Matchbox Twenty's Lead Singer Rob Thomas Tells Neala Johnson He's No Longer Fat and Doesn't Feel Famous

Matchbox Twenty are returning to Australia in November. Is there any unfinished business you have to attend to?

Go-karting. We always have to do some go-karting in Australia. See more wildlife. Ooh . . . and drink a couple more of those pretty-colored drinks you have over there. Illusions, I think they're called. You were certainly living the high life on your past few visits to Australia. Is it fair to say you were overdoing it?

Well, I think you have to live through that. But when I look at it, my God, I was 40 pounds overweight, I sounded like s . . . I was in my Fat Elvis period. I couldn't get from one side of the stage to the other. I feel pressure to stay in shape so that I can put on a good show. Those people have paid their money to come and see us. Plus, it's not much fun when Rolling Stone calls you fat.

Weren't you also in a feud with the lead singer of Third Eye Blind after he called you fat?

Yeah. Stephan Jenkins came to one of our shows to apologise and make up, but then I found out that he was talking trash about me behind my back again. So I don't know what his problem is.

How have you celebrated Bent hitting No. 1 on the US charts, your first No. 1 single?

Well, my wife and I just got a house that we're renovating, and every morning at 7.30 we wake up to the contractors going "bam, bam, bam, bam!" That's our present to ourselves. So that's how I celebrated -- by getting woken up early!

You've said in the past that Matchbox Twenty's songs are more famous than the band. Is that changing now?

I don't think so. I mean, when our album (Mad Season by Matchbox Twenty) came out, we went to No. 3 (in the US), and at No. 1 and 2 were Eminem and Britney Spears, and they sold like a million records, while we sold about 600,000, in one week. So that's a huge difference. We're not that famous.

Have you used the line "Don't you know who I am?" yet?

Never. In fact, I sat next to this guy on a plane, we were on about a six-hour flight, so we were talking back and forth, and he asked what I did, and I said I was a musician, and he said, "Don't worry, keep working at it and one day you might have a guy here to carry your bags for you", and I'm like, yeah, OK. And then we get off the plane and there's someone for me there going, "Mr. Thomas?" and grabbing my bags for me, so I left that guy behind me with his jaw wide open.

Are your home renovations your biggest extravagance? What else do you do with your royalty cheques?

It all goes on flights, because I take my wife everywhere with me.

Is there room for any little Thomases in the new house? There's room, but not right now. We want to, we will eventually. But we always say that we like being able to pick everything up and go, that we can go to Europe if we want, or whatever.

You sang and co-wrote the Santana hit Smooth. What would it take for Matchbox Twenty to play Smooth live?

A lot (laughs). We don't do it, it's not our song. If we were to play it without Carlos (Santana) and without that band, it's just a cover song. And we've already got other covers that we do. I get together with Carlos and do the song and it's enjoyable, but it's not what Matchbox Twenty do.

You won a Grammy for Smooth. Do awards ceremonies feel surreal to you?

Oh yeah, I feel completely out of place. And when you're performing, you look out and there's Sting tapping away with his foot. It's Sting, you know! I mean I go to a place like that and I'm looking for famous people. I'll even be there signing autographs, and I'm looking for famous people (laughs).

Do you feel that Matchbox 20 have paved the way for bands such as Vertical Horizon and Semisonic?

I don't think so. It's just that those bands concentrate on songs, you know, that's all they have in common. We're not way-pavers. I don't know that I want to take credit for Vertical Horizon!

The line in the Mad Season track Rest Stop -- "I was listening to the radio and wondering what you're thinking, when it came to mind that I didn't care" -- did a woman really say that to you?

No, she didn't say that. But it's true in sentiment, and that's the impression that it left. That was how blunt it was. But that was when I was 17 or 18 years old, and everything hurt so bad, life was like being in a John Hughes movie. I was the outcast teen waiting for my chance to run through the high-school cafeteria and carry the girl out in my arms, just before the credits roll.

So it took around 10 years to find that girl, your wife?

About 10, yeah. Now I'm on the other side of the credits of a John Hughes movie.

You're the "happily ever after" tale.

Yeah, I like that. By Neala Johnson