That you’re even reading this article about the Rentals is a trick of fate to hear former Weezer bassist Matt Sharp tell it. After two terrific albums blending New Wave and power pop bolstered by dulcet duet vocals and harmonies, Sharp went off to make a solo album, and got lost in the rabbit hole.
After spending four years in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee, working on what turned out to be the Puckett’s Versus the Country Boy EP and a self-titled full-length, Sharp found himself at a crossroads. He could go back and make another solo album, or he could continue a budding collaboration with Elliott Smith protégé Shon Sullivan of Goldenboy (for whom Sharp had played bass for a while). The possibility of a Weezer reunion seemed in the offing for a moment, after Rivers Cuomo sat in on a Sharp solo gig at Cal-Fullerton in 2004. Then there was the idea of recording another Rentals album.
“I thought, that has got to be the most difficult choice to take, and it was something I was really hesitant about because I knew I didn’t want to approach it in that same way,” Sharp says, speaking from a tour stop in Minneapolis. “Meeting Sara `Radle` was the very first thing that made it seem like OK, this is a possibility…. we can take that first step together and do it. I didn’t want to go down that road completely on my own.”
One of the biggest vexations about the Rentals for Sharp was the ever-changing lineup. At the time it was something of a necessity as Sharp and buddy Pat Wilson were in Weezer together (at least until Cuomo summarily dismissed him while Sharp was finishing up the second Rentals album, Seven More Minutes), and the Haden sisters, Rachel and Petra, had their own band, that dog.
It worked well for a while, and the winning mix of pop hooks and resplendent vocals over perky synths won converts and scored a hit for their ode to Paulina Porizkova, “Friends of P.” But while leading the Rentals’ loose confederation of contributors was as frustrating as herding cats, assembling the right band posed its own difficulties — just imagine Sharp as Yul Brenner in The Magnificent Seven.
Fortunately, Radle and Sharp found each other at a time when both were going through transitions, and perhaps longing for a real band. Radle had recently finished a seven-year stint leading Dallas (by way of San Antonio) pop punkers Lucy Loves Schroeder, and like Sharp was working the solo circuit.
“I’d put out a couple solo records and didn’t really know what I was going to do next — whether I was going to move or stay in town, but I was like, I’m just going to start work on the next record, and I had this old song I wanted to re-record as a duet,” Radle says from the road, a week later, at the Orange Peel in Asheville, North Carolina.
She met Sharp while she was on tour, and caught up with him again when he came through Dallas on one of his solo jaunts. She asked if he’d record that duet with her, and after he accepted she flew out to his home in Los Angeles.
“We sat in his living room and recorded `“Seven Days”`, and afterward he started telling me about how he had been falling back in love with the three-minute pop song and that he’d been having this idea of reforming the Rentals, but that it was kind of an intimidating one, and he didn’t know where to start,” she says. For her own part, she’d already considered moving to L.A., so when Sharp asked her to join, she said yes, and was in town within two months.
Shortly after Radle arrived, they met violinist Lauren Chipman, who until then had been involved with the classical world and had never been in a band. “She had an appetite for just exploring and seeing what we could do,” says Sharp.
Listening to the first couple Rentals albums, Sharp was struck by the absence of strings on the second disc. (Petra Haden was sick of the violin at that point, Sharp recalls.) So the addition of strings fulfilled another aspect, like the boy-girl vocals, that Sharp felt was essential to the Rentals sound. They rehearsed as a three-piece for a while, until they encountered multi-instrumentalist Ben Pringle. Sharp was on the fence, unsure how/where the musician would fit in when Pringle volunteered that he played the trombone.
“I was just like, well, that’s it, done, sold. But it took a good six months to even play a note on the thing … I got to the point where I was, all right, this is it. If we don’t see a trombone in a couple days, we’re going to reconsider this thing,” Sharp laughs.
The Rentals were doing demos in drummer Dan Joeright’s studio when he got recruited, and original member Rachel Haden was the last to join the fold, offering a tie to the past. This leaves only sometime seventh member, Sullivan, whose fine chamber-pop act Goldenboy opens, after which Sullivan joins the Rentals on stage as an additional guitarist.
Last month, the band released an EP, The Last Little Life, collecting four songs that began as demos, but were so good they decided to release them. The work takes a while, according to Sharp, particularly given Radle, Pringle, and Chipman’s multi-instrumental prowess.
“Over time we’ll figure out what people do really well,” he says. In the meantime he’s just happy to be performing, and feeling so much love from the audience after an almost six-year absence. “I’m as humbled by that as by anything I’ve experienced before, just standing onstage and seeing all these people and really having no idea how they got there.”
The Rentals w. Goldenboy and Copeland
Fri, Sep 14
The White Rabbit
2410 N. St. Mary’s