By Ed Condran, The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, Va.)
SOME SCRIBES and fans wondered about the status of Matchbox Twenty after the band went on hiatus during the fall of 2001.
Singer-songwriter Rob Thomas had been making a name for himself crafting songs for such superstars as Willie Nelson, Mick Jagger, Marc Anthony and Carlos Santana. Thomas co-wrote and handled the vocals for "Smooth," the first single on Santana's Grammy-winning album, "Supernatural."
Some thought Thomas had accomplished all he could with his pop band, which performs Sunday at the Verizon Wireless Virginia Beach Amphitheater. Was it time to go solo?
"There's not a chance of that," Thomas said in a phone interview. "I was lucky to have the opportunity to work with Carlos Santana and Mick Jagger. As a writer, I'm always free, but as a performer, I have to answer to the other guys in this band.
"Our rule is that Matchbox comes first. If we were in the studio or on the road, there is no way in the world I could have worked with Carlos. But the bottom line is that Matchbox Twenty is priority. Everybody in the band can work on their own things, but we all come back together."
Guitarist Kyle Cook worked with his side project, The New Left. Drummer Paul Doucette and guitarist Adam Gaynor wrote and recorded their own songs.
"It was liberating doing our own thing," Gaynor said. "We all needed to take a break from Matchbox Twenty. We all needed to do our own thing. But this band means so much to us. We're all in it together. All the talk that Robbie T. is on the way out is so untrue. One thing I can count on is that I have Robbie T. and he can count on us. We're a team."
That appears evident throughout much of the band's latest album, "More Than You Think You Are," released in November. The disc is the work of a collective that apparently is compelled to rock regardless of the cost.
"This album is an example of how we have grown as a band," Gaynor said. "We were going for something organic. We came up with something different."
The band's breakthrough album, 1996's "Yourself or Someone Like You," is comprised of conventional albeit catchy rock. Such vanilla tunes as "Push," "3AM" and "Real World" turned the band into Atlantic Records cash cows.
A myriad of critics lambasted the group, but the attacks were unwarranted. Matchbox Twenty embraced the mainstream and proved to be better at cranking out insubstantial but infectious tunes than most of its peers. More than 13 million copies of "Yourself or Someone Like You" have been sold to date.
"After we sold a million albums it was like, 'Wow, I'm a rock star, give me some whiskey,' " Thomas said.
Rock stars they are. Labelmate Kid Rock raps about making Matchbox Twenty money. The group, which also includes bassist Brian Yale, has the opportunity to do whatever it wants considering its commercial success.
"You can like us or not, but I think you have to give us some credit for where we are and some room to do what we want to do," Gaynor said. "Where we are now with 'More Than You Think You Are' is just another chapter of where we are as a band. We're pleased, but what even makes me happier is that I know there will be another chapter after this one."
Reach Ed Condran at AceBezerko(AT)aol.com