Weezer - Biography
By David Downs
Modern rock band Weezer exploded onto the Los Angeles music scene amid the rise of grunge in the early 90s, composed of vocalist-guitarist Rivers Cuomo, drummer Patrick Wilson, bassist Matt Sharp and guitarist Jason Cropper. Their pop-oriented modern rock was heavily indebted both to heavy metal and a quirky, nerdy underdog sensibility that contrasted with the party-hearty, shallowness of '80s rock. Starting with debut promotional single "Undone (The Sweater Song)" (1994-DGC), Weezer smashed the charts with LPs Weezer (Blue Album) (1994-DGC), Pinkerton (1996-DGC), Weezer (Green Album) (2001-DGC), Maladroit (2002-DGC), and Make Believe (2005-DGC). Guitarist Brian Bell replaced Cropper early on in the band, before huge hits "Undone", "Buddy Holly," and "Say It Ain't So" turned Weezer into modern rock titans of the early '90s. Weezer also went through two bassists: Sharp, who lasted until '97 and Welsh until '01. The Blue Album hit number four on the The Billboard 200, while Pinkerton made it to 19, Maladroit hit number three, and Make Believe made it to number two and received a Grammy nomination for Best Songwriting on "Beverly Hills". Weezer released their third self-titled album Weezer (Red Album) (2008-DGC) and has begun touring as well.
At the center of Weezer is main songwriter Cuomo, for whom Weezer was a childhood nickname. Cuomo had a unique childhood. He was born in Manhattan in 1970 to Frank Cuomo a jazz musician and raised on a yoga commune in Connecticut. He attended private school, then Edwin Oscar Smith High School, where he played Johnny Casino in the school production of Grease. Cuomo moved to Los Angeles for college and music in the late '80s where he attended Santa Monica College, played in bands and attended Berklee College of Music. Cuomo can play electric guitar, acoustic guitar, drums, bass guitar, clarinet, harmonica, and piano. Avant Garde was his first "pro" band in Connecticut, where he primarily played guitar and soloed. After moving to Los Angeles, Cuomo played in a band called Zoom and another called Fuzz, both contemporaries of an L.A. band called Bush (not the UK rock band) which featured future Weezer member Pat Wilson on drums. Wilson befriended Sharp, and soon Cropper entered their world as well.
At this point Cuomo had likely written more than 100 songs in his life. After numerous incarnations, Weezer's original line-up first rehearsed on February 2nd, 1992. The group moved in together in West LA. In March, the band opened for Keanu Reeves's band, Dogstar. By May, a demo tape project began and the band played more local shows. Their demo was recorded in two days and paid for with a pair of stereo speakers, resulting in "No One Else", "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here", "Say It Aint So", "Undone The Sweater Song", and "Surf Wax America". On December 11, 1992, Weezer played with band Carnival Art, whose Brian Bell would later join them.
Eight more months of gigs and demo mailings resulted in a record contract with Geffen and a chance to record with producer Ric Ocasek, formerly of the Cars. The sessions that would become The Blue Album were recorded in New York City between August and October 1993. Eleven songs were recorded and Cropper left the band, ostensibly to care for his pregnant girlfriend at the time. Bell replaced him.
Their self-titled debut wouldn't come out until May of 1994. However, in February of '94 Weezer marched into Geffen's offices and performed a semi-barbershop acoustic version of "Susanne" with Wilson on acoustic. The ostensible reason was the birthday of Todd Sullivan's A&R assistant Susanne F., the inspiration for the song. She cried at the gesture.
Weezer's self-titled debut album was released on May 10, 1994, and its three singles from "Undone", "Buddy Holly", and "Say It Ain't So" helped the album go double-platinum. The band toured the U.S. several times, played late-night television shows, and did a Spike Jonze-directed video for "Buddy Holly" that situated the band in an episode of Happy Days. The rest of 1994 and into 1995 saw Weezer touring and the band opened for Radiohead in February of 1995.
After touring for the record ended, Cuomo was accepted into Harvard, had surgery on to correct a 44 millimeter difference in the length of his legs, and tried to write a concept album. Meanwhile Wilson and Sharp created side project The Rentals, and Bell worked on project The Space Twins.
The first sessions for the next album began in August of 1995 but little progress occurred. Rivers soon received a letter that inspired "Across The Sea" and it became a major turning point in the record's conception. By January 1996 -- Cuomo's rock opera had been dropped for an album with overtones of unrequited love. More Pinkerton sessions at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, CA. lasted about two weeks, centered around "No Other One" "El Scorcho" "Pink Triangle" "Getchoo" and "Tired Of Sex".
Rivers returned to Harvard for the semester and the others worked on their side projects, and by summer recording had wrapped. A departure from the last album, the guitars and lyrics are heavier on Pinkerton (1996-DGC) and it was initially a commercial and critical disappointment, partly due to business missteps and a scathing review by Rolling Stone who called it the most disappointing album of 2006. They were wrong. Pinkerton has gone on to become a certified cult classic and forerunner of 21st century emo. The record eventually went gold.
