St. Louis Post-Dispatch interview with Matt Sharp - February 2, 1996

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Return of the Moog; The Rentals Revive Synthesizer Sound As 'Afterthought'

By Alan Sculley


With their hit single "Friends of P.," Matt Sharp and his band, The Rentals, have almost single-handedly brought the Moog synthesizer back to the forefront of pop, resurrecting an instrument that seemed to go by the wayside after the Cars and Gary Numan fell off the charts back in the 1980s.

That classic synthesizer not only makes its presence felt on the single, but plays a key role in the remaining nine songs on the group's debut CD, Return of the Rentals. At a time when alternative rock has had its share of sound-alike bands, the Moog has given The Rentals an instant identity and recognition.

But Sharp isn't taking too much credit for what now looks like a masterstroke of musical planning. In fact, The Rentals at first weren't intended to be a keyboard band at all.

"After we had recorded the record - and it was really a straight-ahead thing, I listened to it for a while and didn't really like a lot of the singing," Sharp said. "Time went by, and then we went back into the studio to re-record some things, and there was a Moog there. I decided I wanted to use it for a couple of things, and then we just...really started enjoying that. We decided to change everything and layer it with four or five Moogs in every song."

"It was very much an afterthought," he said. "There was nothing on (the first recordings) except one guitar, bass, drums and vocals. Everything was one take."

Now that the CD is out, it's hard to imagine the songs on Return of the Rentals without the keyboards. On bouncy tunes such as "Friends of P." and "Waiting," the Moog actually provides the signature hook for the songs. And even tunes such as "The Love I'm Searching For" that feature heavy guitars get a significant amount of flavor from the added keyboard textures.

For Sharp, the Rentals project began taking shape a couple of years ago, before anyone had heard of him. That changed when his other band, Weezer, saw its 1994 debut CD become one of the year's big alternative-music hits behind the popular singles "Undone - The Sweater Song" and "Buddy Holly."

The entire Weezer connection is something that Sharp has been trying to downplay. Part of the situation involves legal necessities because The Rentals are signed to Maverick Records and not Weezer's label, Geffen-owned DGC Records.

"They basically did me a very big favor, and they were extremely nice about it. I asked Geffen if I could put it out elsewhere," Sharp said. "I wanted the record to be released elsewhere, and I didn't want them involved in it because I wanted it to be thought of on its own and not thought of as a side project or thought of as 'we'll please him by letting him put out this little thing.'"

"I wanted people to be focused on it and backing it and believing in it and for it to be important. And Maverick's a much smaller company, so I just figured they would be ready for that...DGC has done a great job with the whole Weezer thing, and I think that we're really fortunate that we're with people who really were that together. But for my thing definitely needs its own voice."

To that end, Sharp doesn't mention Weezer by name in any of Maverick's background materials on The Rentals, who—on record—also include Weezer drummer Pat Wilson, violinist Patra Haden from That Dog, guitarist Rod Cervera, singer Cherielynn Westrich and co-producer Tom Grimley on keyboards.

In fact, Sharp actually concocted an entire fake biography for the band, which placed the band's origins in Czechoslovakia.

According to the ersatz biography, The Rentals had formed in the late 1970s when they were teen-agers, playing gigs at Communist youth rallies in Prague. But in 1979, guitarist Cervera was arrested for espionage after unknowingly trying to carry government secrets and KGB microfilm out of the country on a trip to the U.S. to see his uncle.

The rest of the band, fearing arrest, fled to the Czech countryside, where they led an "uncomplicated existence." However, tapes of their shows became big items on the black market, making The Rentals cult stars in their home country. After the cold war thawed, Cervera was released from prison, and last year the band re-formed for a concert in Prague. Maverick Records owner Madonna happened to be in the audience and signed the band.

The group's CD artwork and the video for "Friends Of P." outfits the band in glasses and stodgy clothes, visually reinforcing the tale.

"That whole thing came out of a need to not lean on Weezer," Sharp said. "I really want the record to stand on its own... and [besides] legally we could not use Weezer's name at all. I figured it would be better if we just pretended we were from another country for a while."

"[But] everybody knew right away. It was just kind of pointless."

Not surprisingly, with Sharp's active participation in The Rentals and the success of "Friends of P.," plenty of people are wondering about the future of Weezer.

"I think people have such a misconception about what's going on, because I think most people aren't able to understand having two bands at one time," Sharp said. "They think that it's just impossible to do. They figure...that it's so much like a marriage that you can only have one band at a time, which is ridiculous.

"But things are going well. I'm enjoying it."

In fact, Sharp said, Weezer is on break after completing several songs for a second record. The hiatus is giving Sharp the opportunity to tour with The Rentals.

"We've recorded half of the (Weezer) record, and we're just trying to figure out how to complete it, and if Rivers (Rivers Cuomo, the band's chief songwriter) and I are going to write together, Sharp said. "A bunch of questions are up in the air with us. We're just trying to get it completed."


The Rentals: opening for Blur

Where: Galaxy, 1227 Washington

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday

How much: $10-$12 Information: 534-1111, 231-2404