Another Mad Season On the Road

By Paul Gains
The Weekend Post

Pop stars love to moan about life on the road, the excesses and the tedium, not to mention the conflicts among themselves. It's what they call paying dues.

So after spending more than 600 nights in hotels and as many days cooped up in tour buses crossing the continent, you'd think the last thing the members of Matchbox Twenty would want to do is set off on another tour. Yet, two days before he's to head out on the road with his mates, lead singer Rob Thomas can hardly contain his enthusiasm.

"Oh, I can't wait," the 29-year-old singer-songwriter declares from his New York City home. "We are going out with Train. They are great guys and they are one of my favourite bands."

This is the same man who, by his own admission, came close to having a breakdown in Japan during which he considered leaving the band. Thankfully for the more than 11 million fans who bought copies of Yourself or Someone Like You, the group's debut album, common sense prevailed. The current tour in support of Mad Season by Matchbox Twenty -- which plays at Toronto's Molson Amphitheatre tomorrow -- offers a glimpse at pop's answer to the dearth of legitimate musical talent.

Melodic harmonies combined with heartfelt lyrics composed, for the most part, by Thomas are equal to anything released by their contemporaries. It's amusing that although many people offer a blank stare when asked if they know of the band, hum a few bars of If You're Gone, say, or Last Beautiful Girl or Bent or any number of delightful tracks and chances are the light goes on.

"We're a band to be seen live. If you see our show you get us and if you don't then maybe you won't," Thomas says with a laugh.

"If you listen to the new record and you know nothing about us and you hear If You're Gone, you would have an idea of what kind of band we are. Then if you never heard of us and you heard Stop you would have a different idea of what kind of band we are. That's what we wanted out of our record. We are not trying to adhere to any style."

Conversation with Thomas is punctuated by references to his mates Kyle Cook, guitar and vocals, Adam Gaynor, guitar and vocals, Brian Yale, bass, and Paul Doucette on drums. Clearly he understands Matchbox Twenty's success is the sum total of the individuals though, apparently, he's had to be reminded of this on at least one occasion.

"I had a song, You Will Be Mine, and originally I wasn't even thinking of it for the band," Thomas remembers. "I played it one night in a hotel room -- drunk with Paul. Then he said 'Man, I think that's the best song you have ever written. Why didn't you give it to us?' And I said, 'Well it's not a Matchbox song.' And he smacked me across the head and he was like, 'Dude, you are our worst enemy, then.' Whatever we do is a Matchbox song and whatever we don't do is us limiting ourselves."

Anyone connected with the band will say they have not let success go to their heads. Thomas, for instance, still likes to go out and hear old friends play acoustic sets in smoky bars and, since he got married (during the making of Mad Season), he wants to spend as much time as possible with his wife, who is a model. She now accompanies him on tours and the fact they can share the enjoyment of playing tourist is one of the reasons touring is more enjoyable.

He laughs when asked if the band has any special "demands" of concert promoters such as the crates of whisky, beer and wine the Rolling Stones insisted be provided backstage for their entourage.

"We are not too crazy with that. We need a tuning room so we can work on ideas. We have a quiet room, which was like a place where nobody else could go, no wives, just the five members of the band, but now it has kind of become Paul's dog's room," Thomas says, poking fun at the drummer.

"And we used to have fun. Each dressing room had to have a goldfish in a bowl and then we would sign it and give it to a fan. But after a while we felt sorry for the fish. Our only requirement is that we have to have everything that we need to make strawberry daiquiris. We have moved out of the whisky and into the girlie drinks."

After reaching the Recording Industry Association of America's prestigious Diamond Award, which marks U.S. sales of more than 10 million units, the band, then mostly in their early 20s, took six months off to recoup. But rather than sink into oblivion -- which is always a fear -- circumstances provided security in a most unusual way.

Thomas wrote a song for legendary rock guitarist Carlos Santana called Smooth that not only catapulted Santana back to the top but gave further credence to Thomas's songwriting abilities. So when Santana dominated the 42nd annual Grammy Awards in 2000 -- winning eight -- Thomas himself collected three, for Song of the Year, Record of the Year and the Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.

Sometimes this kind of individual success can cause friction within a band but Matchbox Twenty dealt with it: They told themselves the public knew them as a 12-song band but now Matchbox Twenty must be known as a 25-song band; hence the second album.

Matchbox Twenty. An unusual name. So, Thomas is asked, where did the name come from?

"Paul made it up out of nowhere. He said once he saw a jersey with the number 20 on it and a bunch of patches, and one of them said Matchbox. That was it."