This is Part 2 of a multipart interview series started here.
Frontman and Songwriter of The Rentals, Founding Member of Weezer, Matt Sharp has seen and lives the dream of many musicians around the world, myself included. It was very gracious of him and his team to give an hour of direct access and multiple exchanges before and after to make this series of interviews for SingingBassist.com. You will find out about his peculiar methods of album composition, his self-constructed bass guitar, his collaboration style, and much more. But for now, enjoy the entire text, in which Matt tells us, among other things:
- Which musicians or bands does Matt see presently as influences? 3:30
- Why have Europe and Europeans figured so prominently in his career? 7:30
- When was the first time he played bass and sang? 14:08
- Which important advice or tips does he have for aspiring singing bassists? 17:53!!
Enjoy firsthand their newest album, Lost in Alphaville.
Many thanks to Brendan Bourke from Canvas Media and Tanya Korzun for the transcription.
Singing Bassist: Whatâ€™s your main drive right now, after playing a first mini-tour for your new album Lost In Alphaville?
Matthew Sharp: We had just a handful of shows that were just to promote the beginning of the release but hopefully weâ€™ll be promoting it for a while. Em, thatâ€™s a, essentially thatâ€™s what my drive is now. Itâ€™s just trying to figure out, you know, in a kind of a little bit more complicated world, how to get people to actually get a chance to hear it. you know, so thatâ€™s it. We are basically just focusing on that and how to share it with people and figure out whatâ€™s the best way to do that.
SB: Will you be playing in Europe in the near future?
MS: I would love to. Itâ€™s just, the issue with us is this record isnâ€™t really properly released in Europe. At least not in the traditional way that Iâ€™m used to. I mean itâ€™s basically a digital release over there. And, so that makes me skeptical about having like the right people on the ground that are there to support you, and there to make sure that youâ€™re playing the best places and getting on the right radio-stations, or speaking to the right blogs. So thatâ€™s kind of holding us back from doing anything (in Europe). So essentially weâ€™re concentrating on in the US right now. And, and then, weâ€™ll see, I would really like toâ€¦ Thatâ€™s one of the bigger disappointments of this albumâ€¦ is that I was really hoping that there would be welcoming arms in Europe going, you knowâ€¦(laughs)â€¦.â€Weâ€™re here for youâ€, and that kinda stuff. So we need to find that at some point, you know, if it is not for this album and then for the next album.
SB: Do you always play bass on your recordings?
MS: Yeah, I guess so. I rarely play anymore really, except when it comes time to do the records. And then it is sort of a mad scramble to get some very basic level of technique back, you know. Iâ€™m always doing thatâ€¦ For the most part, the thing that I focus on is for the lack of the better word more like being director on an album, you know, when Iâ€™m bringing people together and trying to figure out the right, you know, the right tones and how they work together and how the voices work with synthesizers, and how they, you know, and figuring out who should play drums and who should sing and who shouldâ€¦ There are always different groups of people that I work with on each record. And so thatâ€™s like the thing I probably, I donâ€™t know, if it gets the most joy out of, but (thatâ€™s) the thing I put the most energy into.
So itâ€™s like, oh, like, try to like, with this recordâ€¦ With Lost in Alphaville it was really a case of, um, doing one thing at a time, you know, like it was really just focusing completely on one-on-one relationships. So itâ€™s like, at first it was just myself, just trying to figure out, like, before we even started recording before any tracks were done, like I just figured out a kind of, you know a layout of the whole record so I had a big whiteboard over here in the corner and just kind of sat there and wrote out the song titles in different orders until I figured out one in my head the one that seemed like, â€˜ok, that makes senseâ€™. It makesâ€¦ you know, that thereâ€™s a story here when itâ€™s kind of â€œCome Homeâ€ starts see album and â€œThe Futureâ€ and then this song comes second, this song comes third, and all of them like. So I figure it, all that, and worked from that first, before we even recorded and figured it outâ€¦ Essentially like a movie, figured out like how you going to open, where are youâ€¦ whatâ€™s the next scene, and that kind of thing. And then, sort of, recording and thenâ€¦
Itâ€™s the first time I ever recorded that way. And most bands that Iâ€™ve been in or worked with or whatever, usually just record a bunch of songs together in a room and then once the recording is done you kind of go, you know, go through everything and just see, oh, what songs sound like opening songs, what songs sound like a closer, you sort of do it, what songs sound like a single.
And you kind of order it after the fact, and in this case we did the exact opposite of that. And it was more like, well, if â€œTime To Come Homeâ€ is the opening song then what should it sound like, you know. And if â€œTraces of our Tearsâ€ is going to be the second song, what kind of energy should it have, or how should the drum sound andâ€¦ You know, it was totally servingâ€¦ it was more like serving the album instead of serving the song. So it was cool, it was really cool, that part of it.
