Q & A

By Neala Johnson, Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia)

Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas tells NEALA JOHNSON about his vices, writing music and the secret of success

Now that most of Matchbox Twenty are clean-living, married men, what are your vices on tour?

I still sometimes drink a little more than I want to, but not sport drinking like I used to, just the normal kind of over-drinking. And I still smoke way too much.

People say Matchbox Twenty's popularity is waning, because sales for your new album, More Than You Think You Are, aren't matching up to your first album.

Well yeah, that first one was such a f. . .ing anomaly, I can't imagine how anybody could do that more than once.

But then you announce an Australian tour and it sells out in a flash, proving the nay-sayers wrong.

Yeah, to hell with them (laughs). I mean, we're a live band, and we've tried our best to build a live following, and hopefully that will always be there and it won't have to be based on hits and album sales; people will just come and see our live show.

Since the new album was released, you've been less than complimentary about your previous album, Mad Season. Why do bands claim an album is the greatest thing ever, then disown it as soon as a new album arrives?

If you're in a record-making band, I think your goal should be that every time you make a record, that's the best record you've ever made; it's better than your last, it's a growth from your last one. And we were the same way with the second one from the first one -- no matter how much the first one had sold. We're always gonna be works in progress, just trying to do something that makes us happy. Like this record makes us really, really happy, but hopefully the next record'll be like: this is so much better.

Have you figured out the secret of how a band, like U2, can maintain success for so long?

U2 is a great example, because they've never stopped writing great songs. They've always played around with their sound, the way they come across in arrangement -- sometimes they're a brand new pop-sounding band, sometimes they 're a blues band -- but it's always been based on songs. And I think that's the secret for anyone, to keep writing great songs. Anybody I've loved that did well in the past, and doesn't seem to be doing well any more, any time you check out their new records, they just don't have the songs they used to have.

As someone who writes songs for other artists, do you worry your sound will become predictable? Because you can spot a Gregg Alexander song in an instant, no matter who's singing it.

I'm trying really hard to spread across a bunch of different genres, and not really try to figure out what my sound is. Because I don't want to feel like, OK, this is my commodity, and I'm gonna bring this to the table. I always feel like I'm learning something when I sit down to write, and if I never look at writing as a job, and I never take any money gigs . . . it just always seems like, any time I write, it's only when I feel like writing, so something natural comes out. And if it's not planned, then I guess I can't f. . . up my plan.

Do you worry when you hand your songs over to someone else to record?

Yeah, that's been the weirdest thing for me. There's a song I wrote on the new Carlos (Santana) record, that Musiq Soulchild sang, and 90 per cent of it is exactly dead on, I love the way it sounds. But some of the stuff, just the inflections, when Musiq sing it, I'm sure they're great, but I've been living with it for so long, that when I hear it back, I'm just like, "Oh wow, that's not what I was thinking at all". You've just gotta suck it up, whenever you're writing for someone else, that's the whole idea of being a writer. But the beautiful freedom of it is, you don't have to follow it all the way down to the ground. You write the song, you give it to them, and their producers worry about it, and their record labels worry about where they're gonna put it, and they go play it every night, and you don't have that heartache. But then the bad part is you just never know how it's gonna come out. But then, I gave Willie Nelson three of my songs, and they all came out great.

Did your producer Matt Serletic's new job as boss of rival record company Virgin cause any problems while making this album?

No. We worried about it because he didn't get much sleep. He would run Virgin all day, then come to the studio all night, then wake up and run Virgin all day. As a friend, we were just like, "Man, how you doin'?" But Matt's part of our family, and he's one of my best friends, so I knew he could handle it.

Has he signed any mini Matchbox Twenties to Virgin yet?

No, not yet. But what we do just isn't a hip commodity these days. We're an abnormal band for being able to still be successful and do what we're doing. So it's not all the labels out right now trying to suck up the Matchbox Twenty sound. They're out trying to find the next Good Charlotte right now.

Does the Pop Idol thing piss you off? Here you are working your ass off, and these people have it handed to them?

I don't think so, because I wouldn't want that for me. You know, it's taken me this long for people to see that I'm a songwriter. And the only way I could have done that was by just doing what I do and making songs and having people hear them.

Every second Aussie has a story about their encounter with Matchbox on your early tours, before Yourself or Someone Like You blew up. What are your memories of those tours?

We used to spend a lot of time drinking through Australia. I remember a lot of VB, and a lot of really nice people willing to drink with us. There was a lot of sport drinking going on at that time. In fact, I think I perfected my sport-drinking technique in Australia. I went from the minor leagues into the major league (laughs). I blame it all on you.

More Than You Think You Are (Warner) out now. Matchbox Twenty, Rod Laver Arena, July 25-26, $77.70, Ticketek.