When 'Push' comes to shove

Friday, March 20, 1998

MATCHBOX 20: 8 tonight. Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Center, 311 W. 34th St. Sold out. (212) 564-4882. Those attending the show are asked to bring new or used clothing, which will be distributed to HIV-infected and at-risk homeless youths through the Safe Space day program.
Staff Writer

Somewhere on a computer disc is a list of goals and expectations guitarist Adam Gaynor and his Matchbox 20 bandmates created for themselves before anyone heard of the group.

Gaynor intended to wait until their debut album, "Yourself or Someone Like You," sold 1 million units before checking on how their early dreams matched reality.

But even the most modest of those goals already is fading in the "power-folk" quintet's rearview mirror: Although 18 months old, "Yourself" has passed the 5-million mark -- and it's still selling.

"We're already three-deep into the album on singles and going on our fourth, and we expect there'll be a fifth," Gaynor said from a recent tour stop in Milwaukee. "I plan on riding it out, until our last single stops moving. Then I'll pull out the list and we'll have a party."

That could take awhile. Matchbox 20 is booked through next February -- meaning the band will have toured, with few breaks, for nearly 2 years in support of its debut album.

"I don't know how to explain it," said Gaynor, 34, who moved to Florida from Westchester, N.Y., in 1976. "I do know it beats the alternative.

"The first seven months, I thought Atlantic [Records] was trying to kill us. They sent us through Wisconsin when it was 56 below. All we could see was black ice. There'd be semi-tractor-trailers flipped on their backs like cockroaches. You wake up thinking, 'I'm not going to live another day.' But someone was watching over us."

Critics at first dubbed Matchbox 20 a "faceless" band. "I don't know what the hell that means," Gaynor said, "but we've sold all these albums without anyone knowing what we look like. I guess these days it's more about songs than anything."

Things changed with the release of "Push," a folk-rock radio staple with a familiar chorus: "I want to push you around. Well, I will, I will. I wanna take you for granted." Matchbox 20 began playing larger venues -- and more often, too, including 250 dates last year.

"We're a working band," Gaynor said. "We know what our jobs are -- and what our jobs could be."

Friends from Collective Soul had warned them of the rigors of the road ("You could see circles under their eyes," Gaynor said). But as their own tour went on, the Matchbox 20 members learned to pace themselves. They also enlisted a personal trainer (actually, a jack-of-all-trades assistant who also handles wardrobe and catering) for massages.

"I'm a big push-up guy," said Gaynor, who admitted feeling fatigued onstage for the first time last week. "I also run around throughout the show. It's like a big cardiovascular exercise."

They don't mind the grind or any other demands. "If you don't want to do interviews or shake hands, go sell tacos," said Gaynor, who was working in a Miami recording studio when he got to audition for the band.

Somehow, Matchbox 20 has found time to begin amassing material for a second album. Although lead singer Rob Thomas did all the songwriting for "Yourself," Gaynor said he, guitarist Kyle Cook, bassist Brian Yale, and drummer Paul Doucette will contribute to the follow-up.

It's too soon to consider, but Gaynor says he's already dismissed the possibility of the dreaded sophomore jinx: "There's no such thing. Either you [stink] or you don't. ... If we can't write three or four songs that are catchy and worth listening to on the radio, then we should get different jobs -- and, believe me, if we do, we will."