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The Rentals' Matt Sharp talks new record and living in Weezer's shadow

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The Rentals
Brantley Gutierrez

In 1995, when Weezer bassist Matt Sharp released the first album by his side project The Rentals, he was at the peak of an alt-rock explosion that was reaching its apex, and with the smash success of “Friends of P,” he was positioned as one of the music industry’s golden boys. Then he quit Weezer, split to Europe, and recorded a moody concept album about being a famous rock star drifting through Europe (1999’s Seven More Minutes) that failed to reach “Friends of P” levels of popularity. Sharp then dissolved the band and dropped out of the public eye, popping up here and there with art projects and oddball, small-scale recordings.

Recently Sharp recruited a new team of Rentals, including Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, and recorded Lost in Alphaville, a long-awaited return to form that was enthusiastically received by the fervent cult following that his project has grown over the years. During a stop in New York City he spoke with EW about the new album, his admiration for film directors, and the long shadow that Weezer’s first album still casts over his career.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So there was a pretty sizable gap between your last two albums.

MATT SHARP: [Laughs.] Yeah, for sure.

Why was that, and what were you doing with yourself?

I mean I’ve done things in between the albums. But in terms of what I would consider proper releases it’s been quite a good distance Seven More Minutes and where we’re at now. When we did the first couple interviews for this record the first question was inevitably that question. Which, you know, it is…that’s the big question that needs to be asked. It’s been 15 years since the last Rentals record. What the hell took so long? Why was that gap there? I kinda knew that would be the first thing that was gonna be asked and I’d stammer and go “uh, um, well.” But I guess my main thought is that ultimately you make the records you have to make when you have to make them. So this record is exactly the record that the Rentals needed to make at this time. The things I was doing in that gap were things I felt compelled to do based on the things that were inspiring me at the time.

Is there something in particular that happened to make you know it was time to make a new record? Or was it just time?

I don’t know, but I’ve never come to the finish line with a record and felt more like it’s exactly what we set out to make. With most records you just do as good as you can, but ultimately you have some things nagging you at the end. Sometimes they’re sizable things, like “I don’t particularly care for how I sang on the record” or there’s a lyrical thing that’s obnoxious or annoying. Just little battles that you lost in the album. With this record there’s a sense that it took exactly the amount of time that was necessary to do it the right way, with the feeling of, why even set out to make records unless you’re going to do it with a sense of, “Yeah, I feel strongly about each one of the choices that we’ve made.” And I don’t think that that’s really a formula for everybody. Certain people are under the way of “Let me just output and output and output and output and then everyone else can just dig through it.” Picasso or somebody who just says, “I’ll paint and paint and paint and you f–-ing decide if it’s good or not.” Dylan’s like that. Godard’s films are like that. Soderbergh’s like that now. It’s hard not to look up at that, seeing somebody who’s just got that engine inside them. That’s not for me. I very much have this sense that it’s my job to choose exactly what it you’re supposed to hear and taking that job seriously.

You mentioned a couple directors in there. It seems to me that the way you create albums is analogous to making a movie. There’s casting, there are people who are sort of in your troupe, there’s a storyline or a theme to each record.

For sure. All of the Rentals records have that common thread. I definitely now, with a little distance between the albums, see these bigger picture things like my reverence towards female vocalists. In 1992 or something like that I was completely obsessed with the Hadens [former Rentals members Petra and Rachel]. In 2002 I was about that way with Tegan and Sara. Now I’m that way with Jess [Wolfe] and Holly [Laessig]. I’m very lucky to be in their presence.

Are there any moments on the album that you’re especially happy with?

The last song on the album, it’s called “The Future,” and essentially the entire song’s one note, or it’s based on one note. There’s no chord changes in it except for this one little bridge section that happens in the middle of the song, but besides that the whole song is just a D over and over again. It didn’t really have any form when I started working on it, and what’s nice about it is that everyone who contributed to it, maybe because of it not having any structure, they all did things that were strange, or stuff that even being a huge fan of the way they approach their own music, they all did something that was like, “Okay, were going there.”

Changing gears a little, I’m a huge fan of Seven More Minutes. It’s almost shockingly raw and honest. What’s your relationship with that album like now?

I don’t know. I think that record falls into a category that maybe all the records that I’ve worked on kind of fall into, which is that nobody actually hears them. Or I have that feeling. I think that comes from…we made the first Weezer record and we literally wrote out, before it came out, who’s gonna buy this album. We jotted down a list of our aunts and uncles and parents and whatever, and we had everybody do it. And I think we came up with a list of a hundred and some people. And the first week the album came out something like 300 people bought the album, and I remember sitting in the kitchen with Rivers and just going “Who are those people? Why the hell would they buy the record? These are people we’ve never met before and they’re actually buying the album,” and thinking that was such a victory. Since then by a lot of good fortune and things that record did what it did and went to the place it was supposed to, and I think every record since then you get the sense of, “Oh, nobody’s listening now,” because it’s all judged in the shadow of something that’s just the time and the place where the stars aligned and that happened. And I’m sure he felt the same way about Pinkerton. I felt that way about Return of the Rentals because when it came out there was such high expectations from our record company at the time that it was going to overshadow the first Weezer record. That was the expectation that they put on me. They were betting on two records: on Prodigy, betting that America was going to turn into a Euro culture, or if that doesn’t happen then everyone will get really into Moog synthesizers. I was just having a laugh with everything. I think in that period people in the music in the music world were so enamored with the thought of waves, of Nirvana happens and it’s a wave that takes over the world and wipes out everything, that Kurt Cobain comes along and there’s no more Whitney Houston or MC Hammer. I think everyone thought there was going to be a techno wave and we’d all think Nirvana was moronic because we’d all be at raves with glow sticks.