Should you ever need to guess someone's age, try asking that person's opinion of Weezer. For indie music fans who came of age in the '90s — say, just for example, that the raw emotionality of The Blue Album (1994) and its depressive sister Pinkerton (1996) got you through middle school — the answer is bound to be a complex one.
After stealing our adolescent hearts, of course, the band's output since the turn of the millennium has been confusing at best. At worst, well, allow us to direct you to reviews of its last couple of highly manufactured, radio-friendly albums — none of which, interestingly enough, failed to attract a new slew of 12- to 18-year-old fans. For many, though, Everything Will Be Alright in the End, released earlier this month, was a relief, an emergency aid package of a record: With a slew of grownup life events to dissect lyrically and power-pop godfather Ric Ocasek in the producer's seat, a beleaguered Rivers Cuomo almost sounds like he just woke up from a decadelong slumber and remembered his band was really good at making rock music.
Ahead of the band's show at Slim's Nov. 2 — which sold out nearly immediately — we caught up with Cuomo by phone.
SF Weekly: In some of the songs on this record, you seem to be almost apologizing to your hardcore fans for previous albums, and the band recently asked for fan input online as to what the next single off this record should be. It's such a stark contrast to artists who say they can't think about what fans' reactions might be, otherwise they won't be able to write. How would you describe your relationship with your audience?
Rivers Cuomo: I think it's just in my nature that I like to have very close relationships with people. I'm not good at small talk or having casual acquaintances, so I think I wind up having closer relationships with my audience than a normal artist.
A lot of that also came out of the cruise we took in 2011 [“The Weezer Cruise”], when we were locked up with a couple thousand of 'em, the most hardcore of them, for five days. It was a great opportunity to talk a lot and just feel their energy for their band, and realize that they just want us to be ourselves. They want the best for us. Since then I think we've tried to be more in contact online, and also made it a point to meet with fans backstage after the show, get to know them better.
Were you thinking about the potential for more intimate fan interaction when you decided to book your first tour for this record at smaller clubs? We were surprised (and stoked) to hear you'd be playing at Slim's.
Definitely. I think probably next summer we'll do a more old-fashioned gig, a rock tour, but it felt like we should celebrate the release of an album with one of these extremely cathartic, passionate events like those [“Memories” tour] shows, and have it be a small venue where we can literally reach out and touch the audience. Just to have the room be filled with the most passionate fans, who already have the new album, have it memorized, who want to hear the whole album, and are ready to sing along. We've worked really hard for almost four years to make this album, and I think what every artist wants is to be able to share those songs and hear fans singing back, hear that appreciation.
Pretty much every review we've read of this or any other Weezer album since 2000 measures it against your first two, much-beloved albums. Does it drive you insane to have your work constantly compared to what you created when you were younger?
I think this is an amazing record that stands on its own, and shouldn't be compared to any other album. And I think a journalist who gets caught up in comparing one album to another — I don't think those are the people I'm really talking about when I talk about hardcore fans.
Where did the title come from? Who are you reassuring when you say Everything Will Be Alright in the End?
That was an observation I had about my life, but then I wanted to share it with the audience. It was probably a thought I first had while lying in my hospital bed after the [Weezer tour bus] crash in 2009.
This record, with those big earwormy guitar hooks, also rocks harder than your previous few more pop-influenced efforts. What do you make of it being heralded as a “return to form”? Do you think you'll keep moving in this direction as a songwriter?
I think Weezer's always been a very conservative type of artist. Even from our first album, we weren't really doing anything that hadn't been done for 30 or 40 years. Guitars, drums, bass, not a lot of computer manipulation — it's just what we grew up listening to, what we've always listened to. There have been changes in technology, changes in the way music is distributed, but whether or not the album format lasts, this is who we are. It's hard to imagine wanting to be something much different.