Striking a Chord

By Josh Rottenberg (React Magazine)

At 17, he ran away from home and lived on the streets of Orlando. Today, Matchbox 20's lead singer, Rob Thomas, is just happy he survived.

It's 1 o'clock in the afternoon at a beach club in San Diego, and Rob Thomas is just waking up. That's one of the perks of being a rock star: After a long night of playing to screaming fans, you get to sleep as late as you want. As the lead singer of matchbox 20, whose white-hot debut album, Yourself or Someone Like You (Lava/Atlantic), has been soaring up the charts, Thomas greets the day with a grin. After all, he's waking up to a dream come true. "This is every kid's dream when he is 12 years old, standing in front of the mirror with the broom in his hand," the singer says. "Now I'm, like, wow, this is right here."

Not long ago, Thomas seemed impossibly far from rock stardom, -- in fact, he was between a rock and a hard place. At 17, to escape from family problems, Thomas ran away from home and lived on the streets of his hometown of Orlando, Fla. While supporting himself with odd jobs, he hitchhiked from place to place, crashed at friends' houses, and when things got really bad, slept on park benches. Still, Thomas managed to get his high school diploma. "I caught a lot of flak at school," he remembers. "They'd yell, 'Hey, it's the homeless kid!'"

Now, at 25, he considers himself lucky to have survived. "I'm sure a lot of kids have been at the point where they felt like they could run away," Thomas says. "But I can't recommend actually doing it. Looking back, I'm amazed that I'm still around." Through it all, the thing that kept Thomas going was his passion for songwriting, which he picked up from listening to his heroes: Van Morrison, Elton John, and Elvis Costello. "I used to stay at people's houses, and as a payment, I would play my songs and people would say, 'Man, that guy is going to make it.'"

After playing in several bands that went nowhere, Thomas finally found the right combination of band mates: drummer Paul Doucette, bassist Brian Yale, and guitarists Adam Gaynor and Kyle Cook. Dubbing themselves matchbox 20 (the name comes from a t-shirt they saw), the band sparked like a match, quickly becoming one of the hottest acts in Florida. They landed a record deal in November 1995.

Since he has such a rocky past, you'd expect Thomas to write dark, disturbing songs--more along the lines of Marilyn Manson, perhaps. And indeed, beneath the surface of tunes like "Long Day" and "Push," Thomas' lyrics are brimming with anger and confusion. Still, his upbeat, melodic anthems have earned comparisons to radio-friendly bands like Counting Crows, and Live "Everything I'm writing about is very personal to me," he explains. "But if you hang with us for a couple of days, you'd see that we're just such goofballs, it's pitiful."

As it happens, Thomas seems like a rock singer you could actually hang out with--down-to-earth and quick with a joke. Asked how he has changed in the past year, he says, "I have better clothes--that's about it." Thomas, who still lives in Orlando, has no intention of turning his back on the fans he believes saved him from the streets: "I want to bring everybody in on it," he says, referring to his much-improved outlook on life. "I want to let everybody come in and feel like a rock star."

This article was taken from React Magazine