Weezer Guitarist Brian Bell Looks Back on the Band’s Sonic Hurdles

Thursday 04th, April 2019 / 16:49
By Jamila Pomeroy

If you ask Weezer’s Brian Bell what’s the best way to drink coffee is he’ll undoubtedly reply, black. Bell spent the morning at home fixing his espresso machine and explains that after too many bad brews, he had to take matters into his own hands.

“It has to be dark, thick and drip slow like chocolate,” says the ’90s defining California band’s guitarist, backing vocalist and keyboardist.

After recently hitting a coffee shop to risk outsider espresso, Bell heard a record that changed everything. “It was so classic to me and I was like ‘Who is this guy covering Black Sabbath?’ I thought it was a classic record,” says Bell, recounting first hearing Charles Bradley cover Black Sabbath’s, “Changes.”

Taken by Bradley’s ability to make music sound simultaneously current and classic, Bell has been playing the album on tour with a portable record player, further inspiring him to get back into analog technology. With band-longevity based on blending classic and current sounds, there’s pressure for bands to tick both boxes, while maintaining a sonic entity of their own. Something that for Bell, Bradley mastered.

In their own way, Weezer have been crafting classically current albums throughout their entire career as a band, lifting the spirits of wounded dorks around the world. While they may have had the craze of teenage Weezer fandom backing them up in their 90s Blue Album era, those fans appear to have grown up and checked out. The band’s hunger to have a seat at the cool kids table in 2019 is a little off-putting, their awkward efforts to fit in, like a dad trying to sing Ariana Grande while driving his kids to school.

Prior to their latest release, Weezer (The Black Album), the band put out a collection of covers hinting at what was to come. Weezer (The Teal Album), features remakes of TLC, Toto, and just like Charles Bradley, a Black Sabbath track. While Weezer (The Teal Album) generally received positive reviews, Weezer (The Black Album) fell flat in comparison to its amuse. With conflicting reviews it may be confusing as to whether or not the album is a hit, or terrible miss. Regardless of what side you’re on, the album features a strong narrative of unacceptance, revealing the struggle between the freedom to create and complying with the bounds of a record company— preventing Weezer to age with grace and be themselves, unapologetically.

“Our theme has always been not fitting in and looking at the world as an outsider,” says Bell. While this is perhaps true for Weezer (The Black Album), in a lyrical sense, sonically, the band fits in perfectly with today’s pop music. If approached as a concept album or social statement reflecting on the state of the music industry and the evolution of Weezer, there is more to be understood and enjoyed. Weezer (The Black Album) is a response to the industry not allowing the band creative freedom, and in turn, being outsiders to their own creative process.

“It’s about observing people and situations and trying to figure out how to fit in,” he says.
While the struggle for the 90s rock band aging into 2019 can be felt, there are serious narratives based in mental health and overcoming depression, pushing movements of empowerment onto their fans. During a serious battle with depression in 1998, lead singer Rivers Cuomo was rumoured to have painted the walls, ceiling and windows of his Los Angeles apartment black. He withdrew from the band and the world for months on end, supposedly due to poor reviews of the band’s Pinkerton album.

“I don’t know what triggered that, but I remember that period and it was when him and Mikey (Welsh, former Weezer bassist) were living together. Rivers got himself a pet lizard, I know that much,” Bell recalls. Despite the media coverage of the trying time, Bell says he never saw the place painted black. “I stayed away from it and just met them at the rehearsal space. We were experimenting with very riffy songs, very metal sounding songs, way darker than what The Black Album is now. A lot of those songs never saw the light of day, we just jammed them at the rehearsal space. It scared our manager at the time, to death, that we were going in that direction.”

Although far from heavy metal, Weezer (The Black Album) does carry the capacity of chaos—indirectly. The album is eclectic and sometimes confusing, with more aggressive lyrics than expected, including “Die You Zombie Bastards.” This confusion and chaos may very well have originated from the band’s pressure to conform to today’s pop music, pulling them far from their dreams of ever being a heavy band.

And when asked if we will ever see the band veer towards heavier tones, Bell says, “I never say never.”

Weezer perform at Rogers Arena (Vancouver) on April 7