Burning Bright: Matchbox 20 Get 'Push' Into the Big Times

Most of the world sees Matchbox 20 as a hot new band with a hot new album and a handful of hot new tunes burning a hole in its hot little pocket.

The Florida quintet, now on tour, has quickly made a name for itself with such catchy pop-rock gems as "3 a.m.," "Push," "Long Day," and its latest single, "Real World."

The group's debut disc, "Yourself or Someone Like You," has sold an amazing 5 million copies since it was released in September 1996.

But from the band members' perspective, the newness is starting to wear off just a bit. "Nobody's complaining or anything," said Kyle Cook, Matchbox 20's lead guitarist and background vocalist, "but if you read the same book every day for a year, then it's definitely time to move on to something else. That's kind of how it feels."

The 12 songs on "Yourself or Someone Like You" were recorded two years ago, and Matchbox 20 has been performing them almost every night for the last year and a half.

"To be creative, and to be a creative entity, you are always trying to break new ground and trying to come up with new things," Cook said.

When "Push" comes to shove, however, the band realizes that the moody little tune has turned them into a headline act.

The problem, Cook said, is one that most bands only dream about: "It's just that this record has been so successful!"

"Push," written by lead singer Rob Thomas, brought the band worldwide fame and a touch of controversy.

The criticism always comes from people who only remember the melodic chorus: "I wanna push you around, I will, I will. I wanna push you down, I will, I will."

Does "Push" promote violence against women, as some critics have alleged?

"I can't believe people are still asking that question," Cook said with a sigh. "It's a song about mental abuse and not physical abuse."

The chorus needs to be put into context, he asserted. "Push" is about someone who is angry at being taken advantage of, and is fantasizing about a response.

"People need to realize that music and lyrics and songs can be a story, they can be a fantasy," Cook said. "They can come from a place that doesn't exist, they can offer a view on a relationship from a second or third point of view."

While Matchbox 20 is a little weary of this noncontroversy that won't go away, Cook understands that it's human nature to latch onto a few lyrics that are tied to a memorable melody, without digging into the real meaning of a song. Misinterpretations are not always bad, he added. Good songwriters always leave a little room for the imagination.

"It can be healthy for people to gain their own meanings from songs, to interpret them in their own way," Cook said.

It was quality songwriting that got Cook interested in joining the Orlando, Fla.-based band led by Thomas, bassist Brian Yale, and drummer Paul Doucette.

At the time, Cook was 19 and was "putting a little money in my pocket" by playing acoustic guitar gigs around Atlanta.

A demo had been sent to him by Matt Serletic, a noted Atlanta producer who had worked with Collective Soul.

Serletic was searching for the right musicians to round out the band, which at first was called Tabitha's Secret before choosing Matchbox 20 (from the random alignment of patches spotted on the jacket of a passerby).

Cook was at home in Lafayette, Ind., during the Christmas, 1995, holidays when Serletic called to offer him an audition.

About a month later, Cook was surprised to be handed the job.

"I was hired to play guitar, but I believe that what got me the gig even more was that I sang," Cook said.

"And I think Matt really had a mission to find some musicians, not just any snot-nosed punk (who is) just about chicks and rock 'n' roll. He wanted to get people together who knew what they were doing."

Cook said the musicians in Matchbox 20 all bring different musical interests to the group, giving the band a broad base on which to build. He said he finds something worthwhile in virtually every genre, having studied classical music as a child and later immersing himself in jazz.

Cook was inspired by singer-songwriters, R&B music, and "the people my parents listened to, like the Beatles and Eric Clapton.

"The funny thing about it is, people listen to our record and it's just a pop record. It's not trying to be Miles Davis or anything more than it is.

"But when people come to our shows, sometimes they're a little surprised that we're actually good, that we can actually play. It's kind of odd but people don't expect us to have the musicianship that we do."

Matchbox 20 was originally signed by Lava Records, a division of the major Atlantic label. But Lava folded shortly after "Yourself or Someone Like You" was released, and the group found itself in contract limbo.

Atlantic took over Lava's roster, cutting some groups loose and laying off some employees. Wisely, it turns out, Atlantic stuck with Matchbox 20.

Actually, the group ended up benefitting by its label going out of business. The musicians jumped from a small record company to one of the world's biggest.

Each of the musicians has been writing new material and the group is eager to get started on the next CD. The first time around, virtually all the songs were written by Thomas.

"Everyone's got new things and maybe it will be a more collaborative effort on this album," Cook said. -- David Yonke