Songwriter sparks winners

By Eric R. Danton, The Sun-Sentinel

MIt doesn't matter whether you listen to pop, rock or country -- Rob Thomas' songs are inescapable.

There's the tune he co-wrote with Mick Jagger, Visions of Paradise, for Jagger's 2001 solo album, Goddess in the Doorway. There's Maria (Shut Up and Kiss Me), which Thomas wrote for Willie Nelson's 2002 album The Great Divide. Let's not forget Smooth, Thomas' Grammy-winning contribution to Santana's Supernatural album in 1999. Oh, and he fronts matchbox twenty, a band that has sold more than 15 million records since 1996.

He has a way with pop hooks that stick in your head -- just listen to Unwell from More Than You Think You Are, matchbox twenty's latest. You'll find yourself singing the chorus hours later.

And Thomas shows no signs of slowing down.

"The secret -- if there's a secret -- is to just write consistently. You don't write for any certain project," Thomas says from Pittsburgh on part of a tour that is scheduled to come to Sunrise's Office Depot Center Tuesday. "I try not to do anything outside of matchbox, unless I'm not working with matchbox."

Working with matchbox twenty was more of a collaborative effort for the band's third album, last year's More Than You Think You Are. Thomas wrote the bulk of the songs on the band's 1996 debut, Yourself or Someone Like You, and the follow-up, 2000's Mad Season. He shares credits on five of the 13 songs on More Than You Think You Are.

"That was great. Everybody in the band, I think, has finally come up to the point where the songs are just that good," he says. "We've always been like, take the best 12 or 13 songs no matter who did 'em and put 'em on the record."

The group's rise to success has been a bit unusual in a time when record companies -- and, thereby, bands -- are in it for a quick hit. The group's sales built steadily, but none of the three albums has dominated the charts. There are distinct advantages to a career's developing at a reasonable pace, Thomas says.

"It's nice that you never have this great, super-quick height to go to to fall from," he says. "We had sold like 6 million records, and MTV did a piece on how we sold all these records, and no one knew what we looked like, who we are. We figured that we won because we had famous songs. I don't think we would have wanted to do it any other way."

Thanks to his work with Santana -- appearing in the video to the ubiquitous Smooth, for example -- Thomas is now more recognizable, but the celebrity lifestyle isn't something that interests him much.

"I don't feel like a celebrity most of the time because I spend most of my time at home. It's hard to feel like a celebrity when you're taking out the trash," he says.

Also, as a songwriter, Thomas says he has other things to think about.

"If you're a songwriter, part of being a songwriter is you're so self-analyzed and so self-actualized because that's what you do all the time, just thinking about your feelings. It's like a bad psychotherapy movie or something," he says. "But when you're doing that, you're always aware of how many great musicians there are out there, how fleeting the idea of fame is ... So you take it all with a grain of salt and you try to keep the light at the end of your tunnel by being a better songwriter, a better musician. You kind of always just feel as good as the song you just wrote."

Sometimes that song provides the equivalent of musical upward mobility -- Carlos Santana doesn't record songs by just anyone.

"Carlos has become a really, really close friend, you know, so that's a whole different experience in itself," Thomas says. "And Willie's become friends, but on top of Willie becoming friends, he's been my idol since I was 10. And Mick Jagger is Mick Jagger."