Overlee.com interview with Matt Sharp - June 6, 2002

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By Josue Munoz

June 6, 2002

Silverlake, Los Angeles, CA

Overlee.com: First and foremost, what have you been up to during the years of absence from the public eye?

Matt: In the winter of 2000 I moved to a real small town called Leipers Fork, Tennessee. Lived there for about 6 months and I just rented a really small little house out there, it's a really small town. I don't know about how many people lived there...a couple hundred people. It's a real small house. It's in a tiny town, one restaurant, one gas station, and that was it - big open fields. So I moved out there with a guy named Josh Hagger and we built a small little studio in the house and basically there was nothing in the house except all the stuff we brought. A piano and those kinds of things and we just stayed there and I wrote and recorded and whatever we could as we went along. He recorded most of it and he did a lot of ambient music over top whatever I was coming up with. Just a lot of slides and things like that, ambient piano stuff. So we just recorded and recorded and recorded and sort of stayed there until we went a little nuts and then stayed a little bit longer. And after that he split and I stayed there for a little bit longer, came back to LA, took a break for a little while and looked for a place to live and then just spent the last couple of years going through what we did there and kind of just listening to what we did. seeing what it was and making a record out of it. Mixing it and remixing it and that sort of thing. It was a great place just to think and take long walks and write. Think about where you're at and what you like about music and what kinda music you like and that kinda thing. And sort of doing that. Different friends of mine came out and worked on the record while I was there and Craig Brown who worked on the record quite a bit spent a week or 2 out there in Nashville and since then has spent a lot of time down here working on listening to everything and going through it.

Overlee.com: What stage are you in now with the record?

Matt: Tomorrow I sequence the record and it's done. The last stage you do when you make a record is master it and I did that about a week ago and now I just have to sequence it - what songs go first and all that kinda stuff.

Overlee.com: What about getting it out? What label?

Matt: Well, I completed my contract with Maverick so I don't have to put it out on Maverick. So that's done and now it's just trying to figure out what's the best way to put it out, so that's basically what the next step is with the record. When working on music, or writing music, or mixing it, or whatever I can't think about business at all. My brain can only handle one thing at a time. I don't like to talk to any of those people involved with the business aspect or think about it in that way, as a product or however people think about it. So for the past few years I haven't spoken to anybody in the whole music business world and sort of kept away from them, but now I guess it's time to get back into that whole thing.

Overlee.com: Do you have any idea how you want it out? Major label or not?

Matt: That whole thing has never been an issue for me. I just want to put it out with people who are passionate about what it is. The one thing I don't like about major label set ups is that most of the time when you sign with a major label you sign with them here. You meet somebody and they say they really like what you do and they want to put your record out. So you sign this big contract with them and it's ridiculous, it's like Crime and Punishment, it's incredibly thick. Not only do you sign with them but you sign with everybody else in the world. Whoever they are affiliated with you're also signed to them. But none of these people have never met you or know what you're into. Maybe they really like it or maybe they really hate it or they couldn't care less, it doesn't matter - they're all stuck with it. That's the one thing I want to avoid with this record. I don't really want it be in a position that somebody feels it's an obligation. They should just be connected to it and proud of it or part of it. With Maverick it was Warner-Brothers, it was like we're just on Warner-Brothers in the whole universe. Some countries you'd go to and they'd be great, the people would be very supportive or into you. And some places you could just tell they didn't give a shit about what you were doing. It was more of a job for them and I just don't want to make it anybody's job but have it be more a passion.

Overlee.com: What about a release date? Anything in mind?

Matt: Well, we're gonna start talking to people about how they feel about the record now, starting this week. Then it just depends how long it takes to find the right people and find the right home for it. Hopefully that'll be done right away. I'd like to get that over with and just put it out this summer or at the end of the summer. I think at the latest it will come out at the beginning of next year but I really hope it doesn't take that long. I love it now and I wanna put it out now and we'll be doing shows now with it.

Overlee.com: Would you consider selling copies...?

