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The Turning Point that Ignited Rivers Cuomo’s Guitar Passion

by Madonna

Amid the musical landscape of the mid-1990s, characterized by its uncertainty and a quest for the next big thing in rock and roll following the grunge era, Rivers Cuomo found his unique calling, a stark contrast to what was considered ‘cool’ at the time.

Initially influenced by the sounds of Nirvana, Cuomo would eventually embrace his inner nerd when he embarked on his musical journey with Weezer. While many were experimenting with offbeat and eccentric sounds, Cuomo’s approach to rock music leaned more towards the traditional pop songwriting, infusing tracks with a blend of heavy guitars that seemed like a collision between The Beach Boys and rock.

Though he was initially drawn to the idea of following in the footsteps of bands like Nirvana, Cuomo’s musical evolution had its roots in a completely different genre – hair metal. Relocating to California in pursuit of his musical dream, a pivotal moment that set him on the path of guitar playing occurred during a talent show where he witnessed his friends performing hair metal songs.

Recalling this moment, Cuomo told Chris Shiflett, “At the end of eighth grade, some of my classmates did a performance of ‘Metal Health’ by Quiet Riot. I couldn’t believe I was listening to kids my age with guitars, drums, and bass playing this song that I loved so much, ‘Bang Your Head.’ I just knew that’s what I had to do.”

As he delved into the intricacies of playing the guitar, Cuomo quickly realized that he aspired to do more than just the standard rhythm playing that was typical of rock and roll. Drawing inspiration from the energy of heavy metal bands, characterized by blistering guitar solos, he attributed his shift towards lead guitar to the influence of Yngwie Malmsteen.

When discussing the turning point that led him to become a lead guitarist, Cuomo pointed to Malmsteen’s solos, particularly mentioning tracks like ‘Far Beyond the Sun.’ He explained, “In the 1980s, heavy metal became much more classical-influenced. You hear all the notes in the scale. At that point, I just fell in love with that style, and I never turned back. Probably learning some of those Yngwie licks like ‘Far Beyond the Sun.'”

Despite the incredible technical prowess required to play heavy metal music, Cuomo was grateful for guitar teachers who exposed him to a wide range of musical styles. These instructors emphasized that the guitar could be used not just for showcasing skills but also for contributing to the melodic aspects of music. Cuomo’s teachers introduced him to guitar embellishments in pop songs by artists like Madonna, expanding his horizons and encouraging him to explore the guitar’s melodic potential.

When Cuomo eventually formed Weezer, he seamlessly blended both sides of his musical personality into the band’s sound. The result was tracks like the colossal guitar epic ‘Only in Dreams,’ which showcased his impressive guitar prowess but also served as a testament to his versatility as a musician. For Cuomo, guitar virtuosity is just one facet of his multifaceted musical identity.

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