Influenced: Sat. Nite Duets Recall Their Days of Weezer Message Boards
In Influenced, we talk to Milwaukee musicians about the artists that shaped and inspired them, both as performers and listeners. Milwaukee’s Sat. Nite Duets have been active for the last five or so years, but the groups core members—Ben Gucciardi, Steve Strupp and Joe Guszkowski—have been playing together in various forms since early adolescence. For this edition of Influenced, we spoke with Strupp and Gucciardi about the band that essentially started it all for them: Weezer.
Weezer is an interesting band, as they’ve had two parts to their career, the first part being their initial break into the mainstream in the mid ’90s, the second being their “comeback” in 2001. How were you introduced to the band?
Ben Gucciardi: We were introduced to Weezer through the music video for “Keep Fishin’,” which had the Muppets in it. I remember hearing the guitars in it and thinking, “Oh man, this is tight.”
Steve Strupp: I had a family friend who I looked up to a lot, and he told me that I should listen to Weezer, so I downloaded a few random songs on Kazaa. “Buddy Holly,” maybe a few others. Then I saw that they had a new album out, so for Christmas that year I asked for the Blue Album and Maladroit.
Did you recognize those earlier singles at all?
Ben: Not so much the music, but I had a very vague cultural awareness of who Weezer was. Rivers Cuomo kind of had his own image with the glasses and stuff, so I would see people dressed similarly and think, “Oh, he looks like the Weezer guy” or whatever.
What were you listening to prior to Weezer?
Ben: Not much, really. Rap music. I don’t really remember having much of a distinct taste.
Steve: I was into like nu metal and Top 40 stuff.
Eventually you guys went from just being casual listeners to serious fans. What contributed to this eventual change?
Ben: I think the year before we got into Weezer, Steve made me a tape of censored versions of Limp Bizkit songs. So there was Limp Bizkit and then all of a sudden there was Weezer with this vulnerability that I had never heard before in a rock band. The choice was obvious.
Steve: Weezer songs are loveable, really. They are meant to be loved. You can print that in bold [laughs].
I understand that you both frequented the Weezer web boards around this time?
Steve: Yeah, I think we just were curious. Before either of us owned the albums we just had them downloaded, and there were no liner notes, so we just found things like the web boards that were around in hopes of finding out more.
Did you guys ever get into some of the Weezer-related side projects?
Steve: Yeah definitely. The Rentals, Space Twins, Special Goodness, all that stuff. It’s like you almost felt a sense of devotion to the band and wanted to hear anything that they did.
It was definitely common in the ’90s to see a band that followed up their highly successful breakthrough album with an album that was by comparison more raw and abrasive. Nirvana started the trend with In Utero, Green Day did it with Insomniac and Weezer did it with Pinkerton. When you eventually heard Pinkerton did it sound different to you?
Ben: I came to Pinkerton at the height of Rivers’ dispassion with it. He felt very ashamed of it. He would post on the Weezer message boards as “Ace” and would pretty much diss Pinkerton. So when I started comparing it to Maladroit and The Green Album I started to realize that I didn’t relate nearly as much to those records as much as I did to Pinkerton. It had less to do with production and more with just the album overall.
When you started playing music did you find yourselves borrowing from Weezer?
Ben: Definitely. Weezer was one of the bands that made me want to pick up a guitar. We had a song called “Life Explosion” that was based off a song on Maladroit called “Love Explosion."
Steve: I remember figuring out how to play “El Scorcho” on guitar and it was very gratifying.
One of the more noteworthy differences between the first two albums and the ones that followed was personnel, specifically bass player Matt Sharp. Do you think his departure after Pinkerton affected the sound of the band?
Steve: What I learned from it was that even though Matt Sharp wasn’t a “songwriter” technically, there was something about his involvement that made those records so special, because once he was no longer involved, you could definitely hear a difference.
Ben: Its interesting because you see videos of Rivers showing him bass parts and stuff, but at the same time I think his ego kept Rivers’ ego in check.
Steve: Yeah, maybe Rivers kind of needed someone to challenge him a little bit.
I think I speak for a lot of people in saying that Weezer are long past their prime. When was it that you started to be let down by the band?
Ben: I think around the time Make Believe came around was when I started questioning the overall quality of their records.
Did it make you guys dig deeper into their previous records?
Ben: I think by that point we had pretty much mined out all of that stuff and heard all those awesome B-sides and unreleased tracks.
So did you stop listening to them?
Ben: Not completely. If anything it made us explore other avenues.
Steve: I got really into Led Zeppelin and started listening to a lot of classic rock. By then, Weezer seemed too emotional [laughs].
What made you eventually come back to them?
Steve: I think it was a nostalgia thing, you know? I’ll put the Blue Album on in the fall/winter months, which is around the time I originally heard it. Pinkerton, too. I just burned a CD of that and my attempt at compiling [abandoned Blue Album follow up] Songs From the Black Hole to play in the car. I ended up listening to it way more than I thought.
Do you think that they are a different band now than they were on those first two records?
Ben: Yeah, but in a way I kind appreciate what they are doing, even if I don’t necessarily want to listen to any of it. 1994 was 20 years ago, and for them to be playing their songs the way they wrote them doesn’t really make sense. I feel like there’s almost more integrity in how buffoonish they seem.
Rivers can totally still write songs that sound like that early material, I just think he’s sick of it and doesn’t want to. When the Red Album was done, the label refused to release it unless he wrote a radio single, so he wrote “Pork and Beans,” which I think sounds more like the first two records than anything else on that record. I think he wrote it in like two days or something.
Picking a favorite Weezer album is always interesting. The diehards usually go for Pinkerton while the more casual listeners tend to choose the Blue Album. Can I assume you guys are Pinkerton devotees?
Ben: Yeah. Pinkerton is a surprise. It succeeds in spite of the fact that it was pretty much doomed. Nothing could be more successful or better than The Blue Album. Every song is perfect. What I see with Pinkerton is this band getting totally lost in the process of trying be something more than that, the net result being something weirder and more beautiful than Blue could've ever anticipated.
The Blue Album and Pinkerton are both almost 20 years old and both records still stand the test of time. Do you think they will always be remembered alongside other great records from the ’90s, regardless of whatever else they choose to do?
Steve: Yeah, I think so. They’ve done everything they could do to ruin the perfection of those records and they still haven’t. They’ve made pajamas, they’ve had a cruise ship tour, they’ve hit worse than rock bottom. There’s nothing worse they could do at this point. Those songs are always going to be the hits.