Thinking outside the Box

Weekender Associate Editor

Kyle Cook, one of two guitarists for mega group Matchbox Twenty, sweetly and seductively croons the chorus of “Bright Lights,” off of their third effort “More Than You Think You Are,” through the telephone.

Discussing the song's complicated journey, from inception to completion, it’s evident that “Bright Lights” is an ample sampling representing the organic, stripped-down sound that permeates “More Than You Think You Are.”

”If you listen to the song, you can hear how it unfolds from an intimate setting with piano and vocals to this almost Derek & the Dominos type ending; it’s very 70’s rock,” said Cook. “The song had always been there, but the arrangement was kind of tricky. It took almost a day and a half of going back and forth with switching chords, inverting melodies and trying to find just the right fit.”

When told that the group’s efforts were not in vain, Cook swiftly and politely offers thanks, sounding more like a singer/songwriter yet to be discovered, rather than one fifth of a band with 21 million records sold worldwide and three Grammy nods under their belt.

”Thank you, it’s going to be our next single,” Cook proudly stated.

”Bright Lights” will follow perhaps the most aggressive Matchbox singles, “Disease” and “Unwell,” to rock the airwaves. Partially penned by Mick Jagger, “Disease” features a distinct 70’s rock feel tinged with the poppy groove of a disco beat, while the release of “Unwell” proved that Matchbox Twenty can produce mainstream rock and roll that delivers, devoid of the fluff commonly found dominating the mainstream.

The release of “More Than You Think You Are,” following 1996’s Lava/Atlantic debut “Yourself and Someone Like You” and 2000Ős “Mad Season,” clearly cemented Matchbox into the realm of artists who, well, have nothing more to prove.

”There’s always that looming oh-my-God-are-we-going-to-have-another-single thought. In the back of your mind you feel if you don’t, somehow you’ve failed, which I don’t necessarily believe,” said Cook. “That’s the only pressure, which we really try to push out of our mind to make the kind of record that, creatively, we felt an artist of our caliber should. You should always be pushing forward; you shouldn’t just be out to create massive hit songs or try to replicate singles that have proven successful. I think we’re good about that. You have to take some risks, that’s what art is all about. Sometimes risks equal experimentation, sometimes experimentation goes wrong. You have to be willing to accept that.”

With the release of “More Than You Think You Are,” Matchbox ditched the sonic textures and layers that characterized “Mad Season,” opting instead to add a bit more of their live, on-stage muscle behind their studio efforts. And for Matchbox Twenty, it’s been an experimentation that has proven successful.

”We wanted to eliminate a little bit of this kind of sheen that was there on “Mad Season,” said Cook. “It feels a little more like a record made in the 70s, because there wasn’t nearly as much studio/computer trickery going on.”

And all five members, Rob Thomas, Kyle Cook, Adam Gaynor, Brian Yale and Paul Doucette, performed and recorded together in one room, resulting in the live jam feel that marks the recent release. Primarily recorded at the Bearsville Studios, in Woodstock, NY, Cook explained how the pre-production and the isolation of members to get just the right take that existed on the previous records, were not necessary for “More Than You Think You Are.”

Even long time producer Matt Serlectic (Collective Soul, Aerosmith), took more of a hands-off approach, allowing the band to find its voice and simply do what comes naturally.

”The studio (at Bearsville) has this really gigantic room. It is more like a barn, really,” said Cook. “It’s a very woodsy kind of feeling. The whole band was all in one room and most of the basic tracks that we cut for the record were all of the band together. There’s a little bit more emotion, a little bit more of that live energy captured in this record.”

This is also the group’s most collaborative effort to date with both Doucette and Cook garnering writing credits alongside Thomas. “Could I Be You,” written solely by Doucette, was originally intended as part of the drummer’s extracurricular solo project, but with encouragement from Thomas, it found a new home on “More Than You Think You Are.” “Feel” and “Soul,” joint Thomas/Doucette/Cook offerings, were derived from infectious guitar licks that Cook just couldn’t shake during rehearsals and sound checks.

”There’s always been the want to collaborate on some things,” said Cook. “You really can’t force it, though. It just happens when it happens. This (“Feel” and “Soul”) was not a preconceived thing; it was one of the beautiful things that happens when you get five minds in a room. Sometimes it's bad, and sometimes it’s good.”

Currently on tour (select dates only) with the reggae and rap-tinged party band Sugar Ray, whose fifth release is due out this summer, members of Matchbox Twenty plan on pursuing side work before collectively returning to the studio.

A recent string of media accounts report that Thomas has penned a tune with Enrique Iglesias, which may make it on to his upcoming release, and both Doucette and Cook have vested interest in side projects.

While Doucette is working on his solo debut, Cook and his sideline band, New Left, plan to hit the studio in the summer of 2004, after wrapping up Matchbox’s extensive “More Than You Think You Are” tour.

Aiming for a Christmas 2004 release, Cook describes the sound of New Left to be an experimental rock that is heavily centered on the crafting of a good song. “It’s still very much about songs,” said Cook. “It’s about sticking to a great song and melody, and having a melody that's very singable; something you can take with you. I don’t know what to equate it toŃa British sound, I guess. It’s kind of Coldplay-ish with elements of Radiohead.”

Cook, however, made one point certain. Side projects or not, Matchbox Twenty is going strong, and there are no plans on slowing down any time soon. From their more pop-influenced early days to their recent rock and roll vibe, Matchbox Twenty has successfully, and commercially, bridged classic rock and pop, all with a singer/songwriter sensibility.

And that doesn’t happen everyday.