The early nineties rock world enamored with long dirty hair, angst-ridden screeching, and power chord riffage, the Los Angeles quartet Weezer offered a fine antidote to what was known as grunge. Often annoying-ly tagged “nerd-rock,” Weezer, featuring main singer/songwriter Rivers Cuomo, seemingly came out of nowhere in 1993, with catchy pop songs extolling the virtues of Kiss, surfing instead of driving to work, and a girlfriend that resembles Mary Tyler Moore. If one could call it pioneering, Weezer were some of the first to make music for those irony obsessed junior high schoolers who hung the Saturday Night Fever LP sleeve in their lockers and enthused about “Schoolhouse Rock” in between classes ad infinitum. The perfect soundtrack for those whose sentences generally start with the phrase “Do you remember when.”
Carrying big dreams of being a rock star, Cuomo packed up and moved at age 20 to L.A. from his native Connecticut. A failure at first, Cuomo hooked up with other Eastern expatriots Matt Sharp, Patrick Wilson, and Jason Cropper in 1992 and had their first rehearsal on February 14th of that year. Playing around L. A., incessantly, the band started to attract a following of people perhaps frustrated with grunge bombast and ready for some pop music. Weezer’s power pop sounds actually were quite a change from the presumed personal taste of the band, who featured eighties metal types Quiet Riot on the inside of their first album and had a logo clearly inspired by Van Halen as well as a healthy obsession with original Kiss member Ace Frehley. Bassist Sharp told Rolling Stone, “He had the best of the four Kiss solo records.” The band were signed by DGC, David Geffen’s then new label who also released Nirvana’s Nevermind, in 1993 and went to New York to record their first album with ex-Cars frontman Ric Ocasek. During recording for the first album guitarist Cropper was replaced by Brian Bell. Cropper returned to L. A., got married, had a daughter, and continued to work on musical projects.
Self admittedly “sucking” when they first started playing together, Weezer, upon signing with DGC, toured the United States and Europe for over a year to promote the first album. The exhaustive touring schedule, coupled with the countless gigs the boys played before being signed, helped bring the band closer together. With improved musicianship and Cuomo’s extremely catchy songwriting the band started to catch fire very quickly. Drummer Pat Wilson commented in Rolling Stone, “None of this was even imaginable ever.… We looked at it as a fatalist thing from the get-go.… It was like ‘I’m gonna fail because 99 percent of all records do, and what makes me so special?’” Long tours and songwriting aside, the band was also helped by the Spike Jonze directed videos for the LP’s first two singles “Undone—The Sweater Song” and their biggest hit “Buddy Holly” which intercut the band into actual scenes from the 1970s television sitcom Happy Days. A third hit, “Say It Ain’t So,” was also culled from the self-titled album which ended up selling about two million copies worldwide.
Following the surprise success of their first album, the band took an extensive break. Cuomo, easily the most introspective member of the band, began an undergraduate program at Harvard. The rest of the band all pursued other musical projects, the most notable being bassist Matt Sharpe’s band The Rentals. Releasing their first album, Return of the Rentals, on Madonna’s Maverick label in late 1995, they scored a minor hit with the odd “Friends of P.” Brian Bell and Pat Wilson also had other projects going; Bell’s Space Twins, who released one 7 “single on World Domination records and Wilson’s The Special Goodness. Brian Bell was also involved in the band Carnival Art before joining Weezer.
Finally regrouping in 1996, Weezer released their second album Pinkerton. Not as immediately catchy as the first, due to the band producing the album themselves, Pinkerton can be seen as a slightly more mature direction for the band. Mature, though, doesn’t necessarily sell records and some of the bands young fans probably felt alienated by tunes like “Tired of Sex” and “Pink Triangle” which tells of Cuomo’s crush on a woman who
Members include Brian Bell (born December 9, 1968 in Knoxville, Tenneesee) guitar, vocals; Rivers Cuomo (born June 13, 1970 in Conneticut) guitar, vocals; Matt Sharpe (born September 22, 1969 in Arlington, Virginia) bass, vocals; and Patrick Wilson (born February 1, 1969 in Buffalo, New York) drums.
