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EXCERPT: The Complete Oral History Of Weezer


“The best history of Weezer I have ever read.” – PAT WILSON, DRUMMER

BY JONATHAN VALANIA This year the Blue Album turns 20, and Pinkerton is old enough to vote. Two decades-plus of being Weezer hasn’t all been Buddy Holly glasses and hash pipes for The Last Band Standing, Alt-Rock Class of ‘94. At various points along the way Weezer has been at war with the haters, the fans, the industry, and themselves — wars that have ended in victory, surrender, a cease fire, and a lasting peace, respectively. As such, the Weezer saga has its share of death, insanity and betrayal. And shredding. Always with the shredding. Speaking of which, Weezer’s new album, Everything Will Be All Right In The End, is not just a return to form, it’s at least as good as the Blue Album, if not the best thing they’ve ever done. They all deny it’s a swan song, but it sure feels like one. Which is why we tracked down all the living band members past and present, and, with the help of some special friends (Ric Ocasek, Rick Rubin, Johnny Knoxville and Karl Koch, aka The Fifth Weezer), and jigsawed together the tragicomic puzzle of the last 22 years.

RIVERS CUOMO (singer, guitarist, songwriter): My parents were Buddhists, they were part of the Rochester Zen Center, which is one of the very first centers for Buddhism in the United States. It was a very rural and agrarian environment. I had chores like feeding ponies, clearing weeds and gardening, cooking and cleaning. Yoga, meditation practice everyday, and then some traditional academics, and a lot of self-lead creative projects. I couldn’t imagine a more nurturing, safe and supportive environment for a kid to grow up in. Years later when my brother and I went to public school, we had to teach ourselves how to swear and talk shit so we could fit in better.

PAT WILSON (drummer):
I grew up in Buffalo. I didn’t get a drum set until I was 19, but I had a couple of friends that did. So, I was always at their house. They were semi-uninterested and I was like, ‘Let’s set up those drums, man.’ For some reason I just loved playing them. I dropped out of college after two months. Then I sat in my house in the basement I grew up in for a solid year and a half, smoking weed, drinking coffee, and learning how to play Rush bass lines.

RIVERS CUOMO: I was born with one leg shorter than the other so I had to wear special shoes, one with a lift, just one more reason I wasn’t as cool as everyone else. Whether by nature, or by the environment I grew up in, I found myself completely incapable of fighting I just couldn’t bring myself to defend myself physically. I’d rather just be pushed around and picked on. Usually it just petered out, because I wouldn’t fight them back. Turns out it was a good defense.

MATT SHARP (bass player, 1994-1998): I was born in Thailand but only lived there for a year before moving to the suburbs of DC. My father worked for the U.S. government during the Vietnam war and he was interviewing insurgents in Thailand to find out why they were rebelling. I got a chance to go back to Thailand for one of the last shows I played with Weezer. The touring company we were with seemed to be interlinked with the Thai Mafia. Wherever we went people were terrified of the company we were keeping, just this uneasiness from all the people around us. I remember landing and the touring company meeting us at the gate and ushering us past customs, the guards were carrying M-16s and they turned their back so we could walk through. We had a police escort wherever we went. We got out of the airport and there was a TV reporter with a big light on his camera and he points it at me and says ‘How does it feel to be home?’

RIVERS CUOMO: The first time I heard Kiss, I was living at the Ashram. There were all kinds of people who would just come through and visit the Swami there. People from all over the world. One time, when I was seven years old, this girl showed up. I remember her name was Shanti, she was black, and she had KISS Rock And Roll Over and somehow, as the record was playing, we recorded ourselves running around in circles listening to it. So, for years after, all I had was this cassette tape of KISS playing in the background with us kids screaming and running around. Years later, I met Gene Simmons. He came to one of our concerts. And Ace came, too. It was pretty mindblowing.

PAT WILSON: One day I got introduced to this kid called Pat Finn, the first bass player I ever played with. He’s like, ‘I’m moving to L.A.. I’m gonna be in a band.’ I was like, ‘I’m gonna go with you.’ Pat wound up getting a job at Tower Records on the Sunset Strip where Rivers worked.

JASON CROPPER (guitarist, 1992-1994): When I got to LA, Matt and Pat were working at this telemarketing place selling dog shampoo. Pat was like, I can get you a job.

