Rivers Cuomo

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Rivers Cuomo
Cuomo in 2016
Cuomo in 2016
Background information
Born (1970-06-13) June 13, 1970 (age 50)[1]
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
OriginPomfret, Connecticut, U.S.
  • Musician
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • guitarist
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • keyboards
Years active1985–present
Associated acts

Rivers Cuomo (/ˈkwm/ KWOH-moh; born June 13, 1970) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, and producer.[2] He is the lead vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist, and songwriter of the rock band Weezer.

Raised in an ashram in Connecticut until age 10, Cuomo moved to Los Angeles at 18, where he played in several rock bands before forming Weezer in 1992. Burnt out after the success of Weezer's self-titled debut album, Cuomo enrolled at Harvard University but dropped out to record Weezer's second album, Pinkerton (1996); he re-enrolled and graduated in 2008. Though Pinkerton is now frequently cited among the best albums of the 1990s and has been certified platinum, it was initially a commercial and critical failure, pushing Cuomo's songwriting toward pop music.

Cuomo has also released three compilation albums of home demos: Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo (2007), Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo (2008), and Alone III: The Pinkerton Years (2011). He has collaborated with a number of artists; in 2013, he and Scott Murphy released a self-titled Japanese-language album under the name Scott & Rivers.

Early life[edit]

Rivers Cuomo was born on June 13, 1970 in Manhattan to a father of Italian and a mother of German-English descent.[3] Accounts differ as to the origin of his name. According to one account, Cuomo's mother Beverly Shoenberger named him Rivers either because he was born between East and Hudson rivers in Manhattan or because she could hear a river outside her hospital window. However, his father, Frank Cuomo, a musician who played drums on the 1971 album Odyssey of Iska by jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter, claims Cuomo was named after three prominent soccer players: Rivellino, Luigi Riva, and Gianni Rivera, all of whom were playing in the 1970 World Cup.[4][5]

Rivers was raised in Rochester, New York at the Rochester Zen Center, until his father left the family in 1975. His mother relocated the family to Yogaville, an ashram in Pomfret, Connecticut. Cuomo attended the Pomfret Community School, and his mother married Stephen Kitts.[6]

In 1980, Yogaville relocated to Virginia. The Kitts family opted to stay in Connecticut and moved to the Storrs Mansfield area.[7] During this time, Cuomo attended Mansfield Middle School and E.O. Smith High School. Rivers was a member of the high school choir and he performed in a school production of Grease.[8][9][10] He also changed his name to Peter Kitts;[11] after graduating, Cuomo reverted to his original name.[12]

One of Cuomo's earliest music projects was the glam metal band Avant Garde.[13] In 1989, after playing several shows in Connecticut, Avant Garde moved to Los Angeles and changed their name to Zoom, but broke up in 1990.[14][15][16] In 1990 and 1991, while Cuomo was writing material for what became Weezer's debut album, he was a roadie for the band King Size[17] and worked at Tower Records, where he listened to "basically everything that was released at that time ... I was exposed to a ton of music I otherwise never would have heard."[18]


Cuomo formed Weezer in 1992 with drummer Patrick Wilson, bassist Matt Sharp and guitarist Jason Cropper. "Weezer" was the nickname given to Cuomo by his father when he was a toddler.[19] Weezer signed with DGC, a subsidiary of Geffen Records, on June 25, 1993, and released their self-titled debut album, also known as the Blue Album, in May 1994. Cropper left the band during the album recording and was replaced by Brian Bell. The album was certified platinum on January 1, 1995, with sales of over one million.[20] Despite his success, Cuomo tired of the monotony and loneliness of touring and developed a "huge inferiority complex" about rock music, saying: "I thought my songs were really simplistic and silly, and I wanted to write complex, intense, beautiful music."[21]

Cuomo in 1997

In March 1995, Cuomo had extensive surgery to extend his left leg, which was 44mm shorter than the right. This involved the surgical breaking of the leg bone, followed by months of wearing a steel brace and painful physiotherapy sessions.[22] The procedure affected his songwriting, as he would spend long periods hospitalized under the influence of painkillers.[23]

In the fall of 1995, Cuomo enrolled in Harvard University to study classical composition. He told The New York Times: "The only time I could write songs was when my frozen dinner was in the microwave. The rest of the time I was doing homework."[24] He auditioned for the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum chorus but was not selected.[25] He became introverted and grew a beard, and wrote in his diaries how students wearing Weezer T-shirts did not recognize him.

