Alternative Press May 2001 “Hide and Geek” By: David Daley How does a two-hit wonder major-label band, of self admitted geeks bloosm into an underground Rock touchstone? David Daley revists the land of weezer and finds the same pop nerds coming to terms with self-confidence and their hipster status.

This looks like a place where Hollywood dreams come to die.

 

      It is the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue, and although it is only a couple miles from here to the Capitol Records building at Hollywood and Vine and the glittering and gaudy celebrations of showbiz superstardom-the Walk Of Fame, Mann's Chinese Theater, the Ripley's museum- these streets seem sorrowful. The Le Sex Shoppe across the street doesn't exactly share clientele with Frederick's Of Hollywood. The dismal JOE Casino Training Center couldn't be farther from the bright lights. Some of the hotels look too seedy even for a desperate Robert Downey, Jr. bender.

      But it is here, in the neighborhood's Music Grinder studio, where the finishing touches are being placed on one of the most unlikely of alt-rock comebacks, that Weezer gather for the final sequencing on their third record. Tomorrow morning, they travel to Austin, Texas for something equally amazing-the start of an American tour that has been sold-out since tickets went on sale last year.

      Such a triumphant return once seemed as unbelievable as EMF topping the charts again. After scoring hits with "Buddy Holly" and "Undone (The Sweater Song)" from their 1994 debut (frequently referred to by the band as the blue album), it was the band themselves who came undone with their 1996 disc, Pinkerton. Intra-band squabbling over image, direction and songwriting belied singer Rivers Cuomo's insecurity over whether Weezer's success was due to his songs or Spike Jonze's clever videos, coupled with band mates Pat Wilson and Matt Sharp's growing desires to be rock stars instead of Geek Nation icons.

      So, after an opening stint with No Doubt (hey, that was a big deal in 1997) failed to recharge flagging Pinkerton sales, the band took a lengthy hiatus. Cuomo studied English at Harvard while Sharp departed to concentrate on his own band, the Rentals.

      During these last three years, the only thing anyone heard coming from Weezer were bizarre stories in Spin and Rolling Stone, where Cuomo was portrayed as either a homeless lunatic or a crazed Brian Wilson-figure tearing studio tapes into tiny threads. During Weezer's period of self-destruction and inactivity, something strange happened: They became legends. Legends on the Internet, where a cult following swapped MP3s and bootlegs of Cuomo's two solo shows in Boston. Legends to teens who came of age when the Geffen imprint was synonymous with Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth; to '90s kids for whom Weezer played the same role as the Violent Femmes a decade before-an angst-ridden gateway into the rest of the alt-rock world. Some of those fans spawned today's emo scene, as bands like the Promise Ring and the Get Up Kids embraced Weezer's heartfelt turmoil, melody and energy, and channeled them into their own frenetic, punky pop, while Weezer remained blissfully unaware of the entire scene. Weezer became legends to a new generation of fans on last year's Warped tour, where the punk-rock audience gave them bigger cheers than they gave Green Day and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and they upstaged beloved hipster faves like Jurassic 5 and the Donnas. "It's perplexing. It's amazing," says Wilson. "We did nothing," says guitarist Brian Bell. "And somehow we're more popular than ever."

      It's such a strange turn of events that even the band members can't explain it with any more than a shrug and a grin. They're not especially talkative on this Sunday afternoon. Maybe it's the gray weather, perhaps it's the impending stress of an album to finish tonight .before a tour that starts tomorrow. Or maybe it's that too much self-reflection in these very same pages nearly four years ago started the band's public unraveling.

      In A.P. 102 [Jan. 1997], Wilson said Cuomo ran the band like a "selective democracy," and admitted he stayed in the band because "I make a shitload of money." Wilson and now-departed bassist Sharp also distanced themselves from Cuomo's songs with titles like "Tired Of Sex," and blamed Cuomo's unwillingness to make another video like Jonze's Happy Days homage "Buddy Holly" as one reason why Pinkerton would never be as successful as their self-titled debut. Cuomo doesn't say a word for the first 15 minutes of the interview, preferring to sit at a table wearing black glasses size too large for his face and a khaki sweater pulled tight to his slight frame. New bassist Mikey Welsh is just as quiet. Bell does most of the talking early on, mostly in the form of clichés and short responses.

      Why reemerge with the Warped Tour? "It felt like the right time. It was a good offer." On the Internet community keeping the band alive during the downtime: "It could have played a role, for sure." On going back in the studio with former Cars front man Ric Ocasek, who produced the first record: "Any time you can spend time with that guy, it's a quality experience."

      But after some long, uncomfortable silences, Wilson breaks the tension by bursting into Rush's "Free Will," complete with air-drum solo, and slowly the story of the last three-plus years begins to emerge. Bell downplays the long layoff, but it is still clear that the band members never expected that they'd ever be talking about their new record as anything more than a pipe dream.     

"First, we had to audition bass players. That took about a year," says Bell, explaining band activity in 1998, after Sharp's departure. Soon afterward, the infamous ubermerger of Geffen into the Universal Music Group made many bands free agents overnight. “That was a weird time, too," Bell continues. "Everybody was being dropped. People kept asking, 'So, you guys got dropped?' But no, we didn't. I felt kind of guilty. Two bands stayed-us and Beck-from the whole Geffen roster as far as alt-rock. That call could have come any day, but it never did, so I felt pretty secure. I knew we'd eventually do it because all the songs Rivers was coming up with were great. I knew when he was ready, it would be great."

      On those infrequent times they did get together during 1998 and 1999 (Wilson still lived in Portland, Oregon; Welsh and Cuomo had to relocate from Boston), they played mostly cover songs - lots of Slayer, even Hank Williams, but not a lot of "Buddy Holly." Cuomo, having spent 1997 as a year of self-described rock-star excess, decided not to return to Harvard for his fourth year. He moved back to L.A. and holed up writing songs, spawning rumors that he'd gone off the deep end.      

      "Like anybody else, part of me was thinking, 'I think there will be a third record,' and part of me was thinking, 'Well, clearly there's not going to be a third record," says Cuomo, who opens up when he's not speaking in front of his bandmates. "Part of me was just thinking, 'Damn, I hope there's going to be a third record.' Probably all those thoughts and feelings are going through your head at the same time.

      "1999 was a pretty bleak year," he admits. "1999 was mostly spent by myself, every day, working. Writing. Actually, not working. Mostly just sitting around and not working. Playing soccer."

      In-between all that time on the soccer field, however, Cuomo wrote some 350 songs. He filled notebooks and demo tapes. And most of them will never be heard, because the band recorded only the newest 20 for the new album. He blames the soccer for the "Rivers-is-homeless" stories, suggesting someone tipped off Spin after he showed up at the studio sweaty after practice. "It sounds insane," he says of his prolific song output. "Maybe I'm a crazy person and that's all I do. But if you think about it and do the math, that's not that much over four years. It's maybe one or two songs a week. And it only takes a half-hour to write a song. I swear, it had nothing to do with creativity or going insane."

part 2