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Monday, April 7, 2008

Weezer : Interview

Arena-Rock Weezer Style
by Taylor Kingsbury

Okay, I know we live in an enlightened age, and we've created six thousand different subgenres of music, most of which have four hyphens in them. But, just to make it easy on me here, can we all agree up front that Weezer is a "Rock" band, period? Thanks.

Since we're on the same page, I can simply say that Scott Shriner is a great rock bass player, and you'll know exactly what I mean. You've heard his steady bottom end on the last two Weezer records, and chances are you've either seen him thrash around on stage with said band, or you're going to when the band's cross-country jaunt with Foo Fighters brings him to your home town.

If you fall into the latter category, you might want to get to know Scott, since part of their performance involves pulling someone from the audience to play guitar on Weezer's breakout single "Undone". So, if you read this, you may be a little ahead of the game.

"I think we're just trying to bring some kind of element of fun for the fans to be involved in," Shriner explains. "We're just trying to get the crowd more involved in the show and kind of get away from the vibe of us up there doing our thing and you sit there and watch."

"Fun" is a great summation of the Weezer/Foo Fighters tour-or "Foozer", as numerous "clever" journalists have monikered it-which pairs two of rock's most consistently enjoyable and respectably artistic acts in one huge arena-rock spectacle. (I'm sorry about that hyphen, but I was describing the show, not the bands, so I hope we're still on track.) Given Weezer's success, they could have safely led an arena trek of their own, but Shriner says that the band recognizes the benefits of touring with another well-established act.

"I think we're always looking to play in front of as many people as possible that haven't seen us," Shriner elaborates. "I mean, that's great that we can go out and do an arena on our own, and we have, and we will, but it's cool that there's a lot of people that are at our show that wouldn't normally come. It's like doing those festivals in Europe where people aren't really there to see us. But we enjoy the challenge of playing in front of people that wouldn't normally [see us]. There's always a few people...on the front barricade that are just hanging on for dear life until they can see their favorite band, and I totally appreciate that. So, my goal is always to get a couple of those people to smile."

"It's awesome playing with the Foo Fighters," Shriner continues. "They've been super gracious, and their fans are great. They inspire us to really bring our best stuff."

With a band like Weezer, "best stuff" equals big radio hits, but Shriner and the band refuse to make simple set-lists that don't offer anything beyond what casual fans can get off on.

"Hopefully, the tour's going to continue to grow and change as we go through the next month and a half," Shriner reveals. "We're just trying to actually take the best songs that we have and throw in a couple of surprises."

Among those surprises are moments in the show where frontman Rivers Cuomo turns the vocal duties completely over to his bandmates. Shriner has eagerly welcomed the opportunity to lend his pipes to classic Weezer songs.

"It's been really fun," says Shriner. "I think we're all taking turns, kind of trying different songs. For a minute I was singing a song off of Maladroit called "Fall Together", which is one of my favorites off that record. But, a few fans would be into it, and the rest of the room would be like, 'huh?'"

Recent performances have found Shriner belting his rendition of "Blue Album" favorite "In The Garage", which may seem surprising for those who know the undeniably Cuomic descriptions in the song. But Shriner assures that the tune is still a great fit for him.

"I always thought that song was like really personal to Rivers and I couldn't imagine singing it," recalls Shriner. "[But] I think we all have our own version of that. Mine's not particularly Dungeons and Dragons, more Sgt. Rock and monster magazines, but we all have our equivalent of that. So I think I just kind of embraced the story, and it's just a super great, sweet Weezer song, and I was really happy to get a chance to sing it, actually."

Also different on this tour is the band's willingness to tackle other people's material. Weezer have been playing Foo Fighters' "Big Me" during their set, and Shriner says they may have more previously unheard gems in store.

"We'll probably change up and do a couple of cover songs. We're experimenting with doing a couple of Pinkerton songs, or not, and maybe we'll do a couple more songs off Maladroit. We're just trying to find the perfect set, and it's going to take more work."

Part of that work, Shriner reveals, is examining other band's performances; including their co-headliners.

"The Foo Fighters really do a great job of breaking it down, talking to the audience, and making everybody feel into the show. You know, Dave goes out and runs around, and it's really cool. I think we're just looking to other bands that have done really well with including the audience and breaking the barrier between the band and the crowd. We're trying to branch out of our normal thing a little bit. I think when we were doing the Enlightenment Tour on Maladroit, we got a little carried away with the weird little interludes between songs, so we're just trying to bring a little bit of that."