Ryen Slegr Recording on Lost in Alphaville, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp
MS: After that I started working one-on-one with Ryen Slegr the guitar payer on the album, it was just two of us in a room together for quite a long time and then once we kind ofâ€¦ Ryen has some very unique qualities that I really like just wanted toâ€¦ tap intoâ€¦ (and which) I felt like had never beenâ€¦what, the thing that I love about what he does is something that had never really been shown on an album to its best, thing, so we went and tried to find that together and then itâ€™s like â€˜ok, weâ€™re done on this, now, where are we going?â€™ and then we like go to the next thing, and to the next relationship, and the next person. You know at some point it that it was just Patrick Carney and I in a room together.
Patrick Carney Recording on Lost In Alphaville, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp
SB: Did you enter this storyboard phase armed with demos and if so, from where?
MS: Iâ€™d done this big arts project with a ton of different people in 2009 and it was, you know, short films and photography and music and all this different stuff. Into this I kind of self-indulgent sort of arts project that we did, that we self-released. And the songs were recorded originally in that, within that project, except for they were done, they werenâ€™t done necessarily to be a Rentalsâ€™ album even though we kind of used that name to bring the attention to it, it was more, those versions were more to serve like an arts project so they sounded much lighter and muchâ€¦ had a completely different tone to them and so I already had realized at some point that like those 10 songs that are on Lost in Alphaville kind of belong together, needed to be together, and thatâ€™s why that approach was done, I wouldnâ€™t necessarily call it a â€˜concept albumâ€™, but they really do, they are songs that are kind of dependent on each other in some way I think.
Songs About Time Arts Exhibition, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp
SB: You perform on acoustic guitars, synthesizers and percussion, and what percentage on bass guitar?
MS: As for, you keep calling it a tour, it so weird to call something a tour when you only do 6 shows.
You know, my thoughts about touring is like during the Weezer days when we toured something like 2.5 years straight, something like that, and then you play like a bazillion, playing like the entire United States 8 times in a row and then going to Europe or whatever.
Weezer Pinkerton Tour, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp
MS: So these last shows that we did recently, I played bass probably on like 4 songs, a couple, a couple of the older songs from the first Rentalsâ€™ album, and then couple of songs from the new record and then that was it. Thatâ€™s all I played besides singing, you know for the most part. Itâ€™s likeâ€¦ You know I really enjoy playing bass on the shows because for the rest of the concert I kind of moving around a lot. Iâ€™ve always sort of been that wayâ€¦ Just like a lot of whatever, a lot of excess energy that I need to get out. And so it sometimes is really hard to do that and kind of share your like whatever your enthusiasm for being where youâ€™re at, and being with the audience and having all that crazy frenetic energy with them and thatâ€™s swirling around it is really hard to do for me sometimes and play bass. But at the same time itâ€™s kind of cool because we, I did 2 songs of the at the front of the set, 2 songs towards the back half of the set where I played bass, and it was cool because it helped me through like to regain my composure, something like that, like calm down, center yourself, and that was cool. I liked it a lot, and as I played bass like I think on the songs like Stardust and then on Seven Years, and then, I canâ€™t remember what song out of the first album I think, â€œLove Iâ€™m Searching Forâ€ and â€œThese Daysâ€. All the songs were like the easiest songs to play and whatever, they are slightly mellower songs too.
The Rentals Lost In Alphaville, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp
SB: Tell us about your bass guitars.
MS: Wellâ€¦I have played the same bass since basically, since like 92 or something. I was playing, when Weezer started, I was playing sort of a bunch of different basses that I, like, you knowâ€¦basses that were not particularly cool or whatever, you know. Something, some different things I remember playing, like this metal kind of Hamer bass that I had from when I was like a little kid and some other ones.
Matt Sharp, Christmas in Virginia, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp
MS: And then I bought a Jerry Jones bass at some point. It was a Danelectro copy, a Longhorn type of thing. There was like a little group of bass players from bands that Weezer was playing with, local bands in LA. And those guys would all give me a little bit of a hell for the Jerry Jones bass cause they would go like â€˜ Oh, thatâ€™s not a manâ€™s bass!â€™. You know, itâ€™s a teal-looking, very fragile kind of thing. It sounded really cool but it didnâ€™t take a lot of abuse, you know. And so they would stand right in front of me when Weezer was playing and they were like, kind of like, back when 10 or 15 people that would come out, and they would just stand right in front of us and go, â€˜Come on!â€™ And kind of challenge your manhood or your something, or whatever. And there was always this kind of an inside joke about taming the instrument, you know, kind of doing that Mike Watt kind of style of just being reallyâ€¦ just really, taking that bass, and taming it, and all that kind of stuff. Cause we were all just a bunch of barbaric sort of, you know, cavemen-like bass players. And so those guys, those bass players from different bands basically gave me different parts of the, what became my main bass. They like, one guy gave me the body, another guy gave me the neck, somebody else, you know, like, gave me the pickups to it, and whatever it was. That was really a mutt of a bass. So, andâ€¦ so each of them would tell now â€˜This is a manâ€™s bass, hereâ€™s a 70s Fender jazz body. This is what a man should playâ€™. So that was that kind of thing. And it was like â€˜This is a neck you could never break, you could never break this neck. This was like Telecaster style neckâ€™ or whatever, and that kind of thing. And they all threw it together and it just taken so much punishment.
