The Untold Truth Of Rivers Cuomo

Any musical history of the '90s and 2000s would be incomplete without a mention of Weezer. The Los Angeles-based rock band first made a splash in 1994 with their "Blue Album," featuring the breakout singles "Say It Ain't So," "Undone — The Sweater Song," and "Buddy Holly." Then, in 1996, they followed it up with "Pinkerton" — an album that received mixed reviews from critics at the time of its release, but would later achieve cult status. They soon skyrocketed to large-scale fame with the release of smash hits "Island in the Sun" and "Beverly Hills." Over a decade later, they're still going strong, bringing their lovably geeky anthems to arenas around the world.

Lead singer and guitarist Rivers Cuomo has become something of a mythical figure to many of his fans. Most Weezer devotees know that he is a Harvard graduate, was temporarily celibate, and meditates on a daily basis — but those are only a few of the most interesting facts about this legendary rocker. Read on to learn more about his storied past and get a peek into his creative process.

He grew up on an ashram

Rivers Cuomo and his brother Leaves had a unique childhood. According to Cuomo's official biography, the two boys were raised on an ashram known as "Yogaville," located in Pomfret, Connecticut. The ashram was run by a yoga master named Sri Swami Satchidananda, whom Rivers and the other children on the ashram referred to as "Swamiji."

Cuomo elaborates on his upbringing in an interview with Integral Yoga Magazine. He recalls his time at the ashram school (which he attended from age 4 to 7) fondly, calling it "a positive and supportive environment." "The Ashram itself was so nurturing and creative," he says. "I just remember being in school and feeling that if I had any crazy idea, we would be encouraged to try it out. You want to build a space ship? Sure, let's try and build it." He speculates that the ashram's constructive approach to education is part of the reason why so many former Yogaville children have gone on to have successful careers in the arts (award-winning actor Liev Schrieber attended the ashram school, as did Dave Matthews Band member Stefan Lessard).

Cuomo still keeps in touch with some of his classmates and teachers today. He'll exchange emails with them; sometimes he'll even meet up with them when he's on tour.

His father was a musician

It's possible that musical talent runs in Rivers Cuomo's family. His father, Frank Cuomo, was a musician in his own right. According to Cuomo's official biography, the elder Cuomo contributed percussion to the album "Odyssey of Iska" by jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Diffuser notes that he also played with jazz fusion band the Weather Report in the 1970s.

Cuomo has honored his dad's musical chops by inviting him to jam out with Weezer on several occasions. In 2015, he brought him onstage to bang the drums while Weezer played "Back to the Shack" at the Burgerama festival in Los Angeles. A year later, he summoned him into the spotlight to play quintessential Weezer hit "Beverly Hills" at a show in Irvine (via NME).

Frank isn't the only Cuomo who has performed with Rivers onstage. During the same tour, Rivers invited his daughter Mia to play the keys during "Perfect Situation."

He graduated from Harvard

According to an interview with The Harvard Crimson, Rivers Cuomo first enrolled at Harvard in 1995 when he was 25 years old. At the time, Weezer had enjoyed some mild recognition with singles from their "Blue Album." Yet Cuomo wasn't sure whether the first album's success had been a fluke.

While attending Harvard in the '90s, Cuomo wrote several songs that would appear on his album "Pinkerton." He took some time off in 1996 to tour with Weezer after the album's release. Then he returned for a semester in 2004 before dropping out to focus on his career. He made a triumphant comeback shortly after, wanting to "finish what [he had] started" and finally graduated in 2006.

Cuomo first studied music composition; he then changed his major to English. His initial experience at Harvard was significantly different from his second stint — largely due to Weezer's spike in popularity. When he set foot onto Harvard's campus in '95, he "wasn't singled out as a celebrity." "I [had] pretty long hair and really long, bushy beard, glasses, walked with a cane," Cuomo says in the interview. "On top of that fact, our album was not successful with college kids — it was successful with ten-year-olds!" Things had changed by '04: "The best part about being famous ... is that people want to get to know me. People come up to me and introduce themselves, and I make friends ... I have a very happy and comfortable social life."

Weezer wasn't his first band

According to his bio, long before the dawn of Weezer, Rivers Cuomo was the big-haired lead guitarist in a metal band called Avant Garde, going by the stage name Peter Kitts. Avant Garde played several shows in Connecticut before moving out to Los Angeles, hoping to make it big.

