buddyhead.com interview with Matt Sharp - Late 1999
After a few weeks of playing phone tag with some record company big-wigs at Maverick, and waiting for the band to return from their short trip to Japan, we managed to finally catch up with The Rentals' indescribable Matt Sharp. As I drove out of Hollywood and up the hill into Laurel Canyon (which is only a few blocks north of Sunset Blvd.), I noticed how secluded it was up there. No wonder everyone wants to live here. It's only a short distance from the hustle and bustle known as Hollywood, yet you can barely hear the traffic through the trees. I felt like I was at some mountain resort as I sat down with Matt over some orange juice at the "country market", where we discussed Japanese freak outs, fights with Weezer, and the new Rentals record.
Buddyhead: What do you think inspired the evolution of The Rentals from the first record, which gives off one basic vibe, to Seven More Minutes which is very much eclectic and diverse?
Matt: I think the main difference between the two records is that we let the songs go wherever they wanted to go on the new record (Seven More Minutes). We didn't put up any borders or restrictions like we did on the first record. If one song wanted to be a country song, we let it be a country song. If one song wanted to be really new-wave song, or even a more aggressive song, or whatever, we let to it go wherever it wanted to go. So it wasn't like we had to fit all these songs into one mold or the exact same format of production.
BH: The lyrics on the new record seem to tell a story. They read much like a personal journal, do they reflect what your experiences were during that time?
Matt: Some of the songs are right on. It depends on the song I guess. A lot of them were written truly in the moment of when things were going on. I would just write whenever I thought about it. In a club, in a taxi, in a bathroom, wherever. I had a tape recorder with me most of the time, so I'd just record the ideas and not get back to them for months and months. And I was never thinking, 'Oh, I'll make something nice from this.' More like 'Oh cool, here is an idea. And here's another one,' and just letting it flow, just not editing yourself.
BH: What was the time frame that this record was recorded in? When did it start or was there even a definite start?
Matt: I dunno. It's hard to say. It started somewhere on our last tour for the first record, while we were in Europe. We started writing it then and it ended about a year ago.
BH: The look and the imagery of this "newer Rentals", I guess you could call it that, is much more relaxed and positive. The suits are gone, and this is much more of a free-spirited look to it and the sound of it is a little loser, more of a good time record. Was the change a conscience effort?
Matt: The photos in the record were taken at the same time I was writing the record. I don't think we tried to conjure up specific image. What came out was just kind of what was happening at the time. It's pretty straight up honest I think all the way around. The photos were taken at the places that the songs are about and of the people that the songs are influenced by. My friends and their positive impact on the record. I think it's definitely a bit looser, but at the same time there is a much more honest approach to the whole record. I am just trying to get to that place, that's why I recorded it while we were moving from place to place, in the room with whoever that the songs are about. I tried to cut through the bullshit to get to what it's really all about.
BH: How did the song "We Have a Technical" with Damon from Blur come about?
Matt: That was a long time ago. While we were doing the Weezer shows in Europe for the first record, we used to open the shows with an instrumental Gary Newman song. And this guy who put the compilation together was at one of the shows and he asked me about it. He later became a fan of The Rentals and asked me if we'd do it. The Rentals couldn't do it because everyone was split up all over the place. So while I was in England, I called Damon to see if he would come down and do it with me. We're old friends from tour.
BH: You've stated before that The Rentals aren't a traditional type of band, as far as members. This record quite a few "guests" appearing on it. How did that come about? Did it just fall into place or did you seek some of the musicians out like, "Hey I want to work with this guy."
Matt: Not really. It's all very random. The record was written and photographed in the same way, which is sort doing a whole bunch of ideas, and later going through it and picking out what seems to hit the mark the most. I took a shit load of photos and recorded and wrote a bunch of ideas. Later I went back and sifted through it all and tried to see what ideas kinda gravitated toward each other. The singers were people that just happened to be around or I was sleeping on their couches or they were in the studio next door to us or people we ran into while we were walking the streets in London. We didn't go to London to do any of those collaborations, but its cool 'cause it turned out to me much better than the record was originally written, with all the energy from the people that were around the record.
BH: What did you want your listeners to get out of this record? And what does it mean to you?
