Interview: Rivers Cuomo
Let's be honest: No matter what Rivers Cuomo releases, we'll jump at the chance to talk with him, even for a one-pass e-mail interview like this one. He's just released his first collection of demos, Alone, but Weezer's upcoming sixth album looms large on the horizon. For those who want Weezer to shake things up a bit, it appears you may get more than you bargained for. But we shouldn't underestimate Cuomo, when these home recordings unearthed more than their share of surprises-- a bit of the more introspective bedroom tracks, certainly, but then there's the Ice Cube cover and a Gregg Alexander cover, not to mention the songs inspired by Romantic-Minimalism, the experiments with counterpoint in vocals, and the forays into MOR pop... it's no surprise to hear that Cuomo is a restless listener, and just as restless a musician of late, if his reports on Album Six are to be believed. Given the breadth covered on Alone, and all the music he's got in the vaults, these promises are likely just the tip of the iceberg.
Pitchfork: Your best estimate: How much unreleased material of yours is in "the vault," so
Rivers Cuomo: My best estimate: About one hour of music that is close to Alone's level of commercial viability and about another eight hours of music that is at least semi-decent.
Pitchfork: Will we see more of these releases if Alone is successful?
RC: I'm talking with the record company now to figure out a way for me to release as much of my material as I want, regardless of commercial success.
Pitchfork: Why not sneak these songs out online, as you have in the past? The collection hangs together quite well as a record, I think, but I'm curious when you decide a song becomes "worth" releasing as a physical product.
RC: If enough people out there want a physical product, I'll be happy to make one. I'd say about 10,000 people is "enough."
Pitchfork: Do you think the internet has granted you more or less control over your music and how it's released?
RC: The internet has not granted us more control in relation to the record company because we're still bound by an agreement with them not to release our music without their consent. But they generally let us do what we want, anyway, so it doesn't matter who's officially in control.
Pitchfork: Generally speaking, why do you think fans become so fixated on "lost" records? Lifehouse, The Basement Tapes, Songs From the Black Hole, etc...?
RC: Yeah, it's funny, huh? I don't know. I was fixated on Prince's Black Album for a long time.
Pitchfork: Now that you're on the other side of that, what's it feel like? Do these unfinished projects get blown out of proportion by fans?
RC: Yeah, it seemed like people
thought the Black Hole was much more substantial than it is.
Pitchfork: You say in the liners to Alone that you'll play your demo tapes to anyone who will listen. Of all those you've played potential Weezer songs to, who do you think your harshest critic has been (aside from yourself, of course)?
RC: Todd Sullivan, who signed Weezer to Geffen Records in 1993 and has been in and out of the Weezer camp over the years, has been my harshest critic.
Pitchfork: There seemed to be an effort from the band to get back to what Weezer did best on the "Green album"-- concise pop songs, big guitars. But according to the liners of this demo collection, you've been writing long epics for Weezer's sixth album. How do you toe the line between what Weezer are known and loved for with maturing and trying new things as a musician?
RC: I like to get input from all different kinds of listeners, including the really conservative ones, and sometimes those listeners steer me in a direction that I haven't seen. But at the end of the day, my vote is always to go in the direction that makes me the most excited. Weezer publicist Jim Merlis has been great at articulating the conservative perspective recently.
Pitchfork: Can you elaborate on what a more experimental Weezer record might sound like?
RC: Longer songs, non-traditional song forms, different people writing and singing, instrument switching, TR-808s, synths, Southern rap, and baroque counterpoint-- for starters.
Pitchfork: Interesting to hear you mention counterpoint-- in the vocals? Some of my favorite moments in Weezer B-sides are the vocal harmonies in songs like "Ooh" or "My Adeline", so I'm a little geeked to hear you say that. Not to single anyone out, but how are the rest of the band as singers? When you're writing, do you take their ability in to account?
RC: Yes, counterpoint in the
vocals. Scott [Shriner] has the most naturally beautiful tone; Bri [Bell] has the
stoker attitude; and Pat [Wilson] has the depth and complexity of
Pitchfork: Oh, and who's doing the rapping?
