Weezer's Rivers Cuomo Tries Reinvention Since its 1994 debut, the hook-heavy rock band Weezer has sold 10 million records and cultivated a devoted following for its guitar-based power-pop. Frontman Rivers Cuomo discusses the band's latest self-titled record, known as The Red Album.
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Weezer's Rivers Cuomo Tries Reinvention

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Weezer's Rivers Cuomo Tries Reinvention

Weezer's Rivers Cuomo Tries Reinvention

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(Soundbite of song, "Troublemaker")

Mr. RIVERS CUOMO (Front Man, Weezer): (Singing) I'm a troublemaker, never been a breaker, doing things my own way, never giving up. I'm a troublemaker, not a double-taker, (unintelligible), keep it on the up.


The ever-relevant, ever-changing, used-to-be-called-grunge, now-tagged Beverly Hills rock band Weezer has released its sixth full-length album. That was the opening track, "Troublemaker." The band has sold 10 million albums since its first release in 1994, but Weezer's tried to stay low key, even kick off their album tour with a BYOI - that's bring your own instrument - town-hall-style hootenanny and yes, they called it a hootenanny. Rivers Cuomo is the front man for Weezer. He joins us from the Malibu Performing Arts Center studio, where much of their new release, "The Red Album," was recorded. Mr. Cuomo, thanks for being with us.

Mr. CUOMO: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

SIMON: And I have to ask first off: Any relation to either Mario Cuomo or Three Rivers Stadium?

Mr. CUOMO: None that I know of.

(Soundbite of Laughter)

SIMON: Right. Look you have, I believe in past interviews, described yourself as, I think the phrase is a control freak. You've been the sole songwriter for your other five albums, but this one was more collaborative, wasn't it?

Mr. CUOMO: Yeah, let's see. My drummer wrote a song and sang a song and got to play guitar, and I went back and played the drums for him; and my bass player wrote and sang a song. My other guitar player wrote and sang a song. So we got to switch things up and face some new challenges this time. So it was a lot of fun.

SIMON: It was nice to shake up the old formula?

Mr. CUOMO: Oh yea. It's always nice to shake things up and try things you've never tried before. That's what it's all about.

SIMON: Let's listen to a track, "Dreamin'," which is kind of written in the sonata form.

(Soundbite of song, "Dreamin'")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) I'm dreamin' in the morning. I'm dreamin' all through the night, and when I'm dreamin', I know that it's all right.

Mr. CUOMO: I love writing songs, and I'm always looking for new things to try, and one of the toughest things is structure. It just works when you use verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, and as soon as you become aware of that formula, you start to have a bad conscience when you write with that particular structure.

So I've been looking for new forms I can write in, and that's one of the things I was trying on this album, and then I thought of the sonata form from classical music, and I figured well, it's probably not going to work, but I'm gonna try it anyway and try to make it work.

(Soundbite of song, "Dreamin'")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) And the angels in the Heavens, they'll wonder (unintelligible). I am running through a meadow, and the sun is shining on me. I am singing, my voice is ringing. I can sing so long, and I'm dreamin' in the morning. I'm dreamin' all through the night.

SIMON: Where did you begin to see yourself as making a life in music?

Mr. CUOMO: I wanted to be a pro football player when I was a little kid. It wasn't until I was about 11 or 12 that I learned I had some physical disability. It turns out I was going to be on the small side, so I probably wasn't going to make it in the NFL.

SIMON: And you have, not to embarrass - one leg is taller than the other?

Mr. CUOMO: Yeah, one leg was longer than the other, and the doctor said you know, you're going to top out about 5'7", by the way, and that's when I started to realize I wouldn't make it in the NFL and had one or two years of sadness and confusion, thought about being a comic artist, but then the hormones kicked in, and heavy metal really started to take off, and I got my guitar, and I've been doing music ever since.

SIMON: You wanted to be a football player. Any particular position, team? How did you see yourself?

Mr. CUOMO: I wanted to be a wide receiver. I was a giant Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and these guys were making really dramatic plays - jumping, flying through the air - and it really felt like that would be a great way to live.

