MSO: matchbox 20--Q&A With Rob Thomas



UP CLOSE WITH matchbox 20's

Q: In the song "Girl Like That," there's that line there that goes, "You think this life would make me bolder, but I'm running scared, is all...I'm the same old trailer trash in new shoes." A lot of people do feel worthless and really cast out. What inspires you, as a writer, to have those images in your songs?

ROB: It was more like me thinking that things were going really, really good and you worry that after a while, maybe you're going to lose that edge, you know, whatever it is that makes you write. And so that whole little part was me reminding myself where I came from. You can spit-shine me all you want, but I'm still the same old piece of tin. I was trying to hold onto that.

Q: In your other song, "Back 2 Good," there is a real moving line in there: "And we're all grown now, but we don't know how to get it back to good." Do feel any kind of disillusionment or are you writing about other people who might be feeling that?

ROB: "Back 2 Good" actually started out as a cheating song and then turned into a lot more, because I guess I sat down and I started to go through all of the things cheating means and who it hurts and what it does and what it really means.

Q: Speaking of songwriting, when you were growing up were there particular rockers or writers that inspired you?

ROB: I was really big on Elvis Costello and Van Morrison. Zep and the Rolling Stones--I just thought they were unbelievable. I was always drawn to them.

Q: When you were growing up, did you go to a lot of concerts?

ROB: I didn't start going to concerts until the ninth grade. We didn't have a lot of money, so it wasn't something that we would do. We were happy if we were going to the movies.

Q: Which part of Florida did you grow up in?

ROB: Orlando. I got there around sixth grade. It was weird. I came from a trailer park, a total low end of the financial stack, and then my mom got a better job. And so we were progressively moving place to place within Florida and it would be a little nicer each time. So everything was different, a little weirder and it just adjusted me in trying to fit into different groups.

Q: Compared to when you first recorded the album, can you talk about how you think the band is evolving?

ROB: I think, first off, we are becoming tighter than before--everybody already has songs for the next record. Everybody is putting their flavors on it and it's becoming one personality. All five of us are starting to fuse together so that matchbox 20, as an entity, has its own personality instead of five totally different guys. I think that is the most amazing transformation that's happened, because now we feel like a band, like a unit making everything happen: playing off each other on stage and really feeling comfortable when we get up there.

Q: What motivates you as a writer?

ROB: I usually get my best ideas when I'm walking. I used to do a lot of hitch hiking when I was younger, from 17 to 20, and I'd spend a lot of time at 3:00 in the morning sitting on an off ramp for hours. You just sit there and no one is around you. You can scream, you can sing if you want. You could do whatever you want and I had my little keyboard with me in my backpack and I'd pull it out and sit there and work on some tunes.

Q: When you hitch hiked, did any weird stuff happen?

ROB: Oh, sure man, all the time. I had some guy who totally wanted me to be in a gay porno and a guy reached over to grab me and we were hauling on the highway. So I grabbed the gear shift of his truck and just started throwing the transmission around. The truck started moving around and he pulled over. He was screaming at me and I let him have it and got out.

Q: What initally inspired "Push?"

ROB: It was my first time in New York and it was an awe-struck thing to look out your hotel window and see New York City. I wrote everything around that line, "I'm a little bit rusty." I thought that it was an everyday phrase, which to me is the coolest thing--everyday phrases that you hear all the time, but all of a sudden you look at in a whole different way. And I wanted to build the whole thing around a person that's a little bit rusty at life. Not like rusty at driving a car or rusty at playing golf. You know, somebody who is rusty at life and just doesn't know if they get it. And so I built all of that. And when I sat down, the entire song came out straight through like it had already been written. And then we were singing it all day the next day.

Q: With all your success, how do you deal with the old art-and-commerce push-and-pull?

ROB: You can't worry all the time about what you're doing with radio and what you're doing with sales or with the record company, because regardless of where you're at, you're going to be doing the same thing. You're going to play the best you possibly can; you're going to get into the van and go to the next place and do it all over again. You just can't sweat over that stuff.

Q: Can you talk about those years when you drifted around?

ROB: Because my situation at home was difficult, I was basically homeless during a lot of my teenaged years. I would play piano at parties in exchange for a place to sleep. Or I would sneak into friends' houses and crash for the night. More times than not, though,- I'd wake up on a bench and head for school. I really wanted to do well, but kids, who can be cruel, called me 'Homeless Rob.' Eventually the teasing got so bad that I dropped out and got a GED instead. I try not to harp on the experience, but there are times when it comes back to me. I was in New York, staying at a nice hotel. It had always been a fantasy of mine to write while looking out a New York City window, so I went out and bought a six-pack of beer. I sat outside the hotel drinking a beer, and people passing by assumed I was homeless. It was amazing how quickly they made me feel like I was homeless all over again.

Q: "3 am" is a powerful song on the album. Any background you can reveal?

ROB: Every night before we play "3 am," I always say this is a drinking song about my mama. It was just about dealing with that. It took a long time for me to tell my mom (the song) was about her because you know, it's not all positive images.

Q: Do you feel your songwriting is therapeutic, a way for you to deal with your past?

ROB: I write about people who left me for good reason or no reason. It would be cathartic if I was learning from it, but I keep making the same mistakes.