Matt: I think we're gonna do that in the future but I don't think we're gonna do that now. The most important thing for me now...the whole thinking about the Internet is a totally new thing for me because everything has changed in the last few years, quite a bit. I think even in the last 2 or 3 years and essentially I haven't dealt with almost any human beings at all anyway during the past 3 years so it's only in the last few weeks that I've had to consider it. The most important thing for me is that I don't want the record to get out and be available and then have it take till next year to come out and have everybody say, "We heard this 6 months ago," or whatever. I think all in all you just have to sort of master a brief understanding of the Internet and submit to it and kinda give in to it. With this, I think it would hurt itself to give it away too early and have people who were psyched about it and then say "Well yeah I heard that, what else you got?" I'm gonna start touring, hopefully very soon with Greg, and its just gonna be 2 acoustic guitars and vocals and sometimes he'll probably play a little piano. I think when we get to that stage we'll probably sell it when we're on the road, depending on who will put it out.

Overlee.com: The Internet really has helped with these shows that are so small and all you need is a few people to post on a message board that fans will read and the word gets it.

Matt: The shows are amazing, it's a strange thing for me. I haven't performed for like 3 years, since we went to Japan. Then you come back and you do it and you're like, "What the hell have I been doing all this time?" This seems so obvious that this is what I should be doing with the majority of my time. I love it; these are the kinds of shows I wanna do for the next year. I wanna tour this way, do it in odd space and not in bars and those kinds of venues. Play where people can come in, sit on the floor, and be really connected to everything. There is no "B.S." between you and the people you are dealing with.

Overlee.com: Fans that have attended the recent shows have totally loved how intimate the shows have been.

Matt: The whole idea about making this record for me was that I really wanted to strip away a lot the walls you build when you make a record. I wanted to make sure that it was as tangible as possible. Especially for me where I didn't have to put up my guard all the time. That was one of the biggest lessons for me coming out of the last record. You don't need a ton of counterpoint and walls of guitars and crazy production to get across what you're trying to say. Most of the time the less you have, the more honest and direct it is, so I've been trying to figure out how to get to that. That's pretty much what the record is gonna be like and that's why the shows are like that too.

Overlee.com: There are so many sounds on both albums, especially Seven More Minutes, it has that wall of sound you were talking about.

Matt: It's really thick.

Overlee.com: Yeah, but at these shows you've really pulled off playing them with just an acoustic. Songs that I've loved for years now, I think I like them more because it just comes across as more honest and sincere.

Matt: Thank you.

Overlee.com: Yeah, I don't wanna sound like I'm kissing your ass though.

Matt: [laughs], no no. The thing about making this record and how I feel about the old stuff is so much about the kinds of music that I'm listening to, and the main point for me has always been not to try to do what you love but what you love about what other people do and what just moves you and what turns you on. The music I was doing when I was 22 was music that I loved. The whole goal for me at that time was just to really be a part of something that I would go see and nothing has changed with that. The question is always, if I walked into a record store and I heard something playing that I was working on, would I go up to the person working and ask them "Who is this? What is this about?" and just that thing that gravitates you to certain sounds. The stuff that moved me when I was 22 or whatever isn't the same thing when I was 12 and the same thing now. The things that I enjoy most are singers just being so direct with you and I feel the same way about so many musicians that I like. When I hear them just being so straight and an acoustic and you're like, "God that's so much better than the record," or it has something you can connect with. So that's where I'm at now, I've been there for a little while. It took going to Leipers to realize that and start asking yourself a lot of questions. "Where are you at and what do you like about music now?" and those kinds of things. Just to really think about it. It took a lot for me to realize that this is how it's going to be now for a while.

Overlee.com: What are your thoughts on bootlegging?

Matt: I have a lot of different thoughts on that whole thing. The first couple of shows I really wanted to be pretty adamant about not doing it or stopping it from happening because I hadn't played in a long time and I didn't know how I was going to react in that situation. Some of the stuff I played at those first 2 shows I just wrote right before the show, like a day or 2 before. The lyrics weren't completed and that sort of thing, so I was just making stuff up as I went along. My thought about it at the time was that everybody in the room can understand just by being there and understanding the environment and vibe of the room, what it means to be there. But somebody in France on their computer who downloads some song that probably doesn't sound too good or maybe is really screwed up; they might not to be able to understand that the room is a certain way and that the emotion is a certain way. I don't know, now I don't really care. There is no way to stop it so what are you gonna do? Either that or you're gonna stretch yourself out to death thinking about all that stuff.