Formed in Los Angeles, 1992; released first album on DGC, 1994; sold two million copies worldwide by 1995; Matt Sharpe’s other band The Rentals released first album on Maverick, 1995; Weezer’s second album released in late 1996; band played benefit for longtime friends Mykel and Carli who were killed in an auto accident in 1997.
Addresses: Record company —DGC Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
happens to be a lesbian. The album sold moderately well though, and the first single “El Scorcho” got some rotation on MTV and modern rock stations. The band also toured to support the album which sold out at many dates. The greatest publicity for the album actually came from the court case surrounding it. The Pinkerton Detective Agency, with over 100 years in the business, objected to the band’s use of the name “Pinkerton” seeing it as infringing on their name and reputation. Obtaining a restraining order against the band and DGC, the order was overturned when U.S. District Court Judge John G. Davies decided in favor of the band who explained that far from being a reference to the detective agency the title was actually in reference to Cuo-mo’s favorite opera Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, whose villainous lead character also shares the name. Pinkerton Detective Agency still pursued the case however, refiling the injunction and seeking $2 million in damages.
Tragedy hit the band after the release of the second album. Two longtime supporters of the band, Mykel and Carli Allan, with their younger sister Trysta, were killed in an automobile accident following a Weezer show on July 8, 1997. The two sisters had followed the band since their start and ran the fan club and official web page. Shocked and saddened by the event, Weezer held a benefit concert for the family which also included the band That Dog who were longtime friends of the band and also had a fan club run by Mykel and Carli. A memorial fund and a tribute CD were also planned with contributions from Weezer, That Dog, and Black Market Flowers among many others.
Weezer, DGC, 1994.
(With The Rentals) Return of the Rentals, Maverick, 1995.
Pinkerton, DGC, 1996.
Billboard, May 28, 1994.
Details, January 1995.
Entertainment Weekly, September 27, 1996.
Guitar World, December 1994; March 1995.
Rolling Stone, November 3, 1994; March 23, 1995; October 31, 1996.
Village Voice, April 18, 1995.
Additional information was provided by The World Wide Weezer official fan club internet site.
—Nathan L. Shafer
With their horned-rimmed glasses and requisite thrift-store sweaters, Los Angeles super-geeks Weezer burst on the scene at a time when rock was recovering from a decade spent under the haze of aerosol and spandex. Combining a love for the elaborate harmonies of early Beach Boys, the indie crunch of the Pixies and the larger-than-life riffage of Kiss (an all-time favorite of singer/guitarist and main songwriter Rivers Cuomo), Weezer became one of the first bands to transcend college rock anonymity and instead found their unlikely faces attached to a buzzing new movement simply dubbed "alternative." Since their inception, the band has successfully issued 4 albums of straightforward power-pop and metal-infused rock heroics, while avoiding the pitfalls that have plagued, and ultimately destroyed, so many bands coming up in the '90s alternative rock scene.
Future Weezer leader Rivers Cuomo was born on June 13, 1970, in a New York City hospital to Beverly Shoenberger and Frank Cuomo. Allegedly named by his mother after being inspired by the sound of the river outside of her hospital window, Rivers (and his brother Leaves, who was born on August 31, 1971) were raised in alternative environments, including the Zen Center in upstate New York and Yogaville—an ashram located in Northeastern Connecticut and run by Sri Swami Satchidananda. It was in Yogaville, a place Cuomo would later say "had no contact with popular culture" that he stumbled upon Rock and Roll Over by Kiss; one that would have an impact on not only him personally, but his future as well.
