Before opening for the inimitable Foo Fighters on Saturday night, Rivers Cuomo and Scott Shriner of Weezer sat down with Jihee Junn to talk about what’s changed (and what hasn’t) during the band’s 20+ years of making some of the most infectious and iconic music.
Drenched. Doused. Soaked to the bone. However you describe it, the Foo Fighters show on Saturday night was a rain-heavy affair – much like one of their last shows here seven years earlier. But before Dave Grohl and co. took to the stage for their two and a half hour set, much of Mt Smart Stadium’s plastic poncho crowd had already braved the elements to see Weezer, one of the more impressive support acts New Zealand’s been treated to in recent years.
The last time Weezer were here was for their Memories tour in 2013 when they played their much-lauded Blue Album in its sweet, glorious entirety. And while they might not have been the main drawcard this time around, there was little hesitation among the 40,000-strong audience to sing along to the belting chorus of ‘Say It Ain’t So’, the brooding riff of ‘Hash Pipe’, and the infectious beat of ‘Beverly Hills’. There was even a special sort of poetic irony watching Weezer play an upbeat tune like ‘Island in the Sun’ under Auckland’s gloomy, wet skies, and their latest single, ‘Feels Like Summer’, on a day that felt anything but.
But before the rain, before the music, before the trip down memory lane, I sat down with Weezer’s lead singer and songwriter Rivers Cuomo and bassist Scott Shriner to talk about what’s changed (and what hasn’t) during the band’s 20+ years of making music.
You recently announced that you’ll be releasing the Black Album later this year. Can you tell us a little bit about what we can expect?
Rivers Cuomo (RC): I’m really trying to make a dark album, and it’s hard because I’m such a happy person. I like triumphant music that makes me feel hopeful and energised, so how do I make a dark album? It’s been a real challenge. Actually, it was supposed to come out before Pacific Daydream but I couldn’t figure it out so I’ve just been working on it ever since. I think ‘Feels like Summer’ and ‘Happy Hour’ are somewhat of an indication of where it’s going.
When you say “dark”, do you mean musically or lyrically?
RC: Both. Musically, it’s more groove-based like ‘Happy Hour’ or ‘Feels Like Summer’. But then chord-wise, it goes into these darker modes, like from the late ’60s and ‘Riders on the Storm’ by The Doors. That kind of vibe.
How did you end up releasing Pacific Daydream first?
RC: I was working on the Black Album and every day I’d write a song, and if it didn’t fit in my Black Album folder I’d put it into this other folder off to the side which I named ‘New Folder’, and that one just filled up first. So we put a better name on it, Pacific Daydream, and put the album out. It wasn’t intentional.
Was it harder to write because, like you say, you’re generally quite a happy person?
RC: It’s easy to write dark songs, but it’s hard to write good songs that are dark.
Where do you find your musical influences? Especially since your style of music seems to change from album to album.
RC: I guess every album is different. It was weird with the Black Album because [the way it happened was so] arbitrary. It was like: ‘Alright, we just did the White Album, what’s next? Oh, how about the Black Album?’ That’s all it was.
From there I just started thinking about what a Black Album would sound like and somehow I stumbled onto The Doors and other music from the late 60s, like the later Beatles albums. So the whole thing was really arbitrary but once we got into it, one thing led to another and we had an album.
With the Red Album, I’d just had my first child and I was spending a lot of time at home with my family. Just seeing this little baby gave me this tremendous feeling of creativity and wonder and watching this little kid experience the world for the first time just made me want to write the craziest experimental songs. That’s what led to the Red Album where we tried all kinds of crazy things, like with all the time changes on ‘The Greatest Man That Ever Lived’ and [having the rest of the band] singing lead vocals and writing [on the album]. We also started experimenting with drum machines and electronic stuff for the first time.
What about some of the bands you’ve toured with like Foo Fighters this year and Panic At The Disco last year? Do they influence your performance or style at all?
RC: When I’m on the road with a band for an extended period of time, I don’t actually like to watch their set because when I go on stage, I want to feel like I’m definitely the best front man of the night. But if I’m sitting through three hours of the Foo Fighters every night, then it’s really hard to maintain that belief because Dave Grohl is just amazing.
We’ve hung out with them a lot on this tour and I’ve asked Dave a lot of questions, like: ‘Does drinking before the show help you as a frontman go crazy?’ and ‘What’s a bad show for you and what do you do when you feel like you’re having a bad show?’. We’ve scrutinised their set list: does it change from night-to-night? How do they elaborate on their songs or extend their songs? How do they go about being spontaneous on stage? What’s the chain of communication?
Brendon Urie from Panic at the Disco is another incredible frontman. I can’t watch him before I go on stage!
Scott Shriner (SS): I just appreciate that there’s kind of one person that most of the audience is tuned into, whether it’s Dave or Rivers or Brendon. The other guys are also important, like what they’re doing and that they seem into it, but they don’t need to be running laps on the stage or doing somersaults or anything. It seems cool to do the best we can do to support the person that everybody’s kind of glued in on. So that’s something I’ve learned in the last couple of years.
Speaking of White Albums and Black Albums, how did the whole ‘coloured albums’ thing come about?
RC: It started out unintentionally. We never called the first album the Blue Album. I just thought: ‘It doesn’t have a name. It’s our first album.’ But around the time our second album came out [in 1996], that’s when all the kids started getting online. They’d go to Amazon and write reviews of the second album, but they’d refer to the first album by calling it ‘the blue one, the blue album’, and it just stuck. So we’ve kind of used that idea ever since.
You mention how the internet was one of those things that came of age during your time as a band. What are some other things that you think has really changed in the music industry over the last 20+ years you’ve been together? Alternatively, what do you think has stayed the same?
RC: I think songwriting for me is still pretty similar. It’s picking up the guitar or sitting down at the piano and figuring out what I want to say. I used to record my ideas into a handheld cassette player and now it’s my phone. So it’s not really all that different.
I don’t know if this has anything to do with the internet, but there’s also just a feeling of perpetually being on tour now, and it’s not even so much about an album cycle, but we’re just constantly going out on the road and constantly making new music and putting out albums and it all kind of blends together. It all happens really quickly. I can write a song and then a few weeks later I hear it on the radio.
Is there any sense of fatigue from the constant touring?
RC: I don’t get fatigued, I just get stressed out by the end of a long tour, like the one with Panic at the Disco. But usually, we don’t go on long tours. Usually, it’s a weekend or a week.
Weezer has put out some seriously entertaining music videos over the years. Do you have any personal favourites?
RC: My favourite to film was the ‘Island in the Sun’ video with the animals.
RC: The video for ‘The Greatest Man That Ever Lived’ was kind of fun to film too. It’s just one take. It’s not even really video but it came off pretty well.
SS: It’s just the four of us standing on a basketball court with a boombox, and Spike [Jonze] just going around in circles while we all lip synched our parts and did hand gestures. I think that’s the last thing we worked on with Spike.
How do you feel about a younger generation discovering your music? Whether that’s the new music you’re putting out now, or some of the bigger hits you’ve had in the past?
RC: For me as a writer and a recording artist, that’s the goal. I want to reach new, young people because those are the people that are the most passionate about new music. They don’t care about our history or anything about us. They’re just reacting to a song on the radio, and if they’re freaking out like ‘wow, this is amazing!’ that’s a great accomplishment. As you get older you listen to new music less and less and you just love the music you grew up on.
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