Overlee.com: Would you ever view it as sort of helpful in getting a rough idea of your show out?

Matt: I could totally see why. But for the first show, I was Steve McQueen about 5 minutes before I went on and as soon as I went out there I got completely shell shocked for about 15 minutes at the beginning of the show. The first song that was in the first set I wrote 2 days or a day before the show. I wrote it because it only had 2 chords and there was no way I could screw it up, it was in opening tuning. Every single time, I went to the wrong chord. Two chords in the whole song, I had a 50% chance of getting that right. I guess if you're conscious that it's being bootlegged, that bothers you while you're screwing up. You're up there screwing up and you're like, "Great, some guy in France is going [mocking French accent], 'Ho ho ho, I don't know about this, I don't like this shit.'" Then, like I said, you kinda give in to it and I think it could be helpful. I would dig it if it was someone that I was into and someone told me, "You gotta hear this version of a song." The hope for me is that, the way that we're gonna perform coming up - some shows are just gonna be me and some shows are gonna be me and Greg, that's gonna be the norm I think - our hope is that the shows will be that you could stick one mic in the room and that's all you need and that might be better than what we just spent the last couple of years on in Nashville, because of that night or whatever. That's what I really wanna get to, whatever is happening right there can be better than the record itself. There are a lot of people I know who do that, but it's harder with rock. It is, you have so much more going into it. You have so many crazy, sonic sounds. It would be pretty hard to take this tape recorder and stick it into a room with a band playing and have it actually be better sounding than on the record. But I think you can take this recorder and stick it in a room where we're doing these acoustic shows at it might actually be better because you don't need much. It just has to be the song and emotions and the performance.

Overlee.com: When playing songs off the 2 albums, do any of them present a problem to you or are you just playing them now how you first started with them?

Matt: No, I guess I am re-approaching them. On the first record I couldn't really play guitar at all anyway, so basically I only played bass. On Seven More Minutes, I didn't really know how to play guitar almost at all, just the basic idea of a song, in its more primal form. But now I definitely want to become a better guitar player and be able to figure out how to make them sound good with only one guitar.

Overlee.com: What tuning have you been using with some of the new songs?

Matt: Well, every time Greg comes to visit he leaves all the guitars in the house in totally different tuning. So a couple of days after I get a couple good songs out of them because it makes you approach things from different angles, so you just have to ask him about that. Usually he re-tunes everything, I go to play a song and I figure it out what it is and write it down and try to write a song with however it's tuned.

Overlee.com: The tuning was one of the first things I noticed, I thought maybe a few songs were in open tuning.

Matt: You know, it just depends. A couple of songs are in straight open tuning. "January's Girl" is in a strange tuning; Greg came up with that. Some songs are played completely different from how they are on the record. I feel like with these kinds of songs you can totally re-approach it all the time and you don't have to recreate what we recorded. It's simple anyway so it just depends on how you feel.

Overlee.com: Are you featuring anyone on this new album?

Matt: I've been really fortunate with this record. After Seven More Minutes I decided that I didn't want to have to think about any pressures of what kind of record to make. It was a lot about people helping out, so there's a lot of people at different stages of the record that were really important. Josh was the first person who basically said, "We should do this, we should do this now, let's go," and he sort of pushed me out the door. All of a sudden we're in a van on our way to Leipers Fork and what the hell are we doing? Without any real idea about how we're gonna do it and he had a huge impact on the record. He created a lot of the mood with a lot of the ambient music that's a big part of the record. A friend of mine, Andy Wilkerson, who worked on Seven More Minutes, he came to LA a whole bunch of times and worked with me on how we wanted it to sound. He lived at that house, he'd come out for 2 weeks and then go to England then come back out a month later. We just kept listening to this stuff and were very patient about it. He had his period of the record where he was really a big part of it. Greg has been, at the end of it, the person who has really been there. With records that take as long as this one, you need to be able to stop, take a breath, and see what you're doing. At different periods, different people have helped give that re-energy. There are tons of other people who have helped out to make sure it happens.

Overlee.com: What instruments did you use on this album?

