Billy Cobb talks his new EP Zerwee and and how Its not “Greta Van Weezer”
It's rare that the dissatisfied audience of a band takes matters into their own hands, but just that has happened with Zerwee, the newest EP by Billy Cobb. Nor a parody, or really much of a shameless ripoff, Zerwee is an interesting tribute to the sounds of 1990s Weezer. It's an exciting case of audience and artist interaction, and asking the question of "does what the audience want matter?" The reception to the EP has split Weezer fans, as some claim that it's mimicry, and some say it's better than modern Weezer themselves. Cobb himself didn't intend for it to be necessarily Greta Van Weezer, but Zerwee walks the line of being more than a tribute project perfectly.
Cobb is in a weird predicament, as his biggest project yet is an impression of a famous band. Luckily, Cobb absolutely nails the sounds of The Blue Album, Pinkerton, and The White Album, which is Cobb's favorite Weezer record. The opening track 'The Shell Shack' immediately draws to mind The White Album, combining the topic of the beach and the classic Weezer power chords. When Cobb screams "I'm not asking for world domination…" before the song decays into a combination of fuzzy lead parts and mangled synths, it feels like a song that would feel at home on Pinkerton. Zerwee clearly holds those early Weezer hallmarks well, but Cobb makes the EP more than just an imitation. Deeply felt and Weezer-y lyrics are all over the EP, with lines that come from River Cuomo's journal, to literal references to the original text on '1955' ("Maybe we could build a boat and sail across the sea, but you're far away from me…"). With references to the beach on 'The Shell Shack', to notices of thick-rimmed glasses on '1955', the EP feels less dissonant and rejecting of the original band than Greta Van Fleet, creating a weird sort of Weezer dress up.
Midline (metaphorically) sat down with Billy Cobb to talk over Weezer, Zerwee, and what's next.
Midline - On Zerwee, most songs resemble 90s period Weezer, and you've managed to even replicate some of the smaller details such as the Matt Sharp-y falsetto backing vocals and fuzzy lead guitars. How careful were you to recreate a sound so similar to Weezer?
Cobb - Well, I was very careful with trying to replicate Weezer's sound as it was clearly the point of the project; however, I did kind of want to add a little bit of my own personality to it to make it a little more interesting. I think every Weezer album has a different enough tone from one another to give each record its own spark that makes it special amongst others. In order to truly make a new Weezer record, I felt I had to put a little bit of my own sound in it to make it feel fresh and familiar simultaneously.
Midline - And you could hear yourself in the EP nicely - the lyrics feel Weezer-y, but also nicely feel personal. I was happy to hear that your music that isn't Zerwee is also really great. Strokes of Incarceration, your previous record, almost has a more straightforward emo sound, although it does get experimental. After that record, when did the inspiration strike for Zerwee?
Cobb - Well I finished that record at the end of my third semester of college which was in December, and Zerwee didn't release until five months later in May, so it was quite a while. I had the idea for Zerwee sometime in either late March or early April. I just wanted to make a good Weezer-sounding rock record because Weezer hadn't actually released a decent one for about three years. I know I started recording it in April, but then I took a short break from it. It actually almost wasn't finished or released because I went through a period where I thought "people have heard this before, they don't need anymore." But alas, I eventually got the inspiration to finish it, and it clearly paid off.
Midline - It absolutely did. I immediately almost got more of a White Album vibe than Blue Album on a track like 'The Shell Shack', which was interesting as it's been hyped up as this 90s Weezer tribute. How do you feel about the Weezer timeline and periods of quality?
