Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas is a team player

Sure, he's the multiplatinum band's singer and songwriter, the focal point of its reassuringly mainstream pop-rock sound on such popular songs as "Push," "3am" and the recent Top Five ballad "If You're Gone." Plus he's a Grammy winner for his 1999 collaboration with Carlos Santana on the hit "Smooth." But he's not about to hog all the glory.

"We've turned down Rolling Stone twice now," he says in the course of a recent phone interview, "because they keep wanting to put me on the cover and we want to do it as a band."

The cult of the lead singer is hard to get around, but Thomas just doesn't think it should apply to Matchbox Twenty. "I understand it, if you're called something like the Dave Matthews Band," he says. "Except that the Dave Matthews Band was on the cover -- the whole band!"

Rather than a star and a supporting cast, Matchbox Twenty, in Thomas' description, is more like "a zone defense." Drummer Paul Doucette lives in Los Angeles and handles day-to-day communications with the record label. Rhythm guitarist Adam Gaynor keeps track of the band's Web site. "Everybody seems to have their zone that they're covering."

Interviews fall within Thomas' zone.

Q: Everclear makes a pretty potent opening act. How's that been going?

A: A great opening act, man. When you've got somebody who really kicks butt playing before you, no matter what you're feeling like, it makes you have to be on your game. We're not as high-energy a band as Everclear is. We have a lot of mellow stuff going on. So we have to really sell it, or else it's just not coming across.

Q: You've said about your rapid success that you've "done the right things with it." Can you elaborate on what you meant by that?

A: We made a record, it was played on the radio a lot, we toured, our video got played, and that was as far as we went. That's pretty much all we've done with it, that was what we looked at as our job. It didn't all of a sudden turn me into an actor. It didn't mean I needed to be hosting "The List" or "House of Style" or whatever else we could do because it'd sell us more records or put us in with this or that market.

Q: Have you faced the Hootie syndrome, where you have a multiplatinum album but people treat you like a failure because you're not selling the incredible numbers you did with "Yourself or Someone Like You"?

A: We expected more of that. We've been getting a lot of comments about how the record's doing great. I think people just thought the record was really going to tank.

Q: It is a fairly different record, much more ambitious.

A: We didn't realize that until we were done and played it for our friends. They said "It's nice that you took a chance and did something different." We were like, "Oh, man. We did?" Then we got scared.

With the first record, a lot of it was a songwriter/lead singer, with a band backing him up as safely and comfortably as possible. We were all serving the vision, and we didn't know what the vision was yet. Then we went on the road for 3 1/2 years and became a family. We fought and we went from the van to the bus to two buses, watched everything around us go crazy. And that can really bring you together. The reason it's a different sound on this record, it really is everybody putting in their ideas. If you listen to a song like "Crutch" and all the throwaway guitar licks that are going on, that's because Kyle's a frustrated jazzhead in a pop band and needs to let off some steam once in a while.

Q: Any work yet toward the next record?

A: I write constantly. I've had some songs that have been laying around forever, and I didn't know what I was going to do with them. Then a few weeks ago, Willie Nelson put some on his next record.

Q: Then, of course, there'll be the Rob Thomas solo album, so you can get on the cover of Rolling Stone.

A: I don't know about that, man. I'm not going to let them out that easy. I'm gonna stay in this damn band until they do it.

Thanks to ZenLaup20 for the article!