Matchbox 20 Strikes At Critics

Matchbox 20 is not the sort of band you would expect to stir up controversy. The Florida rock quintet plays an easygoing blend of classic guitar rock that is very similar to the music of the Counting Crows, Hootie & the Blowfish, Collective Soul and the Wallflowers.

But as Matchbox 20 has become more popular (its Lava-Atlantic Records debut album has sold more than 2 million copies and is No. 15 on the Billboard album charts) the backlash has intensified. Critics rant about the group as if its success represented the downfall of rock 'n' roll. Someone out there on the Internet hates the band so much that they've created an anti-Matchbox 20 Web site, complete with a Letterman-like list of the "Top 10 Reasons" to hate the group. (No. 6: "They're a short-haired version of Mr. Big.")

Earlier this year, Matchbox 20 even found itself in the middle of a '90s-style media controversy when MTV News reported that certain feminist groups were upset because the band's hit song, "Push," glorified violence against women. The offending lyric - "I wanna push you around ... I wanna push you down ..." - would have constituted a romantic interlude on some gangsta rap records. And it was actually a reference to emotional manipulation. But such nuances are considered unimportant in the age of political correctness.

"The whole thing has gotten to be a little crazy," says Matchbox 20 drummer Paul Doucette, who will be in Cleveland tonight for the band's show at the Agora Theatre. "I mean, we're just a group of normal guys doing what we want to do, which is play music.

"The only sad thing about the controversy over 'Push' is the fact that it really show that some people don't listen to lyrics. It was all blown out of proportion by the media.

"As for the other criticisms about the band, that stuff doesn't bother us at all. I don't care if you don't like us. I like us. We like us. And we've been very fortunate that lots of other people like us, too. We may not be what the media considers 'cool.' We're not on the cover of every magazine. But people buy our records. It's a word of mouth thing.'

Matchbox 20 came together in Florida in the early 1990s. Doucette, vocalist-songwriter Rob Thomas and bassist Brian Yale had played together in a series of bands, including the regionally popular Tabitha's Secret. When that band broke up, they decided to go in a more serious direction, hooking up with rhythm guitarist Adam Gaynor (a session player at Criteria Recording Studios in Miami) and lead guitarist Kyle Cook (a graduate of the Atlanta Institute of Music) to form Matchbox 20.

"Yourself or Someone Like You," also produced by Serletic, was released way back in 1996, and slowly gained a national audience because of hit radio singles such as "Push" and "Long Day."

Doucette credits the band's success to a revival of interest in melodic, song-based rock 'n' roll. He also says Thomas, who is Matchbox 20's principal songwriter, writes "universal songs about people struggling with hard times and broken relationships. It's music that people can relate to," he says.

"There are bands from all over the country now - the Counting Crows, the Verve Pipe, the Wallflowers - who are making music that is very song-oriented. It's not about being cool or playing really fast guitar solos or anything like that. It's about the song."

Matchbox 20 has been on the road for more than 18 months, playing shows to promote "Yourself or Someone Like You." Doucette says the touring will continue through at least next summer, then the band will take a break before going into the studio to make its next record.

"A lot of people think we're an overnight sensation," he says. "But our album came out in 1996 and really didn't take off until this year. The thing we really want to do now is work on our live show. Matt Serletic has joined touring band as a keyboardist and percussionist. And we've beefed up the stage proudction.

"We wanted to show more interesting musically, so we went out and got some new equipment to work on the guitar tones and things like that. We're doing a full light show, too.

"We want to give the fans the best show we can. It's not about being rock stars, or impressing the critics. For us, it's always been about the music and the fans." -- Michael Norman