Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo: “All I Need To Do Is Be Myself And People Think It’s Weird And Entertaining”
Most rockstars fill every room they walk into. When Rivers Cuomo does so, he assumes the timidity of a field mouse who’s hoping the house cat’s gotten sufficiently distracted enough for him to gobble up some crumbs in peace. It’s all part of the unique charm and appeal which has stood him in fine stead over a storied, 25-plus year career.
When it comes to press duties however, the Weezer frontman comes with a reputation – based on past form – of being quite difficult, of clamming up when asked about anything but his latest release, of being so shy that in one infamous Kerrang! cover feature, many moons ago, it was reported that the band who were supporting his at the time were instructed not to make eye contact with him.
As he shuffles through an executive suite in his swanky West London hotel, he’d be barely noticeable were it not for his signature horn-rimmed glasses. It’s hard to believe he plays to thousands of people, has sold millions of records, influenced generations of bands and been responsible for some of the most iconic songs in alternative music’s history. Everyone else in the room seems much larger, louder, busier and bothered. He just sidles up to Kerrang!, meekly says hello and offers a loose handshake.
But when we get right down to it, the myth of Rivers Cuomo soon gets blasted away. Instead, what we find is a sweetheart, quick with a self-deprecating gag and a sharpened sense of who he is, who he was and what his purpose in the world is.
As this is part of a series of what we’ve unofficially labelled ‘legend’ interviews, what does the term legend mean to you?
“Bob Marley’s greatest hits (laughs).”
…Aside from that, when it’s applied to you?
“I don’t know… it’s got nothing to do with my day-to-day activities. As far as I’m concerned, I’m in the business of trying to make the coolest possible music I can make on any given day. It makes no difference whether you’re a brand new artist or you’ve been around 30 years and people think of you as a legend, you’re always starting over, always starting from scratch.”
So when diehard Weezer fans think of you as a legend, how does that sit with you?
“I think it’s nice that they have someone like that in their minds, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like it has anything to do with me. I think I’m just incapable of thinking of that sort of thing.”
Okay, fair enough. What was the deal with your pre-Weezer band, Sixty Wrong Sausages?
“(Laughs) That’s not a name I hear everyday. That was my last band before Weezer. I was always in bands growing up, when I was in school and when I first moved to LA. In those days I was almost anti-punk: I did not like punk music, or the whole punk aesthetic. My attitude was pretty much exclusively metal: practice your scales, your arpeggios, use a metronome and don’t play sloppy. I was anti-nihilist, really. Then I got a job at Tower Records where I met this guy named Pat Finn who was 100 per cent punk. He had a shaved head, he’d try to grab your testicles, he’d try to get the boss to hit him and he’d listen to punk bands like Black Flag, that I didn’t know anything about. When I worked there, I was exposed to all these different kinds of music – not by choice, but because all the different employees played it – so I gradually got interested in branching out from heavy music. At first I thought I would take Pat Finn and have him be in my metal band. I told him I thought he would be, like, the DJ who would scratch over my metal songs.”
Photo: Sean Murphy
This was way before nu-metal, though. So you were ahead of your time there…
“Maybe a little, by a few months. I guess this was in the middle of the Faith No More era, so there were some new alternative ideas in metal. But this was pre-Nevermind still. Unfortunately my idea for Pat being my metal DJ didn’t pan out. He said, ‘I don’t want to be in your band, but why don’t we start a new band?’ I went for it, [longtime Weezer drummer] Pat Wilson was on drums and original Weezer guitar player Jason Cropper was in the band, too. It was basically Weezer, but instead of Matt Sharp it was Pat Finn on bass. We all wrote songs, I completely stylistically jumped ship and tried to do the opposite of everything I had ever done before. It was this accommodation of funk and punk with completely gibberish lyrics. It was very wacky and musically progressive, with odd meter and time changes and all that. We played one show, and then we broke up. Classic story.”
When you look back on Weezer, is there anything that makes you wince or feel uncomfortable
“Well, I don’t look back. I’m always too busy moving forward.”
Like a shark…
“Very much so. Of course when I see old photographs of myself when I was maybe 25 years old, I think, ‘Oh man, I looked a lot cooler then than I realised (laughs)!’”
So there are no underlying feelings of mistakes you might have made or regrets about the past?
“There is one, but I can’t really figure out a way to say it without being mean to someone, so I’d rather not. It was a business thing, not involving a band member.”
