More about: Weezer
Shortly before I’m scheduled to speak with Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo, I’m informed that during our interview, he’ll be taking a walk. After feeling nauseous with nerves ahead of speaking to the one artist I truly idolise, I too had spent the entire afternoon wandering aimlessly around my own neighbourhood. As such, when Rivers enters the Zoom call, I’m desperate to break the ice, and so turn to the thing I know we both have in common: the benefits of casual strolls.
“I’ve picked up walking during interviews recently,” he tells me. “I have to walk a little bit every day and sometimes I have to do interviews, so I combine the two now. I hate losing any of my workday. So, instead of losing an hour, I can save myself thirty minutes by doing both.”
Cuomo’s workdays, like everybody else’s, have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The hotly-anticipated Hella Mega Tour (alongside Green Day and Fall Out Boy) was postponed for twelve months during the first wave of infections. Van Weezer, set to be promoted on that tour, was also pushed on by a year. Disappointment hit the band’s fanbase upon hearing the news, but Cuomo took it in his stride.
“I’m very much an ‘in-the-moment’ kind of guy. I just deal with whatever comes up. It’s actually been an incredible year for me. I found out we weren’t going on tour last year, so I wrote four records instead – [they are] called ‘Seasons’ and they’re coming in 2022. Had I been on tour, I don’t think I would have done that. I try not to think twice about these things.”
Van Weezer was originally slated to be the group’s fourteenth studio album, but its delayed release meant that OK Human took that particular honour. I bring up the fact that Weezer now have their own version of The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Let It Be conundrum, in the sense that Van Weezer was recorded before OK Human but released afterwards. He chuckles at the thought, and I give myself a bonus point for making him laugh.
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The principal matter at hand is, of course, Van Weezer. After a year on ice, it’s ready to be unleashed upon the world. Cuomo says its songs remind him of “being 12-years-old and playing my parents’ vinyl records in the living room, jumping around and playing air guitar, hoping I don’t make the record skip too much.”
I tell him that I’m 26 years-old and that I still jump around and play air guitar whenever I throw on a Weezer record. In fact, I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing that. He laughs again, and I silently hope that he’s not just humouring my patter.
As much as Van Weezer contains a wealth of new material – the glammed-up stomp-clapper ‘All the Good Ones’, the up-tempo anthems ‘Hero’ & ‘She Needs Me’, and acoustic closer ‘Precious Metal Girl’ – portions of the record are built from foundations set years ago. ‘Beginning of the End’ is reworked from demos written in 2011, ‘I Need Some of That’ originated a year before even that, and ‘Sheila Can Do It’ was first debuted in the previous century. So, what makes them suitable for album status in 2021?
“When you know, you know. Sometimes it comes together, sometimes it doesn’t. Instead of forcing it or just putting anything out there, I hang onto it. Dropbox, my spreadsheets. When I’m looking for something new, I’ll come to my catalogue and try this or that. I’ll take bits and pieces from any era. A song has to be a complete recipe.”
I ask him if the inclusion of these songs have anything to do with where the band are now. Their following is dedicated and secure, their legacy is preserved, so is this the ideal time to test the waters with a passion project?
“I don’t know if we could have released a metal-influenced album any earlier than now. It’s the music I grew up on, but when Weezer started we did an about-face. Everything we’d been practising up until then, in 1993, was suddenly uncool, and we had to do the opposite of metal. Years had to go by before we got over that.”
“And I think our fanbase is onboard with the idea now that we’re going to put out a lot of music and try out a lot of different things. Each album is going to be very unified. You may not necessarily like every album but, chances are, there’s always another coming very soon that you’ll love.”
I see this as an opportunity to mention that, in an upcoming anniversary article for The Green Album, I write about the same link between the abundance of new Weezer material since 2016 and their apparent contentedness as creative people. My heart stops for a second when he says he agrees with me. “A big part of where we are right now is down to who we have around us. Jake Sinclair, Suzy Shinn – they’re great people and we really trust them. They’re young but they really get Weezer, and it’s a great boost of confidence to have them on our team.”
With my nerves slightly settling, I decide to ask about a personal curiosity that’s been picking away at me for a while. Daniel Bedingfield, of ‘Gotta Get Thru This’ fame, is listed among the names responsible for album opener ‘Hero’. How did that come to be?
“I’m sorry, I’m not 100% sure who he is”.
Oops. I tell Rivers that Bedingfield is a British singer who was briefly popular in the first half of the 2000s. If the two have never crossed paths, how did his name end up appearing in the credits? The answer I get opens a window into what Rivers’ workdays probably look like.
“There are two new situations now. There’s one where my manager will send me files from another writer and ask me to play around with them. And the other is when our record company hears ‘I Need Some of That’, and they tell us it sounds like Asia’s ‘Heat of the Moment’. We didn’t sit down with Asia or anything; their credit just comes about after the fact.”
Since we’re on the subject of feature spots, I ask him about the extent of Ric Ocasek’s involvement with ‘I Need Some of That’, a charged-up tribute to The Cars’ late frontman.
“We actually have a whole verse of Ric singing lead vocals for that song. It was recorded in 2014, when he was producing Everything Will Be Alright in the End. It was going to be on Van Weezer but, sadly, at the last minute, we couldn’t get clearance from his record company. You can hear the intro to his verse but the rest is cut off.”
At present, there’s confusion amongst Weezer fans regarding the source of an audio recording that features Ocasek at the end of the song. I mention that the clip seems to be from a camcorder video shot in 1994, during the sessions for The Blue Album, but Rivers says it’s from 2014. “I think that’s our manager being sneaky and handing out some wrong data.” The debate rolls on.
After Van Weezer, the aforementioned ‘Seasons’ project is apparently imminent, so I prod him about that. The superfan inside me wants to know what future Weezer might sound like.
“I was writing without really knowing what it was for. Some songs sounded like classic Weezer, but some had more of a Franz Ferdinand vibe, and some were more like Elliot Smith.” He doesn’t reveal the fourth influence because I get caught up in the moment and forget to ask. “Instead of trying to cram all these new songs into one album, I thought, ‘Let’s just make four’. You’re going to end up with a lot of new Weezer music because of the pandemic.”
With our time running down (and with bumblebees returning in my stomach) my line of questioning looks forward. All being well, Weezer will soon be back on the road for the rescheduled Hella Mega Tour. I’ll be in the audience – probably somewhere at the back – so how does Rivers expect those shows to go down?
“I think the tour is going to be so much better now, after being in lockdown. Everyone has this built-up energy for live rock music. It’s going to be explosive. We can’t wait to get back out there. [Van Weezer] is kick-ass rock music with big sing-alongs. It’s going to sound massive.”
Before we hang up, I confess to Rivers that interviewing him before I reached the age of 30 has been on my bucket list for years. As I tell him this, I realise he must have heard these exact sentiments thousands of times. Nonetheless, he thanks me for my support, and remarks that I was “enthusiastic and positive, but professional” while we spoke. For a brief moment I think about having his words carved on my tombstone, but ultimately decide to close this article with them instead.
Van Weezer arrives 7 May.
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More about: Weezer