P U L S E M A G A Z I N E
songwriting frenzies! guerrilla marketing! tough fan love! the story behind maladroit.
Weezer's hibernation is over. A five-year hiatus preceded the band's third album, Weezer (a.k.a. the Green Album to avoid confusion with the group's self-titled 1994 debut). So the last thing anyone expected was for the pop perfectionists behind "Buddy Holly" and "Hash Pipe" to churn out another album in what, for them, constitutes record time. The news that Interscope has scheduled a brand new Weezer collection, Maladroit, for May release was a pleasant shock for fans of a band that was nearly given up for dead before their surprise comeback on the 2000 Warped Tour and subsequent hit record.
But Weezer had an even bigger surprise in store for its label. Earlier this year, a letter personally signed by all members, on Weezer letterhead, was sent to radio stations and press. It read:
"Recently, we took some time off from touring to work on our forthcoming (fourth) album entitled Maladroit. We hope to have it released by the end of April. In the meantime, here is a sampler of eight songs. Have a listen and if you have any questions, please feel free to email us at [email@example.com]."
With that letter, major rock radio stations all over the country began playing the tracks in their rotation. Amazingly, even before these promos were sent, some radio stations, like Philadelphia's Y100.7, downloaded unfinished songs off weezer.com and on to their play lists.
Not everyone was amused by Weezer's guerrilla self-promotion tactics. And it wasn't long before Rivers Cuomo found himself sending out a second letter:
"You may recall a sampler CD that I sent you last week containing 8 songs ... Please ignore that CD for the time being as I wasn't supposed to have sent it just yet. I was over-eager for you all to hear it and I jumped the gun."
That, combined with the mysterious disappearance of the weezer.com Web site's audio-video page, left the band's rabid following restless. Rivers Cuomo, songwriter, singer, guitarist and driving force of the Los Angeles quartet, had been writing at such a rapid clip that he'd taken to posting new songs on a daily basis. And then, all of a sudden, there was silence.
The self-managed Weezer may not play by standard record company rules, but they do deliver the goods with Maladroit. While the Green Album was an unabashed pop record perfect for a nephew or niece, Maladroit has cajones, rocking dirtier and harder on songs like "Fall Together" and "Take Control." Which doesn't mean the band has lost its way with pop hooks. Tracks like "Slave" and "December" illustrate what Weezer does best: sweet melodies backed by loud, distorted guitars.
In the 10 years that Weezer has been a band, lots of potholes, ditches and hurdles have been evaded, filled and jumped. In the current, unforgiving vicissitudes of music, where one day's darling can be the next day's washed-up wonder, it's an accomplishment that Weezer has lasted this long. From four boys kicking out the jams in the garage to selling out arenas, Weezer have cemented themselves into the collective music consciousness as an endearing figure.
"I look back on my life and I'm really proud," says Cuomo over the phone from Lisbon, Portugal, where the band is kicking off its European tour, "having come from the backwoods of Connecticut, making my way out to L.A. and getting the band together and taking off. If you could just see where I actually came from, you wouldn't believe anyone could possibly become successful. It was just farmers. I mean, literally, my dad was a cow farmer. What the hell? How did I come from there?"
In 1994, Weezer's self-titled debut (better known as the Blue Album) hit the alternative jackpot, with its quirky, power-pop songs like "Buddy Holly" and "Undone (The Sweater Song)." The cleverly crafted songs and vocal harmonies drew comparisons to the Beach Boys in their prime. Coming on the heels of Nirvana and grunge, Weezer looked like altar boys, the type of guys that probably didn't get many chicks in high school.
Weezer's follow-up, Pinkerton, was a commercial flop. Fans who cherished the clean-cut power chords of the Blue Album ran into a surprise with Pinkerton. With its darker, less-polished sound, no one--fans, radio, MTV--knew exactly what to do with it. But, unlike other bands spawned from the '90s influx of post-grunge alternative music (Silverchair, Sponge, Better than Ezra), Weezer managed to escape the bargain bin syndrome. The band took a break--a long break--during which Pinkerton's lovelorn tales developed a slow-burning, underground following. (The album finally went gold in 2001.) Cuomo's heart-on-your-sleeve anthems about unrequited love and suffering reached sensitive, angst-ridden hearts the world over.