Said tour followed the release of the band's last record, Maladroit, a collection of tunes that was the band's most accomplished and diverse, but yielded puzzled reactions from both fans and critics. For Shriner, the larger response to Maladroit does not diminish his happiness with his first recorded Weezer appearance.

"I think it's rad," Shriner says of Maladroit. "I love that record. It's a little chaotic, and I think Rivers was a bit detached from the actual lyrics he was saying. [But] it's self-produced. We made that record the way we wanted to make it. It was kind of a cool session. We sang all kinds of wild background vocals and got to play some totally different stuff. I'm not disappointed if people are into it or not."

The eccentric (according to Weezer fans) approach to Maladroit has led many to describe their latest record, Make Believe, as a return-to-form. Shriner notes definite distinctions between his band's previous record and their latest. "Make Believe is like totally different to me. It's super thought out and well-restrained, I would say."

Part of that could be attributed to production guru Rick Rubin, who helmed the Make Believe sessions and helped frontman Rivers Cuomo find the wastebasket while he was writing songs. Shriner says that Rubin's approach to the session was unlike anything the band had previously experienced.

"I wasn't in the band when they were working with Ric Ocasek," explains Shriner (who joined the band in 2001 during their "Green Album" tour). "I think, from what I've heard, Ric Ocasek was really into sounds, and guitar sounds, and he was super into the more technical stuff. Also, [he] has such an extensive musical background; he's an amazing musician. But, I think Rick Rubin's not really a musician, so to speak. He's just kind of a super music fan and scientist. I think he really helped clear up a lot of the unnecessary stuff on some of these songs and make it really clear so that more people could understand what Rivers what talking about. I think he's just got a super good pop kind of sensibility and is able to understand what people want to hear."

One of the things the band wanted to hear was louder guitars, which Rubin's technique brought to the forefront.

"It's funny," laughs Shriner. "I actually think we were trying to have bigger guitar sounds on Maldroit, but there was so much racket going on. By Rick Rubin clearing out all the unnecessary stuff, people actually are saying that it sounds heavier and darker."

Rubin's multi-platinum ears were instrumental in the album's creation (he reportedly helped Cuomo whittle down some 200 songs into a much smaller number before the band began working them) and the producer worked with both Weezer, the band, and Weezer, the members, to forge Make Believe.

"He's really into pre-production," describes Shriner. "We did like three weeks of pre-production and he worked with us individually. But, really when it came down to doing takes, he was just trying to get the absolute best kind of drum takes and get the core kind of vibe together, and then let us do overdubs as long as we stayed within the confines of the pre-production stuff that we already agreed on."

For Shriner, keeping up with the seemingly infinite pen of Rivers Cuomo has not proven impossible. "I grew up in Toledo playing in cover bands where we had to learn songs all the time. So I think I grew up learning other people's songs really quick. It got my chops up for Rivers's writing."

This time out, that writing produced "well in excess of 50 songs" that were eventually trimmed down into Make Believe. But, according to Shriner, fans shouldn't expect too many glimpses at the yet-unheard material. Unlike the days before Maldroit, where the band posted new songs on their website on a weekly basis, Shriner assures that the chances of the castaways from Make Believe reaching the ears of Weezer fans are very unlikely.

"That was fun, and who knows what will happen next year, but I think this year, we're pretty much sticking to what we got," reports Shriner. "I think the motto is just to put out the absolute best songs that we can. I think that if those songs were worthy of making a record, they would have made a record."

Indeed, the band has shaped their career with concise, uncluttered albums full of great tunes that don't merely fill in the gaps between their respectable roster of radio hits; in many cases, they eclipse them. This is certainly one thing that accounts for Weezer's amazing mass appeal, which spreads across several generations of music fans. Shriner's assessment of the band's unifying element is about the best summation of Weezer you're liable to hear.

"It's the same thing that captured my attention," remembers Shriner. "The first couple of Weezer songs I heard, like when I heard 'Say It Aint So, it's like, 'cool, I dig this guy, I dig his voice, and it's great'. But when the choruses hit, the guitars got really heavy. It's some really powerful shit, and I think that attracts the metal heads and all the people who are just into melodic rock. There's a little something for everybody. It's just great songwriting, so what's not to like?"

With a venue-filling tour with Foo Fighters already underway, and three singles from Make Believe in heavy rotation on every modern rock station in the world, Weezer are firmly fixed to continue their admirable legacy. Not bad for a plain old "Rock" band, eh?

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