PAT WILSON: Rivers had a ponytail and could shred with the best of them. He was like the Valley metal-jock. I don’t know if you know about those guys, but at that time it was a distinct breed of long-haired, semi-athletic, and really proficient on an instrument.

JOHNNY KNOXVILLE (friend, that Jackass guy): The guys in Weezer were part of a larger group of friends that were fairly new to Hollywood and flat ass broke. I think I was the only non-musician out of everyone. Didn’t matter though, we all swigged cheap beer together and played a lot of pickup games of basketball. Pat wilson had a hook shot that was virtually indefensible, and Rivers was scrappy as hell. A good shot too.

RIVERS CUOMO: Working at Tower Records was where I was first introduced to ‘cooler music.’ All of the employees there had much better taste. I was exposed to Sonic Youth and the Pixies, and early Nirvana. Even old records from the ‘60s like The Velvet Underground & Nico and Pet Sounds. At first I was pretty nauseated by all that, but after repeated listenings, my own taste started to change.

PAT WILSON: Rivers wanted to start a new band and he said he wanted me to be the drummer. But, he said ‘We’re not gonna have any kind of rehearsal until we have 50 songs written. So we were writing and writing.

RIVERS CUOMO: I probably got about 32 songs in, and finally Pat slipped our demo tape to Matt Sharp, who used to be our roommate. Matt was the real confident, ambitious alpha-male type of guy, so I think he immediately recognized the potential in that demo tape. He got on the phone with me and said, ‘Alright, we’re doing this.’

KARL KOCH (webmaster, historian, archivist and unofficial fifth member): They never got to 50. By February of ’92, they got too impatient and started playing together.

RIVERS CUOMO: It wasn’t until maybe two months into regularly rehearsing with those four guys in the garage that the sound started coming together. We cast aside some of the bluesy, grungier rock stuff, and focused more on major keys and beautiful chord progressions. I started singing more like I did in choir growing up, rather than trying to be Kurt Cobain.

JASON CROPPER: Getting gigs in Hollywood was brutal. Just to get up on stage, they would make you buy like 100 tickets at $6 a head and you had to sell them all or you’re out all that money, just to get up on that stage to play a stupid rock club. We couldn’t wait to get started.

RIVERS CUOMO: I kept harassing this guy Casey at [the now defunct club] Raji’s in Hollywood to give us a gig. Finally, one day he called and said, ‘The opening band for Keanu Reeves’ band Dogstar just canceled, do you guys wanna play?’ I said, ‘YES!’ And so he said, ‘What are you guys called?’ We didn’t have a name yet so I told him we were called Weezer, which was my dad’s nickname for me. When I told the guys, ‘Hey, guess what, we’re called Weezer,’ they weren’t super excited about it.

MATT SHARP: The thing that was unique to that name was the pure abuse it engendered when we were passing out flyers at clubs. There’s certain names that people just like to say. People loved to scream the word WEEZER back at you while they crumbled up the flyer.

BRIAN BELL: Ironically, the guitar player for the band gave me a flyer for the show, and so I went to go see them and they had a song called “Say It Ain’t So” that just made me think this was by far one of the best local bands I’ve seen at a club in this city.

KARL KOCH: Up until they signed with Geffen everyone felt it was a democracy, everyone had equal say in what happens, everyone contributes different things. Rivers kind of grew into the leadership role — because of his vision and his ego, whatever you want to call it, he was the most driven and most ambitious and determined of the four and the one who would make the first move.

JASON CROPPER: Clearly it was Rivers’ band, but I wanted to have more of a say about what we did and how we did it. I think I was too inexperienced to shut up and enjoy the ride.

MATT SHARP: Every record label, from little indie label to national conglomerates passed on us. Rivers was offered a number of college scholarships. He told me that if we don’t release a record such and such a time, ‘I’m going to go to college.’

PAT WILSON: Next thing you know, we’re playing these shows and people are kind of into it. I remember thinking, ‘Nobody’s into this,’ even with lots of people coming to shows. I think the industry kind of thought we were douche bags, because there was only one guy ready to stake his claim, and that was Todd Sullivan. I think he saw something really cool in the band.