Matt Sharpâ€™s Primary Bass Guitar, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp
MS: And has been something I used on pretty much, I used it on all the Weezer records, I used it on all the Rentalsâ€™ records, I did a little of a bass-playing on a Tegan and Sara record called â€˜The Conâ€™, I used it for that. And I played a little bit on (the release by) Ronnie from The Killers, he has a band called Big Talk, an I played on a couple of the songs on their first record, and used it as well. But you know, on this, I pretty much played only thatâ€¦ thatâ€¦ I have that one and I sort of some copies of it, as a backup.
On this tour we were playing with this bass player who was playing with us when I wasnâ€™t playing, Shawn from the band Starfucker. And he just bought one of the like Jaguar basses, one of those cream-colored, you know, whatever. And it was soâ€¦ And I played that on a couple of songs and I ended up playing it on all the shows that we did on the East Coast. It was so cool to finally play something different, because Iâ€™ve just been playing that one thing forever. It was cool to finally not actually play my black bass.
SB: Who are the artists who nowadays have the biggest impact or influence on your work?
MS: You know, I guess you know the band that challenged me the most I think was, when we were doing this arts project in 09, like I said, the whole thing was like much more of a lighter affair. The songs were meant to serve as soundtracks to these little artsy-fartsy movies that I was making. And so when in the middle of making that music I guess it kind of leans towards like, that stuff that we did lean more towards, I donâ€™t know, Belle and Sebastian, or something like that. Not quite that light but sort of something in that world. And in the middle of doing that a friend of mine said, â€˜Hey, Iâ€™m producing this band, and theyâ€™re really, like â€˜Pinkertonâ€™ to them is like their bible. And itâ€™d be really cool if you came in and just listened to their new album that Iâ€™m working on and just sit in and like, you know, hear what they doing and Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™d be like real into it you know.â€ And that would give this producer some street cred or something, but heâ€™s a friend of mine, So I was like â€˜Yeah, sure, of course, whenever you wantâ€™. And I went in and the band was Manchester Orchestra. And the album they were working on was just, like, blew my head off, straight off, and I was so knocked sideways by the record and it seemed like, like a challenge to me. â€˜Ok, you have to make better records nowâ€™. You know, because the things they were doing were so just epic, you know. Just beautiful and emotional and really just like moving and that really, that was â€¦ One of the things for this record that certainly I felt like â€˜Ok, itâ€™s time, time to step up your gameâ€™. That kind of thing. And the other one, I would say, would be the girls that sing on the record, their group is called Lucius, and I know that they are doing well in Europe now, it seems, at least following their Instagram, everything seems to be going really well. Theyâ€™re amazing singers, but lost in the fact that they are just these great vocalists, is the fact that they write incredible songs. And their whole band, their guitar players, the guys that kind of pull out all the rest of the music are just like incredible musicians. So like theyâ€™ve been a big inspiration for me for sure. Just seeing them perform and wanting to make same thing. Itâ€™s the groups that make you want to make better records. Or youâ€™re, you know, youâ€™re embarrassed about the fact that (the track on which) youâ€™re headed, is just not good enough. It was something like that, you know.
SB: Speaking of Europeâ€¦ Your career has seemed to include a lot of transatlanticism. Recording, or collaborating with British musicians, living in Barcelona. What is it about Europe or Europeans that keeps drawing your attention?
Matt Sharp and Rod Cervera in Barcelona, courtesy Archives Matt Sharp.
