Rivers Cuomo is laughing. Hearing him laugh is strange. This is the man who took the hopes and dreams of a generation of teens, gave them a voice and seemingly made them real. Then he disappeared. The sonofabitch.
Overcome by the following he had inspired with his band’s debut (The Blue Album) and the pressures of being a figure held on an emotional pedestal, he retreated from the limelight and went back to school. Weezer released their definitive album (1996’s Pinkerton). Then went on hiatus to escape again. No one knew if Rivers Cuomo would ever return to Weezer. The sonofabitch.
Then he reappeared; energised and with a new attitude of embracing his inner rock star. It was the opposite of all he’d ever stood for; he’d taken Weezer from the bedroom into stadiums and that generation of Weezer fans either embraced it, or felt that their deep-held love for Weezer had somehow been spurned. And he’s laughing? The sonofabitch.
The past eight years, since Weezer re-emerged with their Green Album and stadium-rock persona, have seen strange up and downs with Weezer’s output. Raditude sees Cuomo and the band trying something new. Collaboration.
After reconnecting with their fans so successfully with their Hootenanny Tour in the USA last year (encouraging fans to bring instruments, with the band writing and performing with the audience) – and the democratic song-writing approach taken on last year’s Red Album having dubious results, the band opted for some fresh faces. As Cuomo explains quietly, “This album picks up and develops the spirit of what we were exploring last year – it was a real creative adventure every day.”
“That was so much fun, I just continued that when I was writing songs for Raditude,” he grins. “I set myself up with some really tough collaborative challenges, and that’s how we ended up with Raditude,” he concludes.
Considering how personal and authoritatively-Cuomo Weezer’s output has been, it seems an odd way to go about things. But mixing it up gave Cuomo a sufficient dose of confidence to push the idea of Weezer and Raditude. As he explains, “My favourite song might be ‘Can’t Stop Partying’ – that I wrote with Jermaine Dupri who’s an r’n’b and hip hop guy. It was interesting and fun to take his ideas and give them some of the energy of Weezer’s rock music and the emotion and darkness I gravitate towards in music,” he chuckles knowingly.
“We mashed it all together and came up with ‘Can’t Stop Partying’; to top it all off we got Lil Wayne to a rap on the song – it was wonderful. I’m a huge fan of his, but when you bring someone else in and they’re going to do their thing, there’s always an amount of trepidation that they’re not going to totally get what you’re trying to do, or what the song’s about, or they’re going to make it over-simplistic. But he totally understood the combination of the party vibe and the dark undertone in that song. That sort of stuff helped me figure out how we should do this record.”
It’s worth noting that, alongside ‘Can’t Stop Partying’, across Raditude Cuomo is still delving into the world of sunny love and darker heartbreak, on top of his usual sly culture-skewering critiques (see: ‘El Scorcho’, ‘Pork & Beans’, ‘Beverly Hills’, ‘Island In The Sun’ or ‘We Are All On Drugs’). Here we have tales of being bummed about driving to work, hanging out in the mall, creepy pop-father figures, awkward teenage courtship and partying on the weekend. It’s a feature that makes Weezer… well, Weezer, and Cuomo is well aware of the idea he’s not stepping too far from familiar territory.
“Yeah,” he figures, “from Weezer’s first album I was really focused on writing classic pop rock type songs – some other bands were trying to be really shocking or really, like, overly original and from day one I wanted to write in the vein of classic pop-rock; like the Beatles or the Beach Boys. And I’ve maintained my love for that.”
“So, still with Raditude a lot of the themes are very classic and universal. The first single,” he continues, “’If You Want Me To’ – it’s got that very nostalgic classic feel to it, like a ‘50s song or a Motown song and, um,” he pauses, searching for words, “it’s obviously a boy-girl song… but at the same time it’s got that Weezer-twist to it….” He lucks onto his point, adding, “You can’t imagine any other band coming up with that song besides Weezer, really. The twists are in the details.
Crucially, that twist has seemingly come from Cuomo – long-time L.A. resident – and his love of metal (before Weezer, Cuomo actually toted long hair and played in bands in the L.A. hair metal scene). “I think that’s exactly correct,” he says excitedly, “and hardly any journalists ever comment on that, but, the truth is, I’m really just a heavy metal musician… that’s how I learnt the instrument and the craft, by playing heavy metal songs. So, I’m a heavy metal musician that one day decided ‘oh, I’m going to get into songwriting, and I really like ‘60s pop, so let’s see what happens when I try to write classic pop songs but play them, basically, like metal’. And that’s how Weezer were formed,” he chuckles quietly. “And I think that’s what separates us from a lot of other indie-pop or indie rock bands – it does have this sort of toughness to it, or a hardness to the guitar sound: that punch,” he emphasises.
With hopes of a long awaited Australian tour still dashed (“We sure hope to get over there, but there’s no plans at the moment; It’s too far! It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just the sad fact that Australia is so far away!”) Raditude still sees Weezer – and Cuomo – trying to create the ideal balance between the stadium and the arena.
Being universal, yet personal is a tough challenge. Yet, how would Cuomo like Weezer to be looked back on? “Um… I just see Weezer as a kickass pop-rock band that sing songs that anyone can get into; whether you’re a little kid or a grandparent – we love to get together with our fans and play loud singalong-type songs.”
What: Raditude is out now through Universal.