Though his band has hit it big with its quadruple-platinum debut album and music industry types are clamoring for a piece of the action, Thomas insists that he is not about to let his recent success dictate his actions. Instead, the 26-year-old said he tries to maintain a real distance from all the hysteria.
"We don't take ourselves real seriously," the singer explained. "It's like a big comic book. We look at all this success as a big joke. At first, it all happened so quickly, we didn't really feel it, but now each time we tour we feel it getting bigger and bigger."
Matchbox 20's hit LP, Yourself or Someone Like You, is holding steady in a top 10 filled mostly with rap, soundtracks and pop. They are nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Performance Duo or Group With Vocal. Meanwhile, the band's current tour of the Eastern U.S. is selling out. And videos for the first three singles from the album are still receiving heavy rotation on MTV and VH1, as their latest single, "Real World", is being readied for release.
Thomas can hear the record company knocking, and he's answering -- but in his own time, he said. "At one point they were looking for a new record," Thomas said of the Atlantic Records desire for the group to record their next album. "But now with all that's happened, I feel no pressure to jump right back."
Having spent some of his early years living on the streets of Orlando, Fla., Thomas has seen a lot of hardship early in life. Many of his songs reflect that, his lyrics focusing on broken relationships or a broken home. The band's latest hit, "3 A.M.", deals with his mother's drinking problem, while "Real World" tackles the issue of facing one's limitations.
Thomas certainly comes off as a smart guy, which perhaps accounts for his careful approach to his career.
Or maybe he just remembers the sophomore experience of other young bands who released a giant debut, only to see their second LP drag them into obscurity. "We played the record company a few new songs, had a few beers, and that's where we're at," he said.
Explaining that he's still in the writing stage of new material, he added that he expects to bring his fellow bandmembers -- lead guitarist Kyle Cook, 22; rhythm guitarist Adam Gaynor, 34; bassist Brian Yale, 29; and drummer Paul Doucette, 25 -- in to add their touch and make the songs into complete tracks sometime later this year. Thomas had played in the band Tabitha's Secret with Yale and Doucette before being introduced to the other members by Yourself or Someone Like You's producer, Matt Serletic. A relationship has since formed that, Thomas said, will last through the next album.
"Serletic is like another member of the band, so he'll definitely be back," Thomas said, adding that the album will come out sometime in 1999.
In the meantime, Matchbox 20 will contribute a track to A Tribute to Rumours (March 17), a record that revisits Fleetwood Mac's historic mega-seller through the interpretations by a group of artists that includes Jewel and the Goo Goo Dolls. Matchbox 20 covers Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham's acoustic gem, "Never Going Back Again."
"We added a drum set, some drum loops, made it very Tusk," Thomas said. Tusk was Fleetwood Mac's experimental follow-up to Rumours. "We did it all in minor chords. We rearranged it 'til it almost becomes 'The Chain,'" he added, referring to one of Fleetwood Mac's signature hits.
Those hungry for Matchbox 20 can also keep their fingers crossed for an MTV "Live at the 10 Spot" segment, which Thomas described as likely to happen in April. But not all of the attention the band has received has been good. One particularly disturbing period came with criticism from women's groups that the lyrics of "Push" advocated spousal abuse. Just as the controversy seemed to be getting out of hand, Thomas answered critics by describing the song as being based on a previous relationship in which he was mistreated, not vice versa. "[The controversy is] over, because it was basically about nothing," Thomas said.
But things have mostly been positive for Matchbox 20. Thomas even got to meet his hero, the legendary singer Tony Bennett, at the American Music Awards in January, where the band performed "Push." In addition, Matchbox 20 were chosen last fall to join an elite group, including Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters, as openers for the Rolling Stones' "Bridges To Babylon" tour in Texas.
And as proof that Matchbox 20 are not about to let the music industry take control of their career or their image, consider their presence on the World Wide Web.
The band was less than overwhelmed with their official record company website, so they made a better one, according to Thomas, referring to the latest page at www.matchbox20.com. "We had a buddy of ours from IBM do the graphics," he said. "And we update the site with notes from the road and pictures from our digital camera." [Fri., Feb. 13, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]