Rivers Cuomo Is Trying to Be All Right
Rivers Cuomo has gone quiet. After eight months of work at the Village, a Santa Monica studio, Weezer have reached the last day of recording for their first album in four years. They could use a comeback: Their two previous LPs, 2009’s Raditude and 2010’s Hurley, were perhaps the least-loved records of their 20-year career. As the deadline approaches, Cuomo seems lost in thought, his face mostly expressionless as he plays the same guitar parts dozens of times in a row.
At one point, he takes over a basic task from an engineer. (“How do you loop?” he asks. “Command-L?”) Every time there’s a break in the action, Cuomo slips off to a small studio lounge, where he consults a Google doc with a hyperspecific outline of everything left to do on this album. Each song has a number, with a long list of lettered tasks under it: Redo this solo, blend that intro better, and on and on.
The rest of Weezer is used to Cuomo’s way of working, but you can hear a hint of exasperation creeping into his bandmates’ voices as the day grinds on. A few minutes ago, deciding that he needed a choir, the 44-year-old frontman put out a call to his 2,500 Facebook friends: “Any women want to sing with Weezer?” Cuomo points to a phone number that bassist Scott Shriner has jotted on a napkin: “Who’s that?”
“Someone who’s not coming,” Shriner says, a little curtly.
“Uh-oh,” Cuomo says, frowning.
“Probably because we didn’t give them any notice,” Shriner adds.
Half an hour later, a makeshift choir has materialized in the wood-paneled room where Steely Dan made Aja. There’s Shriner and guitarist Brian Bell; Cuomo’s wife of eight years, Kyoko; a receptionist from the front desk; two actors who starred as Romeo and Juliet in a local theater production that Cuomo enjoyed; and a couple of vague Facebook acquaintances. Over and over, the group sings a ragged refrain: “Everything will be all right/In the e-e-end. . . .”
Producer Ric Ocasek, who’s been quietly doodling in a little black notebook all afternoon, shoots me a wry grin. “I saw the Mormon Tabernacle Choir once,” he observes. “It was wonderful.”
Cuomo returns to his laptop and the Google doc. After a while, he notices me and looks up. “I get anxious and clingy as we get close to the finish line,” he says a little sheepishly. “I put so much of the deepest part of my soul into this album that it feels like I’m really on the line.”
In the studio lobby, I find Ocasek sitting cross-legged on the floor. “Rivers is a brilliant artist, but he’s pretty eccentric,” he says wearily. “The word for it today would probably be ‘OCD.'”
The day before the choir session, Cuomo is hanging out in the studio’s upstairs auditorium, wearing jeans and a T-shirt with a portrait of Shakespeare and the caption WILL POWER. He’s not as tense today, but even the most basic questions can lead to awkward pauses and painfully slow, measured answers. “I’m often troubled by a very strong instinct to share everything that’s going on with me,” he says. “I want to feel that connection, even with people I don’t know. Then this other voice says, ‘That’s not prudent. People will use what you’ve said to hurt you.'”
Weezer have been a notoriously stressed-out band dating back to the making of their multiplatinum 1994 debut, the Blue Album – also produced by Ocasek, best known at the time as the Cars’ frontman. He remembers a clash between Cuomo and the band’s old guitarist: “After it was completely recorded,” says Ocasek, “Rivers came in and said, ‘I’m firing the guitar player, and I’m going to do all his guitar parts over.’ I said, ‘You can’t do that!’ But he did. In one take.”
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