How Matchbox 20 caught fire: 'Playing songs to people who love them... it's not a bad gig,' says rhythm guitarist

By Shawn Ohler, The Ottawa Citizen

A few years ago, when he was manning the phones in a Miami recording studio, Adam Gaynor's closest brush with fame was the coffee he occasionally hustled for Julio Iglesias.

Now he's a member of arguably the hottest new rock band on Earth.

"Funny how that works, huh?" says Gaynor, who plays rhythm guitar for upstart Southern U.S. rockers Matchbox 20, who play the Congress Centre tonight.

"Eight years sitting there and picking up phones is about the limit a human being can take. It's kind of spooky when you're 30 freaking years old and still answering phones. But I was lucky to find the right opportunity."

It came in the person of Collective Soul frontman Ed Roland, who was working at Gaynor's studio with producer Matt Serletic.

Gaynor, who was working on his own music, passed a tape to Roland, who passed it to Serletic, who passed it to a group of musicians he was just starting to work with -- some guys called Matchbox 20.

"(Serletic) got back to me and asked if I wanted to audition for them and it worked out and I joined up. That was it," Gaynor says.

Matchbox 20 recorded its debut album Yourself or Someone Like You with Serletic and it slowly climbed into the Top 10 in several countries.

Hooky singles like Push and the smash 3 A.M. have nudged worldwide sales past the six-million mark, dwarfing the figures of more established acts like Pearl Jam and Van Halen.

Gaynor has his theories about how it all happened.

"You know what it is, it's my dad, he's a very popular guy in south Florida in the Jewish community and ... no, wait a sec, that was a dream I had. That had nothing to do with our success," he says, laughing.

"Seriously, I think it comes down to two things. (Singer) Rob (Thomas) wrote a brilliant album. It's a very song-oriented, user-friendly album that a lot of people identified with. And we were willing to put in a lot of work to try to play to as many people as possible."

Gaynor says people always ask him if, in his wildest dreams, he ever imagined Matchbox 20 would get so big, so fast.

"A lot of people ask us, 'Did you really expect to be this successful?' and blah blah blah, and the band's generic answer is, we would have been happy if the record went gold (500,000 copies in the U.S.) and if we sold a million, that would have been great," he says.

"But, I swear to God, I'm not an ego-head, but the first time I met Rob he played for me acoustically Push and Girl Like That and Argue. And the second I heard those songs I knew things were going to blow up."

Gaynor calls Thomas "a real, every-day writer" who has a knack for penning catchy song after catchy song.

"Everybody identifies with him, not just lyrically, but melody-wise, his songs are just so radio-friendly. That's what turns me on. I love good, commercial radio music and he chunks it out like nothing."

Of course, Matchbox 20 has been pilloried exactly because of that by people who like a little more challenge and invention filtering through their 'phones. Collective Soul and Hootie and the Blowfish comparisons abound, and not in a flattering way.

Gaynor acknowledges -- and, to his credit, understands -- the criticisms, but says the band doesn't take them to heart.

"I don't see it as an insult when people say we play commercial music. I don't think we're doing brain surgery here, and no one among us has ever claimed to be doing brain surgery," he says.

"What's so bad about five million people on the planet loving our album and buying it? I don't know really how to respond. If I wanted to create a cure for cancer, I'd find a different job.

"But playing these songs to people who love them is what I'm doing now. And bro, I'll tell you what -- it's not a bad gig."