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Rivers Cuomo Looks Back at 'Pinkerton'

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What gave you the idea to partially base it around Madame Butterfly?

Um... [Five-second pause] Um... [Five-second pause] It's the coolest and weirdest thing how artistic allusions or references-I'm not sure how they originate, but I know I was listening to a lot of Puccini from the end of 1994, and I got more and more into it. I really felt like this is a guy who shared the same musical values as me and maybe some of the same abilities, although he's on a whole other level. I felt like he maybe I could have been him in a previous life.

So I was listening to more and more of his operas, then I think in the beginning, in 1995, I started to get into Madame Butterfly, and I became so fascinated with that character, Madame Butterfly and... At the same time, I... I started becoming infatuated with that kind of girl that's singing in that opera I just saw how the events of my life were unfolding and how they paralleled some of what was happening in that opera. I was like this Pinkerton character. He's this American sailor that tours around the world and stops in a port in some exotic foreign country... and tries to find a temporary girlfriend and then gets back on his ship and heads to the next town, and it just occurred to me, like, "Wow, isn't that the rockstar dream right there?" By tying my work to Puccini's work, it just enriched the whole thing and tied it to tradition.

I would like to read you a quote you said about Pinkerton in 2001. "The most painful thing in my life these days is the cult around Pinkerton. 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."

Well, um... well I was really, really hurt around that time when the Green Album came out, because um, [10-second pause] because, it seemed like a lot of the critics were saying the Green Album was a disappointing follow-up to Pinkerton. I had just worked so freaking hard [laughs], and put so much into it, the Green Album it just was so crushing. I said a few unwise things in my, in my moment of my most extreme moments of pain.

Can you explain to me what Matt Sharp's role was in the making of Pinkerton?

It's hard because 99 percent of the making of Pinkerton was me in that house in Cambridge all by myself. And then, the recording was done very quickly. [14-second pause] He did go to London, uh, to work on his second record and at that point [15-second pause] Brian and I took it from there. I remember just being in there by myself for, hour after hour, until two in the morning, and then walking home by myself and feeling pretty on my own for extended periods of time.

Are you looking forward to playing it straight through next month?

I've heard from other artists that have played their albums in sequence in concert that it's not as exciting as you might think. We're gonna be doing a lot of rehearsing and doing everything we can to make it an exciting event. Our first two records feel like classic rock records now, especially for this generation. I think these show are going to be very powerful.

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Song Stories

“Bizness”

Tune-Yards | 2011

The opening track to Merrill Garbus’ second album under the Tune-Yards banner (she also plays in the trio Sister Suvi), “Bizness” is a song about relationships that is as colorful as the face paint favored by Garbus both live and in her videos. Disjointed funk bass, skittering African beats, diced-and-sliced horns and Garbus’ dynamic voice, which ranges from playful coos to throat-shredding howls, make “Bizness” reminiscent of another creative medium. “I'd like for them not to be songs as much as quilts or collages or something,” Garbus said.

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