Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo
By Rivers Cuomo | 13 February 2008
For Weezer’s sixth album, I was feeling extremely adventurous again. I wrote an epic, six-minute, symphonic type of art song called “Daydreamer.” After I wrote the song, though, I reversed myself again, deciding to write a straight-ahead, nothing-fancy, middle-of-the-road, urban pop type of song. I took the chords from a Mario hit, fired up the drum machine and the synth pads, and wrote “This is the Way.”
Sometime between writing these two songs, I realized that one of them wouldn’t work. Which one, I’m still not sure: I think I might ask Rick [Rubin]. He’s the most extraordinary producer. He has these big beardy jowls because of all the producing he does. At the same time, though, he’s a huge Danzig fan and has a caustic wit.
Everyone around us was saying “‘This is the Way’ is the bomb—you should really do that song.” Scott [Shriner], in particular was like, “I want to sing that song. I can own it.” Even with all the professional respect I have for Scott (he’s been the best, really) I just sort of felt that an urban type pop song wasn’t where I wanted to be. I mean, I’m a married man now. Last year I graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard. In any case, Weezer has already conquered that territory—multiple times, and with other bassists—in the guise of “Hash Pipe,” “El Scorcho” and “We Are All On Drugs.” It was time to move on. I’ve resolved to do this pretty regularly from now on.
But who knows. Maybe “This is the Way” will end up on Weezer album number seven. We’ll see. Thankfully, I have a way to get the song out now, here on my new demo compilation, Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo.
I’ve always been a big fan of honesty, in general. Did everyone else’s mom tell them the honesty story? Honesty is the best policy. In my case, the policy is records because I’m a rock star—but still honest. So my band’s first album got called Weezer because Weezer is the name of my band. A couple of years later Weezer made another album, and we called that Weezer too. Both albums went multi-platinum and made a lot of ugly people really happy. The three times I haven’t called my album Weezer, things haven’t worked out so well, which I take as a sign. My demo recordings were made, for the most part, in solitude. It only made sense, then, that I should call this new collection Alone.
I’ve always loved these recordings for what they are—the fun and creative sounds someone makes when they think they’re alone. Of course, I’ve never been totally alone (for the past twenty months, in fact, I’ve been happily married) and with a lot of these tracks you can hear the sounds of other people too—people who, perhaps, were also famous rock stars and also thought they were alone. They were wrong to think that. I was never truly “alone”: we were always together.
To make this clear I’ve included a 36 second track called “I Wish You Had An Axe Guitar.” I called it that because it’s what I say on the track. It’s a tape of Justin, Eric and me at a rehearsal of our first band, Fury. These days you might call it a “field recording.” There are also a lot of contemporary bands now—like the Killers and maybe Jatsun—who would sample and loop this ironically and maybe come out with a hit song. But I’m an honest person, so I’ve decided to keep it simple.
I’d like to add, also, that my cover of Ice Cube’s “The Bomb” is definitely not ironic. Any attempt by any white musician to play anything remotely “black” or funky has always struck me, with my ultra-refined sensibility, as “bad-style.” White people shouldn’t try to be funky is the common belief, I think. I mean, just look at my contemporary Michael Jackson. He sold many records when he was black and funky but now he’s white (why did he turn white?) and has no wife. This is obviously a complex situation, but I still think the general rule stands: White people shouldn’t try to be funky.
But I love rap music. And because I love rap music, I recorded this cover of one of Ice Cube’s songs. I really had no idea how to sing it, but the sentiment stuck. The way Ice, for instance, feels about black women is the way I’ve always felt about Asian girls since I was very young—with a passion. It’s also awesome when he says “You gotta watch the ones with the big derrieres,” because the French lands in the backside of the line. (You might even say that it’s “bottom-heavy!”) I love Ice Cube: he’s so vulnerable. That kind of vulnerability intrigues me. It’s a very powerful feeling.
Over a decade ago, I set about exploring and expressing those feelings in a rock musical called Songs from the Black Hole. I poured my heart into the songs—some of which had many characters, but really all the emotions were mine: the incredible love I would feel for humankind if the world could accept me and love me as I was. I made sure that “Blast Off” was super-catchy and even included some female characters (to be voiced by me) for posterity. It was a very good concept, but it morphed, eventually, into Weezer’s second album Pinkerton, which maintained an emphasis on personal, dramatic narrative and symphonic development, along the lines of Puccini. Rolling Stone recently called that album a “masterpiece,” but I don’t talk about it much. It was a very difficult album to make but I would move on, anyway, to Romantic-Minimalism (“Lover in the Snow”) and more traditional pop forms used by famous songwriters like the Beatles (“Crazy One”).
Alone has been an amazingly cool and creative project to work on. I bought my first home recording unit (a Tascam 688) in Christmas 1990 and began a steady stream of demo-making that has continued in various forms, on various machines, and in various locations around the world, until the present time and place, where I make demos on the Dell laptop computer upon which I am now writing. In this respect (demo-making), I have never been “alone.” Many famous and fortunate rock stars have made demos. I’d like to offer my thanks to Pete Townshend for paving the way with his Scoop series.
Listening to this now, I hear a wonderful journey of thought and feeling and I realise that I’m simply stoked to be on this ship we call Weezer, playing and partying and bound to return as heroes, or with another really cool pop record. I know some people didn’t like Make Believe (2005), and for a long time I thought they were wrong about that (the “not liking it”). But it’s cool, I’m married and I’ve moved on and I can see now—really clearly—that most people don’t care about the art at all: they just want another Weezer rock single. They can have it their way: I’m just sort of honoured to be faced with the challenge.