The Daily Iowan interview with Matt Sharp - October 10, 2002

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Former Weezer bassist discusses life after stardom

By Dan Maloney

IOWA CITY, Iowa—Wednesday, 3:30 p.m., Ames, Iowa: The former Weezer bass player and frontman for the Rentals, Matt Sharp, sits in a hotel room, recovering from a mild cold and a show the night before at the M-Shop on the Iowa State campus.

He picks up the phone and calls me in the Daily Iowan newsroom. His bed-ridden voice welcomes me with a pungent hello, and he tells me that he's watching a celebrity profile on Anthony Hopkins and sipping green tea with a lime to aid his sickness. In the course of an hour, Sharp and I discuss his recent musical endeavor, former days with Weezer and the Rentals, and a little about his recent lawsuit with Weezer. Sharp, joined by former Cake guitarist Greg Brown, will play an intimate acoustic set of new material Friday night in the IMU Wheelroom.

The Daily Iowan: So Matt, what have you been doing musically since the last Rentals album, and is this current tour in promotion for an acoustic album?

Matt: Well, after the last Rentals record, I re-evaluated the kind of music I wanted to play. I started to realize that I wanted to do a very sparse, slow, and somber record. For the last 2 1/2 years, on and off, I have been holed up in Leipers Fork, a small Tennessee town. There, I began recording music on mainly an acoustic guitar — an instrument I am still in the beginning stages of learning.

The recording I did is finished and it's mostly just me with the exception of the accompaniment of Josh Hagler and Greg Brown. The album does not have a label yet, but I decided to go out on tour to get back with music culture and have the chance to play in front of people again. I mean, we haven't really even rehearsed for this tour, we are just kind of learning our way through the songs every night.

DI: How have fans reacted to this new stripped-down, acoustic sound so far?

Matt: My music peers, for the most part, were angered and worried about me. They thought that I was just out in Tennessee making a shoestring record and that I would return to a style similar to my prior work. But I realized that this new direction was best for me --this is what I should be doing with my music.

The audience, for the most part, has been great. People are truly open to what I'm doing, and I noticed that most of my audience is made up of really bright and sensitive kids who listen to good music — the same that I'm into. I was pleasantly surprised to notice a lot of girls dressed fashionably with ties and wearing Belle and Sebastian and Smiths buttons.

DI: Is there a specific time when you decided to hang up the synth-rock and redirect your music?

Matt: Well, I always listened to the kind of music I'm playing now. I went to Japan in support of the last Rentals' record, Seven More Minutes, and we would do two sets a night, the beginning being an intimate acoustic set, and the other our synth-oriented songs. There really isn't a distinct moment or tragic experience that altered my musical change. I haven't made a record yet that didn't have to get over a hurdle.

DI: So, should we plan to see this sort of change in the Rentals?

Matt: I doubt there will be another new record, but I don't want to shut the door on that yet. There is a lot of left-over and un-used Rentals material that I plan to release on the Internet for free. I am doing this as a kind of gift to the fans who stuck with me, a way of saying thank-you.

DI: I know this might be a sore subject for you, but can you talk a little about your recent lawsuit with Weezer over songwriting credits?

Matt: I really can't talk much about it, but let's just say that when I was in Weezer, it was what I was doing. Weezer was my life, my passion, and I was really invested in it. We were like brothers, and now I don't even talk to them anymore.

I haven't even heard the last two records. I haven't had a TV for ages, and I don't listen to modern pop radio. That's really all there is to be said — slinging mud around would soil my experience with Weezer.

DI: Despite your absence from popular culture, are you aware of the "emo" culture and its association with Weezer?

Matt: Greg Brown tried to explain emo culture to me because he's more in tune with modern music. But as I said, a lot of our audience are dressed very fashionably. I wish I had that kind of style. But to your question [about] Weezer, I find it to be a hysterical trend. When I was with Weezer, we were trying to be as bland as possible. We wore mostly brown, and we were totally forgettable. No one at the record company really recognized us, and even door guys didn't remember us.

DI: What are your musical goals — what can we all expect from you in the future?

Matt: My main goal is to keep the two guys touring with me—Brown and Hagler—together and to perform shows that you can record --shows that sound better than an album recording. The shows we are doing now are really comfortable.

Most of the time, the setting is intimate, just us and the audience in an environment in which we can completely control. There are no opening acts, it's just us, and most of the time we invite the audience to come up on stage with us.

I am in the negotiation process of finding a label for the new record. I don't know what I want from a label yet, but I don't have any ambitions to be on pop radio.