Music News

The Sharp of Things to Come

When Matt Sharp started plotting the real-life return of the Rentals after seven years of focusing on other things, he didn't want to get all hung up on bringing in people who'd actually been in the Rentals on either Return of the Rentals or Seven More Minutes.

He was more concerned with making sure that any project called the Rentals would include what he still thinks of as the key ingredients that made those records great — the way the male and female vocals work together, the analog synth riffs from the Gary Numan school of rock, and the strings on Return of the Rentals.

Rachel Haden is the only other person with a link to the earlier records who's taking part in this "reunion." And that link goes deeper than her cameo appearance on the band's first album. As it turns out, Haden — of That Dog fame — is the first person with whom Sharp shared the songs that would make up Return of the Rentals when he first started feeling like he wanted something more from life than a supporting role in Weezer.

"I brought her some songs and asked for her to work with me," Sharp says, "which is something that was very bold for me. I was a very big fan of hers, and she was a little intimidating to me. But she was very supportive and helped me believe that it was okay to be writing songs." Haden even joined the band at first, recording all the bass parts on an early version of the album that was subsequently shelved.

As Sharp recalls, "It was the first time I had ever sung in front of a microphone doing lead vocals, and I was just not very confident in what I'd done, so we just kind of shelved it and I went back on the road with Weezer. Then, when I came back, we re-approached it, and at that point, she was busy doing something else."

Her schedule's freer now, and Sharp is thrilled to have a second chance. "Those first two shows we played," he says, "were just very emotional for me, to look over at Rachel and go, 'Wow, I've wanted to be in a band with this woman for 15 years or something.'"

And he owes it all — or a sizable chunk of it, anyway — to singer/multi-instrumentalist Sarah Radle, the first new member to sign on (eventually followed by Haden, Ben Pringle on synth, Lauren Chipman on strings and Dan Joeright on drums). "As soon as I met Sarah," Sharp says, "I realized, 'There's a way to do this.'"

The reason he didn't invite the other Rentals to the table, Sharp explains, is that he knew they wouldn't have what he was looking for — total commitment to the Rentals as the "central focus" of their lives.

"The most important thing for me," Sharp says, "was that we were gonna become a real group of people that depended on each other."

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Ed Masley