I knew I was late to the Matt Sharp party. Apparently, I was so late everybody was going to bed.
In 2002, the former Weezer bassist and Rentals lead singer was performing a solo show down the road from my place. I tied on my pink Chucks, pulled on my drawstring pants, and loaded the iPod with all things Rentals—Moog-charged pop classics like "Friends of P," "The Man with Two Brains," and the other cult hit songs I'd discovered only a year earlier. Charged and excited, I slapped the door open when I arrived.
The club stared me down. The crowd was silent, sitting cross-legged on the normally cigarette-lined floor. Sharp was sans mic for his solo acoustic set, surrounded by candles. These people were Friends of Percodan.
I had missed the part of the story where the Rentals disbanded, Sharp escaped to Tennessee for a breather, and emerged as a solo songwriter. His former Weezer cronies had since gone arena with their sound; Sharp couldn't exactly be blamed for the reverse direction—as he puts it, "as warm and fuzzy and fireside chat-tish as possible."
Five years later, I'm still cautious. Sharp laughs from his house in LA when I ask if people need pillows at his latest concerts. "I think a pogo stick would be better," he says.
The return of the Rentals isn't just an album title this time (unlike their debut in 1995). The re-formed band celebrated their first full year of touring last month, and Sharp is shocked that people are still coming to the gigs and "acting like a bunch of football hooligans." But they have good reason to jump and dance again. Even though only Rachel Haden returns from the band's early days, this lineup is faithful in concert, pumping clubs full of synthesizers, multipart vocal harmonies, and horn-rimmed glasses.
This return started not with Haden, however, but with Sara Radle, a relatively unknown punk-rock singer out of Dallas, Texas. Like Sharp, Radle had recently changed songwriting gears, reborn as a piano-pop solo artist, and they met while Sharp was touring with Goldenboy in 2005. Sharp called their songwriting compatibility "effortless." At the time, he was mentally juggling a few options: a new solo album, or perhaps a return to Weezer, thanks to his rekindled friendship with Rivers Cuomo. But after further meetings with Radle in both Texas and LA, he re-listened to recent songwriting demos and noticed something: "That sounds like the beginnings of... like I'm making another Rentals record."
Sharp continues, "The fact that anybody comes out to support anything that I'm involved in, whether it be something like the Rentals, or what I've done in the past with Weezer—I don't take it for granted." He adds, "I've learned that from doing as many low-key solo tours as I've done after the second Rentals record. You really have to be appreciative of the fact that people don't have to spend their time with you."