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A viral moment with Rivers Cuomo, 990 days in the making

@dietlite_evan / @rivers_cuomo / TikTok

When Evan Marsalli got to work Monday morning, he was famous.

He was already famous before that. Locally. Regionally. As the drummer for Milwaukee band Diet Lite, he plays venues around the Midwest with bandmates Max Niemann and Kelson Kuzdas. Monday morning was another level of famous.

“Rivers Cuomo finally duetting your TikTok video” famous.

“Getting invited to share the stage with Weezer” famous.

Stereogum and Consequence of Sound and NME talking about you” famous.

And Marsalli had no clue.

“It's funny, I didn't even go open TikTok and see a notification,” he recalled. “It was some random person that DM’d the Diet Lite page on Instagram. They're like, ‘Rivers duetted the video.’

“It's just Monday morning, I'm at work, just had my coffee or whatever, and then I see that. I'm like, ‘What the hell?’”

You’ll forgive Marsalli for going through the paces like he does every morning. Like he did the 990 previous mornings since starting a ritual that would sound bizarre except for the fact that it’s 2023, and this is the social-mediafied world we live in now.

On that first day — June 12, 2020 — Marsalli picked up a guitar, started recording on his phone and played that high-pitched lick from Weezer’s “Buddy Holly.” Then he did it again. And again. And again. Every day for almost three years. Through short hair and long, clean shaven and bearded, through lockdown and his band getting their gear stolen and a bunch of other stuff.

Marsalli, a guitar and that lick.

Then, this past Monday, Cuomo licked back.

“I didn't really have any expectations going into this about how he would respond or what it would be like,” Marsalli said. “What he did was perfect. He could have just honestly just duetted the video with him just looking at the camera or something, and that would have been fine for me. I just wanted to get that duet, you know?”

It takes a certain kind of person to look at an invitation to perform with Weezer on stage in front of thousands of people as a nice little bonus. Or maybe just a person who watched 990 days fall off the calendar without receiving — or expecting — any sort of payoff. For Marsalli, it was something that just sort of happened, and then kept happening.

Back in June 2020, he was at one of those parking-lot events that were all the rage during the pandemic. Spurred either by ambition or the early stages of lockdown boredom, he had been searching for something that might get people’s attention on TikTok for the band's benefit. Something he could actually do, every day, for an extended period of time if necessary. Not that it was going to come to that or anything.

Then, sitting in a car at his brother’s asphalt middle-school graduation, “Buddy Holly” came on the radio (presumably before or after the ceremony). A moment or two before the fateful guitar lick, his other brother cranked the volume.

“And I was like, ‘Oooooh, this is what I'm going to do.’”

Working from home made things pretty straightforward. Marsalli just grabbed a guitar, played the thing (during his lunch break, he was quick to point out) and got on with his day. When the world started getting back to normal, it went from a midday activity to right after work — most days.

“Actually, there were a couple times, maybe one or two times, I think I must have been taking a nap or was about to fall asleep, and I was like, ‘Oh shit,’” he recalled. “It was like a dark room in a cartoon, and just two eyes pop open. So I'd get up out of bed, have to put on a shirt and bring out my guitar.”

But he never put away his drumsticks. Marsalli, Niemann and Kuzdas kept releasing music, playing shows, building a following. Then, about a year ago, they started plotting a course that would end with the release of their next full-length album.

The “garage rock meets power pop” trio chose tracks from previous EPs and added new material that would all fit together. They worked out how often to drop singles, debated whether to sprinkle in another EP beforehand, lined up a graphic designer and then another one when the first guy got too busy. They marked April 14 as the release date for Into the Pudding and lined up a celebratory show at the Back Room the following night.

They did not, however, pencil in “late February publicity bump from Evan’s TikTok thing finally paying off.”

“That was not actually part of the plan,” Marsalli said with a laugh. “I feel like that was kind of always a, ‘Maybe this will happen at some point in the future, and we'll get a bump at that point.’ But we didn't know it would be right before the album was about to release.”

Two months after that release and the Back Room show, will Marsalli be on stage with Weezer in Madison to once again play that fateful two seconds from “Buddy Holly”? He says he’ll follow up to see if they can make it happen but sounded pretty relaxed about the whole thing — the attention, the invite, a 990-day project coming to an end.

A bit of excitement did creep into his voice when talking about what’s been happening with bands like his in Milwaukee. Social Cig sold out the Back Room for an album-release show in August. Scam Likely did it again in January. Marsalli hopes a similar fate awaits Diet Lite on April 15. Because if Rivers Cuomo can find him, why not music fans in Milwaukee?

And he only has to wait 45 days this time.