The tension spilled over during filming for the "El Scorcho" video (Pinkerton'sí first single), which is essentially a straight performance clip. Sharp and Wilson looked disgusted onscreen, and the editor quit after fighting with Cuomo, who ended up editing the clip himself. Sharp and Wilson have vowed not to do another video in which all they do is play their instruments.
"Right now were at an impasse because I donít want to do another performance video," says Wilson. "If I do, Iím afraid ill do something Rivers wont like. I told him ill do one, but Iím going to have to wear a bear suit. And Matt will wear a big bunny rabbit suit. Now that to me would be funny. The less Iím in a video, the more outrageous Iíll have to be. If it means looking like that guyÖ" He points to CNN, which is showing an outrageous aboriginal Tiki-god costume that could be in the Macyís Thanksgiving parade. "So be it. Iím not going to be just the drummer anymore."
"Before, Rivers could sing about Buddy Holly, and we could just play," he continues. "But now I think weíve become a little more sensitive to the lyrics and how we are going to be associated with the lyrics while were in this band. Its one thing to go onstage and play. Its another to sit still an be serious about something you could care less aboutÖwellÖ something not connected to your experience."
Pinkerton is nothing if not directly related to Rivers Cuomoís experiences. Itís a great album, and not just because Cuomo lays himself so emotionally bare as he struggles to come to terms with sex, relationships and masculinity. The band have also added extra heft to the songs since their undeniably catchy and tuneful, but undeniably light-weight debut two years ago. Wilson is a dynamic, propulsive drummer. Sharpís Rentals side project has given him confidence and helped his bass lines become more complex. Bell has considerably toughened the guitar sound.
The irony is that Weezer achieved success with an album of pop songs, but followed it up with a serious, introspective rock album. Thatís the only irony, insists Cuomo.
"The songs on the first record were meant for a much smaller audience," he says. "I think pop songs like that mean something different when theyíre played for a smaller, hipper audience because they understand some of the irony. But when its on MTV and its just being shoved down your throat, some of the irony is lost. It just becomes obnoxious.
"For the second album, I was aware that there would be a much larger audience than I anticipated. There's a lot less irony. Weíre playing and saying what we feel more directly. We were sarcastic bastards afraid to be sincere. Iím just learning thatís cowardice. I really have a lot I want to say and express."
"The success of Weezer- Cuomo thought it would sell 15,000 copes, Sharp hoped for 50,000, which he thought would be enough not to get dropped from Geffen- didnít add extra pressure when Cuomo tried to write Pinkerton.
"Iím always at maximum pressure," says Cuomo. "I always feel incredibly stressed out and pressured to write songs. I always feel like i've written my last song, that im burned out, dried up, thereís nothing left. The fact that we were following up a hit album couldnít have made it any worse."
Nevertheless, Cuomo struggled. He had four songs already done- "Tired of Sex", "Getchoo", "No Other One" and "Why Bother?"- the first four on Pinkerton. But those songs had been written just after the band recorded Weezer. ("Tired of Sex" has been banned in Singapore, much to Riversí amazement, since he considers it one of the most Puritanical rock songs ever.) Heíd gone about eighteen months without writing much of anything. Sharp offered to collaborate on some songs, but when he and Cuomo tried, they just ended up sitting around with their guitars and talking about old times.
Finally, in Boston, Cuomo had two important breakthroughs. The drugs he was taking for his leg dulled the pain but opened him up to write about heartbreak. And he received a touching fan letter from an 18-year-old girl in Japan who wanted to know all about him: his hobbies, his favorite foods, his birthday.
"Sometimes this spring, I was taking some pretty serious narcotics for my leg," says Cuomo. "At this point id been living by myself for about seven months. I had a enormous beard, long hair, and I hadnít really talked to anyone in seven months. I didnít have any friends. I was taking there percocets, and I felt like I had really tapped into something. These songs came out. Now i've got to have some other operation so I can get more of those percocets," he laughs.
Then came the letter from Japan, which Cuomo turned almost verbatim into the first verse of "Across the Sea" (heís sharing royalties with the fan). The song bristles with the frustration of having somebody he likes so far away, ending with this clever restatement of the relationship between rock star and fan: "I've got your letter, youíve got my song." Cuomo had his first new song in months. Pinkerton, which presents the ten songs in chronological order as written, has a 20-second instrumental bridge before "Across the Sea" to symbolize Cuomoís period of depression.
"I had fantasies over this letter," he admits. "I realized that id completely shut myself off from life, but I was still aware of Eors inside me. I had eliminated that part of me at all. I wasnít a monk. I was just a perverted hermit."
