete Yorn and Dashboard Confessional. But this summer it’s going to be Dashboard Confessional.
Are you pretty close with Pete?
No, not at all.
Taking everything on your shoulders, have you had to do tons of interviews?
No, I do less than ever, actually.
Is it just a huge relief to have everything under your control?
Yeah, it’s a huge relief. Suddenly we realized exactly what’s going on with our business, and we can control what we want to do and what we don’t want to do. Whereas before, everything was kind of hidden from us; we had no idea what was really going on. We were kind of intimidated into doing whatever we were told. I think that happens to a lot of bands.
Can you pinpoint the moment in which you decide to take everything on yourselves?
Well, there definitely wasn’t a single moment that we realized we could be independent. We just gradually reclaimed control of our lives, step by step, piece by piece. I guess the real decisive moment was firing our manager. And at that point, we didn’t really know that the sky was going to fall down on us, or what was going to happen. But we took the chance and went ahead and did it, and we realized that everything was totally fine.
When did you fire your manager?
Officially, I think May 2001.
Do you ever want to release your records independently?
Uh … I dunno, man, that sounds like a lotta work! I don’t want to have to deal with distributors, making sure the records are in stores and all that shit. There’s too much TV to be watched.
So what you decide to go with the beard?
[He laughs.] It wasn’t really a decision, it just kind of happened.
As all beards do, right? What do you think about the Weezer tribute bands?
I’m not familiar with them, actually. I know about Weener in Austin.
Are you closer to the tribute albums?
Actually, I’m not. I don’t listen to those, either. I think, for the most part, fans would be far more satisfied with a cover band than they would with the real thing. We’ve moved on.
You think fans are still hooked on that initial Weezer image?
Obviously, a lot of them are, cause we still have huge concerts – in fact, bigger than ever. But I still get the feeling that everyone’s pissed off and frustrated with us because we don’t sound like we did in 1993.
Are album sales any way to gauge that?
No, ’cause the last album did really well, but I still have this nagging feeling that people are pissed at us. I don’t understand. It’s all a big mess.
It seems difficult, for the artist to be able to separate himself from the audience …
It comes very natural to me.
Do you have the urge to do any more café or club shows?
No. There was a while there where we just did it because lots of bands do it and it seemed like it’d be cool. But in reality, it’s awful.
Small venues are, like, no privacy, people are always hassling you for things. It sounds bad, it smells bad. It’s just way nicer to be in a huge rock arena. That’s where we feel like we belong.
Do you have a favorite venue to play in Los Angeles? I think I saw you last at the Palladium.
No, the Palladium is bad. I don’t know if I like L.A. venues … maybe Staples Center. We haven’t played there, but I think I’d like it.
What about in Boston?
Boston? Probably the Fleet Center.
Pretty huge places.
Yeah, I like huge places! Like, 20,000 people.
Do you feel bad for the kid in the back?
Yeah, I feel bad for him. Not that seeing my face is the greatest thing in the world.