Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo Discusses the Sad, Elliott Smith-ness of SZNZ: Winter and Teases “Big Tour Announcement”

The post Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo Discusses the Sad, Elliott Smith-ness of SZNZ: Winter and Teases “Big Tour Announcement” appeared first on Consequence.

It’s ambitious, it’s sprawling, it’s creative, it’s Weezer‘s new SZNZ project. Back when the California band announced four EPs based on the seasons cycle at the beginning of this year, questions were raised: How similar to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons would this be? Has the band now entered the “Classical Weezer” era? Would Summer‘s songs all sound like “Island in the Sun”? Will Rivers Cuomo continue rocking the mustache + mullet combo he boasted on the “Hella Mega Tour”?

Now that Weezer has released the final installment of SZNZWinter (out Wednesday, December 21st), we’ve got our answers. Though inspired by Vivaldi’s original concept, SZNZ is Weezer through and through — that being said, Cuomo has based each season around emotions, rather than lean solely into the environmental aspects of the changing seasons.

Spring began jubilantly, Summer continued coasting with community at its core, Autumn channeled dance rock while adding a bit more distress to the emotional palate, and now, with Winter, Cuomo meditates on loneliness, despair, death, and the need for comfort (and coziness). The EP’s first track and lead single, “I Want a Dog,” wastes no time in getting to the heart of Winter: In a more solemn, singer-songwriter style, Cuomo requests the companionship of a dog, “because sometimes humans hold it all inside.”

It’s a sweet sentiment, and though the band eventually cranks the volume knob throughout the rest of the EP for some classic Weezer guitars, Cuomo opted to keep things more, well, winter-y.

“Musically, the original inspiration was that I wanted to try to incorporate some ’90s-era singer-songwriter styles like Elliott Smith,” Cuomo tells Consequence of the project’s final installment. “I just kept meditating on sadness. And I guess that manifested as loneliness and a need for companionship and understanding, and feeling like I’m not getting it.”

Winter is certainly the most meditative of the SZNZ bunch, and considering the existential climax of final song “The Deep And Dreamless Sleep,” it’s the most vulnerable, too. But as the EP ramps up to a rousing finale, it gives way to the joyous beginning of Spring, accomplishing the cycle that the band always intended. Weezer has been pulling out all the stops to maintain a rapid and consistent output, and SZNZ is by all means a creative and ambitious way to supply their devoted fanbase with more standout Weezer tunes.

Now that they’ve finished the cycle, they find themselves in a bit of a lull — but not for long. Cuomo mentions that they’re right on the verge of a “big tour announcement,” which is certainly welcome, given that they haven’t embarked on a formal headlining tour since 2019. But now that they’ve accomplished a quartet of EPs based on seasons, a covers collection, a metal LP, and six different colors of self-titled albums, it’s worth wondering what concept will inspire the band next.

Ahead of the release of SZNZ: Winter, Consequence chatted with frontman Rivers Cuomo to discuss the project as a whole, performing Winter‘s tracks live this year at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, and what may come next from one of rock’s hardest working bands. Read the full Q&A below.

First and foremost, congrats on Winter, the final installment of the SZNZ EP series. This was a really unique and ambitious project. How does it feel now that you’ve completed it?

I guess a bit of postpartum depression. This always happens after we finish working on an album, it’s really occupied most of my time for the last couple of years. And it’s been an incredible joy to work on. And suddenly, now it’s over. And it’s out of my hands. And it feels premature to just jump into the next one, although I may do that. So I’m kind of in this weird in-between phase where I don’t know who I am or what I’m supposed to be doing. So, I’m sorry, I guess that isn’t as as positive as I should feel right now!

This EP features a lot of themes around loneliness and wanting to be cared for. Were these guiding principles when working on the lyrics for Winter?

Yeah, for each of the four seasons, I set myself the goal of focusing on a specific emotion. And for winter, it was sadness. And so I just kept meditating on sadness. And I guess that manifested as loneliness and a need for companionship and understanding, and feeling like I’m not getting it.

