October 14, 2008 by Beatweek
The publicist puts us on the phone with Patrick Wilson, but just a few seconds into the interview it’s clear that the audio quality of the phone call isn’t going to be the greatest. “How about if we just use Skype?” he asks, and after we exchange usernames and connect the Skype call we’re good to go. You wouldn’t expect someone as famous as Weezer’s founding drummer to be handing out his Skype username to a journalist, but Weezer hasn’t been doing much lately according to formula. Their new album is self-titled, which wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if not for the fact that it’s their third self-titled album (fans are now resorting to referring to the albums by background color). The album cover photo of the band is so goofy-looking that when it was first unveiled, some wondered if it was a prank. And every member of the band sings on this album, which is supposed to be a no-no for a band with an established lead singer.
But Skype is far from Pat Wilson’s only connection to the digital age. He’s been posting to Twitter (yes that’s really him), he’s a podcast listener (and occasional participant), and he’s an iPhone user who has his own opinions about how Apple has been handling the iPhone’s third-party application platform. He also talks of his irrational hatred of Miss Piggy. During the course of our interview, Pat tells us about how Weezer approached making the Red Album, his life as an iPhone user, and more…
Bill Palmer: If you look at Weezer’s history, your styles have changed over the years. But this one, to me at least, seems like the biggest departure from one album to the next. Were you trying to go in a different direction?
Patrick Wilson: Actually, this album was a complete change of operation from the way we work. The last album was, although it was successful, it was really, it was a chore, like getting it all, it just wasn’t that much fun to make. Not that it was a bummer or anything, but it kind of opened our eyes to like, well, hold on here, what’s going on? Why can’t we just try and blow our minds and have a lot of fun? And that’s just what we did.
We got in what we call the war room and we had all this butcher paper. And we just put all the songs up on the paper, and we just started throwing out ideas of what each song, what we’d like to hear in each song. And there was also a master list of just like random ideas, like “I’d like to hear a mellotron” or “I’d like to hear this” or “I wanna do this.” And each time we came to a song, we treated it as its own world and we tried to incorporate some of these goals into each song. So in that sense I think this record is a radical departure.
Michael Johnston: With Pork and Beans you went with a really interesting style for the video, it was sort of like a giant party with everyone from the internet, a bunch of internet memes. Who came up with the idea for that, and what was the meaning behind it?
Patrick: It was done by Matt Cullen of Motion Theory, he just came up with it. He was like look at all these people on YouTube, you know, it’s an important part of popular culture that’s in everyone’s brain. Let’s see if we can get all of these people together. And the real genius of that video, and he explained it to us when we were done shooting it, he’s like look, I think this song is perfect for this video because all these people have a lot of notoriety for doing things that are unconventional, or perhaps they have notoriety for doing something embarrassing. And for those people it was kind of like an opportunity for them to be like yeah, a made a giant mistake, but you know what, I’m cool with it and whatever.
Like for instance that guy, I always forget his name, but he was the Afro Ninja, like that guy is insanely talented. He’s a stuntman, he does all this crazy stuff all the time, and he screws up one time and then he’s famous for being the guy who whacks himself with the nunchucks or whatever. And I thought it was awesome that he could, all these people were totally cool enough to be in the video. They didn’t take themselves that seriously. And I thought it was great to give them an opportunity to kind of just, you know, in essence tell everyone F-you.
Bill: At what point did you start saying okay, different band members are gonna write songs, different band members are gonna sing? Was that something you had up on your clipboard to start with?
Patrick: We had endless conversations about what everyone’s goals were for the record. And it turns out everybody was like “well I’d like to have a song that I’d write and sing.” And so that just go thrown into the soup of goals that we wanted to achieve. I think we got most of them.
Michael: You did a song, Automatic, you performed the lead vocals on that. A lot of the songs on the album kind of felt a little nostalgic and rooted in the past, and Automatic seemed to be dealing more with the present.
