It started as a suggestion in a tweet from a 14-year-old fan in Ohio. Perhaps it was a joke, or maybe she was serious, but she politely asked Weezer to cover the song “Africa” by Toto. Weezer drummer Patrick Wilson responded to that tweet, and shortly afterward, a video emerged of the band granting her wish and playing the beloved 1982 hit. Before long, that video ignited the social media fronts and went viral, where it now stands at over 9.5 million views on YouTube, while the track reached #1 on the Billboard Alternative chart. A new wave of millennial fans on college campuses and in high school hallways fell in love with that tune, thanks to its resurrection by one of the most popular alternative-rock bands of the past three decades. So, being the intrepid musicians that they are, Weezer decided to put out a whole album of covers from the ’80s and ’90s, and thus sparked the band’s Teal Album.
For Scott Shriner, this was nothing new — he grew up playing in cover bands his whole life and earned his chops from riffing along with John Entwistle, Chris Squire, and John Paul Jones. Shriner stepped up to the challenge and kicked out bass-heavy versions of “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath, and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears For Fears. But for the prolific Weezer, one album in 2019 wasn’t enough, so the band went back into the studio and released a full LP of originals only three months later, which they dubbed the Black Album. The record departs from the sounds of 2017’s Pacific Daydream with bigger, more pronounced tones, and even a heavy hand of synth bass provided by Shriner, along with some seriously fun 4-string lines in the songs “Living in L.A.,” “Too Many Thoughts in My Head,” and “The Prince Who Wanted Everything.” Spending hours on end kicking out bass ideas with producer Dave Sitek, Shriner made sure that every line on the album hit its mark, and the result is a mixed bag of styles that display his unique approach.
To fuel that approach, Scott used a wide selection from his impressive collection of basses and amps that he’s been hunting down through his 18 years of being in Weezer and beyond. And when we say impressive, we mean it — we could write a whole feature on his vintage gear alone. Shriner was selective in his tone choices, for both albums even using multiple basses and amp configurations within individual songs. For a relentless tone junkie who has a competitive side in raising his own bar, this meticulous process paid off in the end. If you don’t believe us, catch Weezer on their current tour, where they’re kicking out classic hits, covers, and new tunes from their massive 300-song show catalog. And in case it’s not obvious, Scott will be the one clad in a slick outfit, belting harmonies and playing one of his gorgeous vintage basses in front of a towering stack of classic cabinets.
What sparked Weezer’s jolt of productivity?
Starting with the White Album , we figured out a system where we can keep kicking out albums every year. Rivers [Cuomo, frontman] had two folders of songs; one was to go toward the White Album and the other to a Black Album, and he was thinking that the black stuff was going to be a lot darker and he was going to swear all over it. That didn’t really end up being the final product, but it’s different sounding, for sure. Then the covers album came up and we just jumped on it.
Did a single tweet from a fan really lead to creating the Teal Album?
Pretty much. We put out the “Africa” cover for fun, and our manager suggested doing a full cover album after that. Since I grew up playing in cover bands, for a long time I was better at learning other people’s stuff than creating my own music; I’m not recommending other players to do that, but that’s how I learned bass. I’ve met musicians who cannot learn other people’s songs, and I totally respect that, but I came from a world where you had to be able to play a lot of styles to survive. So doing a covers album was very natural for me.
How did you go about choosing the songs?
We all kicked in ten songs that we wanted to do. The funny thing about Weezer is that if the four of us ever made a Venn diagram where we all name what music we’re into, our circles would never really cross [laughs]. If you were in the room when we were bringing our ideas to the table, you’d wonder how these guys are even in a band together. Somehow we managed to come up with that list, and we were all excited about doing Tear For Fears and all of that — but when Rivers brought in [TLC’s] “No Scrubs,” we all kind of rolled our eyes at him. Then when I sat down and started playing it, it clicked and I realized that this song is rad and the bass line I was playing was dope and how is this happening? Then I got really excited about it. I don’t know if anyone likes it or not, but I think it’s bumping.
How did you dial in your tone differently on each song to capture the right vibe?
For a lot of it I used my ’65 Precision where I bypass the tone and volume pot and I’m wired straight to the pickup through an SVT rig and a Kemper [amp modeler] with a Sun Model T modeled in it. I have so many amps, but I stuck with that. A lot of my heads and cabs are profiled in the Kemper. I played like four different basses on that album — my Jazz Bass with flatwounds, my Rickenbacker, my ’62 Precision, which is my staple, and my ’65 Jazz. I had to figure out what worked best for each song; some songs needed different elements from the verses to choruses, so I’d use different basses within a song.
How much fun was it playing the iconic “Billie Jean” bass line?
