Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo, 46, was born in Manhattan and raised on an ashram in Connecticut. After graduating from E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, Connecticut, he moved to Los Angeles and studied at various colleges while playing in the progressive metal band Avant Garde. In 1992, he formed Weezer (named for his childhood nickname), and their self-titled debut album was a huge hit. He subsequently enrolled at Harvard, where he graduated with distinction. Weezer has released nine additional albums, and Cuomo’s numerous side projects have included collaborations with other artists and two albums in Japanese. He lives with his wife, Kyoko Ito, and their two children, and he’ll perform with Weezer on May 28 at Boston Calling.
Jonathan Soroff: Any relation to the New York governor?
Rivers Cuomo: Depends on how far you go back. There’s no relation that I’m aware of in the last 100 years, although I was born in New York City.
First album you ever bought? I think it would have been one of those record clubs where you got 12 records for a penny, so I probably got 12 records at once. I know I got Abba’s Greatest Hits, Kiss’ Rock and Roll Over, Queen’s The Game…
First concert? The first concert I went to was a cover band that came to my middle school. They were called Street Fair, and they played what we now call classic rock, like Led Zeppelin, Skynyrd, Midnight Special. That was right around the time that Quiet Riot first hit the radio, and I discovered that I was a metal head.
Strangest part of growing up on an ashram? It was all I knew, so it didn’t seem strange to me. But from an outsider’s point of view, I’d guess that it was just very peaceful.
Worst job you ever had? Selling Cutco high-quality kitchen cutlery. I’m not cut out to be a salesman.
The album Scott & Rivers is all in Japanese. Do you speak it fluently? Almost. Our second album just came out in Japanese, and I actually just got back [from Japan]. So Scott [Murphy, of the band Allister] is 100 percent fluent, and I’m about 40 percent. I’ve been studying my butt off for 10 years, and it’s just such a different language. But I try to speak Japanese at home with my family every day. It’s like my personal white whale.
What was your weirdest rock-star moment? I guess maybe the time I had just a towel around my waist in a hotel room, with a very angry man pounding on the door. I was pretty scared. It might have had something to do with the woman who was in my room. I’m not totally sure.
Most important thing you learned at Harvard? I’m still taking a Harvard class actually. I’m taking CS 50 online; it’s the intro to computer science, and it might be the most important thing I learned at Harvard. It’s so great. Breaking problems down and coming up with systems to solve them, using nothing but the simplest steps. It’s amazing what you can accomplish.
Any pop music guilty pleasures? I’ve never had guilt about liking any kind of music, and I’ve never been ashamed to say what I’m into, but I can tell you what I’m really digging these days. There’s a particular playlist on Spotify called Most Necessary, and it has the next generation of hip-hop stars and a lot of guys I’ve never really heard of before, but they’re super creative.
Top three songs in heavy rotation right now? Kodak Black’s “Tunnel Vision,” “XO Tour Llif3” by Lil Uzi Vert and “Disrespectful” by G4SHI.
Strangest experience you ever had of a Weezer song coming on the sound system in a public place? Well, it was great being in the lunch line of the cafeteria in my dorm at Harvard and hearing “Beverly Hills” come on. It was a little ego boost as I was waiting in line.
Is there a song you recorded that you regret? Regret releasing? No. It’s kinda the other way around. I’ve recorded so many songs that have never been released, and no one ever got a chance to hear them, and that mountain is just kinda growing. I wish they could all just come out and give me some feeling of accomplishment after putting all the work in.
Three adjectives you’d use to describe your voice? Let’s see. Pure. Choir-boyish. And sincere.
Is songwriting a form of therapy for you? In the sense that I feel like I can think about the difficulties in my life and process them through putting them into words and melodies, and afterward feel like things aren’t bugging me as much.
Is there a musician you’re dying to collaborate with? I’d like to work with more rappers so I can sit in a room with them and see how they do what they do because it’s just mystifying to me how they can come up with raps. Whenever I try, it turns into a melody and it’s not as fast or interesting lyrically, or flashy. So I’d just love to know how to do it.
Are all record executives weasels? No. I’ve had some great relationships with executives at record companies. I’ve never bought into that stereotype, and I’ve found that they can be super creative and helpful. A lot of them have great taste, and above all they just love music.
Favorite venue to play? Well, I just saw Coldplay at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo. It was the most impressive visual spectacle I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how many thousands of people were there, but the Japanese really know how to rock out as one. They’re all pumping their fists in unison, and Coldplay gave them these bracelets that are controlled remotely by the band, so they all light up and turn different colors. I was so jealous. I would love to play the Tokyo Dome.
Best part of touring? For me, recently at least, it’s been performing. Whatever the hassles of the day, I’m just able to get into this zone where it’s so pleasurable to play the music and feel that the words are coming out exactly as I wanted them to come out. And to feel the connection to the other guys in the band.
Worst part of touring? Being away from my writing room at home and not being able to work on new music.
If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you’d do? I’d maybe be a poet or some kind of writer.
So how do you want to be remembered? As somebody who really loved music and kept trying.
Photographed by Bob Croslin in St. Augustine, Florida