Rob Thomas, lead vocalist of Matchbox 20, has such a down- to-Earth attitude, it is hard to believe all of the hardships he has endured in his young life. The tables have certainly turned for him and the rest of the band recently. Their debut album, Yourself Or Someone Like You, with hits like “Long Day” and “Push,” has been selling more than 23,000 copies a week and has been compared to albums by such artists as the Counting Crows. The Rock N’ Roll Reporter recently had the chance to talk with Rob about the band, the new album, homelessness, and the possibility of one of their songs being banned.
Where did the name Matchbox 20 come from?
“Paul was a waiter and he, boringly enough, just saw it on a shirt and liked it. It was, like, a jersey with a '20' on it and he saw the patches, and one of the patches said 'Matchbox.'”
How did the group form?
“I’ve been with Paul (Doucette) and Brian (Yale) for about five years now. Then, about two years ago, the last band we were in broke up and we were just kinda floating around. We had just met Matt Serletic, our producer. I had a bunch of new songs and Matt still wanted to do something. We wanted to see if we could get together a band that we liked enough to actually spend this much time together and, luckily, we did.”
How did you go about getting Matt Serletic as your producer?
“It was funny because he just called us. (Matt's) brother went to school in Orlando and he’s our tour manager now. He was starting a production company. We got a call from him and he was like, ‘Hey, this is Matt Serletic, I did the Collective Soul records.’ We were, like, ‘Yeah, whatever. Everybody knows somebody.’ Then, he flew to Orlando and sat down and had a meeting with us-- this was with the old band-- and then we broke up and we thought we were fucked 'cause we had all of these labels looking at us and it seems like you don’t get that far twice. We thought it was over but, luckily, it wasn’t.”
What’s it like having three songwriters in the group? Are there any conflicts?
“No, that works out great. Especially because, if you’re a guitar player you’re just a guitar player, but, if you’re a songwriter you’re writing parts. You’re totally looking at it from a songwriting point of view, not just, ‘Hey, that’s a good lick.’ I wish everybody was a songwriter.”
What’s the song “Hang” about?
“That’s about some friends of mine, actually. It wasn’t about me. This guy was dating this really great girl and he fucked it up and I thought he was an idiot.”
I hear that you’ve been getting some slack recently about your song, "Push..."
“It was all because we got calls from New Hampshire. There’s a lesbian organization that wants to ban it from the radio because they think that it’s a misogynistic song and it’s about violence towards women. I met these friends of Kyle’s (Cook) that knows this group of girls in Indiana that won’t listen to it either because they think that’s what it’s about, which means they didn’t really listen to it in the first place. It’s no different than Bob Dole or any of the right wing religious groups that ban music without even hearing it, only it’s from the other side of the scale--it’s from kids and people that like rock music. I think that, if you listen to the lyrics, it’s pretty easy to tell. Usually, you’d think about that when you’re making a record— that we’d catch some slack for this-- but it never came up once that people were going to think this.”
I understand that not too long ago, you were homeless. How has your life changed since then?
“Well, I’m staying at the Sheraton now, so... It was a while ago, actually. It was about five years ago now, because I was between 16 and 20. I couldn’t be homeless now because I don’t have the balls for it. I don’t have the balls to go hitchhiking anymore because everything scares me. Last night— it was so funny— we were out drinking and there was this homeless guy and he started telling us jokes. He was a super-intelligent guy. He showed us this after hours club and it was kind of expensive to get in. It was, like, $60 for all of us to get in because it was a total underground deal, but I got him in and bought him drinks all night. All my band left me and this guy just sat in this booth and talked about God and being homeless. He had a crack problem and wanted to get off it. We sat there till, like, six in the morning just talking while I was buying drinks, and then he walked me back to my hotel when the sun came up. He gave me a big hug and I gave him my pager number and told him I wanted to know how he was doing. I was walking through and looking at the windows and was, like, ‘Every one of these windows is an opportunity.’ I was like, ‘Look at you, you’re fucking smart. You’re smarter than half the guys in my band.’ He was like, ‘Look at you now, you got a halo over your head.’ And I was like, ‘Man, that’s just because you’re drunk.’ Some guy came out and they thought that he was giving me a hard time. But, we were telling everybody that he was our guitar tech. I was like, ‘If you go in there now, people will think you’re homeless. But if you go in with a band, you’ll look just right.’
What’s the deal with your shoe sizes on the CD jacket? Are you guys looking for some free shoes or what?
(Laughs) “No, that was just a goof. We were sitting down and going through our ‘thank you’s’ and making sure we didn’t forget about anybody and Adam was, like, ‘...and our shoe sizes.’ We were like, ‘Yeah, put it man, put it.’ We think it’s funny because we made such a serious record, but we’re such goofballs. To hang out with us, we’re never serious about anything except for that hour or so that we’re on stage. I think it was just our way of throwing a goof in there.”