PROGRESS REPORT: Writing/recording/filming Songs About Time in Los Angeles, CA.
The Rentals released their last LP Seven More Minutes a decade ago. Since then Rentals founder Matt Sharp’s output has been sporadic at best: a couple EPs under the Rentals’ name and his own, a song here and there. In 2008, the Rentals — including returning and new members — surrounded themselves with people they liked and wanted to record with. The momentum resulted in just one song. “2008 was a year that just disappeared on us,” Sharp says. He and the band realized their process for writing, recording and releasing music wasn’t working. So on January 1, 2009, the Rentals launched Songs About Time. The project is made up of three media — films, photographs and music. But more importantly, it’s governed by constant and consistent deadlines: Sharp and Co. shoot and post a photo a day (Photographs About Days), a short, soundtracked film a week (Films About Weeks), and an EP every four months (Songs About Time). “We weren’t looking to do anything incredibly non-traditional or anything,” Sharp says while chasing birds to photograph. “We’re just trying to find the thing that will be most in tune with the way we make things.” Well, maybe not the exactly way they used to make things.
Consistent deadlines can yield great results (like, say, Noah Kalina’s self-portraits, or Bishop Allen’s once-a-month EP releases) but the hardest aspect is maintaining energy — miss one day and you might as well give up. Sharp says he isn’t too worried about it. “One way to look at it personally for me is to look at it as a marathon rather than a sprint. And I know from when I used to run that you have those points where your body is feeling like it’s not working — and then a couple minutes later everything wakes up and you’re ready to keep going,” he says. “I have a feeling that’s how the year will be for us.” Their first album deadline is approaching (April), but they’ve already made more music than they’ve made in the previous eight years, he says. The lineup will change, based on who has time to come by and record, but so far the songs sound like classic Rentals: boy/girl vocals and gliding violins next to bubble analog synths. So the hardest part has actually been the photography, trying to find new subjects to shoot when you’ve been spending a lot of time in a recording studio. Accordingly, many photos and films include his bandmates, family and friends, and outdoor shots around the studio. The “Films About Weeks” portion includes a group of filmmakers, which makes that part of the project more of a collaboration. The filmmakers listened to bits of songs The Rentals are rehearsing, then pick out the ideas and themes they want the band to work on. It’s a process he finds thrilling. “Sometimes it won’t be the thing we’re working on. And that kept things interesting because you’re not always going in the direction that you initially set out on.”
The band will release all three EPs as a mini boxset at the end of 2009. For the first 365 buyers, the box set will include an undeveloped roll of film, numbered to tell you which date Sharp shot it. That means Sharp will take about 13,000 photographs this year that he’ll likely never see. That’s made taking good photographs even more important to him, especially because, unlike digital, he can’t erase mistakes or go back and change things. That desire to put it all out there, mistakes and all, applies to the whole project. For instance, while the short films have a French New Wave feel to them, Sharp says any New Wave influence is a result of those filmmakers’ desire to experiment without being too-self conscious about the end product. “I’m certain that every photograph is not gonna be great and every film’s not gonna be great,” he says. “We’re just going to try doing things and hopefully, throughout the year, there will be some moments we can be proud of and some moments that people will say, ’You’re getting somewhere.’”
Here’s this week’s film March Seventeen, starring Jamie Blake, Lauren Chipman, Dan Joeright, and Matt Sharp. Sir David Francis Leamy did the cinematography and Roberto Eduardo Francisco Marshall edited. The Rentals song you hear is “All I Have.”
This was January One:
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