VIDEO: The Rentals, "Friends of P"
When Matt Sharp reassembled the Rentals last year after a half-decade hiatus, he didn’t do it out desperation. In fact, he says over the phone from his home in Los Angeles, he had several options on the table, including making a follow-up to his Matt Sharp 2004 solo debut, doing collaborative work with the LA band Goldenboy, and perhaps even reteaming with his old mates in Weezer, the influential fuzz-pop group he quit in 1998.
“The idea of making another Rentals record seemed to me like the most difficult thing I could do. Or at least the most intimidating.” What troubled Sharp was the difficulty of moving beyond the “revolving-door aspect” of the band’s first two albums, 1995’s Return of the Rentals and 1999’s Seven More Minutes (both Maverick), which included contributions from Sharp’s Weezer mate Pat Wilson, Petra and Rachel Haden of That Dog, and members of Blur, Elastica, and Ash. (Saturday Night Live star Maya Rudolph also did a stint as a Rental.)
“I really felt from the beginning that if I was gonna make another Rentals record, I had to approach it with a different mind set. Playing with people who are invested in other groups as their main creative outlet — that’s something I’ve been through a lot, and it didn’t really interest me again. I thought the only way we could move forward was to put together a group of people who were connected to the music beyond the recordings themselves — who really had the music we’re making be more central to their lives. And I just couldn’t get my head around that until I met Sara.”
A singer-songwriter originally from Texas, Sara Radle played a few shows with Sharp while he was on tour supporting his solo album. “The interaction between male and female vocals felt familiar,” he says. Inspired to do something “more concise” than the ambling country-folk material on Matt Sharp (In Music We Trust), he and Radle listened to the old Rentals discs and thought about picking up where he’d left off — not a bad idea given the new-wave revival that in retrospect has made the appealingly casual Return of the Rentals seem like a harbinger. “For the first time, I felt like I wasn’t going into this alone. I could see how to take the first step.”
Once he and Radle had put together a new version of the band by hitting up friends and acquaintances — as well as Rachel Haden, who says she’d taken “four or five years off from music” before Matt called her and asked her to play bass — they hit the road, performing lightly rearranged versions of familiar Rentals material that included such fan favorites as “Sweetness and Tenderness” and “Friends of P.,” the band’s sole radio hit.
This summer, they’re touring behind a new four-song EP, Last Little Life (Boompa), which has three new songs as well as an updated version of “Sweetness and Tenderness.” (They play the Middle East this Friday.) Sharp says the band didn’t record the new tunes with the intention of putting them out: “We did them more to get an understanding of where we wanna go with the next Rentals album.” Yet Joe Chiccarelli, who mixed the new songs, pressed Sharp to release them. “He said, ‘I think this should be heard as is.’ He convinced me that I should let people in on the process instead of being so guarded about it.”