MS: Well, you know, at the time like that, where thatâ€™s, I guess, where that stuffâ€™s started from is, you knowâ€¦ When I was in a Weezer we essentially for a number of reasonsâ€¦ We basically, we won the lottery, right? Like, I mean, we were, we had a lot of good fortune, very quickly. At that time it might not have seemed it, you know, in the day to day life . It might not have seemed that quick to us but it was, it was really, in a retrospect this, you know, just like explosion of good fortune. And, so, in a midst of all that, not everybody involved was, all that happy, you know, and not, and notâ€¦ they notâ€¦ there wasnâ€™tâ€¦it.. our circumstances didnâ€™t, you know, reflect in our attitudes like that or somethingâ€¦ there wasnâ€™t thisâ€¦ we didnâ€™t feel that, thatâ€¦ we werenâ€™t popping champagne bottles, you know. We were not celebrating, really, that thing. And I had, at some pointâ€¦ Weezer are gone over to do a show in Barcelona. And it was just like a real, like a really short thing, like a 15 minute show or 30 minute show, something like that. And I just fell in love with the city, and then I ended up going on all our little breaks in between, you know, we had a couple days off here, a couple days off there. I would just go back to Barcelona, I just fell in love with it, as a city, and a culture. And I ended up falling in love with a woman there, and just adoring all her friends. You know, the people that I knew there really took me in. And here were a group of people that I met who, for the most part, you know, didnâ€™t have a lot of money to their name, were celebrating the hell out of life, you know. And just.. and that thing of just being with them and seeing people who just loved each otherâ€™s company and lovedâ€¦ all of the, I guess all of the stereotypes of now we think of just sort of like, beautiful long dinners at midnight, they go till 2 in the morning, and then going out for your first bar at 2, and then going to the disco after 4, and then going into the after-hours at like 7 am, and doing all those kinds of things. It was just something Iâ€™ve never experienced before, and it was such a revelation to me, that I just couldnâ€™t help it to write about it and want to aâ€¦ you know, whateverâ€¦ just stay in that world as much as possible, so I did, I went back over and over and over again. And you know, so thatâ€™s it, essentially. Thatâ€™s where that comes from. At that time that was the biggest inspiration in my lifeâ€¦ not justâ€¦ not just the city of Barcelona, but just, the people, you knowâ€¦ The people there, the friends, the friends of friends, the family members, and all that kind of stuff. It was just really a very special time of my life.
SB: Nice. You were born in Asia and grew up in Arlington, in Northern Virginia. Are you inclined to painting in the details of how it came to be that you were born in Thailand?
Matt Sharp in Arlington, Virginia (USA), Courtesy Archives Matt Sharp
MS: Yeah, I was born in Thailand. My family was there for 4 years towards the very end of the Vietnam. So they didnâ€™t.. My family is not a military family, but my father was working for the government essentially at that time.
And he was there just like, from what I know, and I donâ€™t know a ton about it, he was just interviewing insurgents and figuring out why they were in a war and these kinds of things, and then reporting back to the government, â€˜This is why the people are fighting.â€™ â€˜So why are they fighting?â€™ â€“ â€˜Because they are bored, and they want to. I donâ€™t knowâ€™ (laughs). So basically, I was there for the last year of that. And I was only there a year and then went straight from Thailand where you have all these incredibly exotic beautiful stories, that when they recall them, you are like â€˜agh, why didnâ€™t we stay longer?â€™, into Virginia, which was kind ofâ€¦ couldnâ€™t have beenâ€¦ you know, especially at that time, couldnâ€™t have been less exotic.You knowâ€¦Or less like worldly in a way, Virginia was just a littleâ€¦ my part of Virginia was in Arlington. And Arlington now has expanded quite a bit, like most, I think, like most of the cities. Thereâ€™s, you know, there is that gentrification of the entire world sort of thing, where weâ€™re getting a lot of the same things. And so, you know. But at that time, I think, like, the most like worldly thing was like Chinese take-out. Something like that, â€œOh, we get fortune cookies!â€ Itâ€™s funny, I really went from, from very polar opposites. So when I wasâ€¦ I canâ€™t remember what ageâ€¦ it must have been like 16 or something like that, we got a letter from the government of Thailand saying if I wanted to retain my Thai citizenship I had to go over and serve a year in their army. And at that time, as a 16-years old kid, who basically only knew like suburban Virginia, I could not even, I couldnâ€™t even fathom what the world was, let alone understanding what Barcelona would be, or London, or Paris or whatever. I couldnâ€™t even understand the idea ofâ€¦I mean I could barely think outside of Virginia, you know. So the furthest place I could dream about, was like, within the continental United States. Thatâ€™s probably why I ended up in Los Angeles. That was the furthest place which I could think of, getting away from Virginia and dreaming of another place. So when I was asked to go back and serve in Thai army, I donâ€™t think I even understood what that meant, but now in retrospect, like, you know, that would be a greatâ€¦ I wish I had that in my belt, that I spent a year over there (laughs)â€¦ Alone, like a 17 year old kid, you know, whatever. Trying to learn Thai, and whatever, doing whatever was going on at the time. Marching and all that.
I think everything is kind of getting different, you know itâ€™s like, itâ€™s like nowâ€¦ like when Weezer was on the road in the beginning and we toured the US over and over again and most of us were vegetarians. So, you know, when youâ€™re travelling, it was really, really difficult to get something that wasnâ€™t like a meat-based dinner or lunch or whatever. I mean basically you could go to like, like, you know, Subway, and get like a cheese sandwich or something like that, so like the monotony of like what you could eat was really rough, like so you just know, there were no choices. And now you, no matter where you travel, it seems like you have, just a sort of, all of kinds of different restaurants from different cultures, different things from all the parts of the world. And I think thatâ€™s definitely a good thing.
