Matchbox twenty's not 'Unwell'

By Ramiro Burr, San Antonio Express-News (Texas)

When members of a band take time off to work on solo projects, it doesn 't mean there's trouble, says matchbox twenty drummer Paul Doucette. Actually, it can mean quite the opposite.

"I think things can get a little stale if you're working with the same people day in and day out," he said. "If you don't fill the well back up, you have nothing new to offer.

"We didn't know (guitarist) Kyle (Cook) was such a good piano player. No one knew I could play guitar and piano. You're surprising everybody. And it brought new life to the band."

Matchbox twenty, known for its catchy alt-rock, will play the SBC Center at 7 p.m. Thursday in support of its recent CD "More Than You Think You Are." Sugar Ray and American Hi-Fi open.

Doucette said Sugar Ray's hip-hop-tinged frat-rock serves as a great opener.

"You're not getting three hours of the same kind of music," he said. "By the time we go on, they've got the crowd up and dancing. It makes our job a lot easier."

After releasing their second CD, "Mad Season," in 2000, matchbox's members drifted away to experiment with side projects.

Of the group, Rob Thomas kept the highest profile, singing backing vocals on Mick Jagger's solo CD "Goddess in the Doorway" and co-writing two songs for Santana's "Shaman."

Last summer, when the members regrouped at the legendary Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, N.Y., to record "More Than You Think You Are," they wondered if the old chemistry would still be there.

"We walked into this not really sure if we were going to make a fourth record," Doucette said. "And we walked out with a newfound love for matchbox twenty that maybe we didn't have walking into it."

The group previously had recorded in Atlanta and Nashville, Tenn. Doucette said the rural setting influenced the outcome, giving it a more organic feel.

"The town of Woodstock is basically one street," he said. "There's nothing else to do except work. It's in the middle of the woods. We're living in cabins. The studio is an old barn. We just wanted a more natural feel, so we picked a more natural environment."

Locations sometimes affect the finished product's ambience, said Doucette, who wouldn't mind recording future albums in other rustic locations.

"I always like hearing stories of the (Rolling) Stones doing 'Exile (on Main Street)' in the chateau in France," he said.

Half of "More" was recorded in Woodstock and half in New York City. It recently produced the Top 20 hit "Unwell," a mid-tempo song that showcases the band's trademark eclecticism, using electric piano and banjo.

The tune is a pragmatic take on human nature.

"It's kind of like you realize that you're maybe a little messed up in the head, but that's OK, because everyone is," Doucette said.

Gone is the orchestral sweep of ballads such as "If You're Gone," from "Mad Season."

"There are a couple of extra elements, like a choir on one song, but for the most part, everything you're hearing is us," Doucette said. "Bringing in the orchestra like we did on the last record and going over the top and trying to make guitars not sound like guitars seemed stupid to us. We just wanted to get a good guitar sound, put a mike in front of it, and play the song."

The first single, "Disease," was written by Thomas and Jagger for Jagger's solo album, but he decided not to use it. He also invited Cook to play guitar for the album, but ended up not using his contribution either. Nor could matchbox twenty pull Jagger away from touring to help out with backing vocals.

However, matchbox twenty got the last laugh, as the danceable, up-tempo "Disease" made No. 29 on the Hot 100, outperforming any song from Jagger's album.

Since 1996, the group has scored with confessional, guitar-fueled alt-rock and pop-rock hits such as "3 a.m.," "Back 2 Good" and "Bent." The debut CD, "Yourself or Someone Like You," sold more than 11 million copies, while "Mad Season" notched 4 million. Considering that the band already can pay the bills, commercial prospects aren't important.

But Doucette said the group is still hungry.

"We would love to do a soundtrack," he said. "We like well-made movies. We 're not really interested in doing the summer blockbuster. We'd much rather put a song on a movie we really like, but the opportunity hasn't arisen yet."

matchbox twenty

Also featuring: Sugar Ray, American Hi-Fi

Where: SBC Center, East Houston Street at SBC Center Parkway

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: $35-$48.50 at Ticketmaster outlets