20/twenty vision

Their debut CD sold 13 million. What's next?

By MIKE ROSS -- Staff Writer

I don't know what the deal is about everybody hating Matchbox 20 ... sorry, matchbox twenty. (They changed their name. Sort of.)

Except for the gazillion fans who bought their records, this band is despised. Loathed. Compared to Hootie and the Blowfish. What a terrible fate.

Fans of Everclear actually started a petition to protest their precious band opening for M-20 under its bland yoke of "corporate rock." Critics have been mean. "No Fire In This Soggy Matchbox," hooted a headline for a review of the band's latest album, Mad Season. Come to think of it, that was my review. I liked the first record better - but that was before it sold 13 million copies, a figure that by critics' creed means the band sucks. Hey, I didn't know. Sorry.

However, by now I've interviewed three members of this band, which plays tonight at Skyreach Centre, and they're the greatest guys. Really. They're smart, well-spoken, up-front people you'd like to hang out with. No egos. Totally unpretentious. What was it that the Lester Bangs character in Almost Famous said, "Never make friends with the rock musicians you're criticizing?"

No danger of that, I suppose.

"We're not the first successful rock band to come along that critics hated," says drummer Paul Doucette. "I think people just need someone to paint up as the bad guy. And we're that. And that's fine. I don't really care, because I've met a lot of music critics and I don't particularly like them. So I really don't care if they don't like us. If I was in a room with them I probably wouldn't like them either."

Besides, the members of M-20 are their own worst critics. Doucette, who listens to everything from Billie Holiday to Wilco, claims he wouldn't buy a Matchbox record if he wasn't actually in the band. The success of the band's first CD, Yourself or Someone Like You, was the result of dumb luck, he says.

"We went out at the right time and we had a really good team that was pushing the record. There were so many factors that were so out of our control that we never really took responsibility for it - which is why none of this has ever gone to anyone's head in this band. We don't feel that we've done anything that's really great. Our level of success is different than selling a lot of records."

The goal, he goes on, is just making good music the musicians themselves can feel proud of. Simple as that (though easy to say when you've already sold 13 million records). The band is far beyond worrying about being hip. They're proud of not being cool, which makes them cool. Or not. It's very complicated.

"I don't need some 14-year-old kid to think I'm cool," Doucette says. "I'm past that point in my life. I'm thinking more about what I'm going to do to my house, getting married, having a family. My priorities are a lot different than trying to be cool. Also, on a band level, if you're what's hip at that moment, what do you do when it's no longer cool to be you? What happens when your little trend is over? Where do you go? Nowhere.

"A perfect example is Tom Petty. He just does what he does. He puts out great records, great songs on every record and he does it consistently. He just does his thing."

Next for matchbox twenty? A low-fi type of project, Doucette hopes, in contrast to the admitted "overproduction" on Mad Season. While major-label bands are often so paranoid about letting "mistakes" slip into their music, little flaws can sometimes give songs more character than slick, note-perfect production.

"It's the only place for us to go," Doucette says. "When you sell 13 million records on your first album, you're not going to sell more records. So why try? Just try to become a better band and become more honest. If I saw we weren't, I would leave and the other guys would say the same thing."

Of course, then they'd all end up in the same band again. Matchbox 21, anyone?