The Band That Beat the Jinx

Matchbox twenty defies the odds with a second hit CD
Alan K. Stout
Citizen Special

The Associated Press / Matchbox twenty vocalist Rob Thomas: he writes most of the songs, but everyone contributes.

ATLANTA - When your debut album sells more than 11 million copies, you are -- almost by default -- poised for subsequent failure. The sophomore jinx, as they say in the music business (and the sports world), is often an assumed and accepted occurrence.

However, matchbox twenty isn't playing by the rules. Mad Season, the band's followup to 1996's hugely successful Yourself or Someone Like You, is already triple platinum in the United States, and nearly double platinum in Canada.

Two singles, Bent and If You're Gone, have been to the top of the charts, and the group is now on a world tour of major venues, including Ottawa's Corel Centre Friday night.

"We got the memo saying we were supposed to fail on our second album," says matchbox drummer Paul Doucette with a laugh, "but it was written in Spanish -- and we don't speak or read a word of Spanish -- so we just missed the whole damn thing."

Perhaps it's that sense of fun that has helped the band stay on an even keel. Surprisingly, Doucette says the group felt little pressure -- at least from a commercial standpoint -- when they hit the studio to record the latest album.

"We took a lot of time off. There was about nine months between the records, and we kind of separated and went our own ways and established our own personal lives," he says.

"So we didn't have a lot of contact with each other. Any anxiety I had was more from just not knowing where everyone's head was going to be.

"I didn't want to walk in and find a bunch of people who were so into having success that they wanted to make the same record we just made. Once I got there and found that nobody was of that mindset, the anxiety went away."

Rounding out the matchbox lineup is vocalist Rob Thomas, guitarist Kyle Cook, guitarist-vocalist Adam Gaynor and bassist Brian Yale. Although Thomas is the main songwriter, Doucette says all of the group's members contribute with music and in other creative areas.

"I did co-write a song on this record with Rob and I handle pretty much anything we do visually," he says. "I picked all of the photographers, all the video directors, the lighting design, the art direction on the record ... anything that had to do with 'a look.'

"Everyone in the band has their own little things they take care of. Adam is definitely the Internet guy. I know nothing about the Internet. Cookie says he doesn't do (anything), but he's a damn good golfer. (laughs) And Kyle almost acts as our music director. He definitely has a lot of say in that department."

Doucette says the band took its initial commercial breakthrough in stride. Although tunes such as Real World, 3 a.m. and Push were blaring out of radios from coast-to-coast, the group was often too busy to realize what was happening.

"It was weird. We worked for a long time on that first record and toured for over three years on that record. To us, we were constantly working, so everything was gradual. We were playing clubs, then the next thing you know, we were playing theatres.

"Well, then we were playing small arenas, then we're playing the big sheds. But our everyday life remained pretty much the same. It was still us guys, we'd just have more crew members around.

"Occasionally, you'd have a moment where it would be like 'Holy (smoke), this is just unreal,' but then that moment goes away and you think 'OK, I've got to go do an interview.'

"After a while, it becomes like an everyday job."

In 1999, Thomas took a brief break from the Mad Season sessions to record the song Smooth with Carlos Santana. The tune became another chart-topping smash, won three Grammys, and helped keep matchbox's name in the limelight while it finished its second album.

Doucette admits Smooth's success caught him by surprise.

"It's funny, but they sent me a copy of it right after they recorded it, and I was like, 'It's not one of his better songs,' he says with a chuckle. "I didn't get it. I was like 'All right. Whatever. It's Santana, so I'm sure this was cool for him and for Rob, but I probably won't be hearing it again.'

"Now, I've realized I had no idea what kids like. I have no idea what's a hit."

Doucette says Thomas and the other members of matchbox consider Smooth a Santana song, so it won't be popping up in the band's set-list on the current tour. The songs that have helped the band sell more than 14 million albums, however, will be there, and they'll be delivered with precision.

"It's the record on steroids," he says of the live show. "That's always our goal. We understand that people come to hear the music that they bought. We change things up a little bit here and there, but nothing where people are going to say, 'Hey, they didn't play one song the way I like it.' There's an energy that we have live that we have yet to capture in record, that I think we're desperate to.

"It's an entirely different experience of the songs."

Matchbox twenty, with opening act Lifehouse, performs Friday at the Corel Centre. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., the doors open at 6:30. Tickets, at $49.50, are available at the Corel Centre box office or, with surcharges, through TicketMaster, 755-1111.