ON WEEZER’S NINTH STUDIO ALBUM, SCOTT SHRINER FINDS HIMSELF BUSIER THAN EVER— ROCKING SYNTHS, PLAYING FLOOR KEYS, BELTING VOCALS— IN THE COOLEST BAND THAT NEVER INTENDED TO BE COOL.
When you think of alternative- pop band Weezer, the images that most likely come to mind are of sweaterclad, bespectacled Buddy Holly lookalikes crooning pop songs and summer anthems. But in 2001, when Weezer saw its second bassist Mikey Welsh leave the group after replacing original member Matt Sharp, a tattoo-covered, gold-tooth-sporting, punk-rock-looking bassist stepped into the picture. Scott Shriner might not have fit the typical Weezer aesthetic, but luckily for the band and its fans, he’d ultimately impact more than just the Weezer look.
Right from his first album with the band, 2002’s Maladroit, Shriner was cutting through with more tenacity and presence than either of his predecessors. His wide range of tones, pumped through an ever-expanding array of amps and basses, has been an important factor in Weezer’s growth; his phases with Fender, Warwick, Lakland, and Electrical Guitar Company basses have created sonic mile markers for a band that shifts gears with every album.
On Everything Will Be Alright in the End, Weezer decided to merge its early vibe and current tastes, enlisting former producer Ric Ocasek and writing a massive and assorted batch of songs. From the range of instruments Shriner used—including a guitar/bass double-neck, keyboard bass, and Moog Taurus 3 bass pedals—to his vocal approach, tone, and lines, this album was all about letting loose and taking risks. On heavier tracks like “Ain’t Got Nobody” and “Eulogy for a Rock Band,” Shriner’s tone is brash, and he keeps it punchy on lighter songs like “Lonely Girl” and “Da Vinci.” His ballsy approach even led to him throwing an unexpected and unconventional distorted lick into the verse of the first single, “Back to the Shack.” From start to finish, Everything Will Be Alright in the End boasts the broadest range of Shriner’s playing, encapsulating the attitude with which this unlikely addition to Weezer infuses each of his bass lines.
What was your mindset heading into the writing process?
I wanted to have special moments on this album that might not be particularly flashy, but impactful. There’s a certain kind of honest, daring, and adventurous route you can take while being a team player, and I wasn’t afraid to stick out a bit along the way.
Did that have a big impact on how you wrote your bass lines?
It really did. I was definitely a little less careful than I’ve been in the past. That’s kind of how my playing style has evolved over the last few years. There was a time when I was just trying to fit more of a traditional bass role—I made sure my tone was round and mixed in with the kick drum, and I never poked out very much. But then I realized that I wanted to rip more. I got into a big John Entwistle phase where I was listening to the Who live albums, and his tone became one of my favorite bass sounds ever. He manages to have a lot of grit and be really round at the same time, so this time around, I went for a tone like his.
You sneak a great, unexpected bass lick into the verse of “Back to the Shack.” How did that happen?
Rivers [Cuomo] wrote that song, and there is a line where he says something like, “I had to make a few mistakes to find out who I am.” It struck something in me, and I decided I was going to do a bass fill there. That takes place in the middle of the second verse, which, traditionally, is not a place you’d throw in a big fill like that. That could have been a giant mistake, but it worked out.
Did you use any new techniques this time around?
I’ve learned that sometimes, when I pluck up near the neck pocket, I can get a really distinctive sound. I always used to play back near the bridge, so it took a while for me to get used to that. I made fun of guys who played there because I thought it was a weird place to play and the string can get all floppy, but I found a sweet spot.
How much of your sound comes from your hands?
I’m going to be bold and say that 79 percent of my sound comes from my hands and my attack. There are guys who can play any bass and make it sound amazing, and I’m almost there. I have a lot of adrenalin going through me pretty much at all times, but I know that if I play too hard, the notes will get smaller. So I have to constantly remind myself to relax, let my shoulders down, loosen my arms a little, and play a hair lighter. You can get a sound like you’re hitting the strings hard even when you’re playing softly.
Describe the role of bass in Weezer.