Patrick: I had had those chords just kind of floating around for awhile, and I had made a song out of it that I was dissatisfied with. So I revisited it, and I don’t know. You know, writing songs is kind like a mystical, weird thing that happens to some people. You get done with it and you’re like well, where’d that come from? I don’t really know. For me it’s mostly about being a father twice now and just having a family and being responsible trying to capture the heaviness of, I mean it sounds so silly, the heaviness of being in a family. I’m not twenty years old and running around the world being crazy anymore. I’m thirty-nine, and I’m just trying to rock and have a family. So that’s kind of what it’s all about.
Michael: How did you end up being a guest on MacBreak Weekly?
Patrick: I called them. I was like dude, I want to be on MacBreak Weekly.
Michael: So you’re a fan of the podcast?
Patrick: I do like the podcast. I subscribe to a bunch, I’ll probably subscribe to yours now, and you know, there’s only so many hours in the day so I can’t, like, check everything out that’s suggested to me. But I really think when you hear something like a podcast that’s not backed by a giant mandate to be super successful, you get more honesty I think out of it. And I really love the conversational style of what I hear in podcasts. It just seems real to me. It seems like people talking, and I think that peels back a layer of sort of artificial, I don’t even know what to call it, but like when I’m watching cable news or something I can just tell there’s someone in that guy’s ear going blah blah blah, talk about this, wah wah wah. And it just seems lame to me. So more and more I’m just getting what I choose to be interested in from the internet like that.
Bill: I’m curious because from everything I know about Weezer you seem like a really down to earth bunch of guys to start with, but you’re still a founding member of an extremely popular band. And there are sort of walls, like to set up this interview we’ve got to get your publicist to sign off, somebody patches a call. And there are good reasons for all that stuff, but then you’re doing stuff like calling up Leo and saying “I want to be on your show,” you’re posting stuff unfiltered on Twitter. You’re still on a major label. Does that drive the industry crazy when guys like you go and do that kind of stuff on your own?
Patrick: No, the exact opposite happens. They go “thanks for doing my job.” And that’s what you hear these days is people just, like big labels, they want ideas because they’re looking at the world changing and they’re like, what? How are we gonna maintain? So like I said, it’s just gravy for them. Now if I go do something that I regret they’re gonna be bummed, but whatever. I mean at this point we make our own decisions, and it’s kind of like I view the label as working for me as much as possible.
Bill: How long have you been an Apple guy?
Patrick: Not long, actually. In fact right now I’m looking at a Mac, we’re doing this on my MacBook Pro, but on my wall I have Samplitude running on a PC, so I haven’t completely switched over. I’d say about a year ago I got the MacBook.
Bill: Were you one of those that you were on Windows and then you bought an iPod and then you started warming up to Apple that way?
Patrick: I just got bored. I built a million PCs, and it just looked like there was this sort of family of products that in theory are very friendly to each other. And I said well I’ll just go for it. I’ve got a Time Machine, AppleTV, MacBook, iPod, iPhone, you know. And I’d say overall I’m fairly happy. It’s not really as happy a family as you’re sort of led to believe. But I think going forward, especially the iPhone, I mean the iPhone, I know people call it the Jesus phone and all that, but it really is a pretty amazing thing to be able to manipulate stuff like that, with the touch and all that. I think it’s fantastic.
Michael: When did you get the iPhone, and now with the new software update that’s come out with all these applications and everything, how do you feel about the iPhone in how it’s sort of changing the idea of what can be done with a really tiny personal mobile device?
Patrick: I think Apple’s strength is it knows how to make things easy. To me, everything about the iPhone is easy and really productive. And I hope that over time this just becomes normal, like you can pretty much do everything you want with your phone. I got real excited, I just updated to 2.0 and I saw that there was some streaming radio, like a free app. So I put it in there and I’m listening to talk radio from Philadelphia over GPRS. It’s like, that’s what I’m talking about. If we can get that going on a mass scale, then you’re really gonna start to see things change. Cause you know, not everyone’s into hacking, you know, getting things to work on their PC, ripping DRM and all that. But everyone’s got a cell phone. So I think that’s gonna be the real tipping point for a lot of this one to one sort of business.