After Cuomo's father left for Germany, his mother had met and married Stephen Kitts. Instead of moving the family to Virginia, due to a relocation of the ashram, Beverly and Stephen decided to move to a suburb of Connecticut and enroll the boys in a more traditional school environment. As Rivers grew older, his interests began to flourish, and soccer and heavy metal became his main passions. His discovery of bands like Scorpions and Quiet Riot during his pre-teen and teenage years would have a profound impact, leading Cuomo to assemble a his own "hair metal" band, Fury (later known as Avant Garde). As Cuomo's obsession grew, so did the bands' prowess and determination, and eventually, the members of Avant Garde arrived in Los Angeles to pursue their dream of Sunset Strip success.
Though Avant Garde (who later changed their name one last time to Zoom) would cultivate a minor following in Los Angeles, the musical climate of the early '90s, as well as Cuomo's personal tastes, were changing. In 1991, Nirvana's punk and pop informed Nevermind was a number one record, and MTV slowly started focusing their attention away from hair metal groups and more towards bands like Pearl Jam and Sound-garden, who valued substance over style.
In 1992, Cuomo, had become interested in the sounds of the Pixies, as well as the pop mastery of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, and attempted to form a group based around these influences. Soon, Rivers, along with Jason Cropper on guitar, Patrick Wilson on drums, and Matt Sharp on bass, formed Weezer and began playing steadily around L.A. during a time when alternative rock was beginning to show up on the radar of the mainstream. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Sharp detailed the bands' beginnings, saying, "We would just play, and if we got a following, we did, and if we didn't, we didn't. And we didn't. It was pretty much no expectations for anything; we just basically didn't have anything better to do. And we all sucked, me especially."
If such was the case, DGC Records, a subsidiary of Geffen and home to bands like Sonic Youth, Sloan, Nirvana, and Beck, disagreed, and signed Weezer on June 25, 1993. Soon, the boys were recording the Blue Album, their debut, in New York City with Ric Ocasek, famed producer as well as the former singer, guitarist, and songwriter in '80s new-wave sensations the Cars. During the recording session, Weezer replaced guitarist Jason Cropper with Brian Bell, who had previously done time in the band Carnival Art, and upon the records' completion, were thrust into the unpredictable world of alternative rock. Wilson said of their 1994 release that, "None of this was even imaginable, ever. We looked at it as a fatalist type of thing from the get-go. It was like 'I'm gonna fail because 99 percent of all records do, and what makes me so special?'"
Evidently, what made them special was their uncanny ability to put a harmony-filled power-pop spin on hard rock, something that was seemingly lacking from the grunge hits of the day. Songs like "Undone (the Sweater Song)," "Buddy Holly," and "Say it Ain't So" boasted hooks a plenty. Videos for all the aforementioned songs became hits on MTV, as the Spike Jonze directed, Happy Days-themed clip for "Buddy Holly" won the group accolades at MTV's Video Music Awards. All Music Guide proclaimed that "What makes the band so enjoyable is their charming geekiness; instead of singing about despair, they sing about love, which is kind of refreshing in the gloom-drenched world of '90s guitar-pop."
After countless tours, increased popularity, Cuomo's enrollment at Harvard University in Boston, a case of writers block, and an operation to extend one of his legs that was shorter than the other, Weezer were set to return to the pop world with a much different and gloom-drenched second album: 1996's Pinkerton. Stylistically, the album was without a doubt Weezer, as evidenced by the catchy pop-hooks, but a newfound sense of emotion, as well as relentless distortion and harder-sounding production values left fans of the Blue Album, as well as more than a few critics, slightly confused. Loosely based on Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly, Pitchforkmedia.com issued a 7.5 rating for the album, saying "The feeling still edges toward geeky pop, but Rivers Cuomo's apparently not feeling like himself these days. Not only is this record not a joyous blast of uplifting rock magic, it's a downer at times!"
Though the album, which featured songs like "Tired of Sex," "No Other One" and "Getchoo," wasn't immediately received as positively as their debut, Pinkerton struck a chord with many burgeoning musicians who claim it as not only their favorite Weezer record, but their favorite record of all time. Brian Diaz of the Reunion show was quoted in John D. Luerssen's book, Rivers Edge: the Weezer Story, saying that "I knew they had it in them to lay their souls out on the table. So, for the second time, my perception of music was changed by the same band."
