Matt Sharp's Bus Is A Rental.
Behind every great band is a great van. And when these former church vans, daycare buses and plumber's work vehicles have racked up enough miles on the road, they eventually start being thought of by the band as another member of the team. Hey, we get it: It's hard to spend so many hours with bandmates (both human and machine) without a few things getting broken, a few good fights taking place and lots of great memories being made. We hope that, by exploring these stories, we might get to know some bands from both North Texas and beyond on a more personal level. Check out this feature's archives here.
This past fall, The Rentals announced a new record contract with Polyvinyl Records, and proceeded to release Lost in Alphaville, it's first new studio LP in over 15 years.
That's a long time.
But when we caught the band's live set at Dada on Friday, it was as if not much had changed for Matt Sharp's on-again, off-again project. Songs from the album fit along seamlessly beside material from 1995's Return of the Rentals, transporting us back to those hormonal teen years when ping-ponging back and forth between twee and emo felt oh-so-right.
Though he's arguably still covering the same territory he was while serving as Weezer's first bassist or when he was putting out hits like 1995's “Friends of P,” it's clear that Sharp's been plenty of other places between then and now. That much is evident by the carefully calculated logistics of his current tour setup.
In other words: You don't see too many 12-passenger busses parked outside of Dada on the reg.
And yet that's precisely where we caught up with Sharp before his show, so we could ask him about his 20-plus years spent on the road, why he plays Atari while on tour and what it's like to go jet-setting with the guys in Blur.
Band Name: The Rentals.
Van Name: n/a.
Make/Model: “It's a Prevost, which is kind of a standard tour bus. I think they used to be sort of like the cream of the crop or whatever. This particular tour bus is the same bus we toured in in '06.”
So you've had it awhile. Do you own it or is it a rental?
Matt Sharp: “No, just for when tours come up. We just ask for the same driver, so it's the same bus we had in '06.”
Do you know what year the bus is from?
Matt: “I have no idea. It's not one of the newer ones, for sure. Even back then, I think it was one of the older ones.”
I imagine you've had many vans and buses over the years, are there any that were especially close to your heart?
Matt: “[Laughs.] No. I think the thing about touring life for us is that the opening band and our band are all sharing this bus. It's a more extravagant way to travel than traveling in a van and doing all that sort of stuff that most bands do. What we decided to do is — because we're playing in such small clubs, it's nice to have our own private area to be in — is be in a bus. I just got used to it from the Weezer days and the first Rentals albums. So what we did is we basically saw how much it would cost to be in a van and how much it would cost to be in a bus and then we found out what the difference was and said we'll play as many shows as it costs to makeup that difference or nobody gets paid. So all the bands are finding out how to make life more pleasant on the road. And it helps a lot, because you sleep better and you're more rested for the show, so you have more energy. Our shows are quite positive and high-energy. We have a very genuine connection with the audience. It's something where you want to be as well-rested as you can for as much as we're traveling. It's 12 of us in the bus. Actually, there's 12 bunks and a driver, so there's 13 of us — but he doesn't have his own bunk. He just sleeps when he gets to town while we play and do our shows. So every bunk is full. Radiation City and The Rentals are sharing this bus.”
What makes this bus better than some of the others you've been in?
Matt: “As far as what buses are better than other buses, it's really just about the driver. Sometimes you'll get somebody that's a crystal meth head kind of a person that's a little bit of a tweaker and drives around erratically and it's like, 'OK, we need somebody else.' You've got the lives of 12 people in your hands. You want to make sure they're just good and sturdy.
Besides the driver, what makes this bus different than others you've been on?
Matt: “Personally, I don't tour very often, so this bus is a little bit of a throwback to the time when I toured a whole lot more. It's got a VHS player in it. We're not exactly stopping at truck stops and loading up on VHS tapes. It's definitely seen some years, this guy.”
What would you say are its best features, then?
Matt: “Being able to come back here and play Atari, which I brought from my house. We hooked it up to the back of the television. Atari is the greatest thing because they are very super simple games. Anybody can play them. But they're really stressful and competitive and that kind of stuff. Everybody will come back here and we'll start yelling at each other, it's really fun. We play such small venues that I really love playing in, but there's really no place to kind of get away from everything. So, for me, this room that we're in now is where I go to do vocal warm-ups.”
Like a rolling green room.
Matt: “Yeah, exactly. And it's quiet, so you can get in your headspace to play the best you can. I'm very aware that for us, a band of our size, it's quite a luxury to be in that situation, so I'm super appreciative of it.
Do you have any good stories from being on the road, probably in an older van, where you've broken down or had car trouble?
Matt: “That's nothing but what road life is! The first van that Weezer had — the first time we ever toured, we had our friend's SUV, a real broken down Range Rover kind of thing, and we just got a U-Haul that was attached to it, but it wasn't enclosed. We just had a tarp over our amps. We'd just tie it down. It was flat; I'm not even sure what you'd carry on that normally. You never see those anymore.”
