By Alex Rice
Original Weezer guitarist Jason Cropper on writing the iconic intro to “My Name is Jonas,” recording The Blue Album in New York City with Ric Ocasek, exiting the band after the sessions and reuniting with Rivers for a pair of concerts in 2018.
Weezer officially formed on Valentine’s Day 1992, after existing in a couple different incarnations before that. What do you remember about that first practice?
JC: I was playing a 12-string acoustic guitar with a pickup in it, Rivers had his white guitar, Matt had a hilarious, geeky metal bass and Pat had his red, blue and green Ludwig kit, kind of like a Ringo kit but different colors. There were a lot of songs and they were all fun to play, but not many of them ended up on The Blue Album. I think we had “My Name is Jonas.” We were all so excited to get together and jam on these songs, so it was really explosive. It was at a really funky rehearsal studio in west L.A. called P.K. Productions, and we kind of splurged and got the big room with the big P.A. and drum riser. It was one of those last gasp moments - everybody's running out of money and we were just like, “We made it! We made it to this!” We knew we had something really special that was worth pursuing.
What about those songs excited you?
JC: The quality of the songs that Rivers was coming up with was definitely on an upswing. It had gone a notch higher, in terms of craft and being less reliant on proto heavy metal riffs, than what we had done in Fuzz. He was moving into chord progressions with heavy downstrokes and more diatonic stuff, à la The Blue Album. It was maybe the second or third time since moving to L.A. that I had played with Pat on drums. Back then, he took no prisoners. He plays very dynamically in Weezer now - he goes at this very easy pace, but when he lights it up, he plays really hard. He does that with such grace and power and he was really excited that night. It was great playing with such a confident drummer. And then Matt was super happy, as we all were. We all knew that we had something that was completely original, and that if Weezer was going to make it, it wasn’t going to be because it sounded like Nirvana or Guns ’n Roses. You could hear that in our performance.
You guys toiled away in L.A. for a year after that, playing small clubs around town before getting a record deal. During that period, did it ever feel like Weezer wasn’t going to happen?
JC: There were setbacks. The whole thing felt like a setback. Successful people make a lot of mistakes because they try more, so we had to make a few mistakes along the way to figure out what wasn’t working. We played a show at a place called Genghis Cohen, a dinner club that served Chinese food that mostly had acoustic, singer-songwriter acts. Somehow, our demo tape had made its way into the hands of the people at Restless Records, so the president of the label, Joe Regis, came up to the band afterwards. He said, “Hey, I like the bands, I like the songs, so let's make a great record.” That was super gratifying and Pat and I were like, “Let’s do it! Let’s go with the first one and get started,” and Rivers and Matt were smartly taking the long view - “Let’s get better and use this as a stepping stone to something bigger.” We did, and somehow got the attention of Slash Records. We courted with them for awhile and it got more formal, so somebody at Slash told us we needed to get a lawyer to negotiate a contract. That's when Rivers and Matt went out and found Jamie Young, who said, “Okay, we’re going to use this as momentum. Restless was the warm up and this is the actual stepping stone. You’re going to have to up your game - sing better, play better, write some better songs - and we’ll have a showcase to see if we can get anybody else interested.”
What did each member bring to the table in those early days?
JC: Each of us played to and alongside Rivers’ strengths in different ways. Pat is such a solid drummer and exceptional musician - he can write, he can sing, he can play any instrument. Rivers is actually pretty good at drums, too. Matt had his business savvy and kind of acted as manager for a while so that Rivers didn’t have to be the salesperson. Then, he also had those cool, kind of out-of-tune falsetto vocals that were reminiscent of Kim Deal, but though the lens of a guy from Washington, D.C. I could sing in tune and do harmonies - that barbershop quartet stuff they do now, we started doing back in 1993. I was willing to pick up any guitar and help Rivers make it sound better. I helped him move out of his heavy metal guitar sound into a more contemporary tone.
I guess it’s appropriate, then, that the first notes on The Blue Album were written by you. Where and when did you compose the intro to “My Name is Jonas”?
JC: It was 1991, when Pat and I were still living together. I was working at an Italian restaurant, where I moonlighted as a dishwasher, busboy and custodian, and Pat was collecting his unemployment checks after being unceremoniously fired from a dog shampoo telemarketing job. We had a little four-track set up, so he would write and record guitar and drum parts all day, in between cigarette, danish and chocolate milk breaks. I was a little bit left out of the songwriting process since someone had to make money to pay the rent, so I would come home and ask to play a little. Every once in awhile, I would do something where he would go, “I like that!” I came home one day and began plucking what became the opening bars to “Jonas.” I kept changing around the chord progression - Pat wanted me to play the first three chords down and up. He was like, “Great! You got it. Now give me back the guitar,” then he wrote the rest of the music and handed it to Rivers, who wrote the melody, lyrics and solo.
