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Weezer: Out of the Garage

An excerpt from the book "Rivers' Edge: The Weezer Story"

December 13, 2004 12:00 AM ET
With Geffen's backing, Weezer started practicing beyond the confines of their garage in July and August 1993 on new equipment in the professional facility known as Cole Rehearsals in Hollywood. Running through long-time staples like "My Name Is Jonas" and "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here," plus newer tunes like "Buddy Holly," "Surf Wax America," and the freshly penned "In the Garage," the group was prepping for forthcoming studio sessions, slated to begin in late August in New York City. The band began to focus on their vocal interplay, practicing barbershop quartet-styled songs that helped Rivers and Matt achieve a newfound collaborative comfort during rehearsals.

Sharp, who said he never sang before he joined Weezer, got his falsetto background vocals in check to memorably augment future hits like "Say It Ain't So" and "Buddy Holly." "The trick was that I had to sing an octave higher than Rivers. After a lot of practice, I started to get it down."

After toying with the notion of self-producing their major-label debut -- which Geffen suits outright objected to -- the band selected Ric Ocasek, former frontman for the multi-platinum rock outfit the Cars. According to Rivers, "The record company was really pushing us to work with a producer, so we figured that if we had to have somebody in the studio with us, it might as well just be someone who writes good songs -- and the Cars' first record just rules. We sent Ric a tape and he called right back and said, 'You guys are great. I want to work with you.'"

"A day later, two days later, the record company called us up and said Ric's coming to your rehearsal today," Sharp recollected. "We were just like, 'Yeah, right, he's coming to our rehearsal.' But that day Pat saw him in a guitar store and he goes, 'Oh my god, maybe he is coming.' So he came to our rehearsal and hung out, and we were all pretty nervous. We'd never really dealt with anybody outside of the band at all."

"I got their demo from Todd Sullivan," Ocasek said over the phone in July 2003. "I had been in L.A. working on another production -- I think the Bad Brains' second album for Maverick -- when he handed it to me. And I remember putting it on in the car and I was driving around and I just flipped out. I just said, 'God these songs are so great.' But I didn't know what the band looked like or anything. I actually thought they were a heavy metal band, because the guitars were kind of heavy on the demo, and the guitars were nice and muddy. I couldn't pinpoint what they were like image-wise. I thought they'd probably be a long-haired band, but at the same time, the lyrics were kind of too intelligent for that. But I really just didn't have a clue. And then I went to a rehearsal while I was in Los Angeles and I was blown away. They were kind of shy but I just loved what they were doing. Once I learned of Rivers' history with heavy metal it made perfect sense. It didn't have metal riffs, but they had real power. And at the time that kind of approach wasn't really available."

During one practice, on August 6th, the band even finalized a cover of the Cars' 1978 smash single "Just What I Needed" in homage to their new producer. A few days later, Rivers, Pat, Matt and Jason flew to New York City to rehearse in the presence of Ocasek at Manhattan's S.I.R. Studios. Here, Ric -- with his assistant Haig and the project's engineer Chris Shaw in tow -- recorded Weezer on a 12-track machine to, as Karl Koch described, "get a feel for the sound of the group and try to narrow down the song selection for recording the album."

"I had them in pre-production for at least a week, trimming it down," Ocasek recollected. "I wanted it to be a concise record that had a focal point. In pre-production they did Cars songs, which I thought was pretty cute."

"When we first met Ric, we were so freaked out by everything," remembered Matt Sharp. "We'd never met anyone famous. We were like, 'Oh my god, what's happening?' It was very hard to look at anybody eye-to-eye. But we milked him for all the Cars stories we could because we were all Cars fans." Cars albums released between 1978 and the band's demise in 1987 have sold a phenomenal 23 million copies so far in the United States alone, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

"I'd always admired the Cars and Ric Ocasek's songwriting and production skills," enthused Rivers. "I wasn't worried about him handling the band's heavier side. He'd produced Bad Brains and they're a lot heavier than us."

"We picked him . . . scratch that. I picked him because I liked and respected his songwriting," Rivers later said of Ocasek. "What we learned from him is actually kind of boring and technical. Before we met him, we always had our guitars on the rhythm pickup, which has a bassy, dull sound to it. That was the sound we liked at the time. But he convinced us to switch to the lead pickup, which is much brighter. I think when I wrote those songs originally, I was just sitting in the garage by myself and it sounded great when you're all by yourself, because it sounds heavy and bassy. But in the context of the full band, playing at Club Dump, that pickup just sounds really . . . dull. And he got us to brighten it up. It made a huge difference, I think, in the way we sound."

At Ocasek's urging, the band left the comforts of Los Angeles to record in New York City. "[Ric] was saying your first record should be an experience," Sharp said. "You should get away from L.A. and get away from all these people and really just get into the making of a record. His wife [model Paulina Porizkova] was in New York, and she was pregnant, so he couldn't leave so he said, 'Let's go to New York.'"

Fifteen songs were tracked during Weezer's first New York practice session, but four songs -- "Lullaby for Wayne," "Getting Up and Leaving," "I Swear It's True," and an alternate version of "In the Garage" -- were eliminated as contenders for Weezer. A fifth tune from this session, "Mykel & Carli," would be attempted but abandoned only to be recorded the following year when it was relegated to B-side status. For the album, Ocasek and the band came to agreement on ten songs. They were: "My Name Is Jonas," "No One Else," "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here," "Buddy Holly," "Undone -- The Sweater Song," "Surf Wax America," "Say It Ain't So," "In the Garage," "Holiday" and "Only in Dreams."

