Q

Why Rivers Cuomo says now is the right time for Weezer's 'weird piano orchestra album'

Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo joined Q’s Tom Power to discuss the band's new orchestral pop album, OK Human, and shared how Spotify algorithms aid and influence his songwriting.

Album explores 'feelings of alienation and loneliness and addiction to technology'

Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo, second from left, joined Q’s Tom Power to discuss the band's new orchestral pop album, OK Human, and shared how Spotify algorithms aid and influence his songwriting. (Brendan Walter)

Back in 2018, Weezer had just finished recording a brand new album when the band's manager called with some great news — they were going to be rocking stadiums around the world with Green Day and Fall Out Boy on the Hella Mega Tour.

"We were like, 'We just made a very introspective, weird piano orchestra album,'" Cuomo told host Tom Power in a new interview on CBC Radio's Q. "It's like the last album you want to be out trying to promote when you're rocking stadiums."

The band decided to shelve the record until after the tour, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the tour was postponed. At that point, Weezer decided to return to their "weird piano orchestra album" — now titled OK Human — and release it at the beginning of 2021. Cuomo said he felt the record was a better fit for the current time both sonically and lyrically.

"It's a lot of discussing my feelings of alienation and loneliness and addiction to technology," the Weezer frontman told Power. "All those things seem to be coming up in my life during the pandemic and probably many other people's."

Cover art for OK Human, illustrated by Mattias Adolfsson. (Atlantic)

Instead of guitars, an orchestra

For Weezer fans, it might not come as a huge surprise that OK Human drops the electric guitars in favour of an entire orchestra, as the band is known for testing the limits of pop music.

Over the last three decades, Cuomo has experimented with the lyrics and production on each of the band's 14 studio albums, at times incorporating metal, trap beats, rapping, folk guitar and lo-fi indie sounds into Weezer's songs.

WATCH | Official video for Weezer's single, All My Favorite Songs

As a fan of classical music — particularly Beethoven, Bach and Puccini — Cuomo always thought Weezer would eventually make an orchestral pop album.

"I'm actually surprised it's taken us this long," said Cuomo. "And I think part of it is that I love big rock guitar. … But that was the experiment, like let's see if we can not have a single big guitar on our album. And let's see if the orchestra can make up for that and provide the meat, the energy, the power."

"As far as I know, no one's complaining," added Cuomo. "And because it's an orchestra, there's so much more you can do with it. There's so many opportunities for counterpoint and unique textures."

Songs as 'musical nutrients'

When it comes to songwriting, Cuomo said he's very easily influenced by what he's listening to at that moment. He relies on "somewhat complicated algorithms" to curate the right genres and artists for him on a daily basis.

"I'm very intentional about what I put into my brain," said Cuomo. "I actually have a computer program that creates a playlist for me every day on Spotify… to make sure I'm getting the right musical nutrients into my head because it has a huge influence on what I create every day. So I'm pretty careful about that."

If I listen to too much very young hip hop ... it has an influence on my writing that our audience finds distasteful.- Rivers Cuomo

He shared some of the artists on his playlist from that morning, listing them off to Power: "Tony Bennett, the song from Annie, Jimi Hendrix, the Weeknd, Lucinda Williams, Roy Orbison, Toni Braxton, J. S. Bach, Simon and Garfunkel, new Weezer song, John Prine."

"So, yeah, it's just drawing on all these sources I've said I'm interested in and avoiding others," he continued. "Like I know if I listen to too much very young hip hop, I know from experience as much as I love it and [find it] exciting, it has an influence on my writing that our audience finds distasteful. So when I'm writing I try to avoid that."

He noted how weird it is that a song he totally loves may not be loved by his fans or other people around him.

"We'll put that in my folder of demos to be released in 10 years," he said with a laugh.


Hear the full interview with Rivers Cuomo, where he also talks about his life during the pandemic and Weezer's hit album Pinkerton at 25, near the top of this page. 

Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by Mitch Pollock.

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