Weezer On 'Maladroit'

Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo is on the phone from Los Angeles, listing the positive results of both a recent spat with the band's label, Geffen/Interscope-concerning the forthcoming "Maladroit" (due M

Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo is on the phone from Los Angeles, listing the positive results of both a recent spat with the band's label, Geffen/Interscope-concerning the forthcoming "Maladroit" (due May 14) -- and the group's decision last year to cut loose its manager, when a call comes in on another phone.

"Wait, here's the record company now," says Cuomo, who has managed the band himself for roughly a year, stopping mid-sentence to put his phone's receiver to the speaker of his answering machine, on which a top Interscope exec is leaving a private message.

"That's what call screening is for," Cuomo says afterward, sounding equal parts annoyed and amused. "It's endless! Delete!"

With a journalist on the phone, Cuomo knows he's being somewhat naughty -- and that's probably why he's having such fun. "I give 'em s*** all the time. They have no idea how to deal with me," he says of Geffen and Interscope staffers before getting serious for a moment. "I don't want to be difficult, I just have to protect my band and our creative selves. The industry is geared toward exploiting our creative resources and laying them to waste, and I have to protect them. And so I get a reputation as being difficult. But if you're willing to help us and nurture us, I'm not difficult at all."

Considering that the L.A. group has rarely stuck to beaten paths -- be they musical or professional -- it somehow seems strangely perfect that 31-year-old Cuomo is not only the frontman of and the main creative force behind Weezer but also now the guardian of the band and its music.

Several months ago Cuomo, anxious for fans to hear the band's new material to personally send a disc carrying eight of the 13 songs on "Maladroit" to key radio and press outlets. This was unbeknown to the powers that be at Geffen/Interscope, who only learned of the mailing after such stations as L.A.'s KROQ began playing "Dope Nose," the hooky first track on the sampler.

After some contentious conversations with key label execs, Cuomo sent another letter -- and a different version of the sampler -- asking folks to hold off playing the material on the air. Yet by the time the second mailing reached radio, "Dope Nose" was already a hit on some stations. The single peaked last week at No. 8 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart.

Although Geffen president Jordan Schur denies this, Cuomo says that his mailings forced the label into releasing "Maladroit" sooner than it had planned. "I knew they were not going to let us put it out when we wanted to, and I had to force the issue," he says. "They realized that the single already had so much momentum that to stop it would basically be to kill the song, kill the album, and there wouldn't be a second chance."

But even before the mailing, Cuomo was posting both old and new demos for free download on weezer.com, as well as making all the new album's tracks -- but only a few in finished form -- available on the site. The singer says his actions were meant less to create tension between he and the label than to get the music to the fans: "I'm looking for instant approval from the fans. That's why I put up our songs almost as soon as they're finished being written."

By bucking the system, Weezer has ended up on better ground with Geffen/Interscope. After a few angry phone calls and no doubt many deep breaths, the mailings caused the singer and the label to sit down and hammer out an agreement that ultimately promises the band more control over how and when the group's albums are released and promoted.

If he had his way, Cuomo would tour, record, and post his songs on the Web for free and continue sending albums to press and radio himself. Despite all this, though, he admits that, at the moment, he "couldn't be happier with Interscope, ironically," especially with his improved relationship with Schur.

"These are really crazy times, no one knows what the hell's going on in the industry or what's around the corner," he says. "So I think Weezer's like a little experiment for them. Like, 'Let's see if this guy can figure out what's going on.' I end up trusting them even more -- because I know that, at the end of the day, I have the power to make the decision either way. So I'm more likely to listen to what they have to say. And they are very smart guys, and I totally respect them."

Since parting ways with past manager Pat Magnarella, the band has, as Cuomo puts it, "cut out the business and promotional side of being a musician and focused more on just playing. What we've found is, if left to our own devices, we kind of stop doing a lot of things that bands are supposed to do [these days]. So things have gotten much simpler."

Guitarist Brian Bell says, "Nothing has really changed as far as the amount of work that's been coming in. We may even be getting more, just because of how much we've been in the public eye in the past year. But one thing that has changed within the band is that because we feel more mature and more responsible of what the future holds for us, it's kind of reassuring. Who would have better interest in us than Rivers? No one."

Weezer is currently on a schedule that sees it switching from the road to the studio and vice versa every three weeks -- which helps keep things fresh while affording opportunities to try out songs-in-progress on live audiences. As a result of this cycle, the band has already begun recording the follow-up to "Maladroit," which Cuomo says is slated for a February 2003 release.

Partially as a result of his decision to self-manage Weezer, Cuomo says he's fallen deep into the songwriting zone, doubting himself less and trusting the muse more often. As a result, he's no longer afraid to wear his love for '80s metal on his sleeve. Bell says, "Rivers has just unleashed the shredding beast in himself."

"It's been there all along, and I've had to consciously repress it on our first three records," Cuomo says with a laugh. "I had to force myself not to bust out with Scorpions riffs. And, at this point in my life, I really don't want to force anything anymore. I just wanna let it all hang out. So, on ["Maladroit"], it all just came pouring out."

As it continues to peel away inhibitions, the band is getting closer to cutting a classic album, Bell says. "It's coming up. It might be the one we're working on."

Simultaneously, Cuomo says the band is "evolving toward a style that encompasses everything I love, which includes pop and metal, alternative, rap, goth, emo [laughs]. We're gonna have the mother of all styles."

Excerpted from the May 11, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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