From the Magazine

Weezer Go Back to the Future

Five years ago, one of the best bands of the modern rock era fell down the rabbit hole. Now they've returned to the studio to make an album that just might be the greatest new old thing they've ever done.

Image credit: BRIAN GALLINO for EW

Weezer's Rivers Cuomo

''Does anybody have perfect pitch?''

There's all kinds of technology available at Rivers Cuomo's fingertips in the inner sanctum of Los Angeles' Village recording studio, but what the Weezer frontman really needs right now is a natural musical gift. Both bassist Scott Shriner and guitarist Brian Bell shrug in Cuomo's general direction. Drummer Pat Wilson busies himself trying to decode a chart he's drawn for a song still dubbed ''Anonymous''—part of an ambitious three-part suite that will hopefully close out their upcoming ninth album, Everything Will Be Alright in the End. Eventually the track, which climaxes with Cuomo plaintively crooning, ''I don't even know your name,'' will become crunchy and triumphant. But at the moment, it's got a ways to go.

Though the 2005 hit ''Beverly Hills'' is the group's highest-charting song and garnered them their only Grammy nomination, Weezer live in the perpetual shadow of their note-perfect 1994 debut, a.k.a. the Blue Album, and its endlessly fan-fetishized 1996 follow-up, Pinkerton. ''I heard 'Tired of Sex' in a store the other day,'' Wilson recalls of Pinkerton's raw-throated opener. ''And I thought it was going to melt the speaker. Like, 'Holy s---, that song sounds awesome.'''

Today, though, there's a heaviness in the room: not just the frustration of getting this new song out of their heads and onto the hard drive, but the pressure that has built up around the construction of the entire album. When it's finally finished, Everything (set for release Sept. 30) will be the culmination of four years of work and self-analysis for Weezer—and, possibly, a resurrection. After a decade-plus run of MTV-galvanizing hits that began with 1994's ''Undone (The Sweater Song)'' and ''Buddy Holly,'' the alt-rock godheads, now all in their mid-40s, skidded into an undeniable rough patch. Their past two albums, 2009's Raditude and 2010's Hurley, were critical and commercial disappointments. (It didn't help that for the first time Cuomo had brought in pop songwriters for hire—the kind who typically worked with stars like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry.) Everything is an attempt to hit the reset button on all that and get back to what Weezer have always loved: good old-fashioned guitar rock.

There isn't much that screams ''rock star'' about the Cuomo home. The rustic wooden fence surrounding the property, the trampoline in the front yard, the Mercedes in the driveway—these could all easily be the trappings of any well-off Santa Monica family. Inside, the airy home reveals little more than a maze of plastic toys and Sears-staged portraits. The only space that hints at Cuomo's day job is the well-appointed home studio on the far side of the backyard. Though it's significantly nicer than the one he once famously sang about, with its Dungeons & Dragons paraphernalia and Kiss posters, Cuomo is still in the garage.

While his 7-year-old daughter hovers nearby (''She wants to be in the magazine,'' Cuomo says. ''When she's out on the road, she'll come out and play a song on keyboard, so she's earned a spot in Entertainment Weekly), he lays out the long series of transitions that led the group to where they are today.

Following the release of Hurley, Weezer found themselves strangely untethered. ''We didn't have a record label, we didn't have a producer or a publicist,'' Cuomo recalls. ''Contracts had expired, and we were totally free agents.''

The only other gap this long in the band's career was the five years that separated Pinkerton from the Green Album—and that was primarily because Cuomo had a minor breakdown. (''I got very sad,'' he told EW in 2001. ''I became very unsure of my instincts.'') The past decade has been much smoother, with Cuomo focusing on family and meditation while the rest of the band experimented with side projects before re-forming like Voltron a few years back for a steady stream of festival appearances, mini-tours, and even a successful Weezer-helmed cruise.