JOHNNY KNOXVILLE: I loved their music from the beginning. I can’t tell you how many of Weezer’s shows I went to in the early days at Club Dump, or the Gaslight. It was crazy when they blew up because the week before me, Handsome Jack Polick, and two or three other people were the only ones at their show. Then they get signed and at the next show a week later, people are lined up around the block. It was nuts.

JASON CROPPER: Todd’s like ‘We need to get a producer, we need to get a big name producer, we need to get a cool producer.’

RIC OCASEK (producer, leader of The Cars): I got their [demo] tapes from Geffen Records when I was out in LA working on another project. I listened to it in the car and just thought it was phenomenal. Having no idea what they looked like, I thought they were a heavy metal band that had really good melodies.

JASON CROPPER: The next thing we know Ric Ocasek walks into our practice space, he sits down he makes himself really small and he’s just so kind and he’s got his little pad and he’s just drawing things.

MATT SHARP: Ric is the icon from all of our youth, he was the voice of 50% of all radio and MTV when we were growing up.

JASON CROPPER: We had prepared a cover of “Just What I Needed,” you know sort of goofing around and honoring him at the same time.

RIC OCASEK: I was only sitting 10 feet away and they had everything turned up to ’12,’ just a wall of frequencies. [chuckles]. It was really great and I immediately wanted to produce the album.

PAT WILSON: I wasn’t even sure what that meant— a producer. From my perspective, it was jazz. Capture our playing and it’s a beautiful record. But it wasn’t like that, he had to tighten that shit out. Tie a lot of bits together. It would have sounded like Pinkerton if we hadn’t practiced it. Everything would always sound like Pinkerton unless we had Ric Ocasek.

RIC OCASEK: I talked them into coming to New York and recording at Electric Lady. I thought it would be inspiring. I liked the demo so much, I was basically trying to get the same sound as the demo. Warm, without a lot of clarity but a lot of power.

PAT WILSON: Ric insisted that “Buddy Holly” was on the record, and Rivers didn’t want that. I think he thought of that song as being on the next record.

RIC OCASEK: Obviously, there was tension in the band, the guitar player got fired by the end of the recording.

KARL KOCH: Jason had a girlfriend back in LA and one day she called him and said ‘Oh, I’m pregnant’ and from that day onward his personality became really intense and frantic. He wasn’t handling it well. A couple times the band would pull him aside and be like ‘Are you OK, are you sure you can do this?’ And he always said he was fine, but then 20 minutes later he’d be up on the roof of Electric Lady screaming or something. The other guys in the band got a little spooked.

JASON CROPPER: The final straw? The woman I married a few years later showed up in New York unannounced while we were making the record, with no place to stay. And that was it. Rivers was like ‘I can’t fucking take any more of this inconsiderate guy,’ and you know he was right. He explained it to me as kindly as he could, he was like, ‘I like you, we’ll stay friends but I can’t…this is a really special moment for the huge amount of work we’ve done to get here like a life’s time of work and I don’t feel like you get it in the same way.’

PAT WILSON: There was no shouting or screaming or anything. I don’t think Jason was stoked to be there.

RIC OCASEK: The last day of recording Rivers called me up and said ‘Jason’s not going to be in the band anymore so I have to re-do all his parts.’ I said ‘Why don’t you just keep the guitar tracks you got because it’s done.’ And he said, ‘No, I have to do all his parts over again, don’t worry it won’t take too long.’ So I said ‘OK OK.’ We went back in he did all the guitar parts in one day. And they were perfect.

BRIAN BELL (guitarist, 1994-present): I kind of played it cool when they first asked me, like a girl that you really want to go out with, you don’t call her back right away, I played that game. I played them pretty hard. They left a message and I didn’t call them back right away.

They call me up and the first question Rivers asks is what is my favorite Star Wars character. I thought of the most obscure character I could, which was Hammerhead. I also knew that Rivers loves Kiss, and I could care less for Kiss, but I totally lied and said I was way into Kiss.

They sent me a plane ticket, then I get picked up at the airport by this little man in a tuxedo with a hat and gray hair, I’ll never forget it, I thought, “I feel like I’m in Led Zeppelin all of the sudden.” I took the redeye so I get there at like 5:30 am. I went straight to the Gramercy Park Hotel, and Rivers answers the door and he had a horrible mustache. He said, ‘Welcome to the band. Oh by the way you’ll have to grow a mustache.’ River’s said ‘Here’s the floor, get some sleep.” So I slept on the floor the first night. Pat came in and said “Hey,” then he turns around and moons me.

