Matchbox 20 out to justify lofty chart position

MIKE WEATHERFORD'S Night Beat (Las Vegas Review Journal)

There's not much you can tell Rob Thomas, the voice and songwriter of Matchbox 20, about the odds against young rock bands these days.

Though his band has sold 2 million albums, it's one of only three rock bands among the top 25 spots on this week's Billboard albums chart. And even the lucky few bands to score big-selling breakthrough albums have had trouble with follow-ups.

But let Thomas explain it:

"First they say, 'These guys are pretty good, but they're never gonna get signed.' And then you get signed.

"And then they say, 'Well, they got signed, but are they good enough to get some radio play?' And then you get radio play.

"And then they say, 'Well, they get radio play, but are they gonna sell any records?' And then you sell some records.

"And then they go, 'Well, I bet you that's the only single on that record."

This being where Matchbox 20 is after the huge single "Push," Thomas knows what he will hear even if the next single, "3 a.m.," takes off: "But they don't have another record in them." <

"I don't think it's a jaded point of view or skeptical, I think it's more of a humorous thing that goes on," he adds. "I do it myself. I didn't know how much I did it until I got in this business."

Since his quintet launched out of Orlando, Fla., 2 1/2 years ago, Thomas has seen the tides shift.

"In the beginning, you're the underdog and people want to see you do well," he says. "All of a sudden you sell a couple of million records, and they're looking at you like, 'Do you really deserve this?' And then you really have to go out and prove it."

The band is in that proving stage now, on a tour that visits the Hard Rock Hotel, 4455 Paradise Road, Monday. Singer and violinist Lili Haydn opens at 8 p.m. General admission is $16.

Band members have been working on songs that Thomas says eased the brows of record company officials. And they've taken their producer and "sixth member," Matt Serletic, on the road as a keyboardist to facilitate the second album.

"Right now we could make a record with the songs we have, and it would be a better record than their debut, "Yourself or Someone Like You."

Though Thomas writes all the melodies and lyrics as well as singing them, he says Matchbox 20 -- which includes Kyle Cook, Adam Gaynor, Brian Yale and Paul Doucette -- is very much a band effort.

"The arrangements would just totally change once we brought in the guys. (Songs) would just take on a whole new life. Some songs that I really didn't like that much I wound up being a really big fan of."

That didn't prevent Thomas alone from taking the heat for "Push." He's had to defend the catchy refrain of, "I wanna push you around, and I will. ... I wanna take you for granted," by repeatedly explaining it's not about physical abuse.

"First it was like, 'I can't believe people are thinking this. I figured after awhile, somebody would really have listened to the lyrics,'" to see the minidrama tells both sides of a manipulative relationship.

But he concedes that melodies sometimes outshine lyrics. The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," he points out, is "about setting this girl's apartment on fire because she kept him up all night without sleeping with him. A lot of people never caught that."