But the pause was still deliberate. ''I knew I wanted to make a great album, and I knew it would take a long time,'' Cuomo says. ''I sequestered myself in my studio and just let it come in layers. I told everyone, 'This is going to take some time, but it's going to be worth it.' It's difficult. As creative people, we love to make something and share it with the world, and do it again and again and again. We had been working like that for several years leading up to 2010, but I just felt this great calling to do something big and thoughtful, and for whatever reason, I can't do that in a few months.''

So Cuomo went to work. In the studio he's meticulous, but the writing process is an edit-free zone. (''I must have listened to over 200 songs for this record and rated them,'' guitarist Bell says. Of those, something like 20 actually got tracked, and a dozen or so will appear on the final version of Everything Will Be Alright in the End.) ''I'm hearing three big themes,'' Cuomo explains. ''One is my relationship to other people, and how I want to have super-deep relationships and risk and share and how scary that can be, and how sometimes it's just not appropriate to tell everybody everything and how painful that is for me. Then there's relationships with women. That's always a hot topic for me. And I was originally thinking of the third theme as father figures, but with a spin. The song 'Eulogy for a Rock Band' is about our place relative to the great rock bands that came before us as they are retiring and moving on into oblivion. We're kind of in that spot now. There's definitely a song about my relationship with my father, but there's the new spin, because now I'm a father too.''

The band's relationship with their audience has been an intense one, swinging between wild adoration (see: the thousands who have piled onto ocean liners for the two recent Weezer cruises) and brutal disdain (in 2010 a Seattle man started a campaign to raise $10 million to get the band to break up because ''I am tired of my friends being disappointed year after year''; it went viral, but failed to reach its goal). Though Cuomo clearly follows his own path and considers Weezer a pantheon rock band, he is also aware that the only way to continue doing what he loves doing is to please the people. On the demo of ''Back to the Shack,'' the sole full song from Everything currently out there thanks to a fan-made cruise recording, Cuomo sings, ''Sorry, guys, I didn't realize that I needed you so much/ I thought I'd get a new audience/I forgot that disco sucks.'' He sounds burdened, and it's easy to believe that the reverence toward their earlier work can feel like a creative millstone for the band. But Cuomo, ever the Zen master, takes a different approach: ''I find it super-inspiring,'' he says. ''It's just as if it was somebody else's record.''

Back at the studio, ''Anonymous'' still isn't jelling. The frustration is mounting even as Cuomo directs traffic in the control room. He's a student of music, but at this particular moment, his training is failing him. Nobody can seem to figure out how to put it together. Finally, Cuomo declares, ''Let's just run through it.'' The track begins with a cinematic piano intro, then gives way to a monstrously dense guitar crunch. It speeds up, moves sideways, climbs and falls. The quartet, playing along to their own demo, lose their place, and Cuomo is barely able to get a handful of lines into the microphone before the song crashes and burns. Wilson, the class clown, tries to keep it light while producer Ric Ocasek hangs back, taking notes. Miraculously, each take improves—Shriner finds the key changes, and Wilson starts nailing the fills. In the span of 45 minutes, Weezer take a total disaster and spin it into a shape-shifting, prog-kissed slice of radio gold. For this moment, at least, the real magic of rock alchemy hangs in the air. ''It's so fun and exciting!'' Cuomo declares with a wild grin.

The excitement continues into the next day. After a few runs through ''Ain't Got Nobody,'' the driving, hook-filled anthem that may become the album opener, Wilson settles in to lay down the final drum track for the thumping, shifting ''Back to Ithaca.'' Cuomo conducts from a booth behind the glass with a baseball mitt on one hand, deeply focused on Wilson's performance. ''In some ways, I'm a terrible leader,'' Cuomo had said earlier in the day. ''I don't like telling people what to do. But as a musician, I feel like it's my responsibility, and I also want to make the final call on these creative decisions.'' Again, they struggle, but just as with ''Anonymous,'' the final product feels effortless.

