November 15, 2002 -- CALL him funny, call him "a little goofy" - just don't call Rob Thomas a pop star."You can make a pop star - they've proven that," the 30-year-old lead singer of Matchbox Twenty told The Post while on tour in Germany, "but they can't make a songwriter.

"It's something you can or can't do. I want to be remembered as a songwriter. That carries weight."

Maybe that's why, when you ask about his most important moments in music, Thomas doesn't crow about the three Grammys he and bandmates MB20 have snagged, along with a handful of Billboard awards, or promote the band's new album, "More Than You Think You Are," which hits stores on Tuesday.

Instead, he talks about writing songs for icons like Mick Jagger and Carlos Santana, with whom he's become "really tight."

Yet, despite their friendship - and the super success of their collaboration on "Smooth" for Santana's "Supernatural" - Thomas decided not to perform on Carlos' new disc, "Shaman."

"When 'Smooth' came out, it was such an honest thing," he explains. "Nobody expected that record to become what it did, and I just wanted to work with Carlos.

"I wanted to do something for 'Shaman,' but it would have been perceived that we were trying to take another swing at making 'Smooth' again."

Instead, Thomas happily stayed behind the scenes as a writer. "Getting to hear Seal sing one of my songs was a real bonus," he says.

Thomas prefers to stay out of the spotlight offstage, too. The singer lives outside the city in Westchester with his model-wife, Marisol. When he's on the road, his house is what he misses most.

"I like to slouch on the couch, watch some TV and be comfortable at home," he says.

Post: This record sounds familiar, but it's also different from your past work.

Thomas: The whole vibe of this one was to make the kind of record we grew up with. I wanted guitars that sound like guitars, drums that sound like drums. Our band is a really good band, and we're proud of that. We played our asses off, and that's easier to do when you keep the music on the band.

Post: What does that mean?

Thomas: Look, if you spend all this time working with different amps, making the guitar right, making sure the piano is in a good room, you don't want to process the s - - - out of it to the point that it didn't matter that you used a real instrument in the first place.

Post: Now that you have a few albums under your belt, is this back-to-basics attitude easier to accomplish?

Thomas: We're a lot more sure of ourselves. We're better at playing our instruments. What you hear on this record is the band, not the production.

Post: "Disease" is one of the best tracks on the new album, but it nearly didn't make it. What's the back story?

Thomas: I wrote 95 percent of "Disease" the night before I was going to write with Mick Jagger. I didn't know what a Mick solo song should sound like, so I just wrote a song that I thought would be great to hear him sing.

I brought it to him and he wrote some of the second verse. But I also said to myself, "I wish I didn't just do that. I loved that song and it could have been a great Matchbox song."

Post: So how did it end up on your record, not his?

Thomas: In the end, Mick said, "I really like your voice on 'Disease.' It doesn't really fit my album and I think you should do it." I was, like, "Thank you so much!"

Post: Do you really believe love is a disease, as you say in the song?

Thomas: It can be if it's with the wrong person. Some relationships are wrong, and you should take the adult attitude and get out, but instead you just keep putting into it and wasting time.

Post: Is that something you learned from past experience?

Thomas: Before I was married, I dated women I really needed to get away from but didn't.

Post: But now you're in love and you come home with this song. What does Marisol say?

Thomas: She loved it. My wife is my first line of defense on my songs. She said, "You've gotta sing this."

Post: She didn't ask, "Is this about me?"

Thomas: No, she knows some of the songs are about her. If I write a song about a fight we had, as an artist, I take that moment and dissect it and write about it. In real life, we're a strong couple and that fight helped us grow and we've moved past it. But as a writer, I expand on that moment.

Post: And that doesn't bother her?

Thomas: She is a very strong woman. She is able to understand and accept that I have to let other people listen in on our fights.

Post: Can you tell about me one of those songs where you did that?

Thomas: On the last record, "You Won't Be Mine" came directly from a moment like that. She is my best friend, and we talk, and she understands it was just a moment that has passed. She doesn't think she has to listen to a song to know how I feel about her.

- Dan Aquilante - NYPost.com