To Rivers Cuomo, singer and guitarist for the L.A.-based guitar pop band called Weezer, the glass is half empty.
"I'm a real pessimist," Cuomo says in a dour monotone. "When we put out this record, I thought everyone would completely ignore it."
The four Weezers (Cuomo, bassist Matt Sharp, drummer Patrick Wilson and guitarist/vocalist Brian Bell) seemingly have done everything in their power to make this prediction come true. Their fine first album, cleverly entitled Weezer, features a cover photo Cuomo describes as "just a boring old picture of the four of us standing there like idiots." The band's initial video, for the enjoyable shambles called "Undone--The Sweater Song," consists of a single shot of the musicians lip-synching to the song. And its live performances are, to say the least, unadorned. "We don't have explosions on stage or spit blood or anything like that," Cuomo notes. "We're bland."
This image is not one projected by most signees to the David Geffen Company, the label that released Weezer and currently is more adept than any of its competitors at overpromoting its artists (e.g., Beck). Still, Cuomo is proud of his band's refusal to engage in the hype circus.
"Each of us had a stint doing sales of one kind or another," he says. "The other guys sold tanning lotion and dog shampoo over the phone, and I sold Cutco high-quality kitchen cutlery. They were really expensive knives--the `homemaker' set, which was ten knives, was a little over $600--and they were the best knives in the world, but it sucked selling them. I mean, who needs knives that good? You can just use your mom's knives for free, right? The whole thing was such a disastrous experience that ever since I've been as anti-sales as possible."
Cuomo's attitude would seem to ensure that Weezer's debut would go unheard by anyone other than the bandmembers' immediate families. But the disc is growing in popularity among alternative-music listeners, and "Undone--The Sweater Song" is earning airplay in several major markets across the country. Predictably, Cuomo isn't ready to celebrate the band's success. "You can open Billboard magazine and our name isn't in there anywhere. We've had next to no press," he moans. "Besides you, I mean."
Still, even he concedes that Weezer has come a long way in a very short time. At eighteen Cuomo moved to Los Angeles from the Connecticut of his birth and subsequently hooked up with Sharp, Bell and Wilson--the last two also L.A. immigrants (from Tennessee and Buffalo, New York, respectively). Christened Weezer, the quartet hit the local club scene, playing the city's dankest dives alongside other acts working the so-called underground circuit. "It's just a bunch of bands that don't fit in," Cuomo notes. "So, therefore, we had something in common."
After a year and a half of steady gigging, Weezer was ready for a record deal--but the music industry seemingly wasn't ready for Weezer. Geffen didn't have to win a bidding war for the band's services, Cuomo says; it was the only label actively interested in the group. Potential producers of Weezer's first album displayed a similar lack of enthusiasm. According to Cuomo, "Every producer except one passed on us. That's basically the history of the band--just about everybody passes on us. It's really bad for our self-esteem."
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Just when it seemed that the bandmembers would have to handle production chores themselves, Cuomo listened to a Cars CD and asked Geffen representatives to send a demo tape to Ric Ocasek, the former leader of that defunct Boston band. Ocasek showed up at a Weezer rehearsal a few days later and soon agreed to oversee the recording. The ten songs that emerged from these sessions sport some of the polished sonic whoosh that marked the Cars' hits, but they retain a few rough, spontaneous edges. From the lead-off track, "My Name Is Jonas," to the concluding "Only in Dreams," Weezer's repertoire offers one hook after another, delivered with heaping helpings of energy and sarcasm. Cuomo downplays the music's originality--"It's just the same three chords again," he says--but he's being too modest. Good pop offers its own rewards, and Weezer makes good pop.
That doesn't mean, of course, that Cuomo is satisfied with the album, or with any other aspect of his life. "I wouldn't say that I relax and enjoy anything," he claims. "But I think my pessimism helps. I never really expect anything good to happen, so when it does, it's a nice surprise."
Lush, with Weezer. 8 p.m. Thursday, August 4, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax, $14, 290-