As Rivers Cuomo began writing his latest batch of Weezer songs, his producer, Jake Sinclair, asked what it would take to get back into the mindset that produced the band's classic first two albums. "I need to get out of the house," Cuomo replied. He ended up doing way more. He grew back the beard he wore when the band recorded 1996's Pinkerton. He started watching young surfers at Venice Beach in hopes of finding lyrical inspiration. He even signed up for Tinder – for purely platonic purposes. "My wife's cool with it," Cuomo says with a shrug.
The result is the band's fourth self-titled LP, destined to be known as the "White Album," thanks to a cover image that shows the band near a lifeguard tower on a white beach. The imagery mirrors the sound and lyrics of summery album tracks like "L.A. Girlz," "Wind in Our Sail" and "Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori." "There's so many freaky people at Santa Monica and Venice Beach, and I wanted to capture as much of that as I could," says Cuomo. "Of course, there's always the uplifting, sing-along melodies and the crunchy guitars."
Cuomo and his producer went through a backlog of 250 songs, but only one, "California Kids," made the album. The 30-year-old Sinclair, determined to return Weezer to their Nineties glory, thought they needed to push harder. "Sonically, I wanted the record to have all the brashness and unpredictability of Pinkerton with the summer Beach Boys grunge pop of the Blue Album," says Sinclair. "When I first met Rivers I told him that I knew the Weezer playbook better than anybody. I also said, 'I know what the kids like, so there may be a way to have a win for everybody.'"
The disc comes just 16 months after Weezer's last LP, Everything Will Be Alright in the End, which reunited them with Blue Album producer Ric Ocasek and earned them their best reviews in years. "It was bizarre to have the critics actually dig what we're doing," says Cuomo. "A pleasurable kind of bizarre. I feel like we're on a trajectory and the critics are on this other trajectory and random times they just kind of line up."
Sinclair is such a Weezer fanatic that used to front a Weezer cover band called Wannabeezer, and as a kid in Boise, Idaho, slept in a tent at the front step of a record store in order to score tickets to a show on their 2000 comeback tour. He followed their career all through the ups and downs of the past 16 years, even through colossal missteps like their 2009 Lil Wayne collaboration "Can't Stop Partying." "I think they got confused," he says, diplomatically. "It's hard not to when you're in a band that long with rotating members. I can't imagine that losing [original bassist] Matt Sharp was an easy thing."
Early in the process of creating the the White Album, Cuomo watched Sinclair use Tinder to meet women and became fascinated by the concept. He set up his own profile. "My description says, 'Not looking to hook up, just trying to have new experiences and get some ideas for songs,'" says Cuomo. He began using it to alleviate boredom on tour, meeting men and women alike. "I'm not superexcited to talk to people who know that I'm in Weezer," he says. "It's more exciting when I find people that are interested in me as a person. When I'm in a city I'm not totally familiar with, I can meet someone on Tinder and they can take me around."
"I knew there was zero chance of him hooking up with anybody," says Sinclair. "But he started constantly getting out of the house and writing down all the details of what happened to him." (Annotating his lyrics on the website Genius, Cuomo acknowledged Tinder's sexual side. "I'm so jealous of the hooker-uppers," he wrote. "Seems like it's so easy to get laid now all these good looking atheletic young guys r getting so much free sex it kills me.")
The three other members of Weezer – drummer Pat Wilson, guitarist Brian Bell and bassist Scott Shriner – also played key roles in the creation of the album. "Pat is the sonic gatekeeper of the band and his drumming is a huge part of why I love Pinkerton," says Sinclair. "It's a natural first or second take drumming style, and I wanted to capture that as much as possible. Brian brings a Kinks-meets-Pavement coolness, which was another part of Pinkerton."
Sinclair worked especially hard with Shriner, who joined the group in 2002. "I wanted to give him a unique voice because I feel like a lot of Weezer fans are always going to be like, 'He's not Matt Sharp,'" he says. "I wanted to give him a stronger voice as a bass player. I had him spend time with Pet Sounds and really learn all the lyrical, beautiful bass parts that album has."
The group got so into the 1990s spirit that the guitar solo on "Do You Wanna Get High?" sounds almost identical to the one on the Pinkerton classic "Pink Triangle." "Honestly, that's just a live take," says Cuomo. "There was no thought process. We're the same guys playing the same instruments in the same kind of studio in the same city. It's not surprising we get a similar result."
Weezer is going to take the album on the summer amphitheater tour this summer with Panic! At the Disco, who are on the comeback trail themselves this year. Weezer are going to close out every night with a set packed with new tracks and many of the classics. The group has played its 1994 breakthrough hit "Buddy Holly" nearly 1,000 times by this point, but Cuomo says he hasn't grown tired of it." "I'm not going to sit in a room by myself and play 'Buddy Holly,'" he says. "When you're coming up at the end of a set and there's all those people freaking out and they want to hear 'Buddy Holly,' it's a super joy to play it and get that reaction."
The group has been around so long that they're actually just three years away from being eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. An induction ceremony would be a rare opportunity for them to reunite with Matt Sharp, who continues to tour and record with the Rentals, though Cuomo says he's given the matter no thought. "I've never really followed that whole scene and I never really identified with rock & roll," he says. "When I was a kid I was into metal, and rock & roll was kind of old-fashioned. I was into Metallica, Slayer and Yngwie Malmsteen, but rock & roll? That's, like, Chuck Berry or something. No offense."
Is it unfair then to call Weezer a rock band? "Well, rock – that's totally different," he says. "If we're talking about the Rock Hall of Fame, I'll be there."
Cuomo hopes to keep Weezer until he's 60, after which he plans to retire and "try other things." "When I was a senior in high school, one of our assignments was to lay out our life plan," he recalls. "I said I would be a rock star until I was 40, then a classical composer, and then novelist. I was going to commit suicide at age 60, like Maude from Harold and Maude. My psychology teacher said, 'When you get to be that age, you might change your mind.'" And has he? "Oh, yeah."