Bill: Is that Pandora you’re talking about, or one of the others?
Patrick: Let me see, I’ll pull my phone out right now, I’ll look at it. It was AOL Radio.
Bill: Are you still on the original iPhone? You haven’t bought the 3G yet?
Patrick: No. I actually had this jailbroken on 1.1.4, and I was stoked because there was a lot of cool applications and I was using it like a hard drive and all this. But I kind of like the more legit style of the new software.
Michael: Yeah, and a lot of the applications that were done under jailbreak are actually coming to the App Store, as long as they follow Apple’s guidelines.
Patrick: See that’s the kind of thing that kind of pisses me off though, honestly. The best thing about PCs is the openness. I just can’t stand it when someone sells me a piece of technology and they say “oh but you can’t do that, oh but you can’t do this.” It’s like shut up, you sold me a piece of hardware, you should let me do what I want to do with it.
Bill: It’s funny how the whole thing’s playing out. It’s like Apple is racing against this hacking community to try to see who can get there first.
Patrick: They should do the exact opposite. They should make it as open as possible. You should be able to bluetooth music to each other. What’s gonna happen when Steve Jobs is gone? You know, that’s the question. They have a window now where he’s, like, Jesus, and everyone loves Apple and their products. But I think they should be a lot more open than they are.
Michael: The decisions that they’re making right now are kind of legitimized by the fact that Steve Jobs is still there?
Patrick: Yeah, I mean it just seems like he rules with an iron fist. I don’t know that much about him, but it seems like he’s kind of like the guy who’s like yes, no, yes, no, making the shots.
Bill: You’re kind of on both sides of it. You’re a consumer buying Apple’s products, and then you’re also selling your music and making your livelihood through iTunes. From your experience in selling albums through iTunes in the past five six years, do you feel like, are they open enough? Are you satisfied with the way that they deal with you as a band?
Patrick: Yeah, I mean obviously I was sort of speaking as a consumer, or just like a guy who’s into technology a little bit. But you know, I had this kid email me from Amsterdam. And he said “Hello Pat, I went to the record store to buy the Red Album, and they wanted 20 Euros for it, which turns out to be about 1.8 Euros per song. Now Weezer’s awesome, but they’re not that awesome.” And he goes “So I downloaded the record, and I just thought you should know that your music is too expensive, and I was happy to pay but it was too much.”
So of course my first reaction as a business guy is like, I’m gonna pound this kid in the face. But then I realized, you know what? I’m stoked that that kid is interested enough in me to want to download my music. And so I sent him back, I was like hey, I really hope you enjoy the music. Can you tell me where you tried to buy it? And he wrote me back and said yeah it was here and here, at these places. And then I got, my manager gave me the bright idea to write him back and say “well, you could always just send me the 10 Euros that you were willing to pay.” And of course he was like, he didn’t email me back.
I’ll tell you this about downloading music. I’ve downloaded tons of music, and you know what? I don’t listen to any of it. The only music that I listen to is music that I went out and was excited about buying. I don’t know why that is, I think there’s like a circular relationship between fans of music and bands. And if you just go pull off a bunch of stuff off an FTP or something, honestly, I just don’t care. Maybe it’s just me, but I talk to a lot of people who feel the same way.
Bill: We threw it out to readers, and someone wanted to know what it was like to work with the Muppets when you did the video a few years ago.
Patrick: Well of course the Muppets are iconic, not only are the iconic,they’re actually icons. I grew up on watching the Muppets, so it was kind of a surreal experience to have Miss Piggy in my face. And especially because I hated Miss Piggy as a kid, like I had this irrational hatred of her of her. It’s like I’ve gotta go sit on the couch and have it worked out.
Weezer has just released its latest single “Troublemaker” from the Red Album and is currently on tour in the United States.