SB: In the promotional material for Lost in Alphaville you are quoting as saying that â€œif you canâ€™t whip yourself up into a state of full-blown rapture while creating, then you really donâ€™t see the point of making music. That must be a quite demanding lion to feed. What non-music sources of inspiration do you look to?
MS: Well, I mean , as far as what that was specifically speaking about is just in the midst of the process of like just, ofâ€¦ Itâ€™s not in every step or every moment like you â€˜Oh My God! I canâ€™t believe weâ€™re taking over the world!â€™ But at some point you are taking a road to somewhere. Youâ€™re on that journey. At some pointâ€¦ youâ€¦ like thereâ€™s some launch-off point where you just get delusional about things, and where it feels like, you know, what youâ€™re doing is the most important thing in the world, then like, what you, what youâ€™re doing is going toâ€¦ You just get into a place where all, you know, is just limitless.
I remember on Seven More Minutes I remember thinking â€˜You now haveâ€¦â€™ Because that record was written in a way to be like a European record. I thought of it as sort ofâ€¦ having thatâ€¦ you know, the probably most delusionalâ€¦ Iâ€™ve just like, you knowâ€¦ Billboards of, within Barcelona, of pictures from Barcelona that I took, and something like that, and people in pubs and discos all singing those songs, you know or whatever. And thatâ€™s very unrealistic. I thought of my girlfriend of that time being very embarrassed because she had to live with this fact that this monolith of an album was just in the public consciousness of every citizen of Spain. Of course, nobody even really realized the record was released, I think. (laughs)
But at that point youâ€™re kind of getting into this, kind of really funny, you know, way of thinking, of grandeur, and all that kind of stuff. And I love getting to that place, you know, and I hate to be like whereâ€¦ Itâ€™s such aâ€¦ like aâ€¦ Itâ€™s really a wonderful place to be, you know, forâ€¦ Even if itâ€™s not based on reality, even nobody is going to hear the record or whatever. And I think after every record isâ€¦ when it comes to an end of its cycle thereâ€™s probably a point where itâ€™s like â€˜wow, you didnâ€™t even get close to there!â€™. So you have to like to pick up the pieces of that and kind of like find a way to like get back to that joyous place. Or get back to that delusion and I definitely did it on this album for sure, and I feel like, the one thing thatâ€™s cool about this recordâ€¦
Maybe itâ€™s because I am still in the midst of the promoting it. But I feel that this record is the closest Iâ€™ve ever came to having that feeling, and then, at the end of it, sort of, having if feel like its not too far awayâ€¦ I meanâ€¦ what happens with it is its own thing, but not too far away from your personal dreams were about how it could sound and how, you know, all those things. But I definitely got to that place with this record for sure. And, you know, youâ€™re justâ€¦ I, I, itâ€™s, itâ€™s hard to even put into words but you sort of, you just kind ofâ€¦ You playing things back so loud, and it just seems so glorious or something like that.
I guess, thereâ€™s just this massive sort of understanding in itâ€¦acceptance that people would have like â€˜Yes, I like this! This makes you feel the way it makes me feelâ€™. And then you know, you get a call from president of the United States, saying, â€˜Thank you for making this record.â€™.
SB: Describe the first time you sang and played bass simultaneously?
MS: Besides like a few tiny things when I was really quite young, the first band I was in was Weezer. So up to that time, I never likeâ€¦ Iâ€™d done little things like when you have an idea, with some plans, and you get into a rehearsal space, but the first professional show, meaning we probably got paid like 15 bucks or something was with Weezer and it was a pretty unforgettable thing because we were trying to get a show somewhere in LA. And we couldâ€¦ nobody would take usâ€¦ when we hadâ€¦we had no followingâ€¦ we had noâ€¦ we didnâ€™t come from bands that had previouslyâ€¦ had followings or anything like that, so nobody would let us play in their clubs. So when you do thatâ€¦ Iâ€™m sure itâ€™s still the same way nowâ€¦ you kind of go on, like, sort of a waiting list, where, if somebody drops out, youâ€™ll sub, you know. And like, you know, so â€˜oh, this band fell off the bill in last the minute, and you just need somebody to close the night or whatever. And thatâ€™s what happened with us, we had thisâ€¦ we played in this club called Rajiâ€™s which was famous for like Janeâ€™s Addiction doing their (debut) live album and something, like, before they, kind of, broke.
And, the club doesnâ€™t exist anymore, the band that was playing was Keanu Reevesâ€™ band.
