Matchbox 20's winding road

Band turns S.A. jeers into cheers

By Butler Stevens
Special to the Express-News

Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas sings, "'I wish the real world would stop hassling me," on the group's latest single, "Real World."

The line seems inappropriate for the Florida band, which has sold more than seven million copies of its debut album, "Yourself or Someone Like You" and has been a fixture on rock radio the past two years.

It's almost hard to fathom this was the same band that was nearly hooted off the stage by a group of hecklers while opening for No Doubt in April, 1997 in the Freeman Coliseum.

"Adam Gaynor and I still laugh about the time we did the No Doubt show in San Antonio," Thomas said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. "It was terrible. Our first song was our sound check and a small group of guys in front of the stage kept yelling 'You suck' at the band."

After exchanging barbs with them, Thomas made the mistake of handing the microphone to one of the hecklers with instructions to "say something clever." Not surprisingly, one hollered, "You suck! Get off the stage."

And Thomas did.

"Adam and the band kept playing. They weren't sure if I was even going to come back out or not. I was really sensitive about those kind of things back then, but I did go back out and played a couple more songs anyway," he said.

Now firmly established and on the verge of completing the band's fifth video "Back 2 Good," Matchbox 20 will return to San Antonio on Tuesday. This time, the band is headlining, with Grammy- winner Paula Cole opening the sold-out show in Sunken Garden Theater.

"We really try to keep a positive attitude in the band," Thomas said. "The only thing that really still gets me is when we get these concert reviews and they say the band sounded great, the place was packed, the crowd was ecstatic but then read how the critic disliked the band. It always makes me wonder."

Maintaining a grueling touring schedule the last two years Matchbox 20 had just spent three exhausting days in Los Angeles with video director Paul Hunter (who directed Marilyn Manson's "Dope Show" video) filming what the band considers the last video off of this album.

"The 'Back 2 Good' video was shot at Universal Studios back lot, the same place where they filmed 'The Three Amigos' movie. A local radio station helped us out and announced that we were looking for extras, so we ended up with a few thousand on hand. We shot it at night, so it has a very surreal look to it similar to the 'Real World' video, only there are all these wild and really strange characters parading around," Thomas said.

"We finished just in time for us to attend the MTV Video Music Awards ceremony on Thursday. Even though we didn't win, it was great just being there in a room filled with so many great writers and celebrities. At one point I looked over and remember thinking, 'It's Steven Tyler: Wow I can't believe it's Steven Tyler.' He stood behind us and leaned over, saying, 'Hi, Rob, I liked the album.' That was really cool," Thomas noted.

Taunted by critics as a cross between Counting Crows and Live, the Florida band continues building a solid reputation for strong melodic hooks, penetrating lyrics, a loyal fan base and hits that the younger MTV generation can't seem to get enough of.

The current tour will end Oct. 4. After that is a short trip Australia in response to the album hitting No. 1 there.

The band anticipates taking a breather and hopes to start recording the next album in April.

"We have enough unrecorded material for a box set," Thomas said. "This is my third batch of songs. The sophomore batch is what was used on the first album. I feel the new songs we write are on a completely different level than the first album. I have played some of the new songs for people and the reaction has been very positive," Thomas said.

Matchbox 20 members -- guitarists Adam Gaynor and Kyle Cook, drummer Paul Doucette and bassist Brian Yale -- frequently play down the rapid-fire success of their singles.

"Though the singles have done really well, we never thought of ourselves as a hit-song band. Atlantic didn't think we had one single on the record. We gave them a demo of three songs and they said nothing," Thomas said.

Matchbox 20 (the name was taken from the sleeve of a baseball jersey) considers Orlando its home. Florida is becoming rock's new spawning ground for successful bands, including Creed, Seven Mary Three and Marilyn Manson. Despite the success, many of the new breed of rockers are being flogged by critics for their faceless mainstream image.

"If the choice came down to either being hip or having great material, we would always go with the songs," Thomas said. "We are not interested in being hip.

"We listen to everything. The cool thing about today's music is how groups mix up the styles. Music has come a long way since 'Krush Groove.' "

Matchbox 20

  • Where: Sunken Garden Theater, Brackenridge Park
  • When: 7 p.m. Saturday
  • For openers: Paula Cole
  • Tickets: Sold out

    Friday, Sep 18, 1998