In fact, many view the album as a basis for the new wave of "emo," a type of music loosely defined by a high emotional quotient crammed into three-minute pop songs. Bands like the Get Up Kids, Jimmy Eat World and Saves the Day follow in this modern tradition. Cuomo, for his part, doesn't understand the commotion.
"For the most part, emo is worthless," he declares. "Pinkerton is worthless. And all of it is gonna die. It's bad music. I really think that. It's just not rock."
And not rock was what Weezer would do for the next five years. After touring in 1997, bassist Matt Sharp quit to pursue his endeavors with the Rentals, while the rest of the members turned their attention to their own projects: drummer Pat Wilson had the Special Goodness and guitarist Brian Bell had the Space Twins. Cuomo also dabbled in music projects without Weezer.
Finally, in the summer of 2000, Weezer began playing small shows in a preamble warm-up for a Japanese music festival. With new bassist Mikey Welsh (formerly of the Juliana Hatfield Three), they blew the dust off the half stacks to play some new grooves and old tunes. What followed was a quick sequence of success. To Weezer's surprise, their fans still liked them--loved them, even. After a short stint on the Warped Tour to enthusiastic crowds, the potential for a comeback was evident.
Although the Green Album did very well commercially, with its singles "Hash Pipe" and "Island in the Sun," not all was well yet in Weezerland.
"The making of the Green Album was a pretty joyless experience ... The band dynamics weren't that great. It just wasn't fun, but it's super fun now," Wilson says. "There's a better chemistry now. There was always some kind of drama. No matter who it was, there was at least one guy who had a black cloud around them, and it's been pretty sunny since." With the addition of bassist Scott Shiner (Welsh left in 2001), Weezer found a renewed enthusiasm that helped energize and expedite the recording of Maladroit.
When touring and promotion for the Green Album dwindled in December of 2001, Cuomo was still writing songs on a regular, even daily, basis. Demos were posted on their fan-friendly site, weezer.com, enabling fans to literally hear the progression of the songs that would eventually end up on Maladroit. Songs were assigned three-digit numbers, which referred not to the length of the song, but the order in which it was written. A song like "Dope Nose," written in the summer of 2000, is No. 187, while more recent songs like "Fall Together" and "Slave" are, respectively, No. 320 and No. 354. Does this mean Cuomo has written nearly 200 songs in two years?
"I feel like I have a vast amount of knowledge about songwriting and music," says Cuomo of his prolific output. "It's all been absorbed into my subconscious mind, but now I've learned all these things about how to write and I don't have to think about it really. It's pretty amazing. It could appear to the outsider that I'm some kind of natural genius, but it's just a million small lessons I've picked up over the years to the point where I can rule. It's pretty cool."
Cuomo's self-satisfaction may be a result of spending his teen years idolizing KISS and its lead guitarist Ace Frehley. ("All I did as a teenager was practice. It was crazy.") Back then, Cuomo was the gnarly lead guitarist for a band that called itself Avant Garde but was more about big hair and hot licks. And it's those roots that Cuomo reconnects with on Maladroit.
"For a long time, I tried to repress that side of my musical upbringing and finally it's starting to seep out. I think, in time, everything will have a smoother sound, but right now it's a little exaggerated on the metal side." Songs like "Fall Together" and "Take Control" show the Weezer lads casting off their cardigans and glasses and getting in touch with their inner rockers. "I think we were always trying to rock," says Wilson, "but it just came out more goofy."
The unofficial single "Dope Nose" combines elements of metal, country and pop. And while Weezer doesn't go overboard with their eclecticism--they haven't pulled out the marimbas or didgeridoos--fans who are hoping for another Blue Album or Pinkerton better not hold their breaths.
Cuomo doesn't care, though. "I like the newer fans better. They're not stuck in the past ... our younger fans are totally stoked and ready to rock. Man, I'm going to hell for saying that!"