Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley and Mike Kuhlmann
Matt Sharp has had two strikingly different public personas since we all first met him collectively and distantly, as the close-cropped, dirty blonde bassist for power-pop rejuvenators Weezer - a quartet that carried the flag for nerd rockers everywhere when it wrote its first songs about sweaters and riding surf boards to work on an everyday basis. Shortly after the inception of that band - famously documented to have happened on Valentine's Day - Sharp began cautiously the work on a solo project that was never supposed to be heard by anyone but friends.
When he wrote the first Rentals songs, he grudgingly and fitfully played them for friend Rachel Haden, then playing with her sister Petra in that dog. He was shy and reserved, petrified of what he would be told about the songs that he felt so close to. It was a dissimilar side to that perky guy with the funny faces and always playful energy. Haden lent Sharp the encouragement he needed to finish out his ideas and to recruit the people that could surround him and make his new vision of synth-driven festiveness for his unrequited and settled romantic aspirations and those hopeless contusions sprung forth from the very pumping of those aspirations.
The Return of the Rentals found the world just one year after Weezer's Blue Album did and in short time, Sharp's interest in his own project - as well as drifting interest in the musical direction that Weezer main songwriter Rivers Cuomo was taking with an unrightfully pooh-poohed sophomore album, Pinkerton -- took over, on the heels of tours with Alanis Morissette and others, a hit radio song "Friends of P" that got people talking about Naughty By Nature's "O.P.P." and a buttoned-down, course Eastern Bloc image. Sharp, as a Weezer man, was one part loose cannon, one part essential ingredient and two parts the life of the whole shootin' match. He was the squeaky falsetto every time it surfaced on Pinkerton and he was the mode and model for the conversation at the beginning of "Undone (The Sweater Song)" when the drunk bros at the show are discussing the radness of life and looking for rides home. Had to be. He was the shining star in all of the videos the band made for its first two albums, dueling with Patrick Wilson for the wild card status.
The Rentals gave Sharp the opportunity to fire different cylinders, to place the little red flares around his troublesome head and heart. The frames that he put his measured and undecorated feelings inside were as much of a modern spurring on of emo as the Promise Ring's oeuvre and the pivotal release of Pinkerton -- an album that is beloved by many, not just Superbad/Arrested Development's Michael Cera. All of these records reached critical mass at the same time and they were absolutely important. There is that parenthetic grasp on brightness and danceable swelling, where the Moogs and all fuel the hydraulics and summertime lilt that makes Sharp's songs melt with you as if they were secretly plotting to have you transformed into wasted away puddles of contented smiles. The fuzzy, fuzzy distortion, boy-girl vocals and sparkling synthesizer work buoys both of the band's full-lengths, but the Rentals circa 2007 and beyond will be even more of a departure from that old Sharp, who made it a game to create an image and a different soundscape.
Since he wrote most of Seven More Minutes in Spain, Sharp's been quick to distance himself from familiar people and processes, removing himself from places that are easy. He's retreated to Tennessee for months of working on solo records and he's gone back to Barcelona a number of times to kindle those old creative juices that come from a natural living rhythm. In having been drawn down the dusty back roads, he's taken us down them as well and he doesn't appear to be taking us back to the big city ever again. The new incarnation of The Rentals is a synergetic combination of the same ol' synth sounds that gave the band a name and the countrified tail that Sharp pinned on his stuff since he ventured into the territory of the long-winded storyteller on the stuff he released under his own name. He's interested in brevity again and there are still the bursts of electric wash, cascading and knocking like a couple-ton jolt, but they've borrowed their spirit and ravishing good looks from the timbers, the smoke breaks, the stolen kisses and embraces, the alone time, the breathing room, and the cloudy skies.
*The Daytrotter interview:*
*Why bring the Rentals back to life? Why not just keep doing the solo stuff or write for yourself or not write?*
Matt Sharp: I certainly don't think about not writing at all. I don't live with that fear of not being able to write. It's the only thing I've really focused on since I was 14, at which point it was a fantasy. I'd probably done six solo tours and after that, I looked at all of my different choices. They all seemed like I was standing at the bottom of a really tall hill, looking up. It seemed daunting to record another solo record and tour for it. It's really just a labor of love when you do that. I started to think, maybe that's not where my strengths are. I'd seen Antony and the Johnsons play at some theater in Los Angeles and I said, "Now, there is somebody who is absolutely in charge of what his gift is." Seeing all of these different performers did that to me. And at the same time, the idea of making another Rentals record seemed pretty scary too. They all seemed rough.
*Where do you find solace these days? Is there another place like Leiper's Fork, Tenn., or Barcelona?*
MS: You're right about Leiper's Fork. It was that place for me at that time. Every time we're on tour going through there, I try to go back there to visit and just stand out there. It was a very important place for me. It was a very spiritual place. In a much different way, Barcelona changed the way I look at life. I know that being able to do what I did is a luxury. I'm very lucky to have been able to do that thanks to what we did with Weezer. If you keep a modest lifestyle, it allows you to have these retreats.
*When you just got away from it all, it sounds like the same thing Rivers did when he moved into that apartment and blacked up the windows. Have you two discussed these shared experiences?*
MS: We have a lot of aspects of our lives that are very near each other. I can go to him and ask him about certain things that I know he gets. After Pinkerton, he took some time off and the first thing they did after that was go on a tour to see if anybody remembered who they were. It's very similar to what we did last summer. We had no way to know what was out there for us. I think both of us thought, "How the hell did these people get here?" It was something that I talked to him about not too long ago. You're so fortunate to have that.
*I've always wanted to ask what emotion you're trying to portray on the cover of Return of the Rentals. So? It looks like boredom.*
MS: The thing about the cover of that record is that it's a still from the "Friends of P" video that was shot in the apartment that I had at the time. We did it for our own enjoyment. We were doing anything for our own enjoyment at that time. Rod Cervera had an old World War II camera and we just shot it with that. We came up with this whole funny story that had this Eastern Bloc mentality to it. We had no idea that it was going to be thrust into the world. Once it got enveloped into the whole commercial idea, we had to answer questions like, "What are the Rentals all about?" and "What's the whole idea?" Initially, it was going to be a picture of me and Rachel (Haden) facing each other on the cover. We thought it would give everyone the idea that we were the Eurythmics or something.