Matt: We just got back from Japan, and that was the first time we actually got to play the songs in front of an audience. It seems to me that was the purpose of the whole thing in the first place, is to have an excuse to get together with your friends and just get off your heads and have a great time. We had such a freak out over there. We were our own opening band while we were there. We came out and did about 45 minutes of music. Really mellow music, piano, and I played acoustic. It was really subdued. They were all really quiet, so quiet that at times all you could hear was the air conditioning on the other side of the venue. There is the most incredible amount of tension in the room when you have a thousand people being that quiet, then we'd leave and come out about fifteen minutes later and play about an hours worth of the most aggressive stuff. It was amazing - everybody sang along to everything. Lots of crowd participation, we just put on as big of show as we could. We unleashed our inner David Lee Roth.
BH: Was there a big contrast from the shows in Japan to the shows you've played in L.A.? The Opium Den show was a fun show, people were singing along and stuff, but I meant like typical L.A., where the kids are scared to dance and not sure if they want to sing out loud.
Matt: That last show at the Opium Den was awesome. Really fun. But Japan was a different league, the shows were unreal. Then after the shows, we'd go out to these big raves. And once we got there it was almost like putting on another show because I knew all the DJs and they would announce we were there and they would all follow our lead. We'd get 'em to get down really low and get up. Tokyo was a definite dream. For the shows we were trying to do, it was the only place the crowds would get that quiet when we wanted to get quite and that loud when we wanted to get loud. It worked out much better than I ever could have imagined it.
BH: When can people in L.A. and the rest of the country expect to see you guys? Any plans for a U.S. tour?
Matt: Not soon. Not in this year. We are gonna go record for a while. And do some writing. I'm going to Nashville and just mellowing out for a while. In January I think we will play some more shows. It's just that we are a really big band and it's expensive to deal with us. But whenever we have the chance we are gonna do it. I think we may go to Iceland soon. Whenever there is a really weird prospect I am usually up for it.
BH: Different members are always showing up on record and on stage for The Rentals. How is that handled?
Matt: It's always left open. I've been working with this new guitar player a lot. And also the bass player from the last tour. I haven't figured out what everybody's role is yet. Especially with this group - this is really fresh. We played the L.A. show and two weeks in Japan and we worked really well together. This Rentals worked much better than the last band and we had much less time to deal with it. I think everyone is a bit surprised when they see us, how much more aggressive in general the shows are as opposed to what they are expecting. I think everyone still expects us to be this real automaton new-wave thing still, I think that will stay with us for a long time. It's a hard thing to shake once you start it. Everybody freaked out. My friends had no idea that's what it was about. And the shows in the Japan they came ready to freak out, and it was really mellow, everyone was confused for awhile. It was great. Then we'd come back out and we'd make them go nuts.
BH: What's the writing process now?
Matt: The new process of writing is more of a collaborative effort. Just trying to be right there in the moment even more. Coming up with a really loose skeleton of what it's about and then just ranting over it. I haven't been carrying the tape recorder around too much, unless I'm traveling. I have a total shit memory and I can't remember anything - five seconds later and it's gone. It's not an artistic choice, more of like a necessity.
BH: What's the idea behind the title for the record?
Matt: The title means a bunch of different things to different people. It especially means something that is really close to me. But in general it's the amount of time on a snooze for an alarm. When you don't want to leave a certain place you just keep hitting the snooze button over and over. Seven more minutes.
BH: Where exactly was it recorded? Was it mostly in London?
Matt: Where exactly? That's a lot. There are about five studios in London we did it at. There is a studio here where we recorded it at, that was just for really small things, fixing little bits. And some of it was mixed in Boston. Sean and Paul work there. I really like the work they've done. They did The Bends [by Radiohead] and they ruled that record. So that had a lot to do with the reasoning for going to Boston. I have tons of respect for them, and the way they work is something totally different from what I'm used to, so it was great. But the majority of it was recorded in London.
BH: How were you able to detach yourself from basically everything over here that has anything to do with the record industry, travel overseas and become so nomadic and free? And was your label, Maverick, supportive the whole time you were over there writing and recording this record?
