Matchbox 20 strikes it hot

An Indiana childhood didn't prepare Kyle Cook for rock stardom. Nothing really readies you for that.

But three years removed from graduation at Frankfort High School, Cook's on the cusp of fame as lead guitarist in Matchbox 20. The hot young band's Yourself or Someone Like You is the No. 9 album in the country this week, with sales of more than 700,000 copies so far.

"I couldn't have fathomed what this was going to be like," Cook, 21, says during a telephone interview. "In many ways, I had the same misconceptions as everyone else you get signed and as soon as you sign your little name on that record contract, you eat caviar from then on.

"And that's just not the way it is. Actually, you pretty much eat McDonald's hamburgers. It's usually the only thing that's near the gig."

The next gig in question for Cook and Matchbox 20 is Saturday at Deer Creek Music Center, part of the WRZX-FM (103.3) X-Fest. There, 20,000 fans are likely to shriek gleefully in recognition of the band's first hit, "Push."

Like so many kids who strap on a guitar, Cook dreamed of days like these. But he's one of the rare ones getting to live them.

"He had a goal," says his father, David Cook, the Marion County public defender. "He used to tell his mother and me that he was going to play on David Letterman. We'd look at each other and always say, 'Bud, you've gotta have a Plan B. There's a lot of very talented people who don't make it.' But July 16, I watched him play on David Letterman."

How do you get from Frankfort High to the Top 200 and Letterman's Late Show in three years? With a lot of skill, a little luck and solid instincts.

Kyle Cook got his first instrument, a Yamaha classical guitar, sometime before his 13th birthday. His parents worried about him being too "one-dimensional" because he kept the guitar nearby at all times, but he became both serious and good. His senior picture shows him holding the guitar.

He played in a few local cover bands ("When you're that young, is it a band or are you just learning what to do?" he wonders), but nothing serious because he was too young to perform in clubs.

After high school, he decided to enroll in the Atlanta Institute of Music, a one-year vocational-technical-style school. The graduation ceremonies there include a performance, which gets videotaped. Record producer Matt Serletic, who works with the band Collective Soul, saw the tape apparently not by accident.

"Kyle was the star student, the one everybody was talking about,"

Serletic told Guitar World magazine. "I was impressed by his ability to play like a virtuoso within a melodic song."

It also turned out that Cook and Serletic lived on the same block. Eventually, they met and talked. Serletic was working with an Orlando, Fla., band called Tabitha's Secret that needed a lead guitarist. He gave Cook the group's four-song demo tape. One song in particular stuck with Cook, a tune called "3 A.M."

"I gave that song three or four good listens," he says. "I listened to the lyrics and I was like, 'This is definitely a band I want to be involved with.' "

Cook flew to Orlando to audition. At Christmastime 1995, when Cook was visiting family in Indiana, Serletic called and told him he had the job.

Not long after, Cook found himself auditioning for Atlantic Records, along with Rob Thomas (the singer, who writes the group's songs) and rhythm guitarist Adam Gaynor. The group was now calling itself Matchbox 20.

"I was 19," Cook says. "Naive, timid, didn't understand the magnitude of what was going on. When you have a little bit of talent but it's still rough and undiscovered and there's nothing really going on with it . . . a lot of people approach you and promise you stuff and try to tell you if you come here you can make some money."

Since then, Matchbox 20 has spent much of its time being pushed and pulled to shows, radio interviews and everywhere else. Thanks to the popularity of Yourself or Someone Like You, what started as a bunch of guys packed into a van is now a group traveling comfortably in a tour bus.

Listeners, Cook says, have caught on to Matchbox 20's "roots-rock appeal." "There's a serious resurgence of bands that have a classic sound," he says. "Not that we have a classic sound, but there's not a lot of bells and whistles and electronic stuff going on. We have rock 'n' roll guitar, good lyrics and good melodies."

David Letterman apparently thought so. He introduced the band July 16 with "one 'exciting' and two 'terrifics'," Cook says proudly.

"It was pretty unreal," he adds. "The CBS Orchestra is just hammering away (during the commercial before Matchbox 20 played).

Letterman's over there shuffling his papers, the makeup lady's getting us ready and we're standing there going, 'Wow, this is Letterman.' That's a long shot from sitting in Atlanta writing songs and going, 'How am I going to get my next rent check?' "

Actually, that never turned out to be a real problem. "Both of my parents have been very, very supportive," says Cook, whose mom, Jacqueline Cook-Snyder, teaches in Frankfort. "My father paid my rent and helped with money for bills. But it was getting to that point where it was like, 'Son, we love you, you're talented, but you should probably get a full-time job.' "

Now he has one. And "3 A.M.," the song he liked so much on the band's original demo tape, is Matchbox 20's next single.