Matchbox men take control

There's a different focus in Matchbox Twenty these days, says NUI TE KOHA.

SUNSET, as it sinks slowly over Manhattan, seems like the perfect time to sing. However, on this particular evening, as Rob Thomas lays backing vocals over a new track, The Difference, he can't quite nail it. "Allergies," he explains.

"Sometimes, when I first come in, I get clogged up and it doesn't sound as clean as it could.

"I'll just wait a little bit, wait for the sun to set and it'll loosen up. I'm starting to do my best work at night," he smiles.

There is a happy, peaceful calm in Matchbox Twenty these days. Its new album, More Than You Think You Are, finds the band playing as a cohesive unit mindful of identity and direction.

"We walked into this record as a band, and we played everything as a band," says drummer Paul Doucette. "For the first time - and this says something about the way we've done everything to this point - I can hear everybody's influence."

More Than You Think You Are is born from personal and professional learning curves inside and outside Matchbox Twenty.

"I think being content personally has a lot to do with why we are so happy with this record," says Thomas. "Our focus has changed. We are proud of what we do and who we are as opposed to drinking ourselves crazy and trying to hook up."

Marriage may have a lot to do with the contentedness. Thomas married model Marisol Maldonado two years ago, while Doucette married Moon Beam Unit Zappa, his live-in girlfriend since 1999, and daughter of the late Frank Zappa, in June. Her impression on Doucette came in teaching the drummer self-belief in his songs and musicianship.

"She cracks the whip on me. My wife is a hard ass," Doucette chuckles. "Everyone in the band knows it: she's very, very, very opinionated."

Thomas, smiling, says: "We all have opinionated wives. I married my wife because I think she's great. I trust her opinion, I value her opinion and I want her opinion."

Thomas has returned to MB20 as a celebrated songwriter. A recent US story had him reportedly earning $US20 million ($A36 million) last year from tunes alone - and without a new MB20 album in the marketplace. "It is always easy to come back to Matchbox Twenty," says Thomas. "The guys are not mystified by me or my songwriting. We've been doing this for a long time.

"I'm only now starting to realise my style, and I have wanted to diversify that by writing for Carlos (Santana), Mick (Jagger), Marc (Antony), Willie (Nelson) and Matchbox Twenty.

"I want that to be my strength. To make my writing as diverse as my musical taste."

Matchbox Twenty's debut album, Yourself Or Someone Like You - a 12 million-seller with the hits Push, 3AM and Real World - afforded the band total control of their careers. With that, MB20 were able to take a kitchen sink approach to the follow-up, Mad Season, which sold six million, then reconvene as a band hellbent on picking the best 12 songs in the pantry.

"It was fun, when we were 20, to be carefree," says Thomas. "Back then, it felt like somebody had handed us the world. But now we are adults, and we have lives, and we want to take control."

o More Than You Think You Are is out now through Warner.