Rivers Cuomo is happier now-a lot happier. But it has been a journey back to that place. It took some time to mourn Pinkerton.
"I was surprised that it wasn't successful right off the bat," he says. "I was truly excited. I thought we had come up with a great new sound. It seemed important and meaningful and I thought people were going to like it. Instead, it seemed like everybody hated it. So I was totally disappointed." He's thought a lot about why things were different for Weezer in 1996 than in 1994. Radio changed over those years. There was the ska kick and the swing revival. And then there was Lilith Fair.
"It was the year of the woman," he says, a little ruefully, but also with a little smile. "That rudely interrupted our whole scene. In retrospect, I don't blame anyone for not playing Pinkerton on the radio. It seems so unradio-friendly. I don't know why I expected it to do anything."
While Cuomo was feeling sorry for himself, Pinkerton really was getting played on the radio. Well, sort of. By the late '90s, while Modern Rock radio went from novelty bands to rap-metal, the punk-pop hybrid of emo-core was cornering the college radio underground, and the bands that secretly and not-so-secretly thrilled to Weezer were at the forefront.
"I can only speak for myself," says Get Up Kids co-founder Matthew Pryor. "I was a Weezer fan from the get-go, and when Pinkerton came out, I was just as excited. We'd get interviewed for fanzines, and [the writers] would ask us who we listened to and we'd mention Weezer and a couple other bands. Underground cult successes happen all the time; look at The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
But it was interesting to see a band who were dismissed by many as spent radio-fodder access a fanatical underground following. When ultra-obscure photocopied fanzines with names like 3rd Arm Electricity say things along the lines of, "We know [Pinkerton] is on a major label, but it's completely fantastic," it flies directly against the grain of indie-Land's hardline major-labels-are-evil rhetoric."Good music transcends all boundaries," opines Pryor. "People tend to
forget about their political convictions against the industry if they really like a song. And that's all Weezer's about-liking the songs and having a good time. And there shouldn't be anything wrong with that."
Cuomo and Bell readily admit they don't know anything about emo. They seem to be a little mystified by the embrace. "I don't know exactly what that genre entails," says Bell. "I thought it meant like Fugazi. I liked the first two Fugazi albums, but I certainly didn't think we sounded like that."
As for bands like the Promise Ring and the Get Up Kids, "those are bands I haven't even heard," says Bell. "They're one of my sister's favorite bands, though. I'm going to get to hear the Get Up Kids every night because we're playing with them, too." They're bringing a young emo band, Osma,(sic) on the road, as well. And while Cuomo has bought some of the indie records that have earned Weezer comparisons, he's just as confused as his bandmates about the whole thing. "I don't really know what it means, either," he says. "I think most of those bands really have their own identities and strong characteristics independent from us. Maybe I can hear a little influence, but it's not like we're Nirvana spawning the grunge generation or anything. I think it's a lot more subtle than that."
Had Cuomo known what was going on, he might not have been so down. Instead, his first step back from malaise was moving to Los Angeles. "I'm really happy here," the Connecticut native says. "L.A. is just so congenial to my nature. The air is brisk and you feel alive. Whereas back in Connecticut and Boston, you're either dying from the cold or the heat and
humidity. You're just fighting to survive. Here, the air is always invigorating. You feel like kicking ass. When you think about it, say out of the last 10 years, how many important bands have come out of the Northeast compared to the West Coast? Think of a handful? Think of any? It's just so much more conducive to creativity here."
The songs spurred the band to take the nervous plunge into performing
live again. Kind of. Secret shows were played under a series of hilarious names (Goat Punishment was definitely the best), and the sets included covers of everything from Iron Maiden to Oasis. "I think the most important thing was getting back out there and playing shows again," says Cuomo. "Put it all on the line. Get all the criticism and get all the praise. That's when you feel like the gun is at your head and you'd better get your act together. That was the catalyst that really made it all happen."
Weezer's appearance on last year's Warped Tour wouldn't have happened if their manager hadn't gone to the tour organizers to try to sneak them on the bill. Cuomo says this was the deal: They wouldn't get paid and they had to travel in a van. "Believe me, It was torturous," he said. "It was downright terrifying going out there the first few times, because our self-esteem was at an all-time low, combined with the fact that that's not really our crowd. That's a punk crowd and they're notorious for voicing their opinions if they're not into you. When we showed up that first day, Lunachicks were on. The announcer said, 'Coming up later, Weezer,' and the whole place went crazy. That's when we knew we were going to be safe." The Warped crowds were delirious. An entire generation of fans for whom Weezer were a legendary, seminal band actually got to see a group they never imagined would play live again. "Yeah, well, you can't blame them if they thought that," Cuomo says. "We were just as happy to see them."
Buoyed by the Warped success, Cuomo decided he was ready to make the third record, and the band spent much of this winter in the studio with Ocasek. Still terrified of the Napster file-sharing service, the band's label made only six songs available to this writer for a one-time only listen. But the songs from that cursory preview suggest a fine melding of the two albums: as poppy and vibrant as the first, as immediate as the second.
"I suppose we're going to be asked this question a lot," Cuomo sighs, when asked where the new album falls in relation to the first two. "I don't think there's an easy mathematical answer. I guess maybe it's halfway between the two records, but a I it tie closer to the [first] record." The songs have titles like "Oh Girlfriend," (sic) "Don't Let Go," "Hash Pipe," "Gimme Some Love," "Starlight" and "Islands In The Sun." (sic) But while the sound is instantly recognizable, what's different is the lyrical perspective.
Whereas Pinkerton sounded like Cuomo's therapy sessions, this as yet-untitled album is a little more vague, and certainly not ripped straight from his personal journals, a la Pinkerton's "Across The Sea". The sentiments here are much less specific: "I'm lost with out your love"; "I miss you/And I wonder how you feel about me too"; "It makes me feel so fine."
"Lyrical themes? I don't know. I guess I'm still writing about the same stuff. No growth there," Cuomo observes in a moment of self-deprecation. "'Hash Pipe' is about being a transvestite prostitute, which is something I've never written about before. That's the first time I ever wrote a song telling a story from a fictional point of view instead of a real life experience. I mean, yeah, it's definitely less personal." "Except 'Hash Pipe,'" interjects Karl Koch, the band's long time roadie and fifth member. "Fucker," retorts Cuomo, proving that he's funny when he wants to be. "Maybe that was what I did in 1999. Yeah, now I remember..