Cuomo, however, had the inspiration for the record. Taking the them from Pucciniís opera Madame Butterfly, Cuomo turned Pinkerton, a Navy sailor in the opera, into a rock star who sleeps with women from port to port.
"El Scorcho" soon followed. The song stemmed from a similar sense of frustration. Despite his success in a pop group, Cuomo couldn't talk to a woman in his English class. The songís key line sums up Cuomoís emotional state: "How stupid is it/I cant talk about it/ Iíve got to sing about it/And make a record of my heart."
"I saw this girl ever day, and I just liked her so much. But I couldnít say a thing to her, and ill never be able to, and I never have been able toÖ" His Voce trails off. His anonymity at Harvard was comforting, but also difficult.
"I can be a normal person (in college), which is nice. But I was lonely, and everyone thought I was a freak. Which I was. I think if I had spent the year in Hollywood hanging out with rock stars, I probably wouldn't have been able to make this record. Maybe I would have been able to write some songs, but I donít think they would have had this type of feeling.
"Iím afraid I might have to continue living these periods of being a miserable hermit in order to keep writing."
There must be another way.
"I sure hope so. But I think the only way for me to write songs is to be unhappy, which is a kind of a bummer. This isnít so great at all. Iím still miserable."
More irony: Rivers Cuomo loves Pinkerton, but isnít happy. His bandmates are happy, but have doubts about the bands direction.
Brian Bell, after several years in Carnival Art, whose records were released direct to the discount bin, is thrilled to be in a band people like. Heís ecstatic and also seems to play a conciliatory role inside the band. Matt Sharp and Pat Wilson both love playing the bass and drums, respectively, and insist theyíre both happy simply to get better as musicians and help improve Cuomoís songs.
At the same time, Sharp and Wilson believe that by focusing solely on Cuomo and his songs, the band arenít as good as they might be if everyone contributed equally to songwriting. But theyíve accepted their roles and simply keep their own songs for side projects the Rentals and Special Goodness. That both are financially secure thanks to Weezer helps.
"My only real job is to play the bass as best I can and hopefully sing so its not out of tune," says Sharp in a late-night, alcohol-fueled interview in his Auckland, New Zealand hotel room, the day after the Sydney show. "I think weíre settling into something now thatís much different from what we started. In that period, I felt a bit more involved with what we were doing.
"Rivers would totally disagree with me-and itís something I wouldnít want to come across as negative-but in most cases with most bands, you see that the whole is better than the sum of its parts. Iím not so sure if this is the case with us. Weíre getting more towards supporting a single vision than incorporating the wide range of personalities.
" I donít think that weíre not important," he says, "but the name of the band is Weezer. Itís (Cuomoís) name, you know."
The next afternoon, over coffee, Wilson is even more direct about his situation. He doesnít want to sound bitter or whiny. In fact, heís the bands funniest and most happy-go-lucky member. But when he speaks, its clear that relations between him and Rivers have been strained for some time, dating back to the way Rivers divided mechanical royalties for songs to which Wilson contributed music. Cuomo divided the royalties into three parts-music, lyrics and melody-giving himself two-thirds of the money. Wilson simply calls that "fucked." He almost quite several times.
"I was sour, but hereís the bitter irony," says Wilson. "Every time it came to a point where I thought nothing would be worth this, we became more successful. I had to sit back and think, ĎOkay, as pissed as I am, I now I would regret this.í Thatís how Weezer developed."
At this point, Sharp walks into Wilsonís room and joins us.
"Itís a trade-off between being more honest in our approach and being less compelling," says Sharp. "If I had my way, the four of us would have been on the cover of this record as well. Spike gave us a gift by making those first tow videos of us as a band. Now weíre going against that. Thatís something so few bands have a chance to have. Why give it away purposely?
"But even though weíre not bringing out all these different personalities we have in the band, we are happy being the bass player, the drummer and the guitarist. Us being able to fall into some kind of role has made it easier for all three of us and probably easier for Rivers. He has guys who want to play his songs and play them well."
Wilson just wants to be sure that everyone knows the lyrical sentiments expressed by Cuomo have nothing to do with him. "This way, I donít have to take responsibility for liking or not liking it.." says Wilson.
Sharp interrupts. "To say weíre four people focused on the same thing, that would be absolutely wrong. It would be silly to think of us as being unified in thought and going, ĎWe all really believe in this Japanese idea. And weíre all really tired of sex.í Whatever." Wilson laughs. "I know. We donít feel any of those things."
Neither one knows what will happen next for Weezer. Both see that band becoming more of a studio project and less of a touring band. And since it takes Cuomo so long to write, Sharp and Wilson donít expect to be asked to go into the studio again for at least a year. During that time, Wilson and Sharp will likely have albums of their own out. The debut from Wilsonís Special Goodness is slated for a September 1997 release (Ha!) on Geffen , and Sharpís second album-which may be something other than a second Rentals record-should be out by then as well (Ha Ha!).
