For Weezer lead guitarist Brian Bell, performing “Say It Ain’t So” in front of a live studio audience on “Late Show With David Letterman” was a surreal experience.
“Playing on TV for the first time when you’re in your 20s, it’s just bizarre,” recalled Bell. “There’s a lot of pressure when you’re young.” Now, he said, performing in front of 100 people — or 15,000 — feels “so natural.”
Weezer performs tonight at the California Mid-State Fair with special guest All Time Low. The band’s current lineup includes frontman Rivers Cuomo, bassist Scott Shriner and drummer-guitarist Patrick Wilson.
An Iowa native who moved to Los Angeles at age 18, Bell joined Weezer in 1993 as the band was recording its self-titled debut album. That album, known as “The Blue Album,” hit stores a year later, and the popular singles “Buddy Holly” and “Undone –The Sweater Song” soon propelled Weezer to the top of the modern rock charts.
“Pinkerton,” the band’s 1996 sophomore effort, became a cult classic. Then, after a five-year hiatus, came
2001’s “The Green Album” — featuring the songs “Hash Pipe” and “Island in the Sun” — followed by the albums “Maladroit” and “Make Believe.”
Weezer won a Grammy Award for the YouTube-spoofing music video for “Pork and Beans,” off 2008’s “The Red Album.”
“Being in Los Angeles, you get lots of talented people coming at you with good ideas,” Bell said, such as past collaborators Spike Jonze, Marcos Siega and Marc Webb. “We’ve been lucky. We’ve made some really good decisions and some good videos.
“We have an instinct about what’s lame and what’s not and we’re usually right.”
Weezer’s most recent album is “Raditude,” an energetic collection of pop-punk party songs released in 2009. The album features collaborations with the likes of rapper Lil Wayne, Indian sitar player Nishat Khan, and Josh Freese, drummer for A Perfect Circle, Devo and The Vandals.
“The album definitely has a fun quality that I’m proud of,” Bell said. “That’s always been one of the words that we strive to achieve, ‘fun’ and ‘youthful.’ ”
Below, Bell shares his insights into one of alternative rock’s most influential bands.
Q: Is there pressure for Weezer to evolve as a band? Or do fans and critics expect you to play the same pop-rock music that you’ve always delivered?
A: I think Weezer is evolving even in that framework of keeping it fun and youthful. We’re playing different instruments, playing more synth. We added another drummer (Josh Freese) for some recordings and live shows, probably the best drummer in the world for rock ’n’ roll. …
We belong to the fortunate 10 percent of the population that gets to do what it wants to do.
The band has evolved to where we like each other. I actually like going to rehearsals and love touring. I’ve never felt as positive about it as I do now.
Q: Weezer has gone through some difficult times before.
A: We definitely have had dark periods where it wasn’t fun at all, and it should have been.…Early on, Rivers had some hit songs off the bat. Immediately, he’s expected to do the same thing in the industry every time. I can’t imagine the pressure that’d put on somebody.
Q: Would you have been able to do an album like “Raditude” in those early days?
A: We could barely talk to anyone, let alone make music with anyone. Our circle was so tight. We had inside jokes, an inside language, just socially awkward.…At some point something changed. It’s a fun part of being a good musician. You should be adaptable to different situations.
Q: Does it feel like Weezer has grown up a little bit?
A: Early on, we didn’t have that legacy yet. We didn’t know we were going to be around tomorrow.
(Now) we’re more secure. We’ve earned the respect that I think we’ve deserved to earn, and we have a strong fan base
We have that kind of stability. There’s not that much to worry about anymore.
Q: Talk about Weezer’s upcoming album, which is slated for a September release.
A: It’s exciting. … It’s very aggressive-sounding. It takes chances. It’s very unpolished.…For us, it’s a very, very fast recording process; it’s been a couple months till it’s done. We kind of haven’t stopped recording songs since ( “Raditude”) was put out. We’ve worked really hard this year.
Q: You’re also working on an album with your own band, The Relationship.
A: One-hundred-and-ten percent of myself is in The Relationship.…We really want this first record to floor people, and it will. It floors us and we’re our harshest critics.
I should be doing music all the time because that’s what I do. The more I spend time doing the better I am in every situation. …
I’ve never stopped trying to broaden my musical abilities. I’ve taken private lessons with a professor of music at UCLA, classical piano lessons, classes on harmony theory.
I’m just fascinated by (music). It’s so vast and powerful. You’ll never conquer it, but it’s fun to study. …
Some people would say, “We sold 3 million records on the first record. I can live for the rest of my life knowing that.” I can’t do that. I want to be better.
Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907.