All is well with Matchbox Twenty...Frontman Thomas, bandmates have another hit on their hands

Much thanks to Alicia for typing this up and letting us use it! :)

By Randy Cordova, The Arizona Republic

Unwell, Matchbox Twenty's gently beautiful song of melancholy, is one of the most haunting tunes on the radio now.

But the popular song haunts frontman Rob Thomas for another reason.

"You know what I hate?" he says, frank and friendly. "There's this horn section that (longtime producer) Matt Serletic put on there, and I friggin' hate it. I told him, too."

So why the horns? After all, to much of the public, the 31-year-old Thomas is Matchbox Twenty. He is the obvious star, the charismatic focal point and the only one whose name is familiar. You figure he always would get his way.

"Sometimes you lose an argument," he says. "We've become like a six-piece band, and sometimes when you do that, you lose an argument."

Thomas admits it's disappointing not always winning when it comes to musical matters with Serletic, bassist Brian Yale, drummer Paul Doucette, and guitarists Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor.

"It's frustrating, but in a good way," he says. "We're a band and we fight. I think I should win because I've been around so long, but Paul thinks he should win and Brian thinks he should win. It's so democratic within our band.

"Paul brought up something once. When you're in a band, and truly act as a band, you're never going to make the exact record you wanted to make. All you're going to come up with is the best representation of an argument."

But when it comes to Matchbox Twenty, what arguments they must be. Anchored by Thomas' riveting vocal style, the group, which plays at America West Arena on Wednesday, produces some of the most compelling sounds in modern pop. The band exploded in 1996 with Yourself or Someone Like You, a brooding, high-energy debut that sold more than 12 million copies on the strength of such angst-filled gems as Push and Real World.

In 2000, the group released its sophomore effort, the lushly orchestrated mad season. That disc produced more radio smashes, including the swirling Bent and the Bacharach-like If You're Gone. But sales stopped short of 5 million copies. Amazing figures for most bands, but some used the drop to take a poke at the group.

"In this day and age of pop music, it's not like it was with U2 and the Police and the Grateful Dead," Thomas says. "There used to be the ability to have a few records out so people could get to know what you're about before you found that success across the board. If we wouldn't have had that success on the first record, we would have been gone."

The group is on tour behind disc No. 3, More Than You Think You Are. It's a leaner, more raw-sounding disc that Mad Season, an intentional move.

"That one was a little fussy," says Thomas. "When we went to make Mad Season, we used the word 'overproduced.' We wanted big '80s-sounding drums, no space, total keyboards everywhere.

"With this record, it's a little more like we sound live. We thought of the records we listened to, like Tom Petty. There's a warmth from the drums and the guitars that I had never heard anywhere on our records. That was the missing ingredient we wanted."

Something else Thomas has been wanting: He's talking about doing a solo album.

"My whole musical experience has been about making music through basically the same conduit of people-that's one of the reasons I have to go make (an album without his usual crowd)."

But it wouldn't spell the end of Matchbox Twenty, which seems pretty durable. The group has survived Thomas' high profile, which includes the smash single Smooth that he wrote and performed with Carlos Santana.

"That kind of writing is just a joy, I don't ever look at it like Matchbox Twenty is my job and songwriting is where I pick up my scratch. I just get to do what I love."

Thomas has worked with a range of people, including Willie Nelson, Mick Jagger, Enrique Iglesias and Marc Anthony. His wife, model Marisol Maldonado, inspired Smooth; some fans have speculated her influence is behind his more Latin-flavored collaborations.

"It's funny. I've always been a fan of Latin music. It's not like my wife is at home going, 'You must work with Spanish people!'"

He laughs.

"Enrique and Marc Anthony-it's like I can't imagine they would have thought to work with me by listening to Matchbox Twenty records. From Smooth, it's like I got a group of people who came to work with me who never would have thought of me before."

He's still laughing.

"But they really want me because I rock. I am the albino Latino."