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Rivers Cuomo on dark thoughts, Post Malone & being prolific

We meet the Weezer frontman to discuss the band’s new album ‘Pacific Daydream’ and a whole lot more

Rivers Cuomo has been busy. Just a little over a year after Weezer’s last record, the commercially and critically successful White Album, their 11th studio album Pacific Daydream is out today. It comes in the middle of a pretty nonstop touring schedule that will see the band play Wembley tomorrow and tour with Foo Fighters in January. But Pacific Daydream was a bit of a surprise to everyone; after the sunny, Beach Boys-inspired White Album, Weezer wanted to release the Black Album, a darker, more negative record than they’d ever done before. But Pacific Daydream, a clean, poppy tribute to California produced by Butch Walker (Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco), just happened to come together first.

Pacific Daydream could fairly be described as a departure from the 90s Weezer sound, but then, what since 1996’s initially poorly received but now widely adored Pinkerton hasn’t been? Everything that isn’t Blue or Pinkerton has lived in their shadow in the eyes of the band’s harder-to-please fans, but for the 25 years that they’ve been together, Weezer have been not only pretty prolific, but consistently experimental. They have played with pop, electronic beats, and rap collaborations, and while some of those experiments have been hits and others misses, Weezer are doing something right. Over two decades later,they are still here where many of their peers are not, and a lot of that is thanks to their willingness to shed the past and adapt to the world as it is.

And a lot of that tenacity and experimentation comes from the band’s awkward, insular frontman, Rivers Cuomo. Cuomo’s talent for and commitment to songwriting is responsible for not only the band’s output, but for a massive back catalogue of unreleased music, some of which he put out in the form of Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo. Despite over two decades in the public eye, Cuomo remains an enigma; through social media, a tool that many use to get to know people better, he only distorts that image further by posting abstract things that he’s found on fan boards, in journals, and on the internet. And, thanks to Cuomo, behind the band’s often clean sound and dorky exterior is something darker. While that loneliness is more evident on Pinkerton and Alone, it’s always there; even on their poppier outputs is a cleverly expressed, sometimes slightly sexual darkness and awkwardness that we can all relate to.

While the Black Album will see all that brought to the surface again (and it’ll even see Cuomo swearing for the first time in his career), the poppy Pacific Daydream has those undertones; on ‘QB Blitz’, Cuomo laments that “all my conversations die a painful death”. We spoke to Cuomo about Pacific Daydream, Weezer’s longevity, and what it’s like when all your darkest thoughts are made public.

You’ve been doing this since 1992 and a lot of your peers have completely disbanded. Is that weird?

Rivers Cuomo: Or died! Yeah, it’s weird. Some of them are around, like Green Day and Foo Fighters and Beck.

Jimmy Eat World are still going.

Rivers Cuomo: Maybe for your generation we seem like the peers of Jimmy Eat World, but for us, it feels like they came after. They’re like our juniors. It’s probably just a couple of years but it feels like a totally different generation. It’s funny. The bands that were just a few years before us are like a totally different generation, too, like Nirvana. 

That was almost the same time, but I guess Kurt Cobain died the same year as the Blue Album.

Rivers Cuomo: He died a month before our album came out.

He never got to hear it.

Rivers Cuomo: He could have. We’ll never know, but he could have heard it. It was done in ’93, so same record company, somebody could have given it to him. But I’ll never know for sure.

“I just like new music and I always listen to new music and it’s constantly influencing me. Then when I go to the studio, I get bored if it sounds like something we already did so I want to emulate the new sounds I’ve been hearing” – Rivers Cuomo

How have you managed to stick it out for so long?

Rivers Cuomo: I just like new music and I always listen to new music and it’s constantly influencing me. Then when I go to the studio, I get bored if it sounds like something we already did so I want to emulate the new sounds I’ve been hearing. I don’t know. Maybe that’s helped us seem relevant or interesting over the years, I’m not sure.

Another factor is that the four of us want to be together. We all come from broken homes with not a lot of stability in our lives, so we just kind of stick to each other. When we’re together it’s like we have some kind of chemistry.

So Pacific Daydream is kind of an in-between album, right?

Rivers Cuomo: It inserted itself in front of the Black Album. The Black Album is almost done, and hopefully it comes out in May but this one got finished first and it’s good, so we brought it out.

That’s soon! The White Album was last year, so that’s three years in a row. That’s a lot.

