Strike Up the Band LP

Their debut album sold 10 million copies. No, it's not Bon Jovi - it's their support band.

The best measure of the phenomenon that is Matchbox Twenty is that on what will be only their second Scottish show and fifth in the UK, they are playing at Hampden to an audience of close on 40,000, supporting Bon Jovi.

There are plenty of supporting statistics. Their debut album, Yourself or Someone Like You, released in 1996, received a diamond award from the Record Industry Association of America for selling in excess of 10 million copies. Lead singer Rob Thomas assumed heart-throb status in America while also receiving much of the credit for reviving the career of Carlos Santana, with the duet Smooth, for which he received three Grammy awards. Just less than a year ago, the band reached another zenith when their single Bent became their first American No 1. Throughout the period they had toured the US doggedly: they have completed three lengthy tours in support of their sophomore album, mad season by matchbox twenty, and are due to embark on another through the summer months. And, tellingly, Americans are every bit as likely to see Matchbox Twenty at the United

Spirit Arena in Lubbock as they are at Madison Square Gardens. The combination of unrelenting work coupled the type of tunes that inspire repeated use of adjectives such as "powerful'', "melodic", and "heartfelt" are a potent combination for American chart success. Their fans' websites proclaim that theirs is "real" music in much the same way that British phenomena like Travis and Ocean Colour Scene defend their sounds and success from the charges of musical conservatism.

For all Matchbox Twenty's pleasant populism, drummer Paul Doucette has some surprising takes on the band's success. He clearly feels at once inhibited by the regime that success has brought about, yet fiercely loyal to his friends in the band and proud of their achievements. He likes Yo La Tengo, Michael Franti, and Phoenix. He is married to Moonunit Zappa. And, for a man who has spent three-and-a-half of the past five years on the road, he hates touring.

"Rob loves touring," he says, "but I guess with any band that is on tour a lot some people love it, others don't. I like putting the show together. I get really involved at the start of each tour in the production side of things, and then for the first few weeks I enjoy the whole process of watching it come together on stage, but, after that, when we are really tight and stick, I find it quite hard-going."

It begs the question why the band continues to tour relentlessly - particularly in America - and why they have failed to make the same kind of impact in the rest of the world, though Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the Philippines have all fallen for their charms.

Doucette has some of the answers: "At home, the situation is usually the same. Just as you are coming towards the end of one run of dates, another tour is offered. Usually, it involves weighing up the positives - making a lot of money, or playing in a lot of places that we haven't been to - against the negatives, usually our sanity, and deciding whether to do it or not. With the first record we toured for nearly three solid years - we certainly won't be doing that much this time. Probably towards the end of this year, we will try to take a break and then get back to work on some new ideas and songs."

"It is strange touring abroad," he adds, "but we have never been a band which places too much concern on whether we are playing to 1000 people or 10,000 people. In some ways, we are more worried about the Bon Jovi supports because we have never really played stadiums before, and it is a long time since we have been an opening act. On our last tour, we had Everclear opening for us, and it was the first time they had done that - so I guess we are going to copy them and play all our best songs one after the other. In other ways, there is no pressure on us, it isn't our show, and most of the people won't be there to see us."

When asked which of the two albums he looks back on with most fondness, he is either disarmingly honest or unnecessarily dismissive, yet clearly the pressure of trying to follow up an album that sold 10 million copies is something that few bands ever have to deal with.

"I don't really look back on either album with a great deal of fondness," he says. "I don't hate them, I just don't really listen to them and, when I do, I tend to end up concentrating on the flaws, rather than the good things about them. There are individual songs that I like. The Burn is always great to play, and I like Back 2 Good from the first album. It is really uncomplicated and we have been playing it for years, but I never get tired of it."

"With regards making the second album," he explains, "I actually think we handled it pretty well. We didn't really change the way we worked when we finally got down to it, and we had a really enjoyable time recording it. I think any tension and worry was more to do with us being worried about what other people - like our management and record company - were worrying about."

He adds: "We knew that, although the basis of the music was the same, there would be a lot of fans from the first record that would drop off. When you get that big, people that don't normally buy records make up a large part of the sales and often they will buy the album for one song they like. We realised this pretty quickly when we started getting bad reviews, but you also cannot build a career on trying to please 10 million people."

This does not mean that mad season by matchbox twenty has been, by any conventional definition, a sales disaster. It is a mere triple platinum in America, selling more than three million copies, and counting. Yet, Doucette still gives the impression of his mind being on the light at the end of the touring tunnel when he takes the stage at Hampden tomorrow.

"I would prefer to have a music career that constantly grows," he explains, "and to do that would need more time in the studio. There have been a lot of highlights, but Matchbox Twenty have now taken up seven years of our lives, so I guess we are looking for other outlets as well. I know Kyle wants to do his own album, and there is a possibility that Rob and I may do something together in the future, away from the band."

- John Willamson