“I guess you probably heard about Tinder?”
Everyone has an opinion about Weezer, but with their new album they’re back at the top of their game.
Words: Ali Shutler.
Weezer haven’t had the easiest of journeys in their 24 years of being a band, but one thing that’s remained constant is their desire to push things forward. Ten albums in and every single one, for better or worse, has had its own distinct feel. From the scene-defining one-two of the ‘Blue’ album and ‘Pinkerton’ through the bold stance of the ‘Red’ album and to the grandiose three-part rock epic that promises ‘Everything Will Be Alright In The End’, the band haven’t shied away from change. the ‘White’ album continues that trend of reactive evolution.
Finding new places to take the band is “a struggle” admits frontman Rivers Cuomo. “I think most people think of this record as 100% my creation but there’s definitely a lot of push and pull. This time it felt like there were two camps. There was one camp of conservatism and keeping things rooted in that nineties alt-rock sound, and then there was another camp that wanted to throw all that out the window and try crazy new things. This record is a result of those two camps fighting.”
That to-and-fro opened up new places for the ‘White’ album to go and Rivers “wouldn’t have it any other way. If I got things 100% the way I wanted them, it wouldn’t be as rich of an album. I see myself as on the radical side,” while Jake Sinclair, who produced both this album and Panic! At The Disco’s ‘Death of A Bachelor’ is “very much in the camp of the old school fan. We were wrestling back and forth and I think we came up with something that’s the best of both worlds.”
That fervent old-school spirit is something the band have had to contend with since the start, but you don’t need to know all the ins and outs to fully appreciate the ‘White’ album. New to Weezer? Perfect. Rivers thinks that’s cool, so come on in. “From day one, from that first album we’ve been focused on trying to make classic records. It’s never really felt like something that’s in style. Hopefully they’re songs that people of all ages and all backgrounds can relate to. I think Weezer records will never be particularly trendy but it’ll take a long time for them to go out of fashion too.”
Work on the ‘White’ album began pretty quickly after the release of ‘Everything Will Be Alright In The End’, the band starting it “in earnest about a year ago, but there are bits and pieces from throughout our history.” ‘Thank God For Girls’ line “I’m so glad I got a girl to think of even though she isn’t mine. I think about her all the day and all the night, it’s enough to know that she’s alive,” was written in 1997.
Approaching the writing with a view to create “a beach album” gave the band focus. “It definitely helps you, it gives you some inspiration,” explains Rivers. “At least it gives me inspiration as a writer and it also helps you, when you’re sifting through mountains of old music, you can find the stuff that helps you fit your theme.” Apparently the band looked through a backlog of 250 songs, but Rivers doesn’t keep count.
The ‘White’ album wasn’t a simple collage exercise from past experience though. To take the band forward once more, Rivers had to break himself out of his comfort zone. The record was inspired by “just getting out of the house, hanging out at the beach and meeting people. I guess you probably heard about Tinder?” he asks. The vocalist, with his wife’s blessing, used the app to talk with guys and girls outside of the band/fan dynamic in an attempt to find new points of contact. “I just noticed I was set in my ways. I was sitting at home a lot and by chance I might have to go out for something, maybe a friend’s birthday party. At first I’m reluctant and I don’t want to go. I might not necessarily even have a good time, I might feel alienated at the party but the next morning when I get up to write a song, I realised I have something to write about. There’s some memories and some visual images in my mind and everything flows and that’s when I realised, maybe I should get out of the house more often.” That sense of rediscovery is threaded throughout the ‘White’ album. “I think pretty much everything I’m singing about is some sort of reaction to a social experience I’ve had.”
“I like creating stuff that’s intriguing and puzzling and inspiring and makes you want to listen to it again and keep studying it to try to figure out what the hell is going on,” admits Rivers. “Ultimately I want to create something that I don’t understand. That means writing from an unconscious place as much as I can. I’ll do a lot of stream of consciousness writing or wake up in the morning and ramble for three pages into a journal and then there’s a lot of cut and paste work where you go back and find cool lines in journals, in books, poems and snippets of overheard conversations. Then you reassemble it into this story that seems to be about this thing that happened but it’s so weird that it seems like maybe it couldn’t have happened. Then when you go to record it, you try and go to a place where you’re not thinking, you’re just reacting.”
For the ‘White’ album, Weezer – Rivers, guitarist Brian Bell, bassist Scott Shriner and drummer Patrick Wilson – allowed themselves space to explore and react to their own parts before anything else. “This time we worked independently more than we ever have before,” starts Rivers. “Each guy would have time in the studio on his own, without the other guys and specifically without me. Everyone had time to really craft his parts before getting any input from me and I like that. I like having it taken out of my control. It turns it into something more complicated and multi-layered.” Despite the friction, the self-discovery and the puzzle, “it seems like all the pieces settle and sit together like they’re supposed to sit together and I don’t know that we really understand it, which is the goal. As I said, it should be something complex and beyond our understanding but it does seem like everything is where it’s supposed to be.”
The band didn’t just rely on their own input though as they asked the fans to “figure into the process. Like I said, I’m the guy who wants to throw out the rulebook and do something different each time but we make sure to check in with fans as we’re working. We have fans all around the country so when we happen to be in Chicago or something, we bring fans backstage after the show and say ‘here’s some new demos, check them out. What do you think?’. We like trying out different ideas and at the end of the day, we’ve got to make the decisions on what we want to do but it’s good to get input and ideas from all over the place. I always learn something from working with another artist and I just look around my studio at home and think about my writing process, it’s all just little bits, pieces and techniques that I’ve picked up from other people.”
Weezer may have looked outside their bubble, but the ‘White’ album is an assured record. The band sound like they know exactly what they’re doing throughout and the concept, while nuanced and suggestive, gives their tenth album a steely focus. A few weeks before release Rivers is “still feeling pretty good” about the record. There are no nerves, instead he’s “super confident, positive and can’t wait for everyone to hear it,” however that’ll only last “until it comes out and then we get all the criticism,” he explains with a laugh. “Then I move on to the next record and do it all over again.”
The band are very aware of their history but they’re not trying to outrun any shadows cast by previous chapters. “I completely forget the previous albums. If anything, if my attention gets pulled anywhere else it’s to the next album. I’m already well into thinking about the ‘Black’ album which’ll be coming out in a year.”
“I’ve just got to go with what feels exciting in the moment and right now, I’m excited to do a black album but y’know, that could change. The next album is going to feel like an urban environment, night-time and gritty and hopefully a lot more modern sounds, synthesised sounds, samples maybe. I like to break away from the ‘distorted power chord’ thing but its hard ‘cause it works so well.”
With the ‘White’ album out in the world and a short European run complete, the rest of Weezer’s year will see the band working on the ‘Black’ album around a summer run with Panic! At The Disco. “I’ve been hearing great things about Panic’s fanbase, that they’re really open minded and just huge fans of music. Some of the bands that Panic! have toured with in the past have gone on to be very successful so hopefully that happens to us too,” Rivers adds with a chuckle. Touring beyond that depends on how the ‘White’ album does. Weezer are constantly reacting to what’s around them. “If the record grows and starts to get a new fanbase, we’ll stay on the road and we’ll postpone the ‘Black’ album, otherwise we’ll jump into the studio in the fall.”
It’s an ambitious plan underpinned with a sense of optimism which is reflected in the ‘White’ album and, despite the band’s constant forward momentum, is something they’ve always channelled. “I think all Weezer records have a hopeful quality to them. I’m always feeling hopeful. It’s just who I am,” explains Rivers. “I’ve been that way since I was a little kid, I always had a big dream.”