Rob Thomas Pens A New Rock Role


Some songwriters fall into periods when they can't write at home or on the road or just about anywhere. That's not a problem for Rob Thomas of matchbox twenty. He's been a prolific songwriter in recent years, writing for matchbox but also for Carlos Santana, Willie Nelson, Pink, Mick Jagger, and Marc Anthony.

"I write all the time," he says. "On the road it's a little bit harder because everybody floats around the bus, but when you get back to the hotel room you get a chance to write. The thing is, you don't want to repeat yourself. There are certain melodies and certain crutches that you fall into, like writing a big chorus and thinking, 'That's just too obvious.' But you have to keep going.

"And I'm listening to other songwriters all the time. I like Coldplay and David Gray, and it's great to see the success they are getting," says Thomas, whose own band headlines the FleetCenter this Sunday. "And I like Wilco and the Jayhawks and I think the new Tom Petty record is fantastic. No matter what the genre, I listen to it. