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Weezer ride silence into fame

By Carly Carioli

AUGUST 28, 2000:  Something happened to Weezer on the way to obsolescence -- they became legends. After a 1994 platinum-charting debut and a "disappointing" 1996 sophomore effort (it only went gold), the band fell virtually silent. Fans have become so accustomed to delays in the "new" Weezer album that one Web site has initiated the mock-benefit "Project Weezer": "For pennies a day, you can change the life of an unmotivated musician!" In the meantime, MTV and modern-rock radio have backed away from Weezer-style post-grunge guitar pop in favor of heavier metal and 'tweenier bubblegum. With the result that Weezer are now . . . more popular than ever.

That became clear earlier this summer, when Warped Tour tickets sales spiked just after the announcement of Weezer as a last-minute addition to the West Coast leg of the tour. If the tenor of those shows is any indication, Weezer worship has merely been lying dormant -- and now it's starting to bubble over. "We started in Fresno," says bassist Michael "Mikey" Welch from LA, where he's just stepped off a plane delivering him from the band's Japanese tour, "and from the first day it became this ritual that whatever band were playing before us, there would be thousands of people gathering at the stage during their last song chanting 'Weezer! Weezer!' It was a little weird. The first day, [Green Day's] Mike Dirnt and I went to watch the Lunachicks, who are friends of ours, and they finished their next-to-last song and the first 20 feet of people are screaming 'Weezer!', and the chick was like, 'Shut the fuck up!' That happened every day -- it even happened to the Bosstones in LA."

The Brookline-raised Welch has been waiting -- in more ways than one -- for almost as long as some Weezer fans. Before joining the band two and a half years ago (after founding bassist Matt Sharp left to pursue his other band, the Rentals, full-time), he had served time in any number of promising Boston bands: Left Nut in the late '80s; the last, best line-up of the Heretix in the early '90s; the mostly overlooked, unfortunately named, but fantastic hard-rock band Jocobono in the mid '90s; and a succession of Juliana Hatfield's backing bands. He met Weezer mastermind Rivers Cuomo while the singer/guitarist, during one of his lengthy vacations from Weezer, was pursuing a creative-writing degree at Harvard -- during which time Cuomo played a number of solo gigs around town with Welch on bass (the band's drummer is Pat Wilson). But this is the first time in Welch's two-and-a-half-year tenure that he's had the chance to tour with the band extensively. And though it's not the first time that Cuomo has delivered a new batch of tunes, it appears that this time they're actually going to make Weezer album #3.

"We got back together as a band around the end of March," says Welch. "Between then and right now we have at least about 20 songs, and playing live we've been rotating about a dozen in and out of the set. We travel with a mobile recording unit, so we're recording all the shows and setting it up every day at soundcheck, which keeps us working on songs while we're on the road. We've been making demos for four months, and they get better and better and better. Every time Rivers brings in a new batch, we like those songs more than the last."

The new numbers, says Welch, "are a real healthy mix of the first two records. The songs themselves are very focused and sorta refined as pop songs, like the first record. Sonically, the way the melodies and guitars work is like the first record; but rhythmically, it's more like Pinkerton." Live versions of the songs are already being bootlegged on-line. "We'd introduce a song one night, then show up in the next city and the kids would already know the words."

The band had planned on lying low for a few months before heading into the studio, but the Warped Tour drove them back into full-time mode, and they decided to ride the momentum by booking several weeks of club dates, which at some venues sold out in less than 10 minutes. The band hope to have a new album completed by year's end for a spring 2001 release.

"I dunno if it's the way music on the radio is now," says Welch, "or that the Weezer thing has just blown up because there hasn't been a record out in so long." Whatever the reason, the four-year layoff does appear to have worked to Weezer's advantage. In the interim, they've become part of the new century's rock lexicon, whispered about with awe by everyone from emo kids to the Deftones as perhaps the standard bearers for pop. Their debut, Weezer (DGC), has become a classic -- and to a certain younger segment of the modern rock audience, it's every bit as influential as first albums by the Cars (whose Ric Ocasek produced it) and Elvis Costello. "There are a lot of second-generational fans," says Welch. "The little brothers and sisters of original Weezer fans are seeing Weezer for the first time. And especially with the songs off the first record, which get played on [LA radio station] KROC like 10 times a day, they're like classic-rock hits."

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