By Tom Lynch
More than a decade ago, then-Weezer bassist and co-founder Matt Sharp branched off and formed The Rentals, a solo project that would offer him significant creative input—something missing from his work with Weezer—as lyricist, vocalist and chief songwriter. The first Rentals record, ironically titled “The Return of the Rentals,” took the charming, lovestruck adolescence that served as the core of the debut Weezer record and set it to swirling Moog synthesizers and boy-girl harmonies, as well as violins. “Friends of P,” the record’s radio single, had its fair share of support on alternative stations and MTV as Sharp had successfully found a counterpart to his work with Weezer, an outlet for what he himself wanted to express musically.
Then things changed. Weezer’s “Pinkerton” was released in 1996 to widespread critical acclaim but lackluster sales, and Sharp decided he wanted to do The Rentals full-time, officially leaving Cuomo and crew for good. It took some time before the second record would be released, but “Seven More Minutes” finally hit shelves in 1999. Quite different than The Rentals’ debut, “Seven More Minutes” had a highly European tone (Sharp spent time there while writing) with much more layers to each song, an ambitious monster of a record that was simultaneously majestic and difficult to swallow. What made the first record great was its simplicity—with “Seven More Minutes,” it seemed that Sharp tried too hard, worried too much over the songs. Soon after, The Rentals disbanded, never touring in support of its sophomore release.
For the next few years Sharp mostly played solo, releasing both an EP and a full-length under his own name, both records completely acoustic with only Sharp’s breathy vocals in tandem. Now, seven years since its last album, Sharp’s re-formed The Rentals, for first a tour and later, probably next year, a new record. A new beginning for a pop band that had a glorious start and ended far too prematurely.
“There are so many factors for me,” Sharp says of why he originally quit The Rentals and went solo. “About three or four years ago there was a time in my life where I really needed to disconnect from the music industry, sort of start from a new place where I didn’t assume to know the answers to everything, just sort of basically reassess my life, how to become a better person, what kind of music I wanted to play, where I wanted to be in life. Because of my experiences with Weezer and The Rentals, I basically had a phobia of distorted guitars and drums. I couldn’t for the life of me picture doing that sort of thing again. I just wanted to say things directly, and that clouded the sentiment to me so much. And also, just through my experiences with Weezer and The Rentals, I didn’t know if I was equipped to function in a way I can be proud of in a group environment.”
Sharp began working closely with Canadian pop duo Tegan and Sara—in addition to recording and playing with the duo, he and Maya Rudolph (of “Saturday Night Live” and also a former member of The Rentals) recorded a cover of the pair’s “Not Tonight”—and started learning how to be in a band again. “I got to see how you can work in a group environment with integrity and care for the people around you,” he says. “It was really something where I felt like, if I was ever to re-approach being in a group setting, that’s the level of decency that I wanted to aspire… that’s what we’re aimed for, it’s not something that could happen quickly. I feel like now we’ve come to arrive at that place. I’m very proud of all the people in this group now. It’s a special time.”
The current group includes Rachel Haden—of That Dog fame—and Sara Radle, a friend of Sharp’s he says he’s wanted to be in a band with for more than fifteen years. The band’s already begun work on new material, as well as approached old material in “new ways,” re-inventing songs with the band’s new members. When Sharp and I spoke, the band had played its very first show since reuniting just a few days earlier. “The adrenaline rush was so psychotic and off the charts,” Sharp says. “It was something I truly have never experienced. I had no idea how the audience was going to react, but the absolute generosity of the crowd was overwhelming. Everybody sang along. The adrenaline rush was so out of control for me. At one point I picked up Rachel and almost body-slammed her like I was The Hulk. It had nothing to do with nervous energy, it was just this adrenaline. The collective love was just madness.”
The Rentals play August 1 at Double Door, 1572 North Milwaukee, (773)489-3160, at 9pm. $19.