Nando Times Article

Success-drenched Matchbox 20 not worried about critical drubbing

(September 13, 1998 12:19 p.m. EDT -- Rob Thomas, the ever-, and sometimes over-, emotive lead singer for Matchbox 20, suddenly has become pop's preferred whipping boy.

Just in the past month, for instance, Rolling Stone magazine poked fun at the not-so-svelte singer's weight, and ghoul-rocker Rob Zombie said that he'd "rather have a thousand Marilyn Mansons than any more Matchbox 20s."

The deluge of disses, Thomas says, can mean only one thing:

He and his band are enjoying a startling amount of success.

"Things are going so well that you can't expect not to have a backlash," he says. "Most of it is like: 'You guys have sold too many records. You don't deserve that.' But what are we going to do?

"We wrote some songs, we put out a record and people liked it."

At least 6 million people, in fact - at least in the United States, where Matchbox 20's debut recording, "Yourself or Someone Like You," has sold that many copies since it was released nearly two long years ago.

The album is loaded with highly melodic guitar-pop anthems and tortured, conflicted lyrics and has so far produced four hits: "Long Day," "Push," "3 A.M." and, most recently, "Real World."

Not bad for a group that was initially - and simultaneously - dismissed as both one-hit wonders and Counting Crows wannabes.

Of the first charge, Thomas jokes: "All we ask is that we be called four-hit wonders. That's not too much to ask for, is it?"

And of the comparisons to the Counting Crows, Thomas says he's he's friends with Adam Duritz - the Crow who counts most - "and neither one of us sees the similarities.

"I was a fan when the Counting Crows came out because they made a great record," he says. "But I was writing songs long before I heard them. We just have some of the same influences" - especially including Van Morrison.

Of course, these days, Matchbox 20 is flying far higher than the Crows; the group is even headlining its own U.S. arena tour - billed as "The Big Rock Show" - something the Crows never did.

Thomas, the 26-year-old front man who has collected enough bras on stage "to last me through puberty," says to expect a major - and costly - production.

"We're making no money off this tour, but we wanted people to leave going, 'That's a great show,"' he says. "Coming from smaller venues, it was sort of like taking 'Wings of Desire' and turning it into 'City of Angels.' You have to make it brighter and give it more star quality."

The Big Rock tour wraps up Oct. 4 in Orlando, Fla., Matchbox 20's hometown.

After that, the band will embark on a brief, monthlong swing through Europe, then will disappear for several months before beginning work on a new album.

"We've been doing these same songs for two years," Thomas says. "It's really important for us to take a big break and get out of everybody's hair for a while. Like: 'Thank you for putting up with us for so long, see you in a while.' "

The naysayers already are predicting that the downfall of Matchbox 20 will begin with the release of the band's second album, but Thomas doesn't seem to care.

After all, he says, these are the same pessimistic people who have made negative predictions throughout Matchbox 20's blazing career.

"It's so funny," says Thomas, who counts fellow Floridian Marilyn Manson among his pop-star pals. "When you start off, people in certain circles go, 'There are so many bands out there; you're never going to get a record deal.' Then you get one, and they're like, 'So what, everybody gets one. You won't get any airplay, though.' Then you do, and it's, 'Well, you're not selling any records.'

"Now, they're going, 'Your next record is going to suck.' But so what if it does? We already had a piece of history. For a time, ours was the CD people would take with them to the beach. And that's pretty cool."

(J. Freedom du Lac is a pop music critic for the Sacramento Bee. His email address is