Cuomo had planned Weezer's second album to be a rock opera, Songs from the Black Hole, but he abandoned the project as his songwriting became "darker, more visceral and exposed, less playful."[26] Realizing he did not enjoy contemporary classical music, and missing Weezer,[24] Cuomo dropped out of Harvard two semesters before graduation.[24] He expressed the isolation and sexual frustration he had felt at Harvard in Weezer's second album, Pinkerton, released in September 1996. With a darker, more abrasive sound than Weezer's debut, Pinkerton was a commercial and critical failure, but attained critical acclaim later.[27]

Following the mixed response to Pinkerton, Weezer went on a five-year hiatus. Cuomo enrolled at Harvard twice more and completed semesters in 1997 and 2004.[24][24] During the 1997 semester, he played with a new band, Homie, in Boston. In February 1998, Cuomo disbanded Homie and moved to Los Angeles to work on new Weezer demos with Bell and Wilson, but the sessions were unproductive. In 1998 and 1999, he lived in an apartment under a freeway in Culver City, California. In an essay for Harvard, he wrote: "I became more and more isolated. I unplugged my phone. I painted the walls and ceiling of my bedroom black and covered the windows with fiberglass insulation."[24]

Disappointed by Pinkerton's reception, Cuomo intended to return to simpler songwriting with less personal lyrics. He stated that Weezer's subsequent albums, the Green Album (2001) and Maladroit (2002), were "very intentionally not about me. Not about what was going on in my life, at least in a conscious way."[25] He also developed a greater appreciation for pop music, feeling that its multiple disciplines —including lyrics, improvisation, and image —produce a multifaceted art "that moves people and is important, and relevant to our culture in a way that serious classical music isn't right now."[21] In June 2006, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Harvard[28] and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.[29]

On December 6, 2009, Cuomo was in his tour bus driving to Boston from Toronto with his family and assistant when the bus hit an icy road in Glen, New York and crashed. He suffered cracked ribs and internal bleeding. Weezer canceled the rest of the 2009 tour dates, planning to reschedule them the following year.[30] The band made its return to the stage on January 20, 2010, performing at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.

Other projects[edit]

Cuomo performing in 2009

During Weezer's hiatus after the release of Pinkerton, Cuomo formed Homie, and performed what he called "goofball songs" for his "country band". An album was planned, but only one studio recording, a song titled "American Girls", was released. Cuomo has contributed to recordings by various other musicians (Crazy Town, Cold, Mark Ronson). Cuomo managed the band AM Radio in 2002 and 2003; he and the band's frontman, Kevin Ridel, went to school together.[31]

In early 2004, Cuomo joined ex-Weezer bassist Matt Sharp onstage California State University, Fullerton. They worked on a record together in February that month, but the material remains unreleased.[32] In March 2008, Cuomo began a YouTube video series in which he wrote a song in collaboration with YouTube viewers.[33] The finished song, "Turning Up the Radio", was released in 2010 on the Weezer compilation album Death to False Metal.[34]

In December 2007, Cuomo released Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo, a compilation of his demos recorded from 1992 to 2007.[35] It was followed by Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo in November 2008[36] and Alone III: The Pinkerton Years in November 2010; the latter album was sold exclusively with a book, The Pinkerton Diaries, which collects Cuomo's writings from the preceding the release of Pinkerton.[37]

Cuomo has made cameos in a number of music videos. These include The Crystal Method's "Murder" and the video for The Warlocks' "Cocaine Blues." Cuomo also makes a guest appearance on Sugar Ray's "Boardwalk", the first single on the group's latest album, Music for Cougars. Cuomo featured on the song "Magic", on B.o.B's debut album B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray which was released in April 2010. In a May interview with HitQuarters, producer-songwriter Lucas Secon confirmed that he had recently worked with Cuomo on both a Steve Aoki single and "some Weezer stuff."[38]

In 2011, Cuomo collaborated with Japanese singer Hitomi for her first independent album Spirit, in the duet "Rollin' with da Homies", co-written by him. He was also featured on the Simple Plan song "Can't Keep My Hands Off You"[39] and Miranda Cosgrove's song, "High Maintenance".[40] In 2013, Cuomo released a self-titled Japanese-language album with Scott Murphy of the band Allister[41] under the name Scott & Rivers. The album debuted at #1 on the iTunes Japan alternative charts. The album was released physically in Japan and digitally worldwide through iTunes.[42] In 2015, Cuomo appeared on the song "Snowed In" on Big Data's album 2.0.[43] In the same year, Cuomo produced a Fox pilot for a sitcom based on his life, DeTour, starring Ben Aldridge as Cuomo. The pilot was not picked up.[44]

In 2017, Cuomo featured in RAC's "I Still Wanna Know", as well as Vic Mensa's "Homewrecker", which sampled Weezer's "The Good Life". The same year, he co-wrote and appeared on AJR's "Sober Up".[45] Cuomo also co-wrote the song "Why Won't You Love Me" on 5 Seconds of Summer's 2018 album Youngblood. In 2018, he helped write two songs, "Clock Work" and "Dancing Girl" for Asian Kung-Fu Generation's 2018 album, Hometown.[46] In 2019, he wrote and performed "Backflip," the theme song for the Netflix series Green Eggs and Ham.[47]


Rivers Cuomo performing with Weezer at Musikfest in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on August 5, 2019.