BRIAN BELL: On that first tour before we made the videos, like 10 people would show up in a 3,000 seat place or something, we go to Berkeley Square and it’s just zero paying people or playing after the movie Rollerball in Portland and hardly anyone stuck around. And then we made the videos.

KARL KOCH: There were no videos when the album was released, there wasn’t even a single. It was really hard to get Geffen to spend a dollar without seeing some potential and the potential came when Undone started getting played on the radio in Seattle, 107.7 The End. And then modern rock stations all over started following suit and Geffen was like, ‘OK, we need to make a video.’

MATT SHARP: Spike Jonze was a friend of ours from way back. I remember telling Spike we just want to do a straight performance video, but in a blue room, like the cover of the album. That was not his thing. He took a minute to think about it and called me back and saying ‘OK, a straight performance video in a blue room, but with dogs.’

KARL KOCH: We couldn’t get the dogs to do what we wanted them to do. I mean it was a big room with loud music blaring so it was hard to get them to hit their marks, and you had like 15 different trainers trying to tell their dog which way to go. At one point one of the dogs came over and crapped on Pat’s drum pedal. At that point we realized this was ridiculous and we should just let everyone do whatever the fuck they wanted, dogs included, and it will be fun.

PAT WILSON: He came to us with this idea of using a Steadicam but he used this weird trick where guys in the beginning are hanging upside down on gravity boots, but the Steadicam is also upside down. So you walk in, and they look normal. And then you walk through the door, and the steady cam slowly flips, and we’re like, ‘How did that happen?’ He’s always been thinking of clever things like that. It’s so cool to see him become an iconic director.

KARL KOCH: Spike came to us with the Happy Days idea for “Buddy Holly,” and everyone but Rivers said ‘Hell yeah.’ He was worried that people would think we were a joke band.

MATT SHARP: The thing that I remember the most about the “Buddy Holly” video was they had trouble getting all the Happy Days actors to sign off on letting us use their image in the footage we used. So we had to get Joanie’s release and Potsie’s release etc. They were apprehensive at first, but when The Fonz said ‘I’m in’ everyone else said, ‘If the Fonz says it cool, it’s cool.”

PAT WILSON: The best thing about that video is that there’s no CGI going on. It’s all just clever camera work. And clever editing. I get to the point at the Fonz and he goes ‘Ayyy.’ I mean, come on. I loved Happy Days as a kid. It doesn’t get any cooler than that.

KARL KOCH: Geffen never told us [they had negotiated a deal with Microsoft that would have the “Buddy Holly” video included with Windows 95] and nobody in the band even had a computer at that so we had no idea how big a deal that was.

PAT WILSON: I was furious because at the time I was like, ‘How are they allowed to do this without our permission?’ Turns out it was one of the greatest things that could have happened to us. Can you imagine that happening today? It’s like, there’s one video on You Tube, and it’s your video.

BRIAN BELL: It was literally like living inside the eye of the hurricane. People were telling me, ‘You don’t know how big this is, you’re on Windows 95.’ I didn’t have a computer, I didn’t know what that meant, so I never really got a grasp of how big we were becoming.

PAT WILSON: The first time I realized we were blowing up was after a show in Philadelphia and mob of kids were rocking our tour bus while we were in it. The was the first time in Philadelphia I was like, ‘Holy fuck, what’s going on?!?

MATT SHARP: There were definitely moments of ridiculousness, where I just said ‘OK, life is silly.’

RIVERS CUOMO: I was so disappointed in so many ways with success, which I think is kind of a common thing for bands of our generation. You try so hard to make it, and then you make it, and you’re disappointed. No one really cared who wrote the songs, or even who was singing them. So I felt very unappreciated. I remember riding the bus in Boston, I saw a kid wearing a Weezer shirt on the bus. And he just walked right past me.

BRIAN BELL: Fame is never how you imagined it would be. It was disillusioning. I didn’t like being recognized. I remember the first time when we were on that Lush tour and we saw kids running toward us that were like ‘Holy shit, run!’ and Rivers said to me something like, ‘Being famous sucks.’ MORE


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