Would you just load all your gear into the hotels at night?
Matt: “Yeah, exactly. Well, we didn't even really have hotel rooms, we'd just crash on people's floors and stuff. We were just working for — and this was just a tiny little tour, we didn't do it all the time — some pizza money. After that, when Weezer finally started coming up — and what I mean by coming up is our first record deal, and just before we had a big following or anything — the record label bought us a 10- or 15-year-old, big '70s-looking van. It was kind of like something you'd see on Starsky & Hutch — just real throwback-y, like an A-Team kind of thing. A big old boy. I think it was a Dodge. It broke down the first trip we made, like right away. We didn't even get to the first show we were going to. It was all black, and I remember traveling in Arizona in that with Weezer, and we had a makeshift kind of cage to put all our equipment in, and then two of us would have to lay on top of the cage. It was probably incredibly unsafe. It was so hot when we were traveling in there. We were only a couple inches from the roof, and the roof was black. We would be traveling in Arizona and it would be 115 to 120 degrees and you'd be seriously baking. We'd just pour bottles of water over us because the air conditioner didn't work. You'd just hope that the wind would travel over you and the water would cool you down. It'd only work for a second, but it was a trick. You'd run into a 7-Eleven, pour water over yourself, then lay there hoping you'd stay cool. It was really gross. I remember pulling over to an auto parts place, running and grabbing some white spray paint because we were going so crazy from the heat exhaustion, and we spray painted the roof white trying to lower the temperature. That van lasted us a couple tours. With my solo stuff — after I did some Rentals records I did a solo album — I toured in Germany, and the record company got us this van that probably every punk band that had ever gone through Germany had used. It was a diesel van, and it was really some sort of end-of-the-world, dystopian future sort of van. It leaked into the main [cabin]. The gas would just put you to sleep. The driver would drive with the window open, and I'd just fall asleep from the fumes. That was pretty crazy.”
Did any of those vans have names?
Matt: “No. I think we named the Weezer one, but I don't remember. It might have been, like, Bertha or something. I don't remember.”
Do you have any other good road stories that especially stand out?
Matt: “Oh god, there's just endless ones. I don't know. As far as van stories go, I did this solo tour with a band called Goldenboy, and I was just promoting a solo record that I had done. We had a funny ritual after every show. We'd have these long drives at night, big distances in the country to pass. We would listen to the first song on Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel — just that song, which is 'Bridge Over Troubled Water.” We'd listen to just that song in silence to begin our trip once we got on the clear highway at night, with nobody out there. We'd just listen to it in silence as if we were watching a performance, like a live performance. And then, we'd talk about that performance as if it was a unique live performance. We did that for the whole tour; we listened to it over and over again. We'd go, 'Oh, did you hear what was going on in the string section here?' or 'I really thought they played quite nice tonight.' We did the fantasy world thing where we pretended we were at a Simon and Garfunkel concert every night. It was really cool. Those guys were interesting to travel with.”
Over the years, have you ever done any outrageous decorating or modifying of a van?
Matt: “No. Just that thing where I was saying where we spray painted the roof of the Weezer van. But, no, not really — because it's never really your van. You're always renting them for the most part. I can't think of anything like that. The only other things I can think of that makes you feel like you're in Beatles land is occasionally when you'd fly from show to show for certain things. I did some of those. We had a couple moments like that when we toured with Blur in Europe, touring off of Return of the Rentals. There was a couple moments when I just wanted to travel with Blur because they were having so much fun. They are just so incredibly smart and interesting people to be around. We did a couple things like that, being with them and their crew, where they're just these enormous celebrities over there with paparazzi following them around. Those moments are really memorable to me.”
Is Blur maybe one of the favorite bands you've gone out with?
Matt: “Those were great tours, for sure. I have great memories of those. But there's only been one tour here or there where I haven't enjoyed it. It might just be chemistry issues with people that you're traveling with, where it's just not working, or a personal thing that's going on in your life where it's just not clicking and you're in a really confined space with a bunch of people. That's not real fun. But other than that, there's always some adventure or something interesting going on.”
I usually ask about who does the driving, but I'm guessing you haven't had to drive one of these in a long time.
Matt: “I did a tour where it was just a solo acoustic tour. I was just playing universities and things like that. It was just myself and the tour manager. We were quite good friends, we had been friends since childhood. We'd just fly to whatever part of the country where I was doing a couple college shows and we'd be driving from show to show. We'd get a rental car and we'd switch who was the driver. The person who sat shotgun had to read from Johnny Cash's autobiography. That was a really cool thing to do, because he speaks in a really super righteous way. I don't know if you've ever read any Johnny Cash stuff, but it is really good — especially his last autobiography right before he died.