After four years of nearly constant touring with both his band The Rentals and as the original bassist for Weezer, Matt Sharp was tired.
Those years had left him with the harsh realization that he didn’t want to continue The Rentals with its piecemeal lineup, and he didn’t want to continue as the bassist for Weezer. But the very idea of reforming the Rentals to record another album gave Sharp the willies, and the question of why he’s brought the Rentals back around still prompts those same creepy feelings.
“Every time the Rentals came up or someone said‚ “‘Hey you should make another Rentals record,’ a shiver went down my spine because it really seemed to be the most intimidating choice to make and the most difficult choice to make,” Sharp says in a phone interview with Xpress.
“My first thought was that [reforming the band] is looking rather intimidating. Even when you asked the question I felt like it was standing at the bottom of a very large hill,” he admits. His voice is deep and low, seeming to ponder every question as if he’s still faced with those decisions today.
“After the second Rentals record, and after juggling Weezer and the Rentals together, I basically hit a wall and had to get away,” Sharp says.
In a move that was more Rocky than Spinal Tap, Sharp battled his feelings of fatigue and self-doubt by retreating some 2,000 miles east of his Los Angeles home to Leipers Fork, Tenn., a tiny town near Nashville.
“The main thing about that period of my life is just starting over, and not making decisions based around the people that were in my life and the music that is on the radio,” he recalls.
The byproduct of that isolation was Sharp’s 2003 solo effort, Puckett’s Versus The Country Boy (In Music We Trust). It was a simple EP that featured Sharp reinventing himself as a more down-home singer/songwriter type. The quiet, introspective album didn’t register with fans, but Sharp says he still learned quite a bit from the experience.
“I went on the road, and traveled a bit in support of that record. Some of the shows were really intimate. ‘Intimate’ is a kind word to describe how small some of those shows were. I played every night and met everyone afterwards that would attend those shows, and I got a really good sense of gratitude for what I had in front of me. It gave me an appreciation for where I am and what I’m doing.”
What Sharp is doing now is making the Rentals—a group formerly composed of Sharp and whichever friends and peers he could find—into a “real” band, which is helping to ease his creative burden.
“If [the Rentals] were going to make another record, I wanted to put together a group that was in it for the long haul,” Sharp says.
With that, the Rentals were reborn. Mixing the infectious pop that brought him to prominence in Weezer with a warm-and-fuzzy synthesizer-heavy New Wave sound, the Rentals are the perfect summer band for the often intentionally awkward horned-rimmed-glasses crowd.
With the release of the band’s latest EP, Last Little Life (Boompa), Sharp and his cohorts turn back the dials on the Moog synthesizers, and turn up the melodies on four of the most saccharine-drenched ‘60s-style pop songs released this year—which is especially amazing considering the band originally had no intentions of releasing them.
“We were just creating some demos for our next album,” says Sharp. “After we were done recording, I asked a friend what he thought, and he said that these songs should be heard, and that I shouldn’t be so protective of the creative process.”
While Sharp suffers from the angst that comes with creating and heading a band, audiences haven’t seen traces of his neurosis in the Rentals’ live shows. Instead, the performances sound like a joyous racket created by musicians who love life. And when the band starts up the opening “Oo wee who who” of its biggest hit, 1995’s “Friends of P,” there isn’t a trace of the self-doubt that has plagued Sharp for so long.
In its place, there’s a smile. The Rentals have arrived, and they are here to stay.
[Jason Bugg is an Asheville freelance writer.]
The Rentals, with special guests Copeland and Goldenboy, play The Orange Peel (101 Biltmore Ave.) on Wednesday, Aug. 29. $16/$18. Info: www.theorangepeel.net or 225-5851.