MS: Yeah, Dogstar. And, he had a couple of bands after that I think, but that was his band at the time. And they were basically like a drunken frat band. You know, like, I donâ€™t even remember them having vocals, they probably did. But they were just like a 3-piece band. And theyâ€¦ And so weâ€™d get to the club and they needed a band, the band that was sort of going after them, after Dogstar had cancelled the show. We were the substitutesâ€¦ and, so we get to the club, and it was just likeâ€¦ this must have beenâ€¦ like, I guess like this was pre-Matrix or something, but he was like an absoluteâ€¦ a huge celebrity at that time. And, so the club was just packed with all these like really like young attractive girls, right? Like, almost like exclusively (laughs) how many people could fit in the club, there was like almost entirely, like just these really hot women. So we were going like â€˜Wow, this is our first show. We like, we hit a jack-pot, this is amazingâ€™. So, you know, they play, and itâ€™s just a big sloppy mess of whatever from what I remember. And we were just so anxious to get on stage â€˜Oh my God, canâ€™t wait!â€™ And when they ended he left their stuff on stage and it took him a while to like sort of break down and get hisâ€¦ he played bass, so get his likeâ€¦ he had this Trace Elliot Bass, brand new body bass amp thing, and , you know, whatever, and we trying to help him to figure it out, and things kind of falls overâ€¦ some big messâ€¦ And we were just scrambling to get our shit up on stage. And like, andâ€¦ the main thing is that we didnâ€™t have any fans so we just wanted to get up stage and play, you know, and try to hold people there. And by the time we got on every single one of those women were gone. I remember there was not a single person left in the club, except for our, like, 5 friends. And there was that thing ofâ€¦and the soundâ€¦ I really began to dislike, that sound of, like, just your closest friends watching your band play. And then like these, like occasional people, like 2 people clapping and all your friends. And it was like you know the sound of their clapping â€˜oh, you know, thatâ€™s Jacks clap, so whateverâ€™, you know. And I really, there was really like, you feel bad for them. Like, you donâ€™t want to be there, you donâ€™t have to be here. Let us just die a lonely death, you know. And so that was the first show Iâ€™ve ever played, like, bass and sang and did whatever. I mean, I probably sang, if I sang at all, I sang a very limited amount, but aâ€¦ and then likeâ€¦ and I definitely was like, still, even though there were those 5 people, I was still terrified, that this was like playing in a stadium or something. I definitely remember specifically, likeâ€¦ not knowing how to, you know, carry yourself on stage and kind of moving in circles a lot and trying just nervously moving around. And I would look at my feet and realize that my cable, my guitar cable was wrapped around my legs, so I couldnâ€™t move, you know, and stuff like that. Like reallyâ€¦ itâ€™s just funnyâ€¦ just nervous, geeky, nervous stuff, you know. And then the first, sort of, Rentals thing, where I was playing bass the whole time, and singing lead the whole time wasâ€¦ we did one show where it was Pat Wilson playing drums, and I played bass and sang and couple of other friends of ours played guitar. And we were playing like very rough rough version of what was going to become Return of the Rentals. And I just remember Pat going absolutely ballistic at the end of the, one of the last songs. He had a, he had a, like, a really cool way of being able to, like, kind of not containing himself, you know, like, when he was peaking out on something, like on a drum part or whatever, and he could, better than any other drummer, I think, work with that, he could express that feeling of just â€˜Aaah, fuck itâ€™, you know. And he didnâ€™t always do that with Weezer, but he could really, like, he could really get to a really funny place in those kinds of shows.
SB: Was it daunting to play the first time lead and bass, without an issue, or you just did it?
The First Gig of The Rentals in San Diego at the Casbah, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp
MS: Ah, Well, I think less so at that point because like, I was doing back-ups and I have vivid memories of that show, but I donâ€™t have any sort of vivid nervous memories of that show though Iâ€™m sure I must have had some. But I had already been playing with Weezer, and, I was already singing back-ups and honestly, past a few kind of weird little moments in the beginning of performing, Iâ€™ve never been somebody to get nervous when performing. And no matter what stage really. And even in 2006, when we did the first Rentalsâ€™ shows in a very long time, and it had beenâ€¦ God knows, it had been like 10 years or somethingâ€¦ and one of the first shows, maybe the second show we played was in Japan, and it was in this big stadium, for my friendsâ€™ festival. You know, it was probably 12-15 thousand of people, something like that. And it was the second show we played was so long, and I just remember that feeling of like walking out justâ€¦ feeling like yeahâ€¦ I know exactly where we were. Like, I hadnâ€™t performed in forever in that kind of environment, not since like Weezer times or whatever and just felt, I donâ€™t know, natural, and likeâ€¦ as far asâ€¦ I think just once youâ€™re up there, whoa, whatever happens, itâ€™s just too late, and you know, so that, I mean as far as how prepared you are notâ€¦ I can be more nervous probably about preparation and aboutâ€¦ you knowâ€¦ I mean, the Rentals always work with new people. Almost every single time itâ€™s a different group of people, and, so thereâ€™s the thing of learning and relearning the stuff you a learned million times before and that kind of stuff and trying to figure it out whoâ€™s going to play what or sing what. So there is some sense that like we could easily crash and burn like at any moment, like all the time, like itâ€™s always a possibility. So thereâ€™sâ€¦ you know. But once youâ€™re out there like that terror like really subsides. Thereâ€™s just, like, nope, whatever we got just letâ€™s go. And thereâ€™s some joy in that to me as well of, like, whatever happens, weâ€™ll fix it, or something goes wrong, weâ€™ll figure it out, you know.
