Weezer Guitarist Brian Bell Looks Back On Historic Sonic Hurdles

Shawn Murphy

If you ask Brian Bell what the best way to drink coffee is, he would undoubtedly reply, black. After spending the morning at home fixing his espresso machine, Bell shares that after too many bad espressos, he had to take matters into his own hands. “It has to be dark, thick [and drip] slow like chocolate,” says the Weezer guitarist, backing vocalist and keyboardist.

After stepping into a coffee shop to take a risk on some outsider espresso, far from the bounds of his home, Bell heard a record that changed everything. “It was so classic to me and I was like ‘how have I not heard about this?’ I was like wait, is this Alice Cooper? No that’s Black Sabbath. Who is this guy covering Black Sabbath? I thought it was a classic record,” says Bell, recounting the first time he heard Changes by Charles Bradley. Taken by Bradley’s ability to make music sound current and simultaneously classic, Bell has been playing the album on tour with a portable record player, further inspiring him to get into analog technology. With band-longevity being so harshly based on this simultaneous blend of classic and current sounds, there’s an unbelievable pressure for bands to tick both boxes, while remaining a sonic entity of their own. Something that for Bell, Bradley mastered.

In their own way, Weezer have been crafting classicly current albums throughout their entire career as a band. With conflicting reviews of their latest release, Weezer (The Black Album), 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 reeks of sonic unacceptance.

“Our theme has always been not fitting in and just looking at the world as an outsider,” says Bell. This sentiment may have been apparent in previous albums, but on Weezer (The Black Album) there’s an overwhelming sense of sonic relatability to today’s Top 40 hits. 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. “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 Cumo 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, largely due to poor reviews of the band’s album Pinkerton. “I don’t know what triggered that, but I remember that period and it was when him and Mikey (former bassist to Weezer) were living together. He got himself a pet lizard, I know that much,” Bell recalls.

Despite the media coverage of the trying time, Bell claims to have never actually seen the place painted black. “I stayed away from it and just met them at the rehearsal space,” he says. “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 and 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, but indirectly. The collection of songs on the album is eclectic and sometimes confusing, with lyrics harbouring more aggressive than expected themes like “Die You Zombie Bastards;” although not backed by heavy music, we get at least the suggestion that the Weezer we hear today may not be the band’s original intention years ago. And when asked if we will ever see the band veer towards heavier tones, Bell says “I never say never.”

Fans can expect a full-spectrum of songs featuring hits from the past and the present on the Weezer (The Black Album) tour.