Still, though, Cuomo could be found blasting the record in the press, and in 2001 he was quoted in Rolling Stone, saying, "The most painful thing in my life these days is the cult around Pinkerton," he says when asked of the record's new status. "It's just a sick album, sick in a diseased sort of way. It's such a source of anxiety because all the fans we have right now have stuck around because of that album. But, honestly, I never want to play those songs again; I never want to hear them again."
The unexpected reaction to Pinkerton, as well as changes in the bands' lineup (bassist Matt Sharp left the group to concentrate on his side project the Rentals, who issued Return of the Rentals in 1995 and Seven More Minutes in 1997 on Madonna's Maverick label, and was replaced by the Boston-born Mikey Welsh), legal squabbles, tour exhaustion, Cuomo's return to Harvard, and the death of Weezer fan club presidents Mykel and Carli Allan in the summer of 1997 may have all contributed to the 5 year gap between Pinkerton and the 2001 release Weezer (also known as the Green Album). The band did continue to demo throughout the break, and even went so far as to post them on their website in order to get instant feedback from fans. When the album was finally issued, featuring songs like "Hash Pipe," "Photograph," and "Don't Let Go," it seemed that a whole new generation of Weezer fans had sprouted. The record's decidedly less emotional content, coupled with a growing interest in paying homage to Kiss, as well as Cuomo's hair metal past, the Ric Ocasek-produced album helped the band sell out larger venues on the subsequent tours following the records release.
The New Times Los Angeles called Weezer "tighter than ever" and Q Magazine proclaimed that, "The 11 selected for the Green Album hark back to the keenly observed power pop of Weezer's multi-platinum '94 debut, and there isn't a bad apple among them. 'Island In The Sun,' 'Glorious Day' and 'Simple Pages' sparkle with a deceptive simplicity, sublime melodies offsetting Cuomo's crisp, driving guitars; even the quirky, irascible single 'Hash Pipe,' written while the front man was drunk on tequila, is indulged with a quite irresistible hook."
For the Record . . .
Members include Brian Bell (born on December 9, 1968, in Knoxville, TN) guitar, vocals; Rivers Cuomo (born on June 13, 1970) guitar, vocals; Matt Sharp (born on September 22, 1969, in Arlington, VA) bass, vocals; Mikey Welsh , bass; Patrick Wilson (born on February 1, 1969, in Buffalo, NY) drums.
Group formed in Los Angeles, 1992; released first album on DGC, 1994; sold two million copies worldwide by 1995; Matt Sharp's other band The Rentals released first album on Maverick, 1995; Weezer's second album, Pinkerton, released in late 1996; band played benefit for longtime friends Mykel and Carli who were killed in an auto accident in 1997; released Weezer (also known as the Green Album), 2001; released Maladroit, 2002.
Addresses: Record company—DGC Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019. Website—Weezer Official Website: http://www.weezer.com.
Riding high on the Green Album 's success, Weezer quickly got back to work, writing and recording demo versions of hundreds of new songs. During this time, bassist Welsh was replaced by Scott Shriner, a native of Toledo, Ohio, and member of Los Angeles' Broken. Soon, the fourth incarnation of Weezer had enough material recorded, and in May of 2002, they issued Maladroit. Packed of Green Album-esque hard rockers like "Dope Nose" and "Keep Fishin,'" Maladroit garnered it's share of mixed reviews. Pitchforkmedia.com said, "Stripping down to the basics is one thing, but removing almost every element and characteristic that separated the band from the other million quartets-with-guitars is a sad, sad sight to see." The Dallas Morning News, however, called it "Fun, breezy, pop album," and the Washington Post said, "No matter how soft or hard he's rocking out, no matter how pathetic his woman problems might be, Cuomo builds each of his songs on a melody that, stripped to the essence, could be strummed around a beach bonfire."