Pitchfork: You've performed with other bands while on hiatus from Weezer, but I was surprised to find out you'd played in the studio with Sloan (on "Little Diane"). At what points in the past have you seriously entertained breaking up the band, if any?
RC: I've never seriously entertained the idea of breaking up the band.
It was a great experience singing over Sloan's playing. They are phenomenal at creating a unique groove and sound together. By the way, the jam session with them wasn't in a recording studio; it was in a rehearsal studio.
Sloan were signed to Geffen by Todd
Sullivan, the same guy who signed Weezer. (Sloan's tour bus
was the first tour bus I ever went on, outside of Jabberjaw back in
1993, when Todd was courting us.) When I was looking for some
people to jam with 10 years later, I called up Todd and he sent down
the Sloan guys.
Pitchfork: Have you considered a side project?
RC: I've done a few things on the side here and there but there is not much reason to do so in a sustained way. I'm generally able to say what I want to say within the context of Weezer. Recently, though, I've become very interested in writing songs with other people that I admire. But I would still like to use those songs on a Weezer record, assuming they make the cut.
Pitchfork: How much attention do you pay to the radio and the charts?
RC: I don't listen to the radio anymore because the commercials drive me nuts. Sometimes, though, I look at the charts to learn about new songs. Out of the 33 songs in my iTunes favorites playlist right now, I discovered four by looking at pop radio charts: Hannah Montana, Soulja Boy, a Timbaland song, and a Fabolous song. The rest I discovered through word of mouth, college radio, the music press, and the podcast of "Sound Opinions".
Pitchfork: As a Chicagoan, I have to inquire more about "Sound Opinions". How did you become a fan? And are you a [Chicago Tribune critic Greg] Kot, or a [Chicago Sun-Times writer Jim] DeRogatis man?
RC: I was driving home on a Sunday night, flipping around the dial, and I discovered their show. I thought it was the coolest thing. I'm probably less often baffled by DeRogatis' picks than Kot's, but I love them both. I always get something out of listening to them, whether it's a new favorite song or a broader perspective on what's going on in the music world.
Pitchfork: What artists inspire
you, or inspire competitive feelings in you?
RC: In the past couple of years, Eminem has probably been the most inspiring to me; his songs have so much creativity, passion, inventiveness, and playfulness. The Killers' "Mr. Brightside" also really knocked me out. But there's so much great music out there. I love to have my mind blown by other artists.
Pitchfork: What about "comfort music?" What records can you put on at any time and just enjoy?
RC: Probably the most reliable comfort music for me over the years has been Bach.
Pitchfork: What's your favorite Weezer video?
RC: Right now it's "Photograph". It reminds me of how much fun being on the road with Weezer can be.
Pitchfork: You've spent more time on meditation and been recently married (congratulations, by the way), which are pretty mature, adult things to do. Will you still be able to write from the same perspectives and the same themes as you have in the past?
RC: I think I would want to change perspectives and themes anyway even if I hadn't gotten married and started meditating. I like to explore new territory. Deep down though, there's a piece of me that stays pretty consistent.
Pitchfork: How do you feel about Pinkerton now, as it's become a sort of cult favorite, and the favorite of many Weezer fans?
RC: Pinkerton's great. It's super-deep, brave, and authentic. Listening to it, I can tell that I was really going for it when I wrote and recorded a lot of those songs.
Pitchfork: Where does the big light up "W" go when you're not on tour? I would keep it in my yard, for barbecues and such. No?
RC: Haha, that would be awesome. Actually, I think the "W" goes to the same storage place that houses the giant metal spider that Ronnie James Dio used to duel with onstage. I'm not sure though.
We spoke to the singer-songwriter behind one of the year's best records-- the exquisite, brave Ys-- about why its songs are so long, how Van Dyke Parks and an orchestra became involved, and how she handles replicating the complex music live.
The recording industry can't stop whining about the ill effects of pirated music, yet continues to make the worst choices imaginable: How slight was the graphic design budget for that Pearl Jam record?
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