Trying to blow up on the Sunset Strip in 1990 wasn't easy. Cuomo — then just 19 years old — lived in a "filthy studio apartment" with his four bandmates, reports Rolling Stone. The Avant Garde boys advertised religiously, but couldn't seem to grow a following. They changed their name to the more generic "Zoom," tried to make their music more mainstream, and even toned down their wild hairstyles in an attempt to reach more listeners. Alas, they soon realized that they had arrived at the party too late — the hair metal scene was already on its way out at that point.

Rivers Cuomo isn't ashamed of his metal past. Per Substream, the music video for Weezer's 2019 "Take on Me" cover features "Stranger Things" actor Finn Wolfhard playing a young Cuomo in his Avant Garde days. Of course, he sports a massive mullet.

He once recorded a rap album about vegetarianism

In a 2019 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Cuomo refers to himself as "a lifelong vegetarian," inspired to take up a plant-based diet by the five precepts of the Buddha. Cuomo is deeply passionate about the vegetarian lifestyle — to the extent that he once recorded a vegetarian-themed rap album, according to Rolling Stone.

While Cuomo was undergoing a creative crisis in the 1990s, he challenged himself to write 50 songs in a row before allowing himself to play live again. It was during this period that he wrote Weezer classic "Undone — The Sweater Song," as well as the aforementioned vegetarian concept album, titled "Vegeterrorists." Each track featured Cuomo waxing poetic about his dietary preferences in the style of Public Enemy and Run-DMC. Jason Cropper, a founding member of Weezer who eventually parted ways with the band, commends Cuomo's rapping talents in the Rolling Stone article: "Rivers can drop mad beats and spit mad rhymes with the best." Unfortunately, the world may never get to corroborate his opinion: to this day, "Vegeterrorists" remains unreleased.

He is a soccer fan

Per his official bio, Rivers Cuomo grew up as a major fan of soccer. To date, he's written two odes to the sport. In 2006, according to MTV, he penned "Our Time Will Come," a hype song for the U.S. Men's soccer team during the World Cup. In 2010, Weezer debuted another World Cup anthem — this one titled "Represent." In the lyrics, Cuomo lays out the stakes for the athletes ("It matters how you play the game / It matters that you can take the pain") and engages in some good-natured boasting ("Why don't we see who is the wizard and play some one on one? / I think you'll find me sympathetic to ya when I've won").

Cuomo has also spent some time on the field himself. In 2008, Pitchfork reports, he participated in the Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra Celebrity Soccer Challenge alongside Tony Hawk, Andy Samberg, and Elisabeth Shue, among others. He put up a real fight during the charity match (all proceeds went to Children's Hospital Los Angeles), even scoring his team's first goal. The next year, according to the Globe and Mail, he laced up his cleats again — this time for the Athletes for Africa 5v5 charity soccer tournament. This time around, he and teammates Michael Cera, Brendan Canning (of Broken Social Scene), and Ted Leo were playing to raise money for a youth center for arts and culture in northern Uganda.

He has fasted to sharpen his creative concentration

Rivers Cuomo has occasionally gone to extreme lengths for songwriting's sake. In a 2005 interview with LA Weekly, he elaborates on the drastic method he used to write his song "Hold Me" (off the Weezer album "Make Believe"): fasting. 

After a short period of starvation, Cuomo began to notice changes in his mental state. "I felt really sad, and I really pitied myself, and I felt a lot of loss, and of course I was really hungry. I think because of low blood sugar, whatever extraneous mental activity I usually have kind of quieted down, so I entered into this very concentrated state of extreme longing, and started playing that song," he says. The fasting had done what he had hoped, and not only did he like the song he'd written, the music actually made him feel considerably better.

Despite being proud of his results, Cuomo is hesitant to encourage artists to follow his example. "It can't be sustained. If you're relying on extreme emotions, you just become a wreck, and it's tough for other people to live with you. And it's just not a good life. Who wants to be constantly cultivating anger and sadness? Not me."

He regularly meditates

Shortly after fasting, River Cuomo says in his interview with LA Weekly, he turned to meditation. Cuomo wasn't a total stranger to the practice — he meditated while living on the ashram as a child, but gave it up around sixth grade. He was initially skeptical about picking it up as an adult, but he was in such need of a creative breakthrough that he decided to give it a try.

