Sunday Telegram interview with Matt Sharp - February 11, 1996
Rentals' Pop-Rock Drowns Out Retro
By Scott McLennan
The hook-filled blast provided by Return of The Rentals is fueled in large part by the moans, hums, buzzes and whirs of electronic keyboards, particularly those vintage Moogs and ARPs that seemed like the cutting edge 20 years ago.
"U.S. audiences are too used to hearing just two guitars, bass and drums," said Sharp in a recent interview from Denver, where The Rentals were on tour with Blur. "When you say music has synths and Moogs, people think the band plays Top 40 or mellower music, or European music, or something like Depeche Mode."
The Rentals is none of those things. Rather it is a rollicking pop-rock band that plays universal love songs and warped ruminations, such as the radio smash "Friends of P." Sharp, best known as bass player for the band Weezer, confessed that the keyboards were actually the last element included in the mix of songs that started as a low-key side project which has blossomed into a major-record label deal and series of high profile tours. Having toured with Blur, then some shows with Alanis Morrissette, The Rentals (along with Silverchair) is currently opening for The Red Hot Chili Peppers. That show is happening tomorrow at the Worcester Centrum.
"Live we're a guitar band with synths in it," Sharp said. "I don't consider it a New Wave record, and I wasn't looking to bring back anything. I'm not into retro projects. For me, I just like to record with sounds that are different."
Promising a stage show that is "more aggressive" compared to the studio version of The Rentals, Sharp is joined by Cherielynn Westrich on vocals and keyboards, Rod Cervera on guitar, Jim Richards on keyboards, Mike Fletcher on drums and Maya Rudolph on vocals and keyboards for the tour. Those distinctive violin parts recorded by That Dog's Petra Haden will be recast in Richards' Moog programming.
"Jim has this ARP-Omni that is ancient, so it will sound different than it did in the studio," Sharp said.
Cervera, Westrich and Fletcher also belong to Supersport 2000, an unsigned act out of Los Angeles, but multi-talented to say the least.
The band falls into a certain icy, distanced mode at first blush (penning its original bio from the viewpoint of being an underground pop group from Czechoslovakia). But listening to the 10 tracks from Return of The Rentals, it's clear that the band is not about being an assemblage of anti-emotional cool jerks a la Devo.
Hits the Target
Sharp's songwriting pen hits the target, whether feeling love-lost on "My Summer Girl" or delightfully sardonic as on "Brilliant Boy." The collection of songs is nicely balanced with witty and sad songs, none of it sounding particularly far afield from what Weezer does.
Sharp said his main loyalty remains to Weezer, and a new record by the guys who brought us "Buddy Holly" (video's finest moment) is close to finished. The Rentals' songs actually started to take shape during the final stages of mixing the first Weezer album. "Rod and I have been working on these songs for 1 1/2 years, then took six weeks to record it all when we had the time," Sharp said.
Sharp and crew went to Tom Grimley's Poop Alley studios in Los Angeles, where they financed the project on their own and called all their own shots in the tiny facility. When the record was done, the Maverick record label (the new one run by Madonna) bought the album as is, a near rarity in today's controlling music business.
"When we recorded it, we weren't thinking about releasing it. Then when it sounded good enough to release, we figured it would go to a small independent label. Then Maverick stepped in and that was pretty surprising," Sharp said. "We expected some Weezer fans to check it out, but reaction in general has been pretty good. "
Beyond this one record, The Rentals track record consists only of a song titled "California" given to Grimley for a self-made compilation of bands that worked in Poop Alley. Plus the flip side to the single of "Friends of P." is a non-album track called "So Soon." Thus, The Rentals make for a perfect opening act, with just enough material to deliver a tight 45-to-50 minutes of rocking pop.
Sharp does not like to call The Rentals a side project, predicting this band will take on a life of its own based around the commitments of everyone involved.
"I toured for a year straight off the Weezer record, and I want to play as often as possible for this one," said Sharp. "So far it's been pretty easy to handle the two bands."
And pop fans are the wealthier all around for it.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Silverchair, The Rentals
When: 7:30 p.m., tomorrow
Where: Worcester Centrum, 50 Foster St., Worcester How much: $23.50