Chart Attack interview with Matt Sharp - November 8, 2006
Matt Sharp Talks About Rivers Cuomo's Etiquette Fetish And Tegan And Sara
Wednesday November 08, 2006 @ 12:00 PM
By: ChartAttack.com Staff
by Trevor Hargreaves
If you were into mid-'90s alternative rock, odds are you would recognize Matt Sharp. His goofy expressions were forever immortalized in the Happy Days-themed Weezer video for their hit song "Buddy Holly," and he later re-emerged as a stoic weirdo in keyboard-inspired emo act The Rentals. While both bands were highly influential in their own right, Sharp has been flying under the radar in recent years. He quietly released a solo album just over a year ago, contributed Moog on the Tegan And Sara album So Jealous, and frequently collaborates with the band Goldenboy. Now he's back with an all-new Rentals lineup, who have a warm-up tour under their belt and an album in the works. In the midst of this chaos, Sharp sat down with ChartAttack to share the latest gossip on his new band, and a few memories from back in the day.
ChartAttack: How did you meet Tegan And Sara?
Matt Sharp: I was doing a benefit show in L.A. and wanted to do a bunch of cover songs, and I wanted to learn that Tegan And Sara song, "Not Tonight," and couldn't figure out for the life of me how to play it. A friend of theirs gave Sara my email address and she tried to teach it to me over the internet, and emailed instructions to me on how the tuning was, and how to play it and whatnot. But I was a horrible student so it was still really hard. Anyway, that's how we became friends and it all went from there.
Did you enjoy yourself while working on their album?
I think it was hugely inspirational for me because I got to really be able to enjoy getting into the details of doing something just incredibly simple and playing a role on a record without having to carry all the burden and anxiety of making sure it all comes out a certain way. So I was thrilled to just hang out for a few days and do something subtle. It reminded me of working on [Weezer's] Pinkerton a lot because we were sort of left to our own devices on that record and we just really got into the details. This was a similar experience.
When it comes to re-introducing vintage Moog keyboards to the music scene, The Rentals had a hand in the instrument's newfound popularity. Do people still perceive you as somewhat of a Moog renaissance man?
I don't know about that. I think it brought me a little bit of an anxiety with the Tegan And Sara record. I really loved their work, and I felt like, "Oh my god, they're going to think I'm a synthesizer guy and I know what I'm doing," when I'm not really some Emerson, Lake And Palmer keyboard wizard or something. So I was just scrambling to learn how all the keyboards worked and to come up with something. I'm kind of a one-note at a time, one finger keyboard player. But because of The Rentals, there just became this idea that keyboards are my thing. I once sat on this panel about the evolution of synthesizers and Bob Moog was on the panel with the guys from Stereolab and the guys that did the Moog Cookbook, so it was all these synth enthusiasts who know, like, what year knobs changed from this to that or whatever. So I just came out and said straight out that I had no idea about any of these things, and I just screw around until it sounds kind of interesting. And Bob Moog said, "Oh, well that's how I made them! I made them not knowing what I was doing and then I just screwed around until weird things came out." So he was really cool.
What's your favourite of the two Weezer albums that you played on?
Oh wow, I don't know. They both have great memories to them, and terrifying memories. I remember sitting in the sound booth trying to do the back-up vocals on the Blue album and Ric Ocasek was on the other side of the glass and I'd never made a record before at that time, so everything just seemed like a television show. And he was going "Oh, your vocal is flat," and at that point I'd never really sung much before, and I just couldn't figure out what they were talking about, or how to correct it and what to do about it. And Ric was sort of one of the biggest icons from when I was growing up, so to have the guy looking at you going "You're wrong, you're flat" even though he was gentle about it, was just so terrifying and such a horrible feeling. So I guess there was that, but also the excitement of making the records. On both albums I just had this feeling of being so grateful to be there.
A lot of time has passed since your days in Weezer. Do you approach your career differently now?
I went to see The Shins in concert a while back, and I totally didn't enjoy myself because the bass player was being totally obnoxious, and I suddenly became very sympathetic for Rivers at that moment, because I was that bassist when I was in Weezer. A good friend of mine named Carl put together the DVD of all the Weezer stuff that came out a while back. When he was working on it, he came over to take a look at all this old Weezer stuff that I shot while we were touring. He also toured with me with The Rentals way back as well. So we thought, "Let's go back and transfer all The Rentals footage we can find and see if we can make a Rentals DVD." And I couldn't find one image where I didn't want to punch myself. I just wanted to knock that guy out so badly. I just need to be slapped sometimes. I guess it's hard for anybody to watch themselves. But I think that when you're that young, and you get success that quickly, you think you're deserving of it and you're entitled to it. Yet now, I'm just left with this gratitude every night. I know that the crowds could be anywhere else, and when people come to see me perform I'm very grateful for it.
Yet, isn't that bravado what made your work in Weezer so flamboyant?
Well, we were really so bland and so boring that it drove people nuts, including our record company. Everybody in Los Angeles would get so angry. And all we would be is boring guys who dressed even more boring. And people would get so upset about it because we weren't psychedelic or like Nirvana or whatever. We realized at some point that it was absurd how upset everyone would get about this bland image and we would just push it further. We knew who we were and what we wanted to do. And because a lot of people around us were wrong about that, we got a little out of line with it. People were telling us things like "You need to put a doll on the cover, or big red lips" or all these weird things that were going on, and we just didn't want to have any part of that stuff. So I think that because things turned out all right for us, it made us have even more disregard for if we upset people or made people feel uncomfortable. And I know with The Rentals it was kind of like, "you're making everybody feel uncomfortable," and I just needed to be knocked around and realize how lucky I really was.
Much has been speculated about your relationship with Rivers in the post-Weezer days. Where are things at now?
I think Rivers is a guy who is always searching for his answer to something. And when he thinks that he has the path towards that answer, he just goes down that path full course. And then he goes, "Oh, that's not the path," and he switches gears. And it can be anything. I remember one time, I swear to god, that he thought the path was 1950s etiquette and he was like totally into it in a very psychotic way. And he was really into where you place the knife and the spoon and what order they went in, and those kinds of things. So he can just believe that's the path with all his heart. So it's really hard to say who he is, because that sort of takes over his whole scene for the time that he does that before that goes away and then it's something new. At least that's how I know him. I like who he is as a person.
Do you think you'll ever work with him again?
For a while we spent like Saturday afternoons together and we did some things I think we can be proud of, but I don't know if anything would ever come of it. The one thing that is really consistent with me being on the road is that people come up to me and say, "By the way, the last two Weezer records really sucked," and they're always saying it to get in good with me. And I haven't heard them. But if they were bad, they'd probably be just as bad if I was there. And I don't really know what they're up to or what they're about.
Back during the early days of The Rentals, you were very cagey about what specifically your single "Friends Of P" was about. And it still seems like you avoid the subject in current interviews. So how about giving ChartAttack the scoop? It's time to unlock the mystery. What is that song about?
It's about Paulina Porizkova, who is Rick Ocasek's wife, who used to come down to Electric Ladyland studios when we were recording the Blue album. And she would read our palms, and she was pregnant and she would just hang out. And we were like, "Wow, a pregnant supermodel is reading our palms." And then she would complain about how only bands like Warrant and all these '80s heavy metal bands are the only people who would write songs about her. And so she was really bummed out that nobody cool was writing songs about her now, so I wrote that song for her while we were at Electric Lady as an attempt to get her out of the '80s hair metal rut she was stuck in.
Sweet. Thanks for the intel.
You got it.