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Seven years ago, P didn't have many Japanese friends. Los Angeles' Rentals learned this the hard way, playing their final, sparsely attended concert in Osaka, Japan, in October 1999 before disbanding. Soon after, lead singer (and former Weezer bassist) Matt Sharp began a new career as a startlingly quiet, folky songwriter, and the days of new-wave college hits such as "Friends of P" and "The Cruise" seemed gone forever.
But it's amazing what seven years and 24,000 fans can do. After announcing the band's reunion earlier this summer, Sharp and the newly born Rentals were inundated with tour requests, particularly from last month's Nano-Mugen festival in Yokohama, Japan. There, Sharp's low expectations (fueled by the bad memory) were blown to bits.
"The Japanese shows were incredibly surreal," Sharp says over the phone while driving to a tour stop in Portland. "Especially for a group of people who...in one way, it's been a group for a very long time, but in another, those two shows in Yokohama were just our third and fourth shows [as a new lineup]."
The festival crowd of 24,000 didn't just exceed the 1999 Osaka finale in numbers. The fans went nuts. One week before that, crowds did the same in their hometown, selling out Los Angeles' Henry Fonda Theater: "The whole place, the balcony, from the front to the back, [was full] of people just singing, dancing, pogoing and losing their minds with us."
And to think, Sharp's return to insanely poppy hooks, loud Moog synthesizers and massive crowds was largely thanks to Dallas' Sara Radle.
"I had a feeling that if we didn't start from her, we shouldn't go down that path," Sharp recently admitted (Is This On?, May 18). He met the local songwriter through mutual friends in 2004; Radle had just begun her own toned-down solo project, a piano-filled diversion from her history as a pop-punk guitarist in Lucy Loves Schroeder, and the two quickly bonded as they played together multiple times at concerts in both Dallas and Los Angeles. Sharp's desire to re-form a full band hit as their friendship grew, and since Radle had the piano and singing abilities that he thought would fit the Rentals, he popped the question that she admits she couldn't have said no to.
After Radle moved to Los Angeles, the duo plotted the return of the Rentals, working out a few new songs and eventually rounding up a full band of new musicians along with original bassist Rachel Haden.
"Coming into the idea of us making the Rentals viable, my main concern was that the group had to have a sense of integrity," Sharp says. "Take it patiently, figure out who we are and make sure it's the right people together for the right reasons. As soon as Sara said she wanted to be involved, I knew that if we did things the right way, we'd be all right, but I knew of all the different paths I could've taken musically, it was probably gonna be the most difficult and trying but also the most rewarding."
Radle concurs, claiming near-exhaustion during the past few months as the band has rehearsed "eight hours a day, five days a week, really trying to get [old Rentals] songs into shape." In addition, Sharp sings the praises of the new band, saying they're better at recreating the nuances of the complicated album versions of songs than the original band ever was thanks to having multi-instrumentalists such as Radle around. But even having that many talented hands--and accompanying instruments--has become a burden: "That in itself takes a lot of choreography," Radle laughs. "It's been hard work. But touring's definitely the payoff of all that hard work."
While Sharp is certainly satisfied by the payoff, he attaches an asterisk to such immediate success for what he continues to call a new band (even though albums The Return of the Rentals and Seven More Minutes became huge cult favorites in the band's seven years of downtime). Then again, for a "new" band, he, Radle and the rest of the sextet couldn't be happier.
"I was always a fan [of the Rentals]," Radle says. "I have friends who are fans. But I had no idea, I don't think any of us had any idea, of what the fan base was to this day. How big it was, who it would be: a younger audience? People my age? So it's been refreshing to realize that people are coming out, and they're enthusiastic and supportive."
"Most people in their first group usually do it right," Sharp says. "You start it in a very meager situation. In Weezer, we played once a week in local club shows and maybe five to 10 of our friends would show up to support us. Then we had time to figure out who we are, what our roles are, how we function together, what everybody brings to the group. With our group, unfortunately and fortunately, we're not able to do that. It's not our luxury to play under the radar and find our voice. That was the whole reason for this tour to happen. This is a way we can play every day together, live together, learn what it's like to be in the Rentals."