Weezer (Blue Album), DGC, 1994.
Pinkerton, Geffen, 1996.
Weezer (Green Album), Geffen, 2001.
Maladroit, Interscope, 2002.
Luerssen, John D., Rivers' Edge: the Weezer Story, ECW Press, 2004.
Rolling Stone, March 23, 1995; September 13, 2001.
Dallas Morning News, May 15, 2002.
Q Magazine, July 2001.
Washington Post, May 15, 2002.
New Times (Los Angeles, CA), May 17, 2001.
"Weezer," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (November 19, 2004).
Weezer Media Archive, http://wma.weezernation.com (November 25, 2004).
Weezer Official Website, http://www.weezer.com (November 23, 2004).
Members: Brian Bell, guitar, vocals (born Knoxville, Tennessee, 9 December 1968); Rivers Cuomo, vocals, guitar (born Yogaville, Connecticut, 13 June 1970); Scott Shriner, bass, vocals (born Toledo, Ohio, 11 July 1971); Patrick Wilson, drums (born Buffalo, New York, 1 February 1969). Former members: Jason Cropper, guitar, vocals (born Oakland, California, 1970); Matt Sharp, bass, vocals (born Arlington, Virginia, 20 September 1969); Mikey Welsh, bass, vocals (born Syracuse, New York, 20 April 1971).
Best-selling album since 1990: Weezer (1994)
Hit songs since 1990: "Buddy Holly," "Undone—The Sweater Song," "Hash Pipe"
Seldom has a rock band made as much of a virtue of being uncool as Weezer has. Unabashedly uncool, the quartet, led by enigmatic, bespectacled singer/guitarist Rivers Cuomo, not only revel in their awkwardness, but also sell millions of albums with cheerful, hook-heavy power pop anthems such as "Hash Pipe" and "Dope Nose," with sometimes dark, risqué lyrics. Despite an unhip look and a retro 1970s sound that was stridently out of step with the hard rock and fluffy teen pop of the decade, Weezer became huge alternative radio stars and built a cult audience that hung on Cuomo's every word.
Weezer was formed in early 1992 in Los Angeles by Connecticut-raised Cuomo, a former member of several high school heavy metal bands, guitarist Jason Cropper, drummer Pat Wilson, and bassist Matt Sharp. After sixteen months of playing local clubs, the group drew the attention of Geffen Records, which signed them and packed the group off to New York to record their debut with former Cars singer Ric Ocasek. Cropper split with the group halfway into the recording of Weezer (1994) and was replaced by Carnival Art guitarist Brian Bell.
Released in May 1994, during the height of the noisy, bleak grunge rock period, Weezer yielded an immediate hit song in the oddball pop track "Undone—The Sweater Song." Over a lazily strummed guitar and lethargic drums, a pair of friends discuss their plans for the night before Cuomo's strident, deadpan vocals break in with the oblique chorus, "If you want to destroy my sweater / Hold this thread as I walk away / Watch me unravel, I'll soon be naked."
With short two- and three-minute songs, Weezer opts for economy over showy virtuosity, with few guitar solos, pleasant three-part harmonies, and joyous power pop guitar chords, sometimes mixed with the arena bombast of 1970s makeup rockers KISS. On the hit "Buddy Holly," a wistful new wave rocker that mixes the mindless, cheerful choruses of 1950s and 1960s pop with 1990s hip-hop slang and vintage early 1980s synthesizers, Weezer creates a template for its success: knowingly uncool music delivered with a smart, winking postmodern irony. The album's sales were boosted by equally ironic, arty videos, especially for "Buddy Holly," in which acclaimed film director Spike Jonze fused the group into the set of the popular 1970s sitcom Happy Days.
The album sold more than 2 million copies, but was followed by a period of inactivity. The unpredictable Cuomo enrolled in Harvard University, Sharp and Wilson worked on the debut from their side band, the Rentals, and Bell recorded an album with his side project, the Space Twins. When Weezer emerged with the dark, self-produced Pinkerton in September 1996, fans were taken aback.