What was your favorite song to record while making Blue?
JC: When we laid down the solo to “Jonas,” Rivers had me play with him. He was pointing to the fretboard and coming up with that part as we were recording. I was just doing my fingerpicking thing from the intro and he was moving his hand up and down the fretboard, trying to find the diatonic shape while the tape was rolling, and we got it in one take.
We were both really excited, looking at each other, holding each other’s arms, jumping up and down and laughing. Another time that happened was when Ric Ocasek let Rivers and I go up alone to Studio C, which was Jimi Hendrix’s apartment when he lived there.
He let us go up there for a few days, unsupervised, to do some guitar overdubs - stuff that’s on “Only in Dreams” and “The Sweater Song.” I found a Fender Twin reverb amp and turned on the tremolo setting and dialed in the warbling sound for the intro to “The Sweater Song.” We looked at each other, super wide-eyed and super happy. It was that same vibe from the Valentine’s Day rehearsal.
How did it feel when you were asked to leave the band? (Editor’s note: Exact reasons are shrouded by a non-disclosure agreement between Jason and the band.)
JC: At the time, it was the best possible decision for me to leave, both for the band and for my family. It was really sad for me because I felt close to Rivers in a familial sense. My aunt had been his schoolteacher on an ashram growing up, and then we met later by complete chance. Losing the ability to hang out with him everyday and be friends with him… it was special before Weezer was commonly known. It was exciting, it was interesting, it was challenging. It made me want to be a better musician, a better communicator, a better writer and all the things that hanging out with somebody who’s seriously determined to improve themselves in many categories of their life make you want. I eventually presented as kind of a liability to that - my behavior, my situation - so it was hard, but it’s hard to be in a band. After that, them getting famous was hard for me. It was emotionally difficult to follow what they were doing, but every once in awhile they would come out with a song and I’d hear it on the radio and go, “That’s fucking amazing… I would love this band even if I hadn’t been involved.” I’m not angry, bitter or sad anymore.
Weezer has had a bunch of different identities over the last 25 years. Do you have a favorite album of theirs, other than Blue?
JC: Pinkerton is such a genius follow-up. It’s like, we took so many years to write these songs and now we have a hit, so we have to crank out another record. You just have to put out what you’ve got at that point. You can hear Pat playing really loud, hard and fast - like, we’re going to make up for quality with brute force. Rivers was still bringing his A-game as far as songwriting, but it wasn’t “Say It Ain’t So” - it was “Tired of Sex.” I think that natural progression and the way it’s laid bare there is really honest. They didn’t hire a big, expensive producer and just went with a raw, natural sound - here’s us as we are. That honesty was admirable.
You reunited with Rivers for a couple acoustic shows in San Francisco last year. How did those come about?
JC: Over the years, I’d occasionally see they’re playing in town or a friend would tell me, so I’d send a text to the person doing day-to-day stuff and it was always “Yes,” no matter how many passes I needed. My buddy David told me that Rivers was doing a show at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco the next week and asked if I could get some tickets. I sent the text, and through another weird synchronicity, my wife and I were driving down the street to go shopping and Weezer was on the radio. The text came back, “Rivers would love to have you there. How would you feel about getting up on stage and playing a few songs off The Blue Album?” I was like, “Oh my gosh, absolutely.” Who would say no to that? So I asked, “What songs and is it still tuned in E flat?” They wrote back, “E flat for life.” It was one of those magical moments - a unique approach from a unique artist. That was a really fun show. We got to talk privately a little before and that was lovely. He said some really kind things to me that were very healing. There’s not many people that you know and keep in your life for more than 25 years from that seminal period in your late teens and early 20s, so that is a brass ring to have a friend like that for so long. I’m grateful that he made the difficult decisions he’s made along the way - me leaving the band being just one in a series of very difficult decisions, like what to do with this person, what to do with this record deal, the song order on an album, who to pick as the next bass player. I’m grateful that I got to play a small part in the beginning, I’m grateful that I got to spend all the time I’ve gotten to spend with my family, and I’m grateful that they’ve been so successful.
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