Whether Everything Will Be Alright in the End is a hit, it seems like the process of making it has been its own kind of reward for the guys, who know how much it took to get here. ''We have so much fun,'' Shriner says. ''The other night, we were YouTubing Neil Sedaka and the Captain & Tennille. We were listening to 'Muskrat Love,' and the solo made me laugh so hard, I almost threw up in the bus.'' Cuomo agrees: ''It does seem like in the last few years things have gotten more harmonious,'' he says. ''We're spending more time together and enjoying each other's company more. We went for a walk together on the last tour!''

Every day, Cuomo exits sharply at 5:30 p.m. so that he can have dinner with his family. But often, the rest of the band linger. Bell tinkers with a guitar while Wilson and Shriner debate the relative merits of Bachman-Turner Overdrive. The conversation shifts to Wilson's fondness for the songs on Cartoon Network's Regular Show and Shriner's love for a doom band he recently discovered called Drug Honkey. They play the takes from ''Anonymous'' over and over again, getting lost in their own creation. It's four years on from Hurley, but light-years away from that album's modern pop experimentation. ''The great thing about being in Weezer,'' Shriner says, ''is you can love things that are uncool.'' By reembracing their roots—as outcasts, as metalheads, as dyed-in-the-wool rock nerds—they appear to be on the cusp of reclaiming something they've lost. And why not? Even if they fall on their faces, everything will be alright in the end.

WEEZER MOMENTS
Tracing nearly a quarter century of ups (platinum records! VMAs!) and downs (a brutal 2009 bus crash) in the life of the band

1992
FEB. 14, 1992: Rivers Cuomo launches Weezer with guitarist Jason Cropper, drummer Pat Wilson, and bassist Matt Sharp.

1993
JUNE 25, 1993: Weezer sign a deal with DGC Records.
SUMMER 1993: Brian Bell joins Weezer, replacing Cropper on guitar.

1994
MAY 10, 1994: Weezer's self-titled debut, now known as the Blue Album, is released.
FALL 1994: The Spike Jonze-directed ''Buddy Holly'' video debuts.
DEC. 25, 1994: Cuomo begins demos for the rock opera Songs From the Black Hole. The concept is later abandoned.

1995
SEPT. 7, 1995: ''Buddy Holly'' wins four MTV Video Music Awards.

1996
SEPT. 24, 1996: Weezer's second album, Pinkerton, is released.

1998
JAN.--FEB. 1998: Sessions for a third album are abandoned. Matt Sharp departs to focus on his side project, the Rentals, full-time.

2000
JUNE 16, 2000: The band returns to the road with new bassist Mikey Welsh.

2001
MAY 15, 2001: Weezer's Green Album is released. ''Hash Pipe'' and ''Island in the Sun'' both become hits.
AUG. 19, 2001: Scott Shriner replaces Welsh, who leaves the band due to a drug-related nervous breakdown.

2002
MAY 14, 2002: Weezer's fourth album, Maladroit, is released. The singles ''Dope Nose'' and ''Keep Fishin,''' with its Muppets-guesting video, become hits.

2005
MAY 10, 2005: Weezer release their fifth album, Make Believe; the single ''Beverly Hills'' becomes their biggest success yet.

2007
DEC. 18, 2007: Cuomo releases Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo, the first of three collections of demos.

2008
MAY 23, 2008: Weezer premiere the ''Pork and Beans'' video, a winking play on several Internet memes.
JUNE 3, 2008: Weezer release their sixth album and third self-titled album, soon dubbed the Red Album.

2009
NOV. 3, 2009: Seventh album Raditude features songs co-penned by Dr. Luke and Jermaine Dupri.
DEC. 6, 2009: The tour bus carrying Cuomo and his family crashes, forcing the cancellation of the remainder of the band's tour. Cuomo returns to the stage six weeks later.

2010
SEPT. 10, 2010: Weezer release their eighth album, Hurley.

2012
JAN. 19, 2012: The band launches the first Weezer Cruise, also featuring Dinosaur Jr., Ozma, and Sebadoh.

Originally posted Jul 10, 2014 Published in issue #1320 Jul 18, 2014 Order article reprints
Advertisement

From Our Partners