Matchbox 20 strikes

Hootie and Collective Soul joined by southern pop stars

By MIKE ROSS -- Edmonton Sun

Matchbox 20 singer Rob Thomas admits he likes to think his band has more substance than Hootie and the Blowfish.

Still, he isn't about to hobble the horse that helped lead the new southern rock stampede - especially since both bands are on the same label, Atlantic Records.

"We're not going to dog on Hootie.

"I think they wrote our paycheques this year," laughs the 25-year-old songwriter, who brings his band to the Rev tonight.

Twice is a fluke.

Three times, to include Collective Soul in this grassroots, south of the Mason-Dixon line, "we write simple pop songs with meaning" success, and we have a trend.

"I think it's good," says Thomas.

"I think in all these hot spots, like Seattle was for a while, the music's always there, it's just whenever certain labels turn their attention to it, it becomes something.

"There's this scene coming out of the south now, but it's always been there. It's not a new thing. It's not like all these bands hear Hootie and everybody wants to be like Hootie."

All the way from Florida - just about as south as you can get without having to speak Spanish - Matchbox 20 came out of the clear blue sky with a peppy little song called Long Day. It's become a huge hit that fits so nicely into the pop radio landscape that it might as well be Hootie after all.

"We can't help that we write poppy songs," admits Thomas. "We take a lot of time on our lyrics and what the songs are about, so we hope not to get too lumped into just being a pop band, writing pop for the sake of pop.

"We enjoy the fact that our songs are simple and direct and they say what they mean and that's all they say. It's not about exploring new ground and new technology, or musical innovation. The songs are about exploring me and exploring my emotions."

Matchbox 20 was literally formed around Thomas' songwriting talents, much like Collective Soul was formed around Ed Roland's.

Thomas had been playing in an Orlando-based band called Tabitha Secret, but the musicians weren't getting along.

The final straw came after a band called Seven Mary Three opened for Tabitha Secret. The result was an intolerable bit of rock 'n' roll irony.

"Two weeks later they got signed and we broke up," recalls Thomas.

"We thought that was it."

Enter Matt Serletic, who produced Collective Soul's debut album, Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid.

Serletic had faith in Thomas' writing talent, so he helped him find two new guitar players and then land an Atlantic deal. The newly named Matchbox 20 was rushed into the studio and the album Yourself or Someone Like You came out barely six months later.

Thomas insists he's not in this for record deals, radio airplay and rock star fame.

He would've kept playing music if the big chance hadn't happened, "just not as soon and not as big.

"I think that we would've went back to another local band, played coffee houses and doing the whole spectrum over again. We've done it before.

"But I felt like we were almost at the edge of being able to get our music out to the rest of the country ...

"I guess our biggest goal now is just to do well enough to make another record and have anybody care."

Tickets to Matchbox 20, with local band Welcome joining as an opening act, are $6 at the door.