According to ABC News, Cuomo tested out several meditation techniques before settling on the Vipassana method. He has meditated for two hours a day every day since 2003 — except for one day in 2009, when he was knocked unconscious in a bus crash. "It definitely improves your concentration and creativity, even in rock music," he says. "It's about fighting through whatever internal struggles there are ... and really focusing in on what it is you're trying to say." He feels that meditation has helped shape his life choices: "I don't know if I ever would have gotten married without this meditation practice to settle me down and get me focused on my core values."

Meditation is such a major part of Cuomo's life that he's made an effort to pass his knowledge on to others. A 2009 newsletter from the Vipassana Research Institute reveals that Cuomo used to teach children's meditation courses there. He also supported the production of "The Dhamma Brothers," a film about Vipassana meditation in an Alabama state prison, according to a press release.

He was celibate for two years

In 2003, Cuomo decided to give up sex temporarily. In a 2005 interview with fans conducted via AOL chat session (no longer online, but quoted in an NME article), he elaborates on this choice. "I decided to try celibacy because I heard it would help the meditation, and I tried meditation because I heard it would help with the music. So it all really comes back to the music," he says. He asserts that this exercise yielded positive results: "I know I can hear a difference in my singing ... I also notice a difference in the lyrics. I'm much more open and communicative about my emotions now." On top of that, he believes his lifestyle of discipline has affected his demeanor in the studio, as well. "I don't have so much fear that I won't get my way. I don't have so much anger if people have opposing opinions and generally I'm much more happy and comfortable in collaborative situations."

Cuomo's period of abstinence ended when he married his girlfriend, Kyoko Ito, in 2006. According to Cuomo's 2006 interview with The Harvard Crimson, Ito and Cuomo met at one of Cuomo's solo shows in 1997. The fact that Ito was originally a Weezer fan isn't something that factors into their relationship, and it's something he's grateful for. "Thankfully, I haven't thought along those lines very much," Cuomo tells the Crimson. "I just kind of forget how we met, and she's just my woman."

He rarely curses in his lyrics

Scrolling through Weezer's discography, you might notice that few of the band's songs are labeled "explicit." This is by design — Rivers Cuomo isn't a big fan of swearing in music, and prefers to keep his songs fairly curse-free.

In a 2008 interview with Rolling Stone, Cuomo explains the artistic logic behind his decision, citing the Beach Boys as an inspiration. "I don't like to use real swear words," he says. "Weezer came up at a time when Jane's Addiction released 'Nothing's Shocking' — everyone was trying to be controversial. We looked back to rock & roll's pre-drug days — to the clean im­ages of the Beach Boys — That felt, ironically, rebellious."

In 2019, Weezer released their "Black Album," which saw Cuomo using stronger language. (In an interview with DIY Magazine, Cuomo describes it as "less summer day and more winter night": "If it were a movie in the United States it would be rated R instead of PG.") However, he soon reverted to his former ways, keeping it relatively clean on the band's next few records.

He created his own 'Encyclopedia of Pop' for inspiration

Rivers Cuomo has been known to approach songwriting from a mathematical perspective. In a 2002 interview with Rolling Stone, he speaks of a notebook he kept in the late 1990s, in which he meticulously dissected every song Kurt Cobain had ever written (plus some of his favorite tunes by Oasis and Green Day). Per Todd Sullivan, Weezer's A&R man, "He figured if he could home in on Kurt's formula, he'd figure out his own formula ... That way, he would be a never-ending supply of songs."

After filling out his Nirvana notebook, Cuomo moved onto another creative exercise: a three-ring binder he called "the Encylopedia of Pop," in which he stores his in-depth analyses of songs by various artists he admires. The work isn't tedious to him, but entertaining. "I'm probably just a natural-born scientist," he says. "I like taking notes and analyzing things."

He was born with a mild leg defect

Rivers Cuomo grew up having to deal with a mild physical defect. According to Rolling Stone, he was born with a condition making his left leg 44 millimeters shorter than his right one. He lived with this condition until 1995, when he decided to use his earnings from Weezer to undergo a procedure that would remediate the issue. The surgery was quite painful, involving the breaking of his leg bone. Recovery wasn't easy, either. Cuomo had to wear a steel brace over his leg for months. He also had to stretch his leg four times a day, "an agonizing process he compared to crucifixion."

Per SongFacts, Cuomo's struggles with his leg inspired the Weezer single "The Good Life," featured on "Pinkerton." In the lyrics, Cuomo refers to the sense of defeat and dismay he felt while healing: "Broken, beaten down / Can't even get around / Without an old man cane / I fall and hit the ground." The inside jacket for the single features an X-ray image of Cuomo's leg.