Why Rivers Cuomo wanted to make ‘the most different-sounding Weezer record ever’
Weezer’s new album is not the Black Album.
Last year, just before the release of the self-titled Weezer record known as the White Album, frontman Rivers Cuomo promised that the veteran Los Angeles band’s next effort would represent a striking about-face: a risky collection in stark contrast with the White Album’s embrace of Weezer’s classic guitar-pop sound.
He even made some headway on it: After Weezer finished a 2016 tour with Panic! at the Disco, Cuomo began filling a Dropbox folder with songs he intended for the Black Album.
“And it got almost full,” he recalled recently. “But as I was doing that, other songs just happened to be written by me. They were good, but they didn’t belong in that folder. So I created another one, and I ended up filling that one first.”
The result was “Pacific Daydream,” Weezer’s 11th studio disc, due Friday. But if it’s not the Black Album — that’s coming next, the singer insisted — “Pacific Daydream” still reflects the adventurous impulse Cuomo was feeling, with a busy production job by Butch Walker that incorporates buzzing synths and processed grooves and high-pitched vocal samples à la Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.”
“To me this is the most different-sounding Weezer record ever,” Cuomo, 47, said proudly at the sleek Santa Monica home he shares with his wife and two young children. “I’m so excited because we finally broke away from the downstroke eighth-note power-chord thing.”
From the thing, in other words, that made Weezer famous in post-grunge hits like “Buddy Holly” and “The Good Life” — and whose abandonment, Cuomo was told, is likely to bum out a great many of his fans.
“Yeah,” he acknowledged with a laugh. “Sorry. It’s album 11. Come on!”
Weezer has long grappled with a conservative element in its audience. In 2009, the band sparked a mini-backlash with its album “Raditude,” on which Cuomo collaborated with the rapper Lil Wayne and the pop producer Dr. Luke; it went over so poorly with the band’s admirers that some ignored the group’s next record, 2010’s “Hurley,” even though it had plenty of distorted guitar.
After a break, Weezer restored much of its reputation with “Everything Will Be Alright in the End,” which came out in 2014, and with the White Album. But Cuomo said he thought of those records’ crowd-pleasing approach as a way to buy himself another opportunity to take chances.
“Rivers wants to make albums that look forward, not backward,” said Walker, who reteamed with Weezer nearly a decade after he co-produced “Raditude.” (Walker has also worked with Pink and Fall Out Boy.)
“He just has to know that when he does that, 20% of his fan base is going to hate it.”
For “Pacific Daydream,” Cuomo closely studied modern pop, combing through Spotify’s Today’s Top Hits playlist as he asked questions like, “How many times do they repeat the same lyric?” and “Is the first note of the chorus always higher than any note in the verse?”
“It’s very technical stuff,” said Cuomo, who described becoming especially fascinated by the rapper Future. “But it’s inspiring. I’ll always discover new things: ‘I never thought to try that — lemme do it and see what happens.’”
On Twitter last month, the singer wrote about this method, which triggered an instant deluge of negative responses from his followers, including one who called Cuomo’s research “dangerous and counterproductive.”
Surely he expected that, though.
“If you were right next to me and you said, ‘People are going to freak out that you’re tweeting this,’ I would’ve said, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re probably right,’” he admitted, dressed in a striped tank top as he sat in a sunny home studio filled with green plants.
“But I don’t want that to stop me,” he continued. “I feel like it’s important that I’m honest with the world and say, ‘This is what I’m doing right now.’ If I start worrying too much about what my closest followers are going to say, then I just see the whole thing going in the wrong direction.”
The singer’s appetite for fresh ideas extended to the lyrics on “Pacific Daydream,” which he said probably have less to do with “boy-girl stuff” than on any previous Weezer album.
Last year Cuomo attracted widespread criticism with several songs on the White Album that describe romantic relationships in pretty regressive terms — including “Thank God for Girls,” about a woman who stays home and makes canoli for a guy who’s gone off to fight dragons.
Asked if that reaction made him wary of the subject this time, he demurred.
“I just don’t feel like I have anything new and exciting to say about it right now,” he said. “There’s more interesting things to write about.”
“I think the song ‘Beach Boys’ touches on some important themes — that feeling of walking around L.A. at night and not knowing where I fit in anymore, or if I ever fit in. Or the song ‘QB Blitz’: ‘All my conversations die a painful death / I can’t find anyone to do algebra with me / It’s hard to make real friends.’
“I’m not talking about anything romantic or sexual,” he said. “It’s just about being lonely, not having a social circle.”
Does Cuomo hang out with the parents of his kids’ school friends? He paused for a moment as he considered the question.
“As the years go by, I just seem to withdraw more and more into a shell, into my world of comfort, in this room, working on music,” he said quietly. “I miss the days when it was me and the guys goofing around, having adventures, making stuff together.”
One way to satisfy that longing, he said, is by going on tour, as Weezer will do this fall with a series of gigs including an in-store performance Nov. 1 at Amoeba Music in Hollywood. And early next year the band is set to play stadiums in Australia with Foo Fighters.
Along with the strong chart showing by the new album’s lead single, “Feels Like Summer,” the tour is a clear sign that Weezer maintains a prominent place in music despite Cuomo’s personal misgivings — and in spite of the objections of a vocal minority.
“I feel like Weezer is an exception to all the rules,” the singer said when asked how he’d pulled that off in an era of rock-band evaporation. Then he imagined the future as he’d like to see it: “At the heart of it all is just going to be me doing insane experiments and having fun and evolving.”
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