Pinkerton Almost Destroys Band on Way to Cult Classic Status
With crunchier, angrier guitars, keening keyboards, and at times yelping, screaming vocals, Pinkerton songs such as "Tired of Sex" and "Getchoo" reek of desperation and depression. Cuomo verily spits his lyrics above the cheerless din of slashing guitars, singing songs about heartbreak in which the veil of irony is pulled back to reveal someone who has clearly undergone an emotional trauma. Though he had been the main songwriting force in the band since its inception, the album marks the point at which Cuomo became the primary musical force in the group as well.
Even on songs such as the surfy punk track "Why Bother?," which retains the band's signature three-part harmonies and pop choruses, the pain is palpable ("Why bother, it's gonna hurt me / It's gonna kill when you desert me"). While it sold respectably over time, the album was not as commercially successful as its predecessor and was later repudiated by Cuomo, who said it was too revealing and embarrassing.
Though, for the most part, Cuomo shunned playing the album's songs and seemed uncomfortable even discussing it, Pinkerton became something of a cult classic, helping to launch a whole generation of late 1990s bands such as Dashboard Confessional and Saves the Day. Those groups were tagged as "emo," short for emotional, and were notable for their naked honesty and pop punk sensibility. Sharp left the group following the album's release to concentrate on the Rentals and was replaced by former Juliana Hatfield band bassist Mikey Welsh.
A long period of inactivity followed, with Rivers returning to Harvard and playing a series of solo shows in Boston with Welsh during 1998, Bell releasing a Space Twins album, and Wilson and Welsh touring with the Special Goodness. Despite meeting up several times in Los Angeles in 1998 to attempt recording sessions, Cuomo's heart was clearly not in it. The singer again drew into his shell, painting the walls and ceiling of a rented Los Angeles apartment black, disconnecting the phone, and shunning all human contact for months at a time.
To their shock, when Weezer began a series of shows under assumed names in the spring of 2000 and later booked themselves onto the punk/skate multi-act Warped Tour festival and into some clubs, the response was rabid . . . and the fans were young. The club tour was a sell-out and was followed by another sold-out tour of larger venues, many of them filled with teens who had discovered the group in the post-Pinkerton period.
The band reunited with Ocasek to record their second self-titled album (known as the "green album" due to its cover's color) in late 2000. It yielded a huge alternative radio hit with a bizarre story of a drug-smoking homosexual male transvestite prostitute, "Hash Pipe," notable for its churning, crime-jazz guitar riff and Cuomo's keening falsetto singing. After eschewing comical, flashy videos for their last album, the band returned with another classic clip for the song, this time featuring corpulent sumo wrestlers butting heads.
Despite having written more than 100 new songs, the brief (twenty-eight-minute) ten-track album is a triumph of pop smarts and economy, returning to the bright ("Don't Let Go"), hand-clapping ("Photograph"), poppy sound of the band's debut. During a summer 2001 tour, Welsh checked himself into a mental hospital and was permanently replaced by former Broken bassist Scott Shriner.
After posting dozens of in-process tracks on their website, the group quickly recorded another album, the self-produced Maladroit (2002). In an unpredictable career, it was yet another left turn, as it, seemingly without irony, slathers their pop hooks with bombastic guitar solos and chunky riffs that pay homage to the flashy heavy metal bands of the mid-1970s and late 1980s.
Weezer proved that the cool kids do not always get all the breaks. With a genius facility for pop hooks, a twisted imagination, and a career plan only he could understand, Cuomo wrote some of the most indelible pop hits of the 1990s. Along the way, he inspired a whole generation of emo rockers (Dashboard Confessional, Saves the Day, New Found Glory) to put their hearts on their punkpop sleeves.
Weezer (DGC, 1994); Pinkerton (Geffen, 1996); Weezer (Green Album ) (Geffen, 2001); Maladroit (Geffen/Interscope, 2002).