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It's hard to imagine an artist who works harder or cares more about what his fans think than Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo. For the past 20-plus years he's been a tireless and meticulous songwriter who maintains incredibly detailed spreadsheets with hundreds of titles for songs that don't yet exist, and lyric fragments organized by word and syllable count. He obsessively studies the intricacies of other well-loved pop songs, cataloging every element, trying to understand why they work and how he can make his own songs better.
With every note Cuomo agonizes over, he's thinking about the complicated relationship he's had with Weezer's fans. For some, the band has never lived up to its 1994 debut release, the self-titled "Blue" album, and that weighs heavily on Cuomo. And even though plenty of critics and fans think Weezer's latest record, the self-titled "White" album is as good as anything the band has done, that hasn't kept Cuomo from fretting over every review.
On this week's show, Rivers Cuomo joins us to share some of the stories behind the band's new record and to play some of the songs by other artists he's loving now, from the propulsive pop of Panic! At The Disco to the dance beats of Gwen Stefani. He also talks about what it's like to reach middle age, have kids and how he stays inspired to write songs that still resonate with young people.
You can hear our entire guest DJ session with Rivers Cuomo with the link above, or read edited highlights below.
"I always feel great about the record — increasingly great about the record — as we get closer to the release. I just feel on cloud nine. Super optimistic and confident. And then it comes out and I'm faced with the reality that it's not perceived as great as it was in my mind. And then I kind of crash for a few weeks, and then pick myself up again and just start working on the next one."
"He's definitely super focused on the old-school Weezer sound from our '90s records. He [was] in a Weezer cover band called Wannabeezer and he played all my parts. So he really knows the subtleties of where I come from. I want to do a lot of crazy, weird new stuff. But we love our fans and we don't want to totally alienate our audience. It's not like we're making a first record. We have this big relationship, this long term relationship going, and we want to evolve and grow in a way that keeps everyone on board to the extent that that's possible. So as it turned out, it was helpful to have somebody who was taking care of that base, who's on that pole, so I could pull as hard as I want in another direction from the other pole and trust that it was going to end up as a pretty balanced record between the classic sound and some new sounds."
"I'm trying to write songs so that I don't even know what they're about, and they're pulled from so many different places that I'm piecing it together to suggest a story that never happened or a person who never existed. It's a mystery to me and I love to contemplate it, but I can't say what it is. But I've always got my eyes open, my ears open. If I see a slogan on a shirt I'll put it in my phone, or if I overhear a cool phrase in a conversation. I read all the time, underlining words, and I put them all in a big list of lines and lyrics and I like to put them together and move them around and jumble them up until it all clicks and I think, 'Whoa! There's this interesting world I've created here.'"
"I think at the root of a lot of what guys do and guys in bands do, the initial spark is about wanting to meet girls. And sometimes that's why you start a band. That's why I've been doing social media stuff. I posted songs to MySpace in the early days and wanting to meet a girl was part of that. But now [I feel like], 'Yeah I want to meet girls, but I also want to write songs, so I have to meet girls.' I think there's always going to be a lot of personal stuff in [Weezer's songs], but at this stage in my life it's not that interesting. People wouldn't be that interested in what's going on in my day-to-day life, whereas in my 20s, it's more like most people in the audience could relate to that. So I still draw on my own life or dreams, but sometimes you have to be more vague or reduce a situation down to a more primal level. At the bottom of a lot of a middle-aged person's emotional reactions, a lot of it is the same stuff driving kids. It's just not appropriate for all audiences if I'm talking about driving kids to school or something. I've written those songs and they don't get very far. The band hears them and says, 'Dude, nobody wants to hear that.'"