Matchbox Twenty's Paul Doucette: Drumming For the Song

What happens when you start a band with one of your best friends, work real hard to get noticed, go on to sell over ten million records, and then he ups and writes a hit song for a legendary artist? Do you panic? "Not at all," says Matchbox Twenty drummer Paul Doucette. "We were never worried Rob would leave the band."

We all know the story by now. While between records, Rob Thomas, Matchbox Twenty's main songwriter, co-wrote and sang lead on Santana's number-one smash, "Smooth."

"We were really happy for him," Doucette says. "Our only concern was that the record company might want us to come out with songs that sound just like "Smooth."

The twenty-eight-year-old drummer has been friends with Thomas since way before stardom came knocking. Early on they crafted their chops together, along with bassist Brian Yale, in an Orlando group called Tabitha's Secret. "Were a modern rock cover band," Paul says. "We'd cover Counting Crows and Live tunes, and we'd throw in some of our original material as well."

Producer Matt Serletic (Collective Soul, Aerosmith) caught the band one night and fortunately had the ears to hear their potential. He kept them in mind. A couple of years later, by the time Serletic met up with the band again, Thomas, Doucette, and Yale had formed Matchbox Twenty with Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor. Serletic then helped launch the band into the big leagues, producing their multi-platinum debut record, Yourself Or Someone Like You. The wheels were in motion. Radio-friendly hits came one after the other: "Push," "3am," and "Real World." The band was on the fame trip -- press, non-stop touring, TV appearances, and Grammy nominations. They were well on their way to superstardom.

Now it's a few years later and there's a tremendous amount of pressure on the band to repeat their success. "We were so much more confident with this new record," Doucette offers. "We had three years on the road, and we were ready."

"Bent," the first single from Mad Season, has already landed the number-one spot on Billboard's Top 100. Thomas, who had written most of the material on the previous record, is once again one of the main songwriters. But Doucette also had a hand in writing; he co-wrote the rocker "Stop" with Thomas. He also played guitar on the track, while drum tech Tony Adams played additional drums. "Tony was actually testing a snare," Paul says. "When I listened back, it was perfect, so I left it."

As for Doucette's drumming on Mad Season, he holds down the groove throughout the record with strong backbeats and tasty fills that complement the songs. A team player all the way, Paul knows it all boils down to playing what's right for the song.

MD: When did you start playing drums?

Paul: I started when I was thirteen. I played a bit here and there, but then I stopped from about seventeen to around twenty. I lived in an apartment at the time. When I was twenty-one I moved to Florida, and that's when I started to play a lot more. That was around the time I met Rob and Brian.

MD: Did you take any lessons?

Paul: I took a few lessons from the drummer in one of the bigger local bands in town, but I pretty much taught myself. I played along to records. Growing up I listened to The Replacements, with Chris Mars on drums, and R.E.M., with Bill Berry. Lately I've been listening to old Elton John with Nigel Olsson. I've always been more into the songs than the players. When I listen back now I can hear some of their influence in what I do. But lately I've really been concentrating on songwriting. I'm finding my greatest influence as a drummer is playing piano.

MD: How so?

Paul: Piano is a percussion instrument. Listening to piano players has helped me as a drummer immensely. You can learn how melody and percussion work together. It opens my mind to where melody can go and how I can support these melodies.

When you're playing pop music, nine times out of ten you're playing 2 and 4 -- just laying it down. I'm trying to find different ways of doing that without losing that feel. Let's face it, it can get kind of boring after a while if that's all you're playing.

As a drummer, Stevie Wonder comes up with some cool stuff. He doesn't really think like a drummer, so he'll come up with things a drummer might not. It's the same when I play guitar. I don't think like a guitar player, I think like a drummer. I come up with parts that a guitar player might not think of.

MD: Who are some of your influences?

Paul: Kenny Aronoff was and still is my big idol as far as drumming goes. He amazes me. You can listen to a song and know right away it's him. Kenny has such a great feel -- a distinct feel. I always admired that. Ringo is another big influence. I've always been a Beatles fan. I think that, like a lot of people, you appreciate Ringo more as you get older. My appreciation for him now is huge. Charlie Watts is another.