That song is no joke. It’s a relentless line to keep playing and keep even the whole way. I’m not going to act like it took me just a second to learn that and be able to pull it off — it took me a minute to get it all down and ready to record. It took a lot of concentration. After tracking it for a couple of hours, I was strained, because it’s a lot of handwork. Then I had to go play it live and sing harmonies on it. I actually wanted to hear more synth bass on that track, but we blended the keybass with the electric bass.
What was the writing process like for the Black Album?
Our process has definitely changed over the years. We’re all free to send the producer we’re working with song ideas, and then they go through all of them and pick songs and decide what would make a cohesive album. This time around, that producer was Dave Sitek [TV On The Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Little Dragon]. Then we all go in separately and record our parts. On the Black Album we didn’t really see each other at all in the studio. A lot of times I’d go in to track, and it would be the first time I’d hear the song in [that] state, and I’d have to just hop right in and play bass all day. Dave is a bass player, too, so I really trusted him and his ideas. We’d put a section on loop, and I’d try a bunch of different approaches until he started freaking out, and then we knew we had something. If he wasn’t saying anything or moving, chances are I wasn’t doing anything for him, so it became a game for me of how I could blow that guy’s mind for each song.
How did you approach your sound?
Over the years I’ve realized that a lot of the time I was more in the guitar range of things, with the amount of the midrange I have on my bass. That sounds awesome when the bass is isolated and on its own, but then when it’s put in the mix, it kind of messed with the guitar parts. I learned that it served the band much better if I stuck more on the low side of things. Now I know I have to really stick to my role and supply that depth. We already have two guitar players in the band. I grew up listening to Chris Squire and John Entwistle and I’ve always loved treble attack, but sometimes in this band, it’s better if I stay out of that range. As an example, on a song like “High as a Kite,” I approached that with more of a dub sound.
The Black Album features a lot of synth bass parts. What led to you taking that route?
The evenness and thickness of the synth is so different from an electric, and when I’m going for a legato sound to destroy the Earth with, Minimoogs are great and powerful for that. It’s way less expressive for me, because I’m not a great keyboard player, but it really packs a punch with low end. Some of my bass friends always tell me about pedals that will make my bass sound like a synth, but if I want my bass to sound like a synth, I’ll play a synth. Some people are just more of the mind that they need to evolve the instrument to keeps kids involved, but the sound of an acoustic kick drum and a Fender bass will never go away.
You use some cool note placement on “The Prince Who Wanted Everything.”
Dave and I worked on that line a lot together, listening to what the guitars were doing and going in another direction altogether. It’s kind of a hokey swing feel that goes along with everyone else. It’s not something I would have played ten or 15 years ago, but I’ll give Dave some of the credit for helping me find that and being open minded to try new things and evolve my playing. I love this band because it gives me the opportunity to grow and do my thing. I get set in my ways and patterns and do what’s comfortable for me, but I’m super happy to be challenged and learn something new and not have an ego about it.
What have you been practicing lately?
I went through a heavy James Brown period, which to me is like going to bass boot camp. It taught me why the one is so important, why having such a fat sound is important, and how to play the same thing for three minutes with no fills or extra notes. I learned so much from that stuff. And then when I need a break from that and I need to get my grind on, I’ll play some Yes to kick my butt. Squire’s lines are such workouts and they’re great to play with to get your chops up.
Weezer plays long shows that pull from a huge catalog. What is that like for you?
Heading out on our current tour, Rivers sent us a master list of 300 songs and asked if we were cool playing all of them. I wrote back and said that I’d play any song on that list with a few hours notice. Again, that’s kind of the competitive side to me where I love a challenge, and if someone is asking to me a duel, then bring it on. It’s exciting to have so many songs because it keeps the shows engaging. And the songs are so good that all I have to do is help the audience enjoy themselves and support Rivers in his show. My job is pretty clear.
How does it feel to have solidified your place in the music and legacy of Weezer?
It wasn’t luck or anything. I didn’t know any of those guys, and they auditioned 20 or 30 bass players, a lot of whom were their friends, so I earned my place in this band and I take that very seriously. I’m just so grateful and proud. It’s how I would imagine getting made into a mafia family would be. I’m a made man now. I’m a full member of this band, and it’s not like nobody can kill me or anything, but I feel like I’ve cemented my place in this legacy. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it’s pretty fucking great.
Weezer, Teal Album and Black Album [Crush Music]
Bass (on current tour) 1959 Fender Precision Bass, 1960 Fender Precision, 1965 Fender Jazz Bass, 1962 Fender Precision
Rig 1973 Marshall Super Bass Head, Hi-Watt 200-watt head, Sun Model-T head, Emperor 4x12 guitar cabinet & ported 8x10 bass cabinet
Pedals MXR Phase 100, Wren and Cuff Tri Pie ’70, Dwarfcraft Baby Thundaa, Guyatone WR2 Wha Rocker, Endangered Audio Research AD4096
Strings Ernie Ball Slinky Mediums (.045–.105)
Synths Moog Taurus 3, Minimoog Voyager, Dave Smith Instruments Prophet-6