Smooth Operator: An Interview with Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas

By Aidin Vaziri

It's tempting to loathe Rob Thomas. Just a few years ago, he was the frontman for the criminally generic alternative rock band Matchbox Twenty, destined to eat up valuable airtime on future "Where Are They Now?" specials. Then the group's 1996 debut, Yourself or Someone Like You, quietly sold 10 million copies and Thomas was everywhere. He married sultry model Marisol Maldonado, wrote a song about it with guitarist Carlos Santana called "Smooth," and went on to score a number one single and a handful of Grammy Awards. Now Thomas is back with Matchbox Twenty's second album, the surprisingly pleasant Mad Season. recently sat down with Thomas to talk about making his private life public and trying to stay on top. Did something happen to you as a kid to make you drive so hard to succeed?

Rob Thomas: Since I was 12, I've always had a drive to play music. It's funny, man, because there’s a fine line between being a successful musician and a 40-year-old loser who doesn't have a job. When you start doing this, you're tenacious and you put off all those other career opportunities that keep popping up when you're young. Next thing you know, there's nothing to fall back on. You've put everything on this. You're like, "Oh, shit, no college, no nothing. What am I going to do now?" When you realize that, you just realize, "I'm not a good waiter. I'm not good at cars or sports. This is just what I do." I don't think it makes me that special. This is my one special talent. It's my place my in the world. Is there a lot of jealousy in the band because everyone knows who you are but doesn't really know the other guys?

RT: When we all go to an airport and I can't make it through the airport, the guys are like, "I don't want that job." I think the guys think the best things in the world are wealth and obscurity, and if they can somehow manage to get both, they're happy. There's a natural tendency to connect with the frontman [in the beginning]. As the life of the band expands, though, you start to get to know the other members more. Everybody knows lead singers. Everybody knew Bono right off. That's the first thing we learn. Our job is to try to not perpetuate that too much. So then why did you have your wedding covered by InStyle magazine?

RT: That was all my wife. My wife is a very stylish lady and she's friends with some people at InStyle. If you grow up and know about fashion and your friends say we want you to be in our magazine, you don't say no to that one. That's one of those fights you don't want to have. That was just something she really wanted to do. Did the other band members give you a hard time about it?

RT: No, they haven't said a word about it yet, which could be even scarier. What's it like being married?

RT: I think it's made everything better. I've never been this focused on my music or worked on it as consistently I do now. I spend a lot more time playing music and I'm constantly inspired by my wife. Sometimes we'll have an argument and I’ll take that one moment and magnify it, dissect it, grow through it, and write a song about it. That's the way you have to do it unless you want to write sappy-happy songs for the rest of your life. Next thing you know you become the new Elton John. You wouldn't want that to happen because you are Rob Thomas -- luckiest man in the world.

RT: Yeah. Oh God, yeah. Selling 10 million records only means we sold 10 million records, though. It was the same record that it was when it first came out. We became a better band after traveling for three years and playing every night, but when you sell a bunch of records it doesn't automatically make you a better band. You still have the same shortcomings you did going into it and that's only going to be taken away in time. We consider [the band] to be a work in progress. We're far from being a terrifically great band.

Note from Webmistresses: Well, Rob can't ALWAYS be right. It doesn't matter how many albums they sold; THEY ROCK ANYWAY!!! =)