What were some of the tones, textures, and other inspirations for Winter? What was on the mood board?

Musically, the original inspiration was that I wanted to try to incorporate some ’90s-era singer-songwriter styles like Elliott Smith, acoustic fingerpicking and just warmer acoustic sounds. For our previous album Autumn, we were going for dance rock, like Franz Ferdinand, and it had more synths and stab-y guitars, and that we thought it’d be a good contrast to go for something very warm and acoustic — of course, mixed with a giant Weezer guitar sound.

The final track of the EP, “The Deep And Dreamless Sleep,” is part Christmas song and part epic — a really fun way to close out this project. Tell me about that song, and how it serves as the end to this seasons cycle.

That one was very challenging because initially, it was a very, very quiet, peaceful song about about growing old, the five senses fading, and just falling into this sleep that eventually is death and oblivion, but very peacefully. And so that’s what the original song is like. And if you come across the bootleg from our performance at The Troubadour a few months ago, you’ll hear something closer to that.

But then — and this is what usually happens to me when I’m working on a Weezer record — as we play songs over and over, they start to pick up in energy. And we just have this instinct to have a really glorious, uplifting sound. So, we were trying to combine that with what was kind of the opposite, the soporific sleepy song that it originally was. And in addition to that, I realized this is the last song in this four part epic masterpiece, this tetralogy. And who knows, maybe someday we’ll play it live front to back from Spring to Winter. And I know when we get to the end of that epic show, 28 songs, we’re going to want to go out on an up note and have it be really energetic.

So that was the challenge, combining those two contradictory impulses. So you’ll hear elements of acoustic fingerpicking, and this orchestra and this women’s choir, and the lyrics are quite beautiful and peaceful. But the song just keeps picking up and up. And it’s quite rousing by the end.

Speaking of the show at the Troubadour in Los Angeles this year, you revived your pseudonym, Goat Punishment, which was last seen in 2002. What made you decide to do a Goat Punishment show for the first time in 20 years?

Well, Goat Punishment is a name we’ve used from time to time, over the years. I think we first used it back in 1998, and we use it when we want to play a show to do something very experimental, and we want to not have to worry about pleasing the audience so much. Because normally, if you’ve got a room full of Weezer fans, we want to give them what they want. And depending on on the audience, it could be a different thing. It could be that they want all ’90s classics, or it could be that they want all the big hits.

But chances are they don’t want you to play a bunch of new songs they’ve never heard before. So when we want to try out something new, we use the name Goat Punishment and then it’s just a signal to the ticket buyers — you know what you’re getting into, you’re probably not going to hear “Beverly Hills.”

Are there any other alternate Weezer band names?

No, but we should probably get another one, because Goat Punishment is becoming pretty well known.

At the Troubadour, you debuted all seven songs from the Winter EP. What was it like bringing those songs to life, especially in such an intimate venue?

It was fantastic. The venue is so tiny, but the sound quality is fantastic. It was packed with hardcore fans that knew they were going to be hearing some new stuff, so it was a great vibe. The only problem for me was that there is a balcony that is kind of right across from me as the frontman. If I just look up a few degrees, I see whoever is sitting in in the right in the center of that balcony, and they’re just looking down on me. And as it turned out, it was my mom! So it was a little hard to totally let go.

Going back to the Autumn EP, you mentioned it being inspired by dance rock from the early aughts, like Franz Ferdinand and The Strokes. What was your relationship to that style of rock when those bands first got popular, especially considering Weezer’s output at the time?

I remember the first of those bands that I came across was The Strokes. And actually, we met them before I heard them — they were they were rehearsing in the same place as us in Hollywood. And they came in and and we met them and I never heard of them before. I don’t think their music was out yet. But my first reaction was that I didn’t like bands whose names started with “The” [laughs]. I mean, it wasn’t a new thing and bands used to do that a long time ago but then suddenly, bands started doing again and I was like “…I don’t like that.” So that was my first reaction.