To be adventurous and bold, but at the same time, to really listen to Rivers’ singing and the melody. For example, I might think I’m adding something, but if I’m not careful, I might be distracting, stepping on something, or not letting something breathe. Rivers has so much character in his voice, so many subtleties, so if I’m going to choose spots to express myself, I can’t get annoying. My role is to bring out the melody and the words while maintaining the girth and heaviness of our drummer.
What is your biggest challenge?
Knowing Weezer’s catalog, which is pretty big. And there are times when Rivers will just point at me and walk offstage, which means he wants me to solo. I love moments like that, because I have to be confident and know that I’ve got this; I like being challenged and I like being a leader, so in those situations, I have to dig in. Sometimes I have to reel in the powers of the universe to do something interesting and cover a couple minutes of the show, but I like being kept on my toes like that.
What’s running through your head during a show?
I have to dismiss random thoughts while I’m onstage. It’s almost like a meditation practice while I’m playing the bass. When I start thinking, I’m in an entirely different part of my brain than the part that operates my bass-playing skills. Thoughts can build up in my head, and then, before I know it, I’ve missed a section of “Sweater Song,” which I’ve played 10,000 times. So as thoughts come in, I practice acknowledging them, letting them go, and not making any judgments about them. I just watch them go by and get back to what I’m doing, which is being deep into music. For a guy who has been overthinking his whole life, it’s a battle.
On top of everything else, you have to sing, too.
Singing is a big part of this job. When I was young, I thought that if I were a good enough bass player I wouldn’t have to sing, but if I didn’t sing, I wouldn’t be in this band. It’s essential, but it’s never been easy for me. It’s a skill that I had to develop, but thank God I sang in a band when I was young! When you watch Chris Squire or Geddy Lee or Les Claypool, they make playing and singing seem like no big deal whatsoever, but it’s really damn hard. Then I think to myself, Would Geddy Lee be complaining about having to sing over this section? The answer is always, “No.”
What first turned you on to playing bass?
A lot of guitar players switch to bass, but I feel like I was born as a bass player—it’s in my bones. I played trumpet in grade school, and I was getting beaten up so much that I figured I had to switch instruments. One day, I was listening to a Police song on the radio, and I asked my dad what instrument was making that rhythm. He told me it was a bass, and that was the moment I knew what I wanted to play. So my parents got me an acoustic guitar strung with bass strings, and they got me lessons at a music store to see if I really wanted to do it. And I did. I’ve never looked back since.
So you’ve taken a lot from the bass teachers in your life?
I’ve definitely been lucky in my music education. I took lessons for years and I’m still studying. It’s funny because Gary Willis was my instructor at Musicians Institute—talk about a difference in playing styles! That guy plays as light as he can, with the least amount of space from the strings to his fingers, and with the least amount of motion. Here I am with my hands looking like they’re flopping all around like a gang of spiders.
How would you evaluate your playing after all these years?
There are probably some bass players who would say I’m worse than ever because I’m jumping out of a traditional, supportive role. But the bass players who get me excited are the ones who play things differently each night and who aren’t afraid to take chances. Even if they fall off the string or come in below the note and slide up to it, these guys are going for it. I’ve gotten to a place where I’m proud of myself, and I’m proud of my willingness to go out on a limb.
Weezer, Everything Will Be Alright in the End [Republic]
Bass Electrical Guitar Company 500B Bass and Series 2 Double-Neck (guitar & bass); 1960, 1962 & 1965 Fender Precision Basses; 1965 Fender Jazz Bass
Amps Hex Model X, Hex 300, Verellen Meatsmoke, and Sunn Model T heads; Rollersound 8x10 and 1x15, and Emperor 8x10, Guitar 4x12, Bass 4x12 & 2x15 cabs
Pedals Wren and Cuff Tri Pie ’70, Sanford and Sonny BlueBeard Fuzz, Dwarfcraft Baby Thundaa, Sovtek Big Muff, Black Arts Toneworks Pharaoh, Walrus Audio Jupiter Fuzz, EarthQuaker Devices Grand Orbiter, Dirge Electronics delay, Loud Button Electronics WTF, Endangered Audio Research AD4096, Red Panda Particle delay/pitch shifter, IdiotBox Death Ray
Synths Moog Taurus 3, Minimoog Voyager, Dave Smith Instruments Poly Evolver
Strings Rotosound Roundwound (.045–.105)