By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Imagine Matt Sharp, the Rentals' frontman and former Weezer bassist, at a rave in Barcelona at 9 a.m. Or just imagine him at a rave in Barcelona. Or just at a rave. It's hard to picture the same man who appeared on the cover of the Rentals' 1995 album Return of... with a homemade buzz cut, ill-fitting gray suit, and government-issue eyewear partying till the break-of-break-of dawn in some foreign disco. Sharp doesn't exactly strike many people as the typical funk soul brother. Rather, his image is that of the affable Everygeek--a notion introduced by his stint in Weezer and reinforced by the Rentals' first disc. He's the kind of guy you'd call if you were having trouble with Windows 98, not the first person you'd ring up to go club-hopping.
Well, at least he didn't used to be. For the past several years, though, he has been at more raves than Ecstasy, freeing his ass and letting his mind follow. He's seen and done more in that time than he ever could have dreamed, opening his eyes to new possibilities, forcing him to reconsider the way he writes songs, how he lives his life, everything. It eventually led him to leave Weezer and spend the past three years making a new Rentals album, Seven More Minutes, due in stores April 13. In the process, he's become a different person, and certainly a different songwriter, judging by Seven More Minutes, so full of motion where The Return of... was static. Then again, so is Sharp.
He's been on the road almost permanently since Weezer's self-titled debut reminded people who Buddy Holly was in 1994, turning four dorky white guys from Los Angeles into the biggest band in America for about five minutes. And the unanticipated platinum sales of Return of...--based on the ubiquitous single "Friends of P"--took him even further than he thought possible. After touring the world several times over, Sharp is just happy he's been along for the ride--and remembers some of it.
"I just think that the whole scenario was surreal, whether it was the Rentals or what was going on with Weezer," Sharp says from his apartment in Los Angeles. "It was just an enormous cluster of surrealism. One minute, you're at the MTV awards talking to Madonna about new wave or whatever. And then, a few months later, we're in Portugal opening up for Blur, and we're playing in front of a bunch of people on the other side of the world, and you're going, 'How the hell did we get here? What happened to the past couple of months?'"
Or, what happened to the past couple of years?
Sharp hasn't been heard from since Weezer's buzz-killing (in terms of sales) 1996 sophomore disc Pinkerton, save for an appearance on the soundtrack to the 1998 comedy Meet the Deedles--along with Weezer singer-guitarist Rivers Cuomo--under the name Homie, and a collaboration with Blur's Damon Albarn ("We Have a Technical") that turned up on a Gary Numan tribute album, 1997's Random. It's not exactly a mystery: Thanks to Weezer's and the Rentals' unexpected successes, Sharp had the money and time to do what he wanted to do, so he did. One thing he decided was that he'd allow the songs to happen when they happened, and not force one note. With that in mind, he went to a place where he was comfortable, where there would be absolutely no pressure to write another "Friends of P": Spain.
After falling in love with Spain while on tour with Weezer, Sharp has become an unofficial resident of the country, flying in every chance he gets, whether it's for a few days or a few weeks. It's where the bulk of the songs on Seven More Minutes were written, as he walked the streets of Barcelona and danced his nights away accompanied only by a crude grasp of the language and a hand-held tape recorder. He refers to Spain as his second home, yet he doesn't really have a first one, splitting his time between Los Angeles, Boston, New York, London, and Spain during the course of writing and recording Seven More Minutes.
Seven More Minutes' biggest influence is Sharp's travels, but it's not really a road album, less about the places he's been to than the things he did when he was there. Falling in and out of love, dancing in a crowd of thousands, drinking and smoking until the sun came up, losing his inhibitions, trying to live in a foreign country, trying to live. If you want to know what happened to Sharp in the past few years, it's all there on the lyric sheet. And that's exactly what he wanted.
"I really wanted to make a change in my life, to be really open to letting environment affect everything I do," Sharp admits. "Let the people that surround you and the conversations that are going on, the life that you're leading, really impact everything, the way that you write and the way that you approach thinking about writing and everything. It was a better way for me to think about it, because it was just more in the moment.