Cobb - I think the Weezer timeline is super interesting and I believe it actually has a strong enough story arch to make a solid biopic. As far as the quality of the albums go, it's definitely a rollercoaster of a timeline. You have some excellent albums, some okay ones, and some bad ones. With Weezer, you never know what you're going to get. However I do have to say that the Weezer timeline isn't quite as awful as it's made out to be. People consider the darkest age of Weezer to be in the 2000s, but I felt like their output during that era was actually quite mixed. It was kind of back, and forth with the quality of the albums, they would release a good one and then a not so good one. Green was okay, Maladroit was good, Make Believe was poor, Red was mostly good, Raditude was awful, but then Hurley was great. Because of this, I find it hard to really pick out a "dark age" in their career. Of course you have the renaissance era of Weezer from 2014-2016 with EWBAITE and White, which had them release their best albums since the '90s; and while I do think those records were a lot better than what they put out in the 2000s, their 2000's catalog isn't even all that bad. If there is any time where they've been consistently poor at making records it's actually now, as their past three records (Pacific Daydream, Black, and Teal) have all been pretty stale. I'm hoping with the next two records they've talked about (okay Human and Van Weezer) they return to what made them great in the renaissance, and from the sounds of it, they will.
Midline - How do you feel about the divisive relationship the Weezer fanbase seems to have with Zerwee? I've seen you actively defend the record online, but it's interesting how conflicted the Weezer fans are.
Cobb - Well, thankfully the response is mostly positive, I'd say at least 80%. I don't really mind when people don't like it for the music, that's just their taste. However, I absolutely despise when people say it's ripping off Weezer and compare it to something like Greta Van Fleet. The difference there is that Greta Van Fleet blatantly rips off their sound from Led Zeppelin and don't even acknowledge it. Their whole career is based off of the sound of another artist, and I completely understand the criticism for that, in fact, I'm on board with it. However to say that Zerwee is in the same boat is just dumb and ignorant. Firstly the title of the EP is literally "Weezer" mixed around, which blatantly tells the listener that Weezer is who I'm trying to sound like. Also, you can't really criticize it for copying another artist because that was literally the point of it, to sound like Weezer. This is something I've made very apparent. It's not like I'm ripping them off and claiming that it's my own sound and that it's completely original. It's also only one project I've made out of many others; this one was only made for fun while the others have a different style that I can call my own and are mostly taken more seriously.
Midline - Do you think Zerwee will help with finding and cementing an audience?
Cobb - So far the thing has been doing rounds, the first song on the EP has almost 100,000 plays on Spotify, and the EP has about 160,000 views on YouTube. It has definitely increased my popularity as well as my presence amongst Weezer fans. I'm just hoping it opens the door up for my other music.
Midline - What do you plan to do after the Zerwee hype passes? Another Weezer related EP? Back to the usual stuff?
Cobb - I'm just going to return to the normal stuff. Right now I don't have any plans to release another Weezer sounding EP. I kind of want Zerwee to be its own thing. I have a new EP coming out June 7th, and I'll have a new Halloween album out in October that I'm super hyped for.
Midline - I'm wondering how you feel about the EP in terms of audience/artist interaction, considering that in a sense, Zerwee is you going "hmm, maybe I can do better than what Weezer's doing now". I'm curious: do you think Weezer owes the audience music similar to what they want to hear? Is Weezer betraying fans by making Pacific Daydream? In a sense, you've almost one-upped Weezer.
Cobb - I think that Weezer should stick to the sound that makes them great, while also making it fresh. Don't get me wrong, you need to experiment to stay interesting, but I think there's a difference between experimenting and conforming. Experimenting would be going in new, unheard directions. Conforming is what they seem to be doing, which is trying to sound like top 40 pop artists to try to appeal to a more mainstream audience. It's a shame that they're doing this especially when in 2014 they released the song 'Back to the Shack' which completely denounces that behavior and promises to never do it again. I think especially because of that song they owe the fans more solid records because they got our hopes up with that song as well as their output from 2014-2016. The thing is, I know they're still capable of making a good record, they've dug themselves out of their graves already, and they can do it again. Hopefully their next records deliver.
Rivers Cuomo was not able to comment for this piece because he was busy doing a meditation course.
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