Rivers Cuomo: Yeah. I mean, I like putting out music and I don’t like waiting around. I think I want to pick up the pace, actually. The slow part is finding the right producer, because that kind of locks you into a certain production sound and that’s a contentious part. Everyone has their idea of what Weezer should sound like. But the songwriting part is fun and easier.

And you end up writing a lot more than you put out.

Rivers Cuomo: Oh my god, yeah. It’s crazy. Which is cool because I always have extra bits if I’m looking for a bridge for a song I can just looking through my Dropbox folders and pick something out.

But you’ve released those things before, on Alone?

Rivers Cuomo: Yeah. I wish I hadn’t, but I did. It’s kind of embarrassing. If you search for my name on Spotify, that’s what comes up. I should put out something more pro also so people don’t think that’s all I do. 

No, it’s fine! The White Album and Pacific Daydream feel more explicitly California and Mexico-inspired than anything you’ve ever done. What do you find so inspiring about California?

Rivers Cuomo: When I was a teenager I was just doing heavy metal and I was on the other side of the country, New England is very cold and snowy and miserable. But as soon as I moved to California my whole style changed and I started writing not metal but music, basically. I give a lot of credit to that particular spot on Earth. It just brings out this really nice side of me creatively, and I still live there so I guess that’s why I’m still doing it. That being said, the next album is not going to be that at all. Because I’m sick of doing it, I want to do something different.

That one is going to be a lot darker, right?

Rivers Cuomo: I think this is going to be a lot more modern and electronic and not-90s sounding.

It sometimes kind of feels like people will always compare everything you ever do to Pinkerton or the Blue Album.

Rivers Cuomo: It’s definitely possible, but that being said if you go on Spotify and search Weezer and you can see our most popular songs and none of them are actually on Pinkerton. Pinkerton lags far behind ‘Island in the Sun’, ‘Say it Ain’t So’, or even our new song ‘Feels Like Summer’. That being said, Pinkerton is a very special album. It’s very unique. I don’t know if any of them could ever replace that for me. 

You’ve always been experimental with everything. I get shit for this but one of my favourite Weezer albums is Raditude. It’s just a lot of fun.

Rivers Cuomo: Yeah, definitely at the time that was our most experimental record and we were trying all kinds of stuff. There were no rules and it was pretty awkward and we were doing stuff not very skilfully, but I think it was brave to do those things and we learned a lot and I think we’ve gotten better at collaborating since then.

For me your approach to experimenting with pop and rap – and I’m sorry if this is an insult – reminds me of what Fall Out Boy do.

Rivers Cuomo: No, that’s a compliment, I love them.

Is there anyone modern you want to work with that you haven’t?

Rivers Cuomo: Post Malone. I think his music is very sad and haunting but at the same time fun and confident and has the hip hop attitude. I went and hung out with him in his studio and he was just beaming with positivity. Singing his songs and deep in the zone and seemed like he was in such a good space for an artist.

Maybe this is weird, but I love the way you use social media.

Rivers Cuomo: Yeah! Whenever I see something cool I just take it and post it as if I came up with it. But some of it’s from my own journals or my own head. I like to mix it up.

“It takes honesty but a lot of the time those certain lines that are ugly or not flattering or just painful to admit, those turn out to be some of the most powerful lines” – Rivers Cuomo

It’s kind of like art, in a way. It’s a really irreverent way to use something a lot of people take seriously.

Rivers Cuomo: Yeah. That’s true. I like to spread as much misinformation as I can. It’s fun.

With Pinkerton and The Pinkerton Diaries in particular, despite Weezer being so often poppy and clean-sounding, you’ve never been afraid to put ugly things out there.

Rivers Cuomo: It’s a good reminder. You’ve got to keep trying to do that and it takes honesty but a lot of the time those certain lines that are ugly or not flattering or just painful to admit, those turn out to be some of the most powerful lines or the lines that people talk to me about. With Pinkerton, the whole album is like that.

Everyone has that in them, but then when you write it down you can feel less ashamed of it and explore it.

Rivers Cuomo: It’s less of an issue at that point. 

But I guess once you’ve published your journals and deepest thoughts you can’t really hide anymore.

Rivers Cuomo: That’s true. Luckily I kind of forget that I ever put it out into the world. I can think I’m normal.

Pacific Daydream is out today (October 27).