Don't bother checking the Wayback Machine, Sherman, it really has been eight years since The Rentals' last album, 1999's Seven Little Minutes. Even more astonishing than the passage of time since former Weezer bassist Matt Sharp decided to release a Rentals album is the appearance of a new EP, a new band lineup and a renewed commitment from Sharp to tour and record anew under The Rentals banner.
If you'd asked him a couple of years ago, he would have recited the Rentals' eulogy for you.
"There have been so many people that have worked with us and contributed greatly to both of the first two Rentals records, but it wasn't the central part of their musical lives," Sharp says from his California home. "A lot of people were invested in other bands and had other things to do and we would all do our best making the records, but at the end of the creative cycle of the album would be a whole other anxiety level of 'OK, what now? How are we going to perform what we just recorded and who are we?'
"I just didn't want to go through that again. Basically, the thought for me was there was no way to do it."
During that long break in activity, Sharp removed himself from the music community for a number of years before shifting gears and writing and recording his stripped-down acoustic releases and touring them extensively. Then he had to decide what direction he would take his music next.
"There seemed to be so many different paths and so many different choices of what to do," Sharp says. "There was an idea to continue that acoustic life. There was a thought of some other collaborative record, there was a possibility of doing something with Weezer at the time — it was discussed but not really fleshed out — but the thing that kept coming was people suggesting we could make another Rentals record at some point."
It's not terribly difficult to see Sharp's dilemma with resurrecting the lauded band that followed his stint with the much-acclaimed Weezer. Both of The Rentals' albums (1995's Return of the Rentals and 1999's Seven Little Minutes) were band albums in name only. They were created by somewhat transient bands, and Seven Little Minutes was laden with guest appearances.
With two different and well-received albums in his catalog, Sharp simply chose to let The Rentals fade away with no intention of ever reviving the concept band.
"Out of all the choices, it seemed the hardest and most daunting choice to do," he says. "I couldn't even get around to where to start or even how to take that."
Sharp's feelings about considering a return to The Rentals were ultimately heightened by a serendipitous meeting. One of his solo acoustic shows in Dallas had been opened by a young singer/songwriter named Sara Radle, who had impressed Sharp with her set. Shortly after, she traveled to California to visit family and contacted Sharp to see if he might be available to demo a duet with her on her digital 4-track recorder. Sharp was sold after that single session.
"As soon as we recorded together, all these things seemed possible, it seemed like a first step," Sharp recalls. "She seemed like somebody I want to work with in a long term sense. She made the possibility viable. I thought, 'OK, if Sara is willing to take this journey with me then I'd like to do it.' A couple of weeks later, I gave her a ring and talked to her about it and asked her if she'd like to do it and she basically packed up her car back in Dallas and drove across the country."
Although Sharp was cautiously optimistic, Radle brought a new enthusiasm to the band and they quickly put together a version of The Rentals that seemed less fleeting and more permanent than the previous incarnations. Next came violist Lauren Chipman, followed in short order by drummer Dan Joeright and multi-instrumentalist Ben Pringle.
With The Rentals now standing at five strong, Sharp felt as though there was still a piece of the equation that needed to be solved. That blank was filled in when former that dog! bassist Rachel Haden agreed to join the new Rentals, a nifty and significant bit of musical circumnavigation for Sharp.
"Rachel was the first person that I ever worked with," Sharp says. "The first recordings were an excuse to work with her. The Return of the Rentals record was basically, 'I've got to figure something to do so I can work with this woman.' "
So far, the only fruits of the new Rentals' labor is the four-song The Last Little Life EP, a new sonic chapter in The Rentals' long but sparsely written book. A full-length CD is slated for early next year, and The Rentals' recent spate of touring is just tuning up for that eventuality.
"Last summer, we did a short tour to find out who we were musically on the first two albums and to get a better understanding of that," Sharp says. "But I didn't want to be stuck in that place, going out reliving those two records over and over. I knew it was important that we got something out this year and that we kind of broke the silence."
THE RENTALS play the Madison Theater on Friday.