SB: Which are the most intricate or challenging songs of yours or of your previous bands on which you performed on bass and sang?
Matt Sharp, recording Weezer Album Pinkerton, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp.
MS: Well, you know, I guess the main thing, for me, and this goes for just playing bass in general isâ€¦ well (A), I donâ€™t play that often, but when I doâ€¦ Iâ€™m left-handed but I play rightyâ€¦ So, and I donâ€™t know if it has anything to do with that, but I have never been particularly good, especially when not playing a lot, and I donâ€™t practice, I have never practiced bass really. So the practice that I get would be just from being in a band, and being in rehearsals, playing shows. And if youâ€™re doing a ton of those, then you getâ€¦ then Iâ€¦ those are the times when I would actually get somewhere, get better. But as far as like locking myself in a room with a metronome, that basically never happened, and when it has, I have not been terribly good at knowing how to study and knowing â€¦ you know I canâ€™t keep my interest. So, but what happens for me this isâ€¦ that with some of the Weezer songs and some other songs on the first couple of Rentalsâ€™ albums, that are fasterâ€¦ all thoseâ€¦like one of ourâ€¦one of the things that I grew up with in general was that like pretty much as much as possible you do not play up-strokes, and I play with a pick, so you play all down strokes and in any of the faster songs weâ€™re doing really quick eighth-notesâ€¦ and singing at the same time, that was always a real struggle for me because both things have to sound, like, exciting and relaxed, you know. So your voice has to be relaxed, but you have to, you know, have peopleâ€™s interest and your playing has to be aggressive, but you have to be relaxed and yet, physically, like, I donâ€™tâ€¦ like, I tire out too quick, you know, all that kind of stuff. So like, in the Weezer days like Surf Wax America was a nightmare for me because itâ€™s one of the quicker songs that we had. And just doingâ€¦ I mean some of the songs areâ€¦ like, Return to the Rentals, are just like that. And on Seven More Minutes I like started to listen to Alex James a lot, you know, from Blur, and those kind of bass players who are doing a lot more movement. And I just thought heâ€™s such an underrated bass player. And a lot of those Brits have that a sort of swing to them, the way that they play and soâ€¦ Iâ€˜d started to incorporate that in a lot of Seven More Minutes, and a lot of Pinkerton actually. Itâ€™s like I got some of that, a little more of that thing going on in it, and thatâ€™s not so square and so straight. And that stuff really is a little easier toâ€¦ with like movementâ€¦ itâ€™s actually easier to sing and just playing like basic stuff. Thereâ€™s a song on Seven More Minutes called â€œGetting Byâ€ which has a lot of movement in it and the bass lineâ€¦ is just aâ€¦ itâ€™s very much like an Alex sort of inspired bass line. Itâ€™s got all of that kind of swing movement into it, walking bass line style and itsâ€¦ On the surface it would seem like it would be a harder one to sing and play at the same time but itâ€™s actually easier for me to get this. Itâ€™s not just going da-da-da-da-da-da-da you know or whatever. And then trying to keep that really even, you know, and you have a lot more, like, leeway, you know. Places you can pick up and even if you miss a little something, you kind of being in a different groove or whatever.
SB: Sure. Do youâ€¦ Have you ever courted the notion of going actually to a left handed bass or guitar, whatever the scenario is?
MS: Ohâ€¦ I wouldâ€¦ no, I would have had done this when I was like a kid, you know.
SB: It is hard to imagine playing for my entire life on the opposite hand.
MS: You know, I mean.. the only time Iâ€™ve ever thought about that is like when Iâ€™m sitting there and like, you know, like I told you about, like, when Weezer was starting, we had likeâ€¦ my friends in these different bands, theyâ€™d be like â€˜Come on, whatever itâ€™s a part of itâ€™. Part of it was thatâ€¦ part of it was,
When we would play the showsâ€¦ Like, I had this friend of mine who actually brought Weezer together. His nameâ€™s Pat Finn. And he wouldâ€¦ he knew that I struggled with that eighth-note thing and with the quick eighth notes. And so, when like those moments would come in the show, or when like doing some faster songs, he would go right up to the stage and just go like â€˜Come on!â€™ Whatever. At those points like there was a thingâ€¦ like, if you saw, if you saw me kind of â€¦ like, switched to, like, up and down picking, he wouldâ€¦I would have failed, right? You know, so that was just likeâ€¦ and like when those moments would happenâ€¦ like.. where.. you know, you like, you turn around, and sort of like trying to face Pat or whatever and then trying to, like, you know, get in a couple non-downstrokes.
