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Whither Weezer?

Catching up with Rivers Cuomo

by Gary Susman

["Weezer"] Many rock stars, flush with success, buy houses on the West Coast. Not Rivers Cuomo. The singer/songwriter from Weezer (who are playing at the Phoenix/WFNX Best Music Poll concert this Monday) bought a house in West Cambridge. Then again, few rockers are working toward a BA in English at Harvard.

"It's actually kind of cool," he says, referring to Harvard students' blasé attitude toward fellow overachievers. "If I were going to a big state school or something, it would probably make studying more difficult because I would be having too much fun reaping the advantages of being a star."

Of course, with frequent breaks for touring and recording, the 25-year-old Cuomo has been studying for seven years on the Zonker Harris indefinitely-deferred-graduation plan. Hence the off-campus house. "I'm definitely older than everyone else there, and I think it would be kind of strange hanging out with 18-year-olds all the time. I'd probably go crazy."

Like Cuomo, the other members of the quartet had side interests to pursue during the off-season -- namely, their own bands. Bassist Matt Sharp went to London to record with the Rentals. Guitarist Brian Bell returned to Los Angeles to record with the Space Twins. Drummer Pat Wilson played with Friends of P. Cuomo hit the books and the soccer field -- he's a member of a Bay State League team that includes WFNX jock Adrian.

Cuomo dismisses the rumor that the band dissolved, even temporarily, after sales of last fall's sophomore album, Pinkerton (DGC), failed to match those of the band's homonymous double-platinum 1994 debut. "There wasn't some big falling out. This had been the plan all along, to tour in the fall and part in the spring, so we could do all those things. I don't want it to seem like I was running or trying to escape from a bitter defeat. We love touring, and there's still a couple thousand people at every show who really love what we do. It's just that we can't do it year-round."

Cuomo admits that "there's an incredible amount of friction" in the band, "but it's really hard to blame it on any one thing" -- like the fact that he writes all of Weezer's songs. "The whole songwriter issue got resolved a while ago, on the first record. It's an open door for whoever wants to write songs, but they all have their own bands, so when they write a great song, they think, `Why give it to Rivers to sing?' Pinkerton was a very unified record, so it would be bizarre if suddenly there were a Friends of P-type song in the middle of it. Hopefully on the next record it will be mixed up more."

As for Pinkerton's lackluster reception, "I wish it were doing better, but I guess you could always say that. We played for a long time without success before, and we enjoyed it, and we'll do the same now. To me, the anomaly was the success of the first album. That was pretty much a shock. This level of success feels much more understandable to me."

Cuomo theorizes that the band fell behind the times. "It seems like popular taste has left the white-male-playing-electric-guitar genre and moved on to other things, whereas when our first album came out, we were pretty much riding the alternative wave."

Still, he's right on time with the May 20 release of the next single off Pinkerton, "Pink Triangle," about a guy who realizes his crush on a woman is doomed when he sees the gay-rights emblem on her sleeve. "It's so bizarre! The word `lesbian' is popping up everywhere. Hopefully, we can ride the lesbian wave, like we rode the alternative wave."

He says he hasn't seen Chasing Amy or Ellen. "I'm out of touch, as usual. This wasn't anything I anticipated. I was, as usual, just writing about stuff that happens to me. I guess it's happened to a lot of other guys recently." Of the song's real-life subject, he says, "It turns out she's not a lesbian. I still think she's a lesbian and doesn't know it. She's still young."

Cuomo is looking forward to Weezer's performance at the Best Music Poll concert, after which the band will tour America (with No Doubt) and Southeast Asia. "It's the first time we've played together since January, so we'll be busting at the seams. I'll have just finished my last final. It'll be the beginning of a summer-long party for us."

Weezer play the Phoenix/WFNX Best Music Poll Festival on Lansdowne Street, May 19, with Reel Big Fish, Nerf Herder, Guided by Voices, G. Love and Special Sauce, Sloan, Trona, Guster, Gigolo Aunts, the Gravel Pit, Groovasaurus, Bim Skala Bim, Barrence Whitfield, Down Low Connection, Combustible Edison, Four Piece Suit, and Amazing Royal Crowns. It all starts at 6 p.m. Call 931-2000.

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