How to create a Weezer album in 7 surprisingly methodical steps
Frontman Rivers Cuomo breaks down the band's prolific creative process for 'Pacific Daydream,' out now
Since debuting in 1994, Weezer have become one of alt-rock’s most beloved and prolific bands: Their 11th album, Pacific Daydream, out today, is their third LP in four years. “It’s always time to do a new album,” frontman Rivers Cuomo, 47, tells EW ahead of Daydream‘s release. Below, Cuomo breaks down Weezer’s new LP and how the group keeps churning out radio-ready gems.
1. Look to the past
Just because a Weezer album is new to the public doesn’t mean its contents are new to Cuomo, who maintains a massive archive of song fragments that he frequently revisits while working. “When I’m writing a song, I’m age-agnostic,” he says. “I have Dropbox folders full of MP3s and then a Google spreadsheet called ‘Parts’ that has countless ideas. I don’t even keep track of when they were written or what album they were written for, because it doesn’t matter.” One example: Pacific Daydream‘s twinkling “Weekend Woman” dates back to the sessions for 2001’s Green Album.
2. Learn to code
Cuomo also has a spreadsheet titled “Lyrics” that he says contains approximately 5,500 “really cool lines.” That might seem like a monster to manage, but Cuomo labels spreadsheet entries by beats per minute, key, and syllable count. “When I’m writing a song and I get stuck, instead of trying to force myself to feel inspired, I can just go into the spreadsheet and search,” he says. “There are usually 10 to 15 options; I just try them out to see which ones work magically.” And while he currently relies on outside help (“I hire talented programmers to help me automatically tag the lines”), Cuomo is learning Python so he can soon do the work himself.
“I’m always working on two or three albums at once,” Cuomo explains, noting that Pacific Daydream was conceived simultaneously with the still-unreleased, “weird and experimental” Black Album. “I’ve always done it this way, and it feels like a necessary part of my process.” Cuomo says having multiple outlets for new songs helps each album “feel very pure and unified around one central theme.” The strategy has worked wonders for him: Cuomo says that while recording Weezer’s dark 1996 landmark Pinkerton, he also developed an unreleased “pop-country” record called Homie to better filter his ideas.
4. Set ground rules
For Daydream, Cuomo self-imposed a ban on the word girl to refresh his writing. It’s a technique he’s used before: The band’s 1994 debut doesn’t use the word love (but he made an exception for the phrase “made love”). He also creates instrumental restrictions. While recording Weezer’s first LP, Cuomo eliminated the flashy guitar tricks he had deployed when he played in heavy metal groups. “Just about everything was verboten,” he says. “So much of what is unique-sounding about that album wasn’t a new idea that I came up with but the prohibition of an old idea.”
5. Pay attention to trends
Cuomo has likened Pacific Daydream to “the Clash playing Pet Sounds,” but it also may be the group’s most sonically forward-thinking album. “To me it’s the biggest departure,” Cuomo says, citing EDM-infused tunes like “Feels Like Summer.” He even manipulated his voice on parts of “La Mancha Screwjob,” which he describes as being “turned all around as if I were Justin Bieber.” Says Cuomo, “Most of the time I’m listening to modern music, not necessarily looking for inspiration, but just because that’s what I like to listen to.”
6. Take notes everywhere
Specificity might be Cuomo’s defining trait as a lyricist. “All I have to do is get out of my house and hang out with people and have some experiences,” he says, spotlighting “Mexican Fender,” which details meeting a dynamo computer programmer at a Santa Monica guitar shop. “The next morning, I get up and I just write down everything that happened. It’s generally full of unique nouns that have never been in a pop-rock song before.”
7. Know when to delegate
Despite being Weezer’s principal songwriter, Cuomo says his participation “wanes” as he turns tracks over to the band and producers in the studio. “I’m not invited” to some workshopping, he notes. “They get to explore and do their thing without worrying about what I’m thinking. I’m invariably delighted when I hear the results.”