Yeah, very funny. But I think only in those moments where I though â€˜oh, shit, maybe, maybe thereâ€™s something better I, like, played, because maybe itâ€™s just aâ€¦like literally just a muscle thing, itâ€™s just like â€˜Oh, youâ€™re just not as strong, and that hand, and thatâ€™s why youâ€¦â€™ You know. But I mean, all thatâ€¦ thereâ€™s nothing really complicated or particularly, like, interesting onâ€¦ on whatâ€™s going on with those, like, the first Weezer records or the first Rentalsâ€™ records bass-wise really, you know. And I think Pinkerton has some cool moments that I really like because, thatâ€™s likeâ€¦ essentially that stuff was just an engineer and I in a room together. And heâ€¦ the engineer of that record that we worked with the most was our friend Joe Barresi who had done all of these big heavy albumsâ€¦ like, I donâ€™t think he did Kyuss, but he did, like, that kind of stuff, like Queens of the Stone Age kind of stuff, just heavier sort of desert-rock kind of stuff, Black Sabbath sort of stuff. And soâ€¦ so it was a really cool thing of like just, like being left alone and just trying to figure it out if we could get somewhere interesting. And, you know, we would kind of like dig into that, that way. That was aâ€¦ There were some of the cool moments on that album.
SB: If you knew of a person starting off as being a singing bassist, do you have some particular advice from your vast career of being exactly that?
MS: Oh, I donâ€™t knowâ€¦ Like, with advice for anybody on itâ€¦ I donâ€™t reallyâ€¦ and probably nobody should be taking it from me, like, even if I did, you know (laughs). Thatâ€™s the main thing. Itâ€™s like, you really want to take advice from a guy who never practices? You know. I donâ€™t know, thatâ€™s so wise.
SB: Youâ€™re too modestâ€¦ Getting to your level without lots of practice is already huge.
MS: Iâ€™d just say Iâ€™m not going to inspire you with good habits. Itâ€™s like, you canâ€™t go like â€˜Oh, yeah, well, thatâ€™s the way you do itâ€™. Just never practice, then likeâ€¦ then panic like hell before you need to do whatever. I mean thatâ€™s literally like, before going on the road going like, â€˜Oh hell, Iâ€™ve got toâ€¦ get into like a work-out shapeâ€¦ you know, Iâ€˜ve got to get back up to speed really quick. Or like when recording Lost in Alphavilleâ€¦ Itâ€™s like Iâ€™m really into exploring with like Patrick Carney how his drums are, you know, how they changed the album and like, you know, trying to figure it out, like the things he does with the Black Keys and is there something in there that weâ€™d be interested in, and how it would, you know, come together in the Rentals, and then figuring out like how the Lucius girls singâ€¦ There was a particular part of their voice that I am crazy about. But the songs arenâ€™t written in the right key for them to get to that place. We kind of figured out how we could get that special thing that Iâ€™m so crazy about onto the record. And then all of a sudden comes time for you to do your thing, and you like â€˜Oh, shâ€¦â€™, you know. Hell! And you just have to go like â€˜Oh my God, alrightâ€¦â€™ So then like you know you like lock yourself away for a couple of weeks and just sit there and play bass 8 hours a day. And when you did not play at all, and then all of a sudden you have blisters in a day. And then you like â€˜Oh God now I have got to recover from that.â€™ And you donâ€™t want to drop the ball on your own thing. And on this album, I really likeâ€¦ the way I approached the bass for Alphaville was reallyâ€¦ I was really particular about the sound which is always is kind of a dumb thing to get with bass, because you are so particular about it, but nobody ever really hears it, you know. And if you strip away everything, itâ€™s just like bass and drums, Iâ€™m really psyched about the bass sound on this album. But you canâ€™t really hear it, and thereâ€™re so many things on the album you neverâ€¦ you donâ€™t really hear the tone of it, andâ€¦ But you hope that in some way itâ€™s contributingâ€¦ So I was really into having the bassâ€¦ be on this albumâ€¦ be really almost like The Blue Album, almost like on Return of the Rentals, like really super eighth note oriented in which I was doing very little colorful things that kind of like an AC/DC thing, you know, of just bass being like that. And because the arrangements are pretty crazy on this album and they move around a lot. Itâ€™s just like this swirling vocals, and strings, and synthesizers, and all of other stuff, and the guitars are actually quite colorful on this album. So my main thought was, like, the bass and drums have to be this super simple, so all those other things could move around it without bringing too much attention to it. So, but you still want it to sound, you know, bad-ass, and you wanted it to sound nasty and mean. And whenâ€¦ when Patrick Carney started playing drums on the album, and I had already done a lot of bass on the album, before he started playing drums on it, which is very weird to do, recording drums after the bass. But we did that and then some of that stuffâ€¦ he just changed the aggression on the album so I had to come back and really record stuff and make it a little more nasty or something.
SB: Thanks very much Matt Sharp!