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Weezer's Rivers Cuomo Tries Reinvention

Weezer's sixth record (its third to be self-titled) is also known as <em>The Red Album.</em>
Weezer's sixth record (its third to be self-titled) is also known as The Red Album.

The hook-heavy Beverly Hills rock band Weezer has sold 10 million albums since its debut in 1994. Over the years, the group has cultivated a devoted following for its post-grunge, guitar-based power-pop. Despite Weezer's success, the band has still tried to stay low-key. Frontman Rivers Cuomo joined Weekend Edition Saturday's Scott Simon from the Malibu Performing Arts Center studio, where much of Weezer's latest self-titled release — known as The Red Album — was recorded.

Compared to Weezer's previous albums, for which Cuomo was the sole songwriter, The Red Album was far more collaborative. With drummer Patrick Wilson, guitarist Brian Bell and bassist Scott Shriner contributing to the songwriting — as well as singing and even switching up instruments — the band pursued new challenges this time around.

"It's always nice to shake things up and try things you've never tried before," Cuomo says. "That's what it's all about."

Ultimately, he and his band did more than just shake up the way they write songs.

"I love writing songs," Cuomo says. "One of the toughest things is structure; it just works when you use verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge. And as soon as you become aware of that formula, you start to have a bad conscience when you write with that particular structure."

Cuomo says he began to look for and write in new forms for the new album — including the sonata form, best known for its use in classical music. "I figured it's probably not gonna work," he says, "but I'm gonna try it anyway."

The newfound democratic approach to Weezer's songwriting yielded some unexpected results, especially in "Cold Dark World," a song written by bassist Scott Shriner.

"I've written most of the songs for Weezer," Cuomo says, "and I almost never write in a minor key. But Scott is a very minor-key person, so this is a new sound for Weezer. I had been thinking of doing this lyric about love and devotion in a very traditional lyric type of way. But when I combined it with his very dark music, my lyric took on a very sinister tone that I never intended, but we all thought was interesting."

Cuomo says a journalist recently asked him whether Weezer would be able to start over from scratch. "I started thinking about it, and it sounded like a very cool challenge," he says. "I'd love to try it. We can't use, we can't rely on any of our history, any of our fan base; we have to start over with new identities and try to make it all over again."

But Cuomo admits that with so many changes in the industry, he isn't sure how a band can break through in the current climate.

"It's changed a lot in terms of how a band gets off the ground now," he says. "I think a lot of it is through having a MySpace and getting people to view your page and then convincing a record company that that means you can put out an album. I think it's different from when we started out, which was all about just moving to L.A. and playing in these clubs and hoping that someone is out there in the audience that can sign you to their label. Or passing your demo tape around."

In spite of all these changes, Cuomo says he's not worried about trying to keep up as he gets older. "Pork and Beans," he says, isn't about saying that Weezer's members are still cool despite turning 40. It's about not caring if you're cool or not.

"I don't care if you think I'm cool, or if I think I'm cool," he says. "It doesn't matter; I'm still having fun."

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