After Pinkerton, Sharp departed for The Rentals and Mikey Welsh, formerly of Juliana Hatfield's band stepped in. At the time, Cuomo and Welsh appear on an episode of the public access L.A. show "Colin's Sleazy Friends"alongside some local stripper guests. This awkward piece of trivia is forever included on the 'Colin's Sleazy Friends' DVD collection.
The band re-entered the studio for a follow-up record, but the sessions weren't productive and the label told the band to take a break. Wilson worked on the Special Goodness. Bell wrote Space Twins songs and played with Mephisto. Welsh worked with Hatfield.
No new Weezer records would appear between 1996 and 2001, but Cuomo was still writing. He wrote hundreds of songs, graduated with high honors from Harvard and made a personal encyclopedia of pop, analyzing the history of hits for similarities and trends. He also meticulously recorded all his experiments. By the Spring of 2000, Weezer booked dates on that summer's Warped Tour, as well as club dates. The dates sold out instantly. Another sold-out tour in the Fall recharged the band, who wrote and practiced new material into 2001 for what would be dubbed "the green album" with producer Ric Ocasek. Weezer (Green album) (2001-Geffen) was recorded at Cello Studios in Los Angeles and tracks "Island In The Sun" "Hash Pipe", "Photograph" and "Don't Let Go" became stand out cuts.
Welsh was replaced by bass heavyweight Scott Shriner and the band toured through 2001 only pausing to record their fourth album, Maladroit, released in May 2002. Maladroit (2002-Geffen) featured notable tracks "Dope Nose" "Keep Fishin", and "Slave". The record went gold and Weezer continued to tour strongly till September 2002, when they broke to work on a fifth album.
Sessions in 2003 and 2004 didn't result in an album the band liked, and it took superstar producer Rick Rubin to help the band find their way. By early 2005, Weezer had hundreds of demos and no clear picture of what the album would be. Cuomo negotiated a deal with his bandmates to work on the twelve songs he liked, and go from there. Afterward, Cuomo's bandmates still felt unsure. Now it was their turn to sort through 2003 and 2004 demos by Cuomo, picking out songs they liked, working on them and convincing Cuomo. It worked.
Make Believe (2005-Geffen) was released on May 5, 2005 and was a mix of the two perspectives. Though given an astonishingly low .4 out of 10 by music criticism web site Pitchfork, it hit number two in the Billboard 200. Single "Beverly Hills" was the band's response to Rubin's request that they write a boom-boom-chop song. Cuomo desired to enter the gilded echelon of the celebrity elite, but the final song took on a sarcastic bent, pillorying Hollywood's vacuous culture. "We Are All On Drugs" channels his experience living in an apartment above the Sunset Strip watching weekend revelers. "Haunt You Every Day" came from Rubin's request that Cuomo write a song like Billy Joel or Elton John. It became the first song Cuomo wrote entirely on piano.
Weezer's album Weezer (2008-Geffen) is commonly called the Red Album due to the album art, and is more experimental. Produced by Rick Rubin and written mostly by Cuomo, the album features longer and non-traditional songs, using drum machines, synthesizers, Southern rap, baroque counterpoint, and band members other than Cuomo writing, singing, and switching instruments. "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations On A Shaker Hymn)" contains ten different styles of music, while single "Pork And Beans" and "Troublemaker" favors more traditional distorted guitar and sing along choruses. Wilson states the album cost around a million dollars to make, and both the album's singles have charted. Shriner said Weezer would be holding a "Hootenanny Tour", where fans could bring their own instruments to play along with the band.
In addition to each Weezer member's side projects Cuomo has written and recorded nearly 800 songs, posting many of them online. He has also been present on several Weezer online message boards and posts under the name Ace, inspired by Ace Frehley of the band Kiss. Cuomo married Kyoko Ito on June 18, 2006, and he is also a vegetarian. Wilson and Cuomo are the only two founding members of Weezer that have remained in the band. Sharp sued Weezer in 2002 for money from "Undone (The Sweater Song)," and credit on the first nine tracks of Pinkerton. The two parties settled out of court. Welsh's exit from Weezer in 2001 was later revealed to stem from a nervous breakdown due to drug use and mental illness. Welsh said in interviews that it resulted in a suicide attempt that effectively ended his career with the band.
Through sixteen years, six albums, millions of records sold, and millions of fans rocked they pushed music forward -- conveying the awkwardness, longing, humor and rage of the age. Astonishingly only a fraction of their enormous output has ever been released. In 2009 the band released it's next LP, Raditude, followed in 2010 by Hurley. A compilation of previously unreleased, yet re-recorded material, entitled Death To False Metal, was released in 2010. The band continue to tour and work on new material.