Matt: There were no real electronic instruments on the record at all. Even the ambient music that sometimes people think is synthesized is all natural. Everything started from an organic acoustic instrument. Most of it is acoustic guitar and vocals or piano. Slides a lot. There's probably more arrangement than I initially expected to get into; it's like a guilty pleasure thing that you just get sucked into. At the beginning of every record I start out with the desire to be as raw as possible and to be as direct as possible. With the first record it was like that, with Seven More Minutes it was like that. Somewhere in there you want it to be a beautiful thing instead of a raw thing and that can really take over. The thing with every record is, "Okay, we have all this raw stuff, so how are we going to make it pretty?" That's how the first record started off, we recorded it in 3 days and all the instruments were done live. We took a long break from it and came back and did the keyboards and violins and all that stuff and started polishing this really raw thing, making it more interesting and dense. Seven More Minutes was definitely like that. We were going to do that record so fast and then all of a sudden you're thinking, "Shit, how are we going to make this something more lush?" This record is much more sparse than anything I've ever done, it's much more sparse. But there's still that itching to make it pretty and kinda sad and beautiful.

Overlee.com: The track you played at the last show…

Matt: Yeah, it's pretty dense and lush. That whole song is completely natural and acoustic but the different influences from Greg and Josh you don't quite know what you're hearing. That's what I like, its not easy to decipher what's going on with it. The thing I most like about what Josh has done is that he has a way of making everything maintain its naturalness but you can't tell what it is.

Overlee.com: The Moog and that sound has been associated with the first 2 albums and people are going to expect it because it is very easy to like. Is it gone now?

Matt: It's a likable thing. To me that's a total part of the Rentals. The Rentals thing does have a definition and I don't want to say, but it's kinda like a guideline, but it's not really. I think the keyboards, and the girls, it's a really big part of that. That has a lot to do with why I could never consider this to be that. Might we do a Rentals record way off in the future? Maybe, I have no idea. If so, I would probably go back to doing that but its not something I'm planning on.

Overlee.com: As of right now it's all just Matt Sharp?

Matt: Yeah, it goes along with the thing of me coming to an end of building walls between what you're doing, what you're trying to say and how people are receiving it. There is no need for any B.S. between me and you. To me, the name of a group is just another layer to that. There's nothing to hide behind anymore, it's just what it is. Here it is, you want to come to the show, and it's just going to be as direct and as honest as possible.

Overlee.com: When performing the older songs, do you hear the other parts in your head such as the female voices?

Matt: That's what I meant, to me that's part of what the Rentals is. The girls were enormous on that. There was a period at the beginning of Seven More Minutes where we considered not having any female vocals on it at all and midway through it we said, "They have to be there." So I called Petra in a state of panic and flew her out to London and she helped me out a lot. She had a hell of a lot to do with what that was about. I was just a fan of hers and I always wanted her to do her thing. Some of the songs are really dependent on that and the songs I do live, I try to do the ones that aren't as dependent and can stand up on their own. Some of them to me are heavily dependent on all the girls. "My Summer Girl" is a lot like that. I think I tried it at the first show and tanked it a little bit I think. When I hear that song I can't hear it any other way but with all that stuff.

Overlee.com: A song like "Overlee", that has that Rentals feel and the layers, its one of my favorites and I think it could work if stripped down.

Matt: I thought about trying it at the last couple of shows, but I haven't quite figured out the way to do and make it really work. There's a couple of big instrumental passages that I don't really know what to do with. It's pretty manic on the production side of it, backward guitars and all that. It was written that way, it was written on an acoustic but that was one of those big ones that was completely overtaken by an enormous amount of tracks. I felt so sorry for the guy that mixed that song. The same guy that mixed that song on the record mixed the first Weezer stuff. I was also a big fan of his and what he did for us. That poor guy, he had never heard any of the stuff before and we just gave him all these tapes, it was ridiculous. Its probably 20 tracks of just female vocals and you can't really hear them; there is so much going on. Some sections would just have to be dropped. Sometimes you try and you feel a little silly trying to create something you can't. It's a tough thing to try to do and I don't think its something you might really want to hear somebody to do on an acoustic. Most of that song is really simple. My whole feeling about a lot of that stuff is, with that record, all I was trying to do was tell this one girl how much she changed my life. It's a thing where you realize to do you don't need to expend all this energy, just pick up the guitar and sing her the damn song. Tell her straight out or whatever. That song is the perfect example of that, just getting so out of control with arrangement just to say this very simple message. Just to say, "Hey, listen to me," and that can get lost in all that. It's fun to get into all that arrangement, it can drive you a little nuts, but most of the time I just wanted to say something that was a very direct thing and that's what I'm trying to do now.