Cuomo, says Wilson, runs the band like a "selective democracy."
"He just wants to feel good," says Wilson. "How he does that is by having ultimate veto and control with some semblance of a democratic framework thatís infinitely adjustable to suit whatever he needs."
So why stay in the band? Why accept that?
"I make a hitload of money. Which is going to look terrible in the interview," Wilson acknowledges. "But I have a blast playing the drums. It helps not to let your own opinion of the Weezer experience get in the way. Just focus on your instrument, and have fun playing.
If youíre asking the $64,000 question-would I be doing this if it didnít make me any money?-I donít think I would. I have my own deal. I guess my experience in this band can be best summed up as good thing happens, turns into a bad thing, becomes successful, perpetuates."
When Weezer go onstage that night, before 1600 in Auckland, the personal animosities seem to vanish. Itís an energetic and restless crowd. They boo loudly when Coolio is played over the sound system before Weezerís set, and respond to "Gangstaís Paradise" with a loud, accented chant that sounds like "Whee-zah! Whee-zah!"
Live, Weezer are a whrilwind of tunes and pent-up angst. Everyone in the house is pogoing madly from the opening notes of "Tired of Sex," then "Getchoo." When the band hit "The Good Life"-a song to which Wilson and Sharp said they couldn't relate Sharp is madly careening around the stage with his bass, and Wilson is merrily singing along. Cuomo doesnít like to talk to the crowd, but his bandmates compensate for whatever he lacks in gregariousness. Tonight Cuomo seems especially loose, perhaps because he was drinking straight vodka, a beer chaser and Jagermeister backstage before the show.
Bell has the style and flavor-heís Weezerís equivalent of the Foo Fitghterís Pat Smear-while he adds a powerful guitar presence that grounds Weezer is rock, not in pop. Wilson wears a toga onstage during one show, and adds personality to the drums, as well, a cascading crunch that propels "Pink Triangle" and "Why Bother?" Sharp adds endless energy and essential harmonies. Weezer romp through a celebratory "Buddy Holly," bound through "Surfwax America" and attack "My Name is Jonas" while playing b-sides "Jamie" and "You Gave Your Love To Me Softly" for trainspotters.
Back in the hotel after midnight following a stop at the Jesus Lizard show across town, Cuomo is in a reflective mood. He always has trouble sleeping and will be up most of the night practicing the piano. Over Mahlerís Ninth, then the new Cardigans record, he admits that heís uneasy spending so much time talking about himself and divulging as much as he has. "I already regret 90 percent of what I said," he tells me. "The songs are meaningful to people. When I just sit here and blab about myself Iím not doing anyone any good. Iím just stroking my own ego. I canít communicate the full weight of the experience. I just sound like a whiner."
But do you see Weezer as a "selective democracy"?
"A small part of me is jealous and wishes I was in complete control of the universe," he admits. "A greater part of me realizes thatís totally unrealistic. The other guys are songwriters. Good songwriters. They have to do that. I can totally relate to that. Iím completely at peace with that. And I see how it really improves this band."
At the same time, he says he wouldnít play a Rentals, Space Twins or Special Goodness song live, even if one of those bands had a hit as big as "Buddy Holly" or "Say It Ainít So" and the audience requested it. "I donít like doing cover songs at all," he says. "But that would be a band decision. Iím not the dictator in this band. The way it has evolved now has gone naturally. Everyoneís happy with it. I know it seems strange, but itís healthy to us. We may very well evolve to the point where we have more than one songwriter.
"This album evolved as a whole. I wrote it as a whole. Itís supposed to be the story of my life. I couldnít very well have other people writing it with me. The way Iíve developed as a songwriter, Iím getting further inside myself and farther away from other people. I would lose whatever it is that makes me special."
So is this a band, or the Rivers Cuomo Experience? There is a long pause before Cuomo answers. "I feel weíre about as much as a band as you can possibly be, but at the same time (we have) just one songwriter. When I listen to this second record especially, I just hear so much creative input from the other guys. I hear four distinct personalities."
A longer pause.
"I really have no idea about the future, except that I want to keep writing songs and I love playing with these guys. I think we work really well together. But I never know whatís going to happen in my life." Weezer or not, Rivers seems likely to carry on for a long time to come.
"Music is all Iíve ever really done since I was 12," he says. "Itís not transcendent, itís not heaven on earth. Itís not what I thought being in Kiss would be like. But it is what Iím meant to do."
back to the press section