But eventually it was like “Oh my goodness.” The songs on that first Strokes record are just so incredible. And yes, it same thing with Franz Ferdinand and the other bands. The sound is so cool. It sounds like a band, and yet, you can dance to it. It seemed like something that we couldn’t really try. It’s comes from a different lineage than what we came from. We’re kind of a reaction to grunge music and there’s not a lot of “dance” ethos. So we never thought to try it until until Autumn.

We felt like it was going to be a big risk, like it was either going to be horrible or embarrassing, or it could be something really cool and fresh. And I absolutely love that album. To me, it was quite a process to figure out that balance between the dance-y elements and and the old school Weezer big guitars. But for my taste, we totally nailed it.

Considering the solemn nature of Winter‘s final song and the jubilant opening of Spring, it feels like those two lead into each other. Was this always intended?

Yes, we intended for this to feel like an infinite cycle, just like the seasons themselves. So, music theory nerds will notice that “The Deep And Dreamless Sleep” in Winter ends in the same key that Spring starts in. Absolutely. And you’ll hear some lyrical nods to that too on Winter. I mention “I’m thinking back to a place” in “Iambic Pentameter,” and then in Spring I say, “The end takes you back to the start.” So in Spring and Winter, you hear me mention the cyclical aspect of this project.

What’s one moment that surprised you during the making of SZNZ?

I think we learned a lot as we went along. And I think initially, I was playing a role that was similar to the role I’ve been playing on other recent Weezer records, where I’m more of the artist and not so much the guy in the control room with the talkback, kind of steering the ship as a producer. I was surprised to find that because we did so much in such a short time, really — 32 songs in one year. But we got into this very natural groove and started moving really quickly and evolving really quickly. And eventually, I found that I was more in that position in the control room, of having a talkback and kind of directing the show, and I really liked the results. So that’s not really a new thing, but it’s a thing that we haven’t tried in a long time.

It’s been a few years since Weezer has embarked on a full headlining tour. Are there any plans for an OK Human/SZNZ Tour?

Yeah, it’s been tough. For the last five to seven years, we keep getting geared up to do our big headline tour. And then just as we’re about to put it together, something else comes along, like, “Hey, do you want to be part of the ‘Hella Mega Tour’ and tour with Green Day and Fall Out Boy and do stadiums? You just get to play 60 minutes, but it’d be a great opportunity to win over some new fans, and it’ll be fun to be with these other bands,” and then we’re like, “Ah, okay, yeah, I guess we gotta do that! That sounds like fun.” And then year after year goes by like that, and we still haven’t done the big headline tour. But we’re about to make an announcement that’s going to fix all of that.

With so many songs and albums to choose from, how difficult is it to craft a setlist for each show?

Well, once the tour is underway, it’s pretty much set. There’re a few songs you can swap in or out, and that’s pretty much just for fun, whatever you feel like playing on any given night… but then we’ll do some random festival, like we have a festival coming up where we’re playing with with Zach Bryan and a bunch more country or folk acts, and suddenly we have to start thinking about the setlist, because that’s different from the show we just played — we played the Odyssey show out here in Los Angeles with One Republic, and those are very different crowds. So yeah, we have a lot to choose from now, there are like 250 songs in my spreadsheet. So we’ll just go through the list and think about what the audience is really going to want to see.

What’s your favorite song to open with?

Recently we’ve been doing “My Name is Jonas,” which is the first song on our first album, the first Weezer song many people heard, and it just feels like a great introductory song. “Hash Pipe” is a good one. I think we have to come up with something new, though.

What’s next for Weezer?

We have a big tour announcement coming soon. And in the “pure fun” department, we’re going to participate in this television tribute to The Beach Boys. So we’re in the midst of figuring out which Beach Boys songs we want to cover, and oh my God, it’s incredibly fun. It feels so good to play and sing these songs. And I’m reminded of how much I used them as a model when I was first starting out writing songs for Weezer.

SZNZ: Winter Artwork:

weezer winter

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Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo Discusses the Sad, Elliott Smith-ness of SZNZ: Winter and Teases “Big Tour Announcement”
Paolo Ragusa

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