Okay then, what is your proudest achievement to date?
“Um (long pause)… the main thing that comes to mind is our longevity, the fact that we’ve been able to survive and stick together makes me proud. That alone is very rare.”
Did you ever imagine still being in Weezer all these years and records later?
“No way, man. It blows me away; not only surviving and being in tact, but the fact that we still bring in new fans and the shows just keep getting bigger. I’m really proud of that.”
If you could go back in time, what advice would you pass on to your younger self?
“It’s difficult because there’s nothing I’d like to have done differently, but that being said, I feel like I was really unhappy and had a ton of self-doubt. I don’t think any of that was helpful or necessary.”
Was that merely youth, or just how you were deep down in your DNA?
“I think it’s both, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s pretty common for a lot of young people in their late teens or early 20s. That’s a time of so much self-doubt, when you haven’t achieved much yet. I remember just not even being sure if I could or should consider myself an artist, or thinking that maybe I was just a big faker. It’s like, I guess I could tell myself, ‘Don’t worry about it, man. You’re great, don’t stress about it, because you’re going to be fine.’”
What helped you get over that self-doubt?
“I think our first album [1994’s Weezer] being really successful, being played on the radio, being played on MTV, playing big shows and doing interviews about it all made me realise, ‘Well, alright, if all these people think I’m real, I must be real.’”
Photo: Jonathan Weiner
Does it concern you that validation was important; that the ego can be so fragile?
“Yeah, and I found out just how fragile it was when the second album [1996’s Pinkerton] was a big flop and I was crushed by that. I realised that I was too dependent on what other people think.”
But in the end everyone came around to that record…
“Yeah and I’ve seen so many ups and downs throughout our career that it doesn’t really affect me one way or the other as much anymore.”
Do you just not put so much stock in what people have to say about your art these days?
“It takes a lot of effort to block things out, but also, I’m just naturally less interested [in what’s being said]. It’s not really relevant to the task at hand, which is writing songs. There’s a clarity and focus about what I’m doing now that wasn’t there in years gone by.”
How much has fatherhood and marriage helped make you happier and change your outlook?
“My daughter was born in 2007 and that’s when I immediately started writing the ‘Red’ album, which is one of our craziest records. For me as a songwriter, it was very ambitious. Not so much on the production side of things, but there’s really bold and experimental songs that I just felt were so full of ideas and excitement. I think part of that was seeing this new life come into my life, and seeing her grow and experiment with her surroundings, seeing how much little kids are in the zone and how they just do whatever comes to mind is inspiring to me.”
What’s it like being a father?
“Man, whenever you see your kids you just feel so happy and proud of them.”
Does it make you less selfish?
“Yeah, but I’m still pretty selfish (laughs). My wife and kids are out [on tour] with me right now, which is lucky as that’s not always possible. I talk to my wife and I tell her, ‘I’m really sorry. When we’re out on the road, I can’t be there for you and the kids like I am at home.’ Because all of my energy is going into the show every night, I just have to protect that during the day. She’s very supportive.”
Do you have any concerns about the world your kids might be growing up into?
“I do think about that. Not too much in a negative way, though. I think it’s normal for an old person like me to be totally mystified and confused about where things are going. I just trust that a new generation is going to rise to the occasion and be like, ‘Oh yeah, we got this.’”
So despite all the evidence to the contrary, you’re an optimist?
“I am! That being said, it is hard to know what the right guidance is to give to your kids and which way to steer them. Because when they grow up, things are going to be so different. Even if they’re not different bad, they’re different good, how do you best situate your kids to take advantage of that?”
What is the biggest misconception people have about you?
“For the most part, I think people know me really well actually.”
Really? When you are repeatedly described as weird, is that accurate? It seems a tad harsh. Does it hurt?
“Um… no. I think it’s a double-edged sword. It makes it hard for me to fit in in my daily life and to make new friends. Especially outside of Weezer world, it’s really hard for me, socially. But I think it’s also part of the reason why I have attracted an audience: all I need to do is be myself and people think it’s weird and entertaining.”
As someone we mostly only know through their music, would you ever consider writing memoirs?
“I’ve actually tried to write my memoirs. Many times, in fact. I have hundreds of pages written and lots of notes taken, but I’m not so sure what to do with them…”
Maybe some day, then?
“Maybe. It just doesn’t seem that great a prospect to me. At least when I’m singing people are interested, but I’m not so sure if they would be interested in me in prose-form…”
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