“I thought we were going to be taken seriously as the next Nirvana. I was shocked to find that the press story was Revenge Of The Nerds.” Rivers Cuomo always dreamt of becoming a rock star, but the success of Weezer's 'Blue' album freaked him out

Weezer - 'Blue'
(Image credit: Geffen)

“Our next band have asked not to be described with any of the following words: retro, goofy, funny, wacky, zany, anything like that.”‬

It's January 27, 1995, and billed as "the Beach Boys on mescaline" by presenter Alan Connor - dressed, for reasons best known to himself, as the Pope - Weezer are making their British TV debut on wilfully 'edgy' Channel 4 'yoof' show The Word, alongside The Black Crowes, rapper Coolio, and try-hard Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson. Those watching the LA quartet's performance of their debut single Undone - The Sweater Song will notice that dorky frontman Rivers Cuomo has covered the lenses of his prescription glasses with black gaffa tape, and accessorised this with a pair of cut-out paper 'eyes'. This, an impartial observer might argue, is not the best way to play down that unwanted "wacky" tag, but it presumably makes sense in Cuomo's head. Watching on, Coolio is impressed.

“Hey, Weezer! That bass is deep!”‬ he tells bassist Matt Sharp, as he heads towards his dressing room. “Wait right here, I’m gonna get my business card so we can hang in Compton.”

He does not return.

Three nights later, Weezer kick off their World Domination Tour at the tiny 100-capacity Splash Club venue in London's Kings Cross district.

The name of the tour may be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it's their first to feature gigs outside North America, but the group certainly do not lack ambition: Cuomo's favourite band is Kiss and his hunger for success and superstardom is no less pronounced than that which propelled Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley out of Gotham. That's why the singer - then a non-singing guitarist with Connecticut metal band Avant Garde - moved to Los Angeles in 1988 dreaming of hair metal glory, just as the members of Guns N' Roses and Poison had done earlier in the decade. [In fact, as is often the case with so many quintessentially 'LA' bands, none of the members of Weezer actually hail from the City of Angels]. It has taken Cuomo some time to begin to realise his dreams - Avant Garde split in 1990, his next band Fuzz, featuring future Weezer drummer Patrick Wilson, did nothing, and 60 Wrong Sausages played just one gig in 1991 before splitting, presumably out of the sheer embarrassment of having to stand on a stage billed as 60 Wrong Sausages. But with their self-titled debut album now nestled snugly at number 16 on the Billboard 200 chart, propelled to platinum sales by MTV putting the quirky Spike Jonze-directed videos for Undone... and follow-up single Buddy Holly on rotation, the quartet - completed by guitarist Brian Bell - are now receiving Next Big Thing plaudits.

Their burgeoning status is recognised by Rolling Stone dispatching writer Mim Udovitch from New York to England to conduct the magazine's first major profile on the band. There is one minor problem: Rivers Cuomo has requested not to be interviewed, such is his crippling shyness. As if this were not unusual enough, onstage at the Splash Club, ahead of performing Getchoo, a song that will appear on his band's second album Pinkerton 18 months in the future, Cuomo calls out to the writer to request that the very existence of the song should be kept "off the record" when Udovitch writes up her article. To her credit, the bemused journalist goes along with this bizarre request.

“I am touched," she writes. “Even now, I like to think that in all the echoing years of the past and the future, there will always be that one moment when, despite our absolute inability to communicate with each other in any other way, I was thinking of nothing but Rivers, and he was thinking of nothing but me.”

When the profile is published in the March 23, 1995 issue of Rolling Stone, it will appear beneath the headline 'Revenge Of The Nerds'.

Fifteen years on, speaking with this writer in a London hotel room, Rivers Cuomo still hasn't quite got over this, it seems.

“When we made the 'Blue' album, I saw myself in a completely different light,” he admits. “I thought we were going to be the next Nirvana, that we were going to be taken very seriously as an angst-filled rock band. And I was completely shocked and surprised and disappointed when we put the record out to find that the press story was: 'This is a band of geeks. Revenge of the Nerds!' That story had never occurred to me. But it was universal around the world, that's what everyone said about us. So I guess it must be true. I just don't fit in and I don't even realise it. Put me in the wider society and I stand out as a misfit.”

Do you care at all how you're perceived, I asked.

Like some people might think I'm a weirdo?”

Well, not to be rude, but yes.

“Yeah, it seems like I'm not really as skilled at managing my reputation as some other artists are,” he admitted. “I know some people think I'm a weirdo. But I think once people get to know me, most people like me and find it easy to relate to me. But being a high profile musician people don't really get to know you, they just get first impressions or distant impressions and a lot of times that's been pretty negative about me. It does matter to me.”

Hearing Cuomo talk sincerely like this, it was tempting to wonder whether he'd actually listened to his early records, for both 'The Blue Album' and fan favourite Pinkerton are the very definition of Geek Rock, and it's almost impossible to imagine how their creator could have conceived them being anything else. In The Garage opens with the words, “I've got a Dungeon Master's Guide, I've got a 12-sided die, I've got [comic book superheroes] Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler too”, references posters of Peter Criss and Ace Frehley on the walls, and finds Cuomo singing his “stupid songs” with their “stupid words”, safe and secure in the knowledge that no-one else is listening. Then there's proto-incel anthem No One Else, with its creepy, control freak chorus - “I want a girl who will laugh for no one else, When I'm away, she puts her make-up on the shelf, When I'm away, she never leaves the house” - and the beyond-cutesy Buddy Holly, featuring an opening couplet - “What's with these homies, dissing my girl? Why do they gotta front?“ - no white man with an ounce of self-awareness should have committed to tape.

Maybe that's the reason why Coolio stayed in his dressing room at The Word.

And yet, and yet, released on May 10, 1994, 'The Blue Album' was exactly the record that the 'alternative nation' needed to hear in the dazed aftermath of Kurt Cobain's still-shocking death by suicide. Produced by The Cars' frontman Ric Ocasek, its perky, harmony-and-hooks-laden pop-rock nuggets - climaxing with the soaring, multi-layered eight-minute epic Only In Dreams, featuring Cuomo in full-on guitar hero mode - seemed to hark back to a more innocent, less cynical time, and reminded even the most confident, most beautiful people that, once upon a time, they too were shy, insecure ugly ducklings.

The record didn't immediately meet with the kind of adulation that Nirvana received for Nevermind - “Somebody called us Stone Temple Pixies, which touched a nerve,” Cuomo admitted in an excellent recent LA Times feature on the album. “To have it dismissed like that was painful” - and Matt Sharp vividly remembers seeing promo copies in the 99 cent bins in record stores. By the end of the millennium however, it had sold three millions copies in the US alone, and was justly acclaimed in alt. rock circles, not least by fellow musicians, as a near-flawless masterpiece.

When I mentioned this to Cuomo in 2010, he looked utterly embarrassed.

“Hmmm, that's flattering, but I feel like we get a lot of credit that we don't deserve,” he said after a pause. “We've always just taken from our influences, from the records we loved, and we try our own versions of that. When I hear our records all I hear is everything we took from other records, and that people try to give us credit for that makes me feel a little funny.”

After some consideration, however, he offered a more positive take on the record's success.

“I'd probably have rather been the next Kurt Cobain,” he admitted, “but it's so great to get onstage and see 10,000 other misfits and see how much they appreciate what we're doing. The idea that we can provide people with this feeling of catharsis and community and revenge is the greatest thing.”

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.