Appearing on the Song Exploder podcast in 2016, Cuomo explained the process he used to write albums such as Weezer's White Album (2016). He maintains Spotify playlists of music with "cool" chord progressions that he uses to find musical inspiration. He sometimes uses piano to write vocal melodies his vocal muscles would be "too lazy" to create. Conversely, he improvises vocal melodies to write guitar solos, to avoid guitar habits and create solos "you can sing along to" with "space in [them] because I have to breathe".[48]

Cuomo's process of writing lyrics involves writing stream-of-consciousness thoughts in his journal, next highlighting interesting lines, and adding them to a spreadsheet of potential lyrics organized by the number of syllables they contain and strong-weak emphasis. When he comes to write a song, he finds lines that fit the melody and assembles them in a way that suggests a story.[48] He rarely uses profanity in his lyrics, as "Weezer came up at a time when Jane's Addiction released Nothing's Shocking—everyone was trying to be controversial. We looked back to rock and roll's pre-drug days—to the clean images of the Beach Boys—that felt, ironically, rebellious."[49] He has experimented with various methods of "concentration", such as fasting, to aid his songwriting.[21]


Cuomo credited the Beach Boys as a major influence on his early songwriting, and told Upset magazine:[50]

I remember when I was 21 or 22, right when Weezer got together. I went to the local used record shop in Santa Monica with the intention of buying a classic album that was going to be a huge influence on me and my writing for Weezer. I flipped through all the records and I narrowed it down to two records. One of them was Led Zeppelin, the other was Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. It was almost a coin toss but I ended up going with Pet Sounds, and I really came to love the melodies and the chord progression and the emotion on that record. It has to be one of the biggest influences right when Weezer was starting out.

On tour with Weezer following the Blue Album, Cuomo listened extensively to the operas Aida (1871) and Madama Butterfly (1904), the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar (1970), and the musical Les Misérables (1980), which influenced the composition of Pinkerton and the unreleased Songs from the Black Hole.[51]

Other influences include the Beatles, Kiss, Nirvana, Giacomo Puccini, Green Day, Jane's Addiction, Cat Stevens, Lou Barlow, The Who, Pixies, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Sonic Youth. In the late 90s, Cuomo created an "Encyclopedia of Pop" for himself, a three-ring binder which examined pop and rock songs by artists including Nirvana, Green Day and Oasis.[52][53] In 2008, he said his biggest recent inspiration had been Eminem, praising his "creativity, passion, inventiveness, and playfulness".[54]


Cuomo possesses the vocal range of a tenor.[55][56][57][58] Matt Ashare of The News & Advance describes his voice as "refreshingly pleasant".[57]


The Blue Album was recorded with a Gibson Les Paul Special and a Fender Jaguar, borrowed from producer Ric Ocasek. His amp was a vintage Mesa Boogie Mark I. For touring, he initially used a sonic blue Warmoth Fender Stratocaster copy with Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio pickups alongside Marshall amps. However, the guitar was destroyed in late 1997. In recent years, he has used additional Warmoth strat copies (in blue, seafoam green, black and blonde), as well as a Gibson SG painted in white with stock pickups. The guitars are plugged into a Kemper Profiler amp.[59]

Personal life[edit]

Cuomo took a vow of sexual abstinence from 2004 until his marriage in 2006.[24] On June 18, 2006, Cuomo married Kyoko Ito, whom he met in March 1997 at one of his solo concerts at the Middle East Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[60][61] He proposed to her in Tokyo shortly before Christmas 2005.[62] The wedding was held at a beach on Paradise Cove in Malibu and was attended by all past and present members of Weezer (except for Mikey Welsh), as well as Kevin Ridel of Ridel High and Rick Rubin.[63] The couple have two children: daughter Mia, born in 2007, and son Leo, born in 2011.

Cuomo was born with his left leg nearly two inches shorter than his right. After the success of The Blue Album, Cuomo underwent the Ilizarov procedure to correct the condition. This involved the surgical breaking of the bone in his leg, followed by several months of wearing a steel brace that required self-administered "stretching" of the leg four times daily; Cuomo likened the ordeal to "crucifying [his] leg."[22]

Cuomo has been vegetarian since childhood.[64][65] However, in 2002, he told an interviewer that he might like to start eating meat regularly and claimed to have done so in the past, eating "some kind of barbecued beef in Tokyo."[65]

Cuomo practices Vipassanā meditation and was a student of S. N. Goenka.[66] As of mid-2009 he also teaches children's meditation as taught by S. N. Goenka.[67] Cuomo helped acquire music rights and provided financial support to a 2007 documentary titled The Dhamma Brothers about Vipassanā meditation being instituted in an Alabama state prison.[68]

Cuomo is not a soccer fan currently but grew up one.[69] However he wrote a song, "My Day Is Coming", in tribute to the U.S. men's soccer team in 2006, and in 2010, wrote "Represent", an "unofficial anthem" for the U.S. team which was released as a Weezer single on June 11, the day before Team USA's World Cup opener against England.[70] In early 2008, Cuomo played in the Mia & Nomar Celebrity Soccer Challenge and scored a goal in the game. The video for "Lover in the Snow", from the Alone album, deals with this game and his love of soccer growing up.[70] In August 2009, Cuomo participated in the Athletes for Africa 5v5 Charity Soccer Tournament in Toronto, Canada alongside actor Michael Cera.[71][72]

Cuomo performed at a campaign rally for Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang in Iowa on November 1, 2019, though Cuomo did not explicitly endorse Yang.[73][74]


With Weezer



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External links[edit]