Overlee.com: The first Rentals album was very catchy and melodic and Seven More Minutes was a big step, for yourself and as a songwriter. How would you say this new album compares?

Matt: When we were working on Seven More Minutes, right when I was considering not having any females on it, I told a good friend of mine who lives in London that I just can't call it a Rentals record. There's no reason to do it if its not going to have any female vocals; it doesn't have any violins on it. I was kinda just losing my mind a little bit in London when I was there. The thing he told me was, "You could call it whatever you want because in the end its just you." It's the same person trying to say a lot of the same themes. You usually only have a few themes going throughout all our lives that keep coming back up over and over again. He said, "Just call it the Rentals and stop your whining. In the end it's still you and it's going to sound a lot more like you than you think it did." But you always think you're making these enormous leaps and enormous changes…I don't know if I answered that right. As much as we change, and we change drastically, the exact same amount we stay the same. I know some people hear the stuff I'm doing now and they say, "Oh, it's you," but you want them to react in a more grand way because you think you've made these enormous changes in your life. Sonically, it's a totally different animal. All those albums are earnest at the core, I don't think that changed very much. My intentions are exactly the same now as they were then: Make something that you yourself would want to listen to.

Overlee.com: Yeah, people have wanted to know if you're going to be as honest as you have been previously.

Matt: I don't think that's ever going to change. That's the only real way I know how to do any of it. There are things that the more you write you hope you get better at. For me, the more I write, the more I hope I get better at just saying what I'm really trying to say with less bullshit. Just hope its more pure expression of what you're trying to get across. I hope that's the case and I think it is. I wrote a lot for this record, I think we went in with 500 ideas when making it. And we just started whittling it down and whittling it down until it got to 15 or so. There were a lot of ideas going into Seven More Minutes but no where near that, maybe 100 or something like that. So you just hope you're getting better at it.

Overlee.com: You've been playing extremely small venues for very small crowds, do you intend to work your way towards a more mainstream audience, perhaps so far as a video and major label release or are you happier staying below the radar as you stand now?

Matt: Well, it's probably going to sound like a broken record but the kinds of shows I'm doing now are the kinds of shows I'd want to go see. If I heard Hope Sandoval was playing in some loft somewhere I would be freaking out, I'd really want to go see that show. So right now I'm happiest doing it this way. We're planning on touring this way if it's possible to pull it off. I don't even know if its going to be more of a hassle than it's worth but we want to see if we can find interesting places in towns all over America and show up and set up guerrilla style. Just take over a room, make it into your vibe, and do that. I don't know if it'll be possible to do that all the way across the country. If we get to Missouri and there's one place to play in town or whatever, I don't know. I would love to and we're gonna see if we can do it for a little bit. Hopefully if we're doing well more people will come and check it out.

Overlee.com: I knew the shows would be intimate but I didn't expect it to be like just watching someone play in your living room.

Matt: Well that's what I would like to see, it would freak me out. We're gonna try and keep doing it. I know we're gonna see if we can do it in San Francisco in a couple of weeks and see how that goes.

Overlee.com: How do you feel about fans coming out to the shows? Are you surprised after the long absence?

Matt: I had no idea what to expect when we did the first show. It was let's just drop it out there and lets see what happens. I didn't know if it was going to be crazy or really low-key. To me, the whole feeling was that no matter what it is, whoever is in the room, that's the way it should be. The more as time goes on the more I feel that I don't have to do so much. You just have to be and do what you do and it will take care of itself. Get people to the show and it will take care of itself once people are there. Like after the first show, everybody took off and we were supposed to play two shows and we didn't end up doing it because the whole thing was confusing with the people that owned the establishment. After everybody left, a group of kids came, I think they were from San Francisco, and said, "We came down to see you, what's going on? There were supposed to be two shows." So they came in and we said all right, and they just sat on the floor and we sang songs for about an hour. It was only about 10 people in the room and it was amazing. It was totally fun and it was completely different from the first show. It was a very rewarding thing. That for me is mostly what I want to do, see people and sing and things will take care of itself.