SIMON: When you're a rock musician of your caliber, are you more a wide receiver or a quarterback?

(Soundbite of Laughter)

Mr. CUOMO: Now I think of myself in terms of soccer players, and I consider myself kind of a withdrawn striker or a central attacking midfielder, not the guy who just sits in front of the goal and scores the goal but the guy who makes that brilliant pass to set someone else up, and that's what I like to do.

SIMON: Let me ask you to indulge us in listening to another cut, if we could, a song that's rather different in character than others on "The Red Album," and this is "Cold Dark World."

(Soundbite of song, "Cold Dark World")

Mr. CUOMO: (Singing) Angel girl in a cold, dark world. I'm gonna be your man.

SIMON: So what's going on in this song?

Mr. CUOMO: "Cold Dark World," the music was written by our bass player, Scott, and so it has an unusual sound for Weezer. I've written most of the songs for Weezer, and I almost never write in a minor key, but Scott is a very minor-key person, so this is a new sound for Weezer.

I had been thinking of doing this lyric about love and devotion in a real traditional lyric type of way, but when I combined it with his very dark music, my lyric took on a very sinister tone that I never intended, but we all thought was interesting.

(Soundbite of song, "Cold Dark World")

Mr. CUOMO: (Singing) I've been watching you, girl, from the back of my car. I see you (unintelligible) the flake that you are. (Unintelligible), thinking you'll end up a penniless hag, but I see the girl that you are deep inside. Won't you allow me to give you a ride? I can console you and give you a kiss, show you that you can do better than this. Angel girl in a cold, dark world…

SIMON: I'm struck by something you told Spin magazine, where you said that you and Weezer could start all over, just change your identities, change your music.

(Soundbite of Laughter)

Mr. CUOMO: Yeah, well the journalist brought that up. He said do you think you could do this? And I started thinking about it, and it sounded like a very cool challenge. I'd love to try it.

SIMON: Like go into the witness protection program and…

Mr. CUOMO: Yeah. We can't rely on any of our history, any of our fan base. We have to start over with new identities and try to make it all over again.

SIMON: What would you do? How would you go about it, do you know?

Mr. CUOMO: I don't know, because I think it's changed a lot in terms of how a band gets off the ground now. I think a lot of it is through having a MySpace or Web site and getting people to view your page and then convincing a record company that that means you can put out an album.

I don't really know, but I think it's different from when we played, when we started out, which was all about just moving to L.A. and playing in these clubs and hoping that somebody's out there in the audience that can sign you to their label - passing your demo tape around.

SIMON: You're going to Harvard, where in many ways, Weezer's had their biggest spurt of popularity.

Mr. CUOMO: Yeah, I've gone back a couple times, once right after the big success of our first album, then again in the late '90s and then again after the Beverly Hills thing. So I keep going back there, but now I finally graduated, so they won't take me back anymore.

SIMON: Well I mean look, that sounds like a sitcom, doesn't it, the rock star goes back to school?

Mr. CUOMO: Yeah, it would've been an interesting show, especially when I was living in the dorms.

SIMON: Well, did people like hide out in the bushes or anything?

Mr. CUOMO: You know, people were really too cool for school there, you know. You know, no one wanted to look like a fan boy or anything. So I could move amongst the students and be normal, and it was great.

SIMON: You were like 10 years older than a lot of the students, though, weren't you?

Mr. CUOMO: Yeah, this last time I was a good 12 years older than most of the other kids. So I probably looked like a grad student or a tutor or something, but you know, I think everyone probably is self-conscious about something when they're in school or at work or out in public, and I just don't want to let those kinds of things hold me back from doing the things that sound like fun.

SIMON: Well Mr. Cuomo, awfully nice talking to you. Thanks so much.

Mr. CUOMO: Thank you.

SIMON: Rivers Cuomo, front man for Weezer. The band's sixth full-length album, "The Red Album," is in stores now.

(Soundbite of Music)

Unidentified Man (Singer): (Singing) (Unintelligible).

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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