Matt: Probably up until the last couple months they were. They let me do whatever I want to do. They are really good about that. I'm used to just working on my own and then handing it over to people. That's how I did the first Rentals record. We did it, made the video, the artwork, and gave it to them, so I'm used to having complete control over everything. I really like Maverick, but I really dislike red tape. You wanna go do one thing for a day and you have to swim through an incredible amount of bullshit to get the simplest thing done. And this isn't just with them. We just gave a b-side to Heal the Bay, a compilation record, and it took so long for them to complete that. From the record company to the publishing company to the record company that is doing the comp. I just said, 'Yeah take the song, whatever, use it.' Then a week later I get another letter saying, "We need you to sign so we can clear this." "OK. Cool." Then a week later I have to sign something else. It's just an enormous amount of paperwork for a benefit record. But Maverick knew what they were signing when they signed me. I just want to do things the way I want to do them. But if they have something to say about it I don't mind. Their involvement is welcome. But they were cool about me just leaving. They knew what they were getting into. It was the only way I could have made this record.
BH: Did the success of the first Rentals record take you by surprise at all? Where did that record take you that you had never imagined it would?
Matt: It definitely got us some interesting places, in the literal sense. Got us to parts of the world we hadn't been to before, and engaged us in adventures. It was in the midst of that whole Weezer thing, which was so surreal anyways. I don't know if I can separate the Weezer thing from that, it seems to just be one big period of time to me.
BH: Did the other members of Weezer get bummed on that? Or were they excited and supportive of you?
Matt: Well Pat was on the record, so he was pretty supportive of it. I don't remember, we argued about a lot of stuff back then. I'm not really sure what was in the arguments. It was very up and down with us, every day was either we got along really well or it was just plain shitty.
BH: Was there a period where you didn't speak for a while or there was bad blood?
Matt: Yes, it was like that every other week. Every week was a different guy. Somebody was the fall person more often than not as to why things weren't working. It just switched every week, somebody else got the blame. I probably got it more than most people. But then there was the last three months - that was the most amazing time of touring for me there ever was with those guys. Then we did this whole opening for No Doubt thing, we went to Japan and Thailand. Every show was an amazing experience, and we were all getting along great. So it wasn't all shitty at all.
BH: What was the last straw? Was the Rentals the reason you left?
Matt: I didn't really leave. It just dissipated. You turn around one day and you aren't working together. I don't think anyone knows how we started or how we ended it.
BH: How did the song "My Head Is in the Sun" with Rivers come about?
Matt: I was living at his house in Boston, and he was out here trying out people to replace me. He came back for a weekend. We sat around and sang songs, played his songs and my songs, other people's songs. I had been stuck on that song for a really long time. I just couldn't figure out how to finish it up, and it had taken me like three years to write that song. It's one of the only ones that took a long time, and I had basically just given up on it all together. So I played it for him and he sort of worked on it with me. It was cool and relaxed. It was the first time we got to truly collaborate on something.
BH: Do you think you will collaborate with him in the future?
Matt: We're talking about it all the way around, even as a group. For me, I don't see the purpose of putting absolutes on anything. So we're talking about it. We are gonna try and write some stuff together, but at this point I don't think he is in a space for writing.
BH: When you say working together, do you mean as Weezer?
Matt: Possibly. It's really hard to say. I really wouldn't mind either way. I don't know if I can dedicate my life to it 24 hours a day. But all those guys are like family to me.
BH: What have you been listening or watching lately? What inspires you?
This Japanese guy just gave me this CD called The Voices of Harlem which is some collection of gospel funk. It's just amazing sounding vocally. Talk about having a lot of freedom in expression of music - it's really amazing. I've been listening to that the last few days, and it flipped me out. I've been in a really mellow headspace lately, so I've also been listening to a lot of Nick Drake. I saw Spike Jonze's new film. That was great. I went to see it in a room full of suits, some special screening thing, a couple weeks ago. You kind of always hold Spike to this incredibly high standard, so it's tough to be him I think. He's very inspirational.
BH: What's in the future for The Rentals?
Matt: Possibly shows in January or February. We will most likely record sometime in there too. There is so much I want to do right now. I'm gonna be doing a solo record at some point, something really subdued. And a new Rentals sometime around February. We played one of the songs at the show you were at in L.A. One of the new ones. All the songs that we've been working on for the new record I just improvise all the words. I've just been really enjoying making up everything on the spot except for like a couple key words. And it's been getting worse. When we started out, we were improvising shit and it was just perfectly landing every night, everything was coming together. Then the more we did it the improving got worse, I actually rhymed "rad" with "bad" the other night. If you aren't in the right headspace to make things up, it's just gonna get messy.