As one-fourth of the band Weezer, guitarist Brian Bell has sold over 17 million albums worldwide. 23 years after their debut full-length—which featured timeless hits like “Buddy Holly,” “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “Say It Ain’t So”—Weezer are still going strong. The band’s newest offering—Pacific Daydream (slated for an October 27 release)—is the band’s third album in four years.
Guitar World spoke to Bell, on the eve of the album’s release, about his guitar collection, how he ended up playing Gibsons and Weezer’s legacy.
What inspired you to start playing guitar? Was it a particular artist or album?
I had musical training, or interests, very early in life. Around the age of four, my parents took me to see Elvis Presley and I immediately wanted to play some sort of musical instrument. My mom suggested piano and we got a piano in the house. I started taking lessons around that age. In elementary school, I moved to saxophone because that was the most rock & roll instrument of the time in the school orchestra. (laughs)
I’ve always been able to read music as long as I’ve been able to read English. I learned music and how to read and write around the same time, so it’s impossible for me not to read music. Whether that’s good or bad, that is what it is and it’s hard for me to unlearn things. You can get bogged down with theory with music, but I just try to use that knowledge to the best of my ability when I’m coming up with guitar parts.
I also was fairly athletic as a kid. I was always at the top of my height and weight at a certain age, so when I played sports, I was always in the bigger range of the kids. It was a lot of fun. Then when I got to high school, I realized I stopped growing and there was no longer a weight limit. Guys were so much bigger than me that I couldn’t compete in sports anymore. I had always thought that I was going to be a professional baseball player.
I decided to switch to guitar around the age of 15. I started with a really good instructor in Knoxville, Tennessee who was a masters student of Andres Segovia. That was good for me because I could already read music. It was a really quick transition for me and I feel like I was able to start really playing guitar within about six months of starting lessons.
It wasn’t any particular artist, it was internally something that I was looking to do with my life. Something that I felt passionate about. All through high school, every Friday night, when everyone was going out, I was going to guitar lessons. It was the age of 18, right after high school, that I moved to Los Angeles. I really went full force with music.
In your band before Weezer, Carnival Art, you played bass. When did you start playing bass?
I played both bass and guitar. I started out as bass, then the guitarist left the band, so I switched to guitar.
You’re known to only play Gibson Guitars. Was that the case in high school and when you were starting out?
Oh no, I wish I was lucky enough to start on a Gibson guitar. My first guitar was an Ibanez Roadstar II that I bought with my own money. I kind of wish that I had that guitar still, it was more of a Strat shape.
When you go out on the road these days, how many guitars do you usually bring?
Well, I personally don’t bring any. We have a crew that brings them in a truck, but I don’t really need that many guitars. I guess the answer to that question would be two. I found that bringing my vintage collection of guitars on the road is a very dumb thing to do.
Bringing a very solid, sturdy guitar though, is the right thing to do, so I found that Gibson Explorer has the best of both worlds, a good tone and also a battle ax; you can go to battle with that thing. I like to have one that is used for what we call “Weezer tuning.”
Basically, that means all the strings are tuned a half-step down. Then one of the guitars has a capo on the second fret, I usually play that for “Island In The Sun.” If I break a string, which I rarely do anymore, then I have a backup, which is another Gibson Explorer.
Before Weezer, I had a Gibson Melody Maker, which had an SG shape. I used to use a wound G-string, because tuning issues on the G-string have always been problematic. But just the weight of a wound G-string kind of hurt my finger after a while, so I switched that to a standard G-string.
An interesting side project of yours was acting in the movie Factory Girl. Do you have aspirations to do more acting?
Living in Los Angeles, you can’t help but your interest being piqued by that world. I’m interested in film in general, in sound, scoring film and just film study in general, which would include acting and studying acting and understanding emotions, which I think would help with music. I think it’s all connected.
Looking back at almost 25 years with Weezer, is there an accomplishment that you are most proud of?
I just recently got my [MTV VMA] Moonman trophy from the “Buddy Holly” video. I gave it to my parents back when I got it. I was kind of embarrassed by that kind of stuff. Now, looking back, I think it’s kind of cool that I have an MTV Moonman Award that says “Weezer,” “Buddy Holly,” “Brian Bell” on it. I think that’s pretty cool, I just got it last week.
When I see that video, I’m just amazed at how well it stands the test of time, and how interesting it is. We’re a band from the 1990s that is using elements of a TV show from the 1970s, which is then, in turn, using the time period of the 1950s. So it’s 20 years later that I decided I am finally ready to display my MTV Award. (laughs)