matchbox twenty's Rob Thomas

After two top-selling albums, "we feel really good about what we're doing," says Rob Thomas (center) of matchbox twenty.
Randy Cordova
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 27, 2001 12:00:00

When Rob Thomas sings, there's a tense, anxious energy that moves full throttle through the music. But when he talks, comparing matchbox twenty of 2001 to Matchbox 20 of 1997, he's relaxed, he's calm, he's . . . well, smooth. And it has nothing to do with his band's subtle, silly name change.

"We're so much more comfortable now," he says, calling before a sound check in Huntsville, Ala. "We feel really good about what we're doing. We don't have to second guess everything we do anymore."

That's because the band has sold more than 13 million copies of its two albums. Anchored by Thomas' angst-filled vocals, matchbox's 1996 debut, Yourself or Someone Like You, was a musical machine gun, firing out one hit after another.

Rather than stumbling, last year's mad season by matchbox twenty - yep, that's the complete title - offered a fuller, more diverse sound, and the hits kept coming. The swirling Bent was absolutely mesmerizing, while If You're Gone was a pretty ballad accented with muted R&B horns.

"We take the 12 best songs we can, and we treat each song individually," Thomas says. "We never worry collectively about what kind of record we're making. If all you knew of this band was If You're Gone, you'd think we were one kind of band. Then you would hear something like Stop, and you would think it's an entirely different kind of band.

"A lot of the criticism we got (on mad season) said we couldn't pick a side of the fence to stand on. I say, that's dead-on right. That's exactly what we're doing."

It's surprising that Thomas even knows what critics carp about. At this point, matchbox twenty is pretty mediaproof. The guys are favorites on MTV and VH1, and the tour has been packing them in. People magazine even named the charismatic Thomas one of its 50 most beautiful people in the world. No wonder the guy sounds happy.

"That doesn't mean anything, especially if you knew what a geek everyone thought I was," Thomas says. "When you spend your life traveling around with the same five guys, it's hard to let that stuff go to your head. I walk in looking like (expletive) and the guys go, 'Man, you're so beautiful today.' It's just funny."

And even if the group, rounded out by bassist Brian Yale, drummer Paul Doucette and guitarists Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor, isn't everyone's cup of tea, it has avoided any major backlashes. No Hootie-style hating going on here.

"I know why that is," Thomas says, sounding enthused. "We were never hip. There has never been a time when we were on the cover of every magazine, never a time when we were touted as anything. We've never sold anything other than our music, so the public was never hit over the head with us."

Still, Thomas has been pretty hard to miss. His collaboration with Carlos Santana, Smooth, was inescapable a couple of years ago. The tune, a sultry ode to a Latin lady, was inspired by model Marisol Maldonado. Thomas wed Maldonado three years ago, another reason why his life lacks the twitchy, manic edge of his music. For much of the mad season tour, she's accompanied Thomas on the bus, a two-person Partridge Family.

"It's so much better having the people who are important to you close by," Thomas says, gushing like a man on his honeymoon. "She is such a help to me. When she is gone, it's like, 'Oh my God, what am I going to do?'

"You know what it is? Being in a band is enough to make you retarded, because people always do things for you. I'm in a band and I'm married: It's like I have no mental capacity to do anything by myself. When she's gone, I sit alone in my hotel room and say, 'I want to go to the restaurant now.' "

Marriage always changes a man; Thomas, 29, is sure it's for the better in his case. During matchbox's initial run in the spotlight, he earned up a reputation as a player who partied hard.

"Man, I took that car and just ran it into the lake," he says. "It wasn't good for me at all, and I wasn't happy. I can't imagine doing that kind of crap again. I guess you're always glad you did it, but I'm too old for that stuff and all the (expletive) that comes with it. To me, the point of being single is to wait around and find the right person to spend the rest of your life with. Man, I did that."

He sounds so happy, so content, so genuinely friendly and gregarious - where's the guy who buzzed about pushing his woman around? The angry misfit who wanted the real world to stop hassling him? Is there anything that gets Thomas down these days?

"Well, you get tired of singing a lot of songs," he says. "I could probably go my whole life without singing Real World again."

But he pauses and continues.

"But some nights I'm having a really great time with it, and the crowd is into it. And sometimes I'm in a melancholy-bastard mood, and I'll have to rethink some of the lyrics, but even then it usually works. Each night, there's usually something to hold on to, so it works."

No doubt about it: He's living the good life, offstage and on.

"It's great," he confirms. "Onstage, we don't have to think about it anymore. When everything's on and all cylinders are running, we're a great (expletive) band. Hell, even on a bad night, we're a pretty good band."

The Arizona Republic