The actual recording of Weezer's debut got underway at Electric Lady Studios in late August 1993. While in New York, the band stayed on the ninth floor of the Gramercy Hotel on Gramercy Park and as they put work to tape, the "tracking roughs" (or immediate results of their efforts) were put on cassettes for listening and scrutiny at the end of each day.

"The plan was to do a quick record over the span of just three weeks or something," said Ocasek. "The real fun came when we started to record at Electric Lady. That's where the personalities developed and I got to see just how artistic Rivers really was. A lot of times we had little talks about which songs we should do. I remember at one point he was hesitant to do 'Buddy Holly' and I was like, 'Rivers, we can talk about it. Do it anyway, and if you don't like it when it's done, we won't use it. But I think you should try. You did write it and it is a great song.' He was up for doing almost anything. I had a good relationship with him, because I wouldn't make him do anything he didn't want to do. I was just sort of there to guide him."

In the midst of all of this, Jason Cropper received some deeply personal news that not only caused anxiety for him, but for everyone in the band. What transpired was never made clear, but by the first week of September, Cropper was "asked to leave" Weezer. When pressed on the issue, Koch digressed, "due to the expressed wishes of privacy on everyone's behalf."

Some speculate that Cropper was forced out of Weezer by Rivers, Matt and Pat when they learned from Jason that his girlfriend and future wife Amy had become pregnant. But if the three were taking the position that they had real concerns about Jason's newfound family responsibilities detracting from his role in the band, the need for a confidentiality agreement well before Weezer had ever achieved stardom -- and which the guitarist was required to sign upon his departure -- is, depending on how you look at it, either deeply puzzling or remarkably clever.

Cropper said he is contractually forbidden to talk about his time in Weezer, even though he would like to. "My exit contract with them was pretty strict," Cropper said a decade after the separation. "I don't remember the exact language, but I don't want to make myself liable. If it matters, at this point I have nothing but the fondest of memories of my time in Weezer. I would never say anything disparaging."

In a 1999 Internet interview with O Flageul he reportedly stated, "It was always very difficult to work with those guys. They're very particular. It was very stressful and I was glad when it was over -- it was a relief." When asked if these acrimonious comments were true, Cropper simply said, "There's some funny stuff online." So what about this text from the same interview:

"[Weezer] paid me for what I did on that record just like if I was in the band. And on top of that, I didn't have to hang out with those guys anymore and we weren't really friends anymore when I left the band. So, I could stay and be with a bunch of guys that I hated, or go out on my own and do my own thing and still make the money. So I don't regret [the split] at all. I mean maybe a little bit in that I could have, you know, been a bigger rock star or something, but you know, I've got to be with my family."

Or this comment he made about sustaining a friendship with Rivers Cuomo:

"I don't know if anyone is [friends with him]. I mean, he's not an easy person to be friends with. He's extremely talented and he makes great records and he writes great songs, but things like friendships or whatever just get in the way with him in making records and making songs. He's a professional, and it was a business relationship. It wasn't a friendship. And that's the funny thing about being in bands -- a lot of times you're in bands with people who you're friends, a lot of times you're in bands with people where it's just for business and with him it was business."

Cropper only spoke to the second statement. "It's hard to be friends with someone who is so intellectually stimulated," he said of Rivers. "The guy is really creative. He's an artist and he's following that path really intensely. Could you imagine being best friends with Van Gogh or Mozart or somebody like that? It's just probably not possible to share a one-on-one, 'Hey buddy!' relationship for a long time. Especially if you're working for, or with, the guy; whatever you want to call it. The guy's a genius. When you meet him, talk to him, or you read his personal writing, it's just mind-blowing what the guy can do with the written word. He'd be a great author someday."

When probed as to whether he opted out of the band or was forced out during the Electric Lady sessions, Cropper asked inquisitively, "Has Rivers ever said anything about that?" Then, after pausing for a moment, said, "Whatever Rivers says on my exit from the band, that's what the word is."

After laughing at the absurdity of what he just said, Jason became serious. "Rivers makes his living in the public eye and if he does well it benefits me," said Jason, who still earns royalties from the band, and is concerned about breaching his confidentiality agreement with Cuomo, which governs his public relationship with the group. "So, I only want the best for the guy." Cropper went on to have three children with Amy. He fronted the band Chopper One for the release of 1997's Now Playing on Restless Records before retiring from performing to run a vintage music gear rental company based out of Southern California's world-class Ocean Way Studios.

So, what really went down? Rewind to September 1993 as producer Ocasek remembered the whole ordeal a little differently. "They weren't like a happy-go-lucky band anyway," said Ocasek, who has gone on to man the boards for the likes of No Doubt, Guided By Voices, and Bad Religion. "In the middle of that record he fired the guitar player," Ric divulged. "He called me when the record was finished, the day before we were supposed to start mixing, and said, 'Listen, I just fired the guitar player.' So I said, 'What are you gonna do now?' He's like, 'I want all of his parts off the record.'"

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