My drums tech turned me on to Jim Keltner. He's a phenomenal drummer, just so subtle. With Keltner it's about what you don't hear. He's amazing.

MD: Was there a big difference between recording Mad Season and Yourself Or Someone Like You?

Paul: A huge difference. I wasn't very confident when we made the first record. That's an understatement; I was extremely unconfident. The first record was really hard for me. We had a major record deal. Everything was new. I had never played to a click before. It was tough. I was scared the whole time.

For this new record, I was much more confident, and the band was solid. We had three years on the road together. We were relaxed. It was fun. We knew what we were doing.

MD: How were the drum tracks recorded on Mad Season?

Paul: We did this record a little differently. Right before we started Mad Season, we did a cover of "Never Going Back Again" for a Fleetwood Mac tribute record. I recorded that drum track all by myself. Some of this new record was done that same way. The song "Rest Stop" was cut with only drums, bass and Rob on piano. We added guitars later.

MD: So you had the songs all worked out?

Paul: We got together one day a week and basically worked out the songs. Then, one-by-one, like an assembly line, we recorded them. It was odd, but we liked working that way. It was fun. It gave everyone their own mark.

MD: What did you follow?

Paul: I had a rough vocal guide on some tracks. I really listened for the melody. I like to work off the melody to create my grooves.

MD: Were there any disadvantages to recording this way?

Paul: Sometimes there were. If I came up with a drum fill that would answer a vocal line, it would seem weird if that vocal line was then changed.

MD: What do you think of Pro Tools?

Paul: I don't think you can make a record these days without it. Matt, our producer, is a huge Pro Tools guy. I hated it at first. I'm still not the biggest fan of it. On our first record we used it a lot. We were a very young band. It was Matt's first big record, so every note had to be perfect.

On this new album we didn't want to use Pro Tools as much. It can make a recording sound very sterile if you're not careful. This time we kept it very loose. We used it only to fix a little thing here and there. We used it on the guitars a little. On "Angry," we pulled a section that I played, processed it, and then made a loop. We also used Pro Tools on two songs that had a lot of layering.

MD: "Bed Of Lies" has an electronic, Phil Collins feel to it. Is it programmed?

Paul: No, I played the groove, then we created a loop from that. Then I went back and played to that loop. We built it up like that.

MD: Did you use any electrinics on the new record?

Paul: On "Bent" I used a drill sound from the Roland V-Drums brain. It's mixed in with the guitar. Everything else on the record was acoustic.

MD: Were the drums recorded in a big open room?

Paul: Some. For the huge "Phil Collins tom sound," I recorded in a big warehouse section of the studio. I had three kits set up. I had two different-sized kits in the big room and one in the small room. The tribal toms for "Bent" were done in the hallway. I used a lot of layers. It was my tribute to the big 1980's drum sound. I used two completely different kits on the title track, changing back and forth from verse to chorus -- with the help of Pro Tools. On "Bent" I used three different kits for the intro, verses, and choruses.

MD: Did you come up with the drum part for "Bent"?

Paul: Yes. I walked in wanting to do a Duran Duran, Power Station kind of thing. "Bent" had a much more intricate drum groove that was actually taken out. I was fighting Matt a little on that one. He wanted it simpler. Hey, its number one on the charts now, so what can you do? [laughs]

Matt pushes me in a good direction. That's one of the things I like most about him as a producer. He'll kind of see where you're gonna go, and then he'll push you to get there.

MD: The band is gearing up for a major tour. How do you stay in shape when you're on the road?

Paul: Yoga. I started doing it about a year ago. I find its the best thing.
MD: Has it helped your drumming?

Paul: Definitely. It helps me focus. It also helps me with my breathing. I play hard, so I have a tendency to lock up. If I'm playing aggresively, sometimes I'll hold my breath, which is the wrong thing to do. Yoga has really helped me with that.

MD: What's the best part about being famous?

Paul: The best part about fame -- and the money that hopefully goes with it -- is that when you're not working you don't have to do anything else. That's nice. Otherwise the whole fame thing is stupid. I think it's funny. The band is so incredibly unpretentious. We're just normal guys who got lucky.

By Billy Amendola