War of Wills

By MIKE ROSS -- Edmonto Sun

What a year it's been. El Niņo blew into town, the Edmonton Oilers became public crusade and a former girlfriend of a rock singer threatened to sue him because she was an inspiration for a bitter break-up song.

It just happened to become a hit. It goes like this: "I want to push you around, I will, I will/ I want to push you down, I will, I will/ I want to take you for granted" and so on. She was sure it was about her.

Well, get in line, sister - everyone wants a piece of Matchbox 20. But we'll get to that in a moment.

To put the last year in context for this band - which can be likened to a new and improved version of Hootie and the Blowfish - you have to go back to March 16, 1997. That's when the Orlando, Florida-based group was scheduled to play a show in Edmonton's Rev nightclub. The gig was cancelled because the band got stuck in the snow.

Recently back from a tour of New Zealand, bassist Brian Yale recalls the occasion, in a jet-lagged drawl on the phone from Los Angeles: "The morons that we are, we were touring Canada in a van and trailer in the middle of winter. We literally got stuck in a snowstorm. Everything started to freeze up and couldn't go anywhere, so that's why we had to cancel. Sorry about that."

It's OK. You can make it up to us on Wednesday night. Matchbox 20 plays a slightly larger venue this time - the Shaw Conference Centre.

When I interviewed singer Rob Thomas last year, the Hootie thing came up. He said he didn't want to diss the alleged band because they were on the same record label and basically "wrote our paycheques." Now the tables have turned. Matchbox 20 has since sold about five million more copies of their debut album, Yourself or Someone Like You, while Hootie's last album barely did half of that.

"It's a little flip-flop action," Yale laughs. "It's pretty amazing how much has happened in a year. Things are blowing up for us. It's kind of all happening around us and and we've been so busy we've never even really had a chance to stop and smell the roses."

Matchbox 20 barely even had time to notice another Florida group taking off around the same time: The Backstreet Boys.

"We're from Orlando and we figured we knew everyone who was a musician It's such a small place," Yale says. "We'd never even heard of these guys! And people in Europe are telling us about the Backstreet Boys and we're like, 'really? They sold 20 million records?!' We were just blown away."

It hasn't all been so rosy for Matchbox 20. Former members of the band's previous incarnation, Tabitha's Secret, have sued, wanting their share of royalties for the smash hit, 3 A.M. Thomas, Yale and drummer Paul Doucette performed and demoed the song in that band, but it went nowhere. It was only after Collective Soul producer Matt Serletic took Matchbox 20 under his wing that it started to take off.

Yale can barely contain his disdain as he talks about Tabitha's Secret, "Basically, it just wasn't working. We knew the problems we had, and some of the people in the band that obviously aren't in the band anymore probably didn't feel that way, but we knew. And this is exactly the reasons why nothing really happened with that band. It was just not a very good sound, either. It was too light and jangly. It didn't have substance. Sure, it had Paul playing drums and me playing bass and Rob singing, but the songs were all different, besides 3 A.M., that is. Rob wrote that song years ago."

The matter is now before the courts. But it appears to be another case of a band earning fame so fast and selling so many albums that people are coming out of the woodwork trying to snatch a piece of it. It should come as no surprise that what's left of Tabitha's Secret has re-released every scrap of recording they ever made, including at least two versions of 3 A.M.

Says Yale, "None of these things would ever have happened if we were still travelling around in a van and a trailer through Canada in the snow."

Consider it the price of fame.