Matchbox Twenty - Orlando natives return to roots with third album

Herald Staff Writer

Kyle Cook is in pain.

While shooting hoops with members of Sugar Ray, the guitarist for Matchbox Twenty jammed his picking finger. As he talks via telephone from Phoenix, he's soaking it in ice water to get the swelling down in time for the next show.

"Everybody's been giving me the 'tsk-tsk' thing," Cook says. "You know, 'Told ya so. We're going to have to cancel the show because of your stupid ball.' It's all in the look, too, they don't even have to say it."

It's been a trying time for Matchbox Twenty. A European tour in support of its third album, "More Than You Think You Are," was canceled when war broke out with Iraq. (It's since been rescheduled for September.) Just before the opening show of the U.S. leg, drummer Paul Doucette broke one of his fingers.

"There's been a lot of bad luck on this tour," Cook said. "But we surpass, and we rise like a phoenix from the ashes."

Critics have been predicting the demise of the Orlando-based band since its 1997 debut, "Yourself or Someone Like You," sold an astonishing 13 million copies. Too poppy for metal and too hard for teen pop, they were considered one-hit wonders that would disappear with their sophomore effort like the Spin Doctors and Hootie and the Blowfish.

Obviously, that didn't happen. While the band's second album, "Mad Season by Matchbox Twenty," didn't sell as well as its predecessor, it still went multi-platinum and spawned several Top 10 singles, including the No. 1 hit "Bent." Meanwhile, lead vocalist Rob Thomas' duet with Carlos Santana, "Smooth," revitalized Santana's career and garnered several Grammys.

For "More Than You Think You Are," the band wanted to get away from the lush orchestration that permeated "Mad Season" and proved difficult to perform live, a fact made all the more apparent when tour opener Everclear blew the band away night after night.

"Sometimes, when you record a record, you don't realize what you're up against until you actually have to perform it," Cook said. "In hindsight, some of those songs on 'Mad Season' were a bit too much. So with this record, it was like, 'All right, the kitchen sink isn't always needed.' It took some criticism for us to realize we really wanted to get back to something that sounded like something we could achieve with five people."

Taking a fresh approach in the studio also meant shaking up the song-writing process. Cook and Doucette share credit with Thomas on two tracks, "Feel" and "Soul," and Doucette has one song all his own, "Could I Be You." According to Cook, the band has always wanted to write songs together, but was never able to make it work before.

"It's hard to make that work, because you're taking two independently manufactured ideas and trying to make one, and a lot of times, it just sounds like that," he said. "It would be like one person writing a sentence and someone else writing a completely different sentence and trying to make a coherent phrase out of it.

"It just so happened that with 'Soul,' I had a little motif that I'd been playing for a long time, and Rob and Paul had this chorus. Rob already had this thing they wanted to tag with the word 'soul,' so they worked on it and worked on it, and it happened to work. We just got lucky . . . but it adds another chapter to the band, because it gave us a lot of confidence. We realized, 'Wow, it can be done.' "

Ironically, the collaborative process was sparked by each members' solo projects during a seven-month break between the "Mad Season" tour and recording sessions for "More." Thomas worked with a slew of A-list musicians, including Willie Nelson, Mick Jagger and Marc Anthony. Doucette and guitarist Adam Gaynor wrote and recorded songs of their own.

Cook formed a jazz-rock combo, the New Left, which paired him with legendary producer/engineer Eddie Kramer (Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, KISS, Led Zeppelin). Jagger caught a performance and invited Cook to play guitar on his "Goddess in the Doorway" album.

"I get a call from management saying, 'Mick's going to send you a car, he'd like you to come down and play on the record,' " he said. "What do you say? 'I've got better things to do?' It was a great experience. I expected him to not even be there, but he was very involved, very hands-on.

"If guess it could be viewed as a bad thing when you step away from something people love and get involved with other projects, but you learn a lot from other musicians by doing that, and it's valuable to take back to the home base of Matchbox."

The members of Matchbox Twenty will go their separate ways again when the European tour ends this fall. Cook is looking forward to returning to Orlando and spending time with his wife and two daughters, Makenzie, 4, and Ava, 1. He's written a song for Makenzie for an upcoming various artists compilation, and is working on new material for the New Left.

A Florida native at heart (even though he was raised in Indiana), Cook tries to promote the south central music scene during Matchbox's down time. When the New Left played the House of Blues in Orlando last year, he asked a Bradenton band, the Chase Theory, to open.

"I've got to give some props to those guys, man," Cook said. "Anybody who's around should check them out when they play a show. I'm surprised they don't have a record deal yet."

But first, he has to finish the tour with Matchbox Twenty. And that means letting his finger heal.

"My wife just came over and took a big sip from my glass of ice," he said. "I'm like, 'Honey, I've been dousing my finger in that thing.' "

If you go

Who: Matchbox Twenty with Sugar Ray and American

Hi Fi

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: St. Pete Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa

Tickets: $35 and $45

Information: (813) 301-2500 or www.stpetetimes

"Sometimes, when you record a record, you don't realize what you're up against until you actually have to perform it. In hindsight, some of those songs on 'Mad Season' were a bit too much."