Flame burns brighter (article with Paul)

Rise to headliners shows no signs of flickering for alterna-pop Matchbox 20

GLENN GAMBOA Beacon Journal pop music writer

Matchbox 20 hasn't come to terms with success.

In the past two years, the Florida alterna-pop band has gone from nowhere to full-fledged phenomenon on the strength of its Yourself or Someone Like You album and hit singles like Push and Real World.

The band's CD is now platinum seven times over, and Real World is its third straight single to crash the Top 10. Lead singer Rob Thomas was named one of People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People,'' with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Prince William.

Now, Matchbox 20 is headlining a tour of outdoor sheds normally reserved for the musical elite. The tour stops at Blossom Music Center on Monday night.

"It's still a little odd for us," said Paul Doucette, the band's drummer, calling from a tour stop in Boston. "I remember we were at a record store doing an autograph signing, and people were crying. I was thinking, 'What the hell? Are you sick? Did you get hurt?' But then I realized they were crying for us. And I thought, 'Whoa. I feel like Duran Duran.'"

And the rocket ride to the top doesn't look as if it's going to end any time soon.

"We have a security guard now," said Doucette, a Pittsburgh native. "I used to go into the crowd and watch the opening band, and I can't do that any more. I'm just not used to that yet."

It's a lot to get used to.

It wasn't that long ago that Doucette and bassist Brian Yale hooked up with Thomas, founding Matchbox 20 when they recruited lead guitarist Kyle Cook and rhythm guitarist Adam Gaynor.

The band released Yourself or Someone Like You in 1996 to little fanfare, and also an underplayed single, Long Day. In true just-happy-to-be-nominated fashion, the band was happy just to have a record out. All the songs -- and even the band name -- were done in small letters, as if to ward off attention. Even the liner notes are apologetic, saying, "If we forgot anybody, sorry, we're kind of new at this."

"Our only hope with the record was that we would get to make another one," said Doucette. "Once we did that (record), everything else was just candy icing."

But then America discovered a catchy little angst-ridden ditty about emotional and verbal abuse called Push -- and everything changed.

Suddenly, the band was in heavy rotation on MTV. The song hit No. 1 in radio airplay. More and more people started coming to Matchbox 20's shows. And those people actually knew the words to the songs.

Matchbox 20 had fans.

"It was always a gradual step up," said Doucette. "We started in little bars and went to bigger bars, then small theaters and now big ones. Each little transition didn't last that long. It's weird when you think about this all happening in basically a year."

The band's new concert set is much larger, with video screens, dramatic lighting and loads of additions. Doucette said the band is really proud of the growth and he is looking for his parents to see the new upscale version of the show on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

"We've been on the road for two years straight," he said. "It's made us a better band."

But Doucette said the band members' personalities are basically the same, managing to keep one another's egos in check. All the touring has led him and Thomas to settle down more rather than giving themselves over to the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, said Doucette.

"We used to drink a lot; then one day on a flight to Europe, we realized that that life's kind of shallow," he said. "Everything seems a lot nicer. We've gotten to the point now where we can tour pretty comfortably. So why shouldn't we enjoy it?"

Of course, any kind of rapid-fire success can bring a backlash. And Matchbox 20 has quite a big one to deal with.

"Yeah, I know, we signify the death of rock 'n' roll," said Doucette, repeating the criticism of many rock writers. "That would be a lot harder to deal with if we didn't sell 7 million records. A lot of people like us. And there are a couple people who can type that don't. They have every right not to like us. I don't like a lot of bands. But I think it's stupid to continue to write about it."

He said the band bristles when people go out of their way to say mean things about it -- whether they're comments about Thomas' weight or cries of "sellout."

"The only thing we've done is work our -- off for two years on nonstop touring," said Doucette. "We now have a show we're extremely proud of. We have affected some people's lives. We have never intentionally been mean to any person. Why dwell on us?"

After this tour, Matchbox 20 is looking forward to not being Matchbox 20 for a while.

"Nov. 17 is the last date on the tour, and it's looming really large in everyone's mind," Doucette said. "We finally get to rest for a while."

The band will begin recording the follow-up to Yourself sometime next year, with a release date set around Christmas 1999.

"This has been our life every single day for the past three years," Doucette said. "I'm looking forward to the other stuff I love to do and seeing friends I haven't seen in three years and getting my new place in order and buying furniture and not having a phone."

He said everyone will be happy to see Matchbox 20 disappear for a little while.

"We want to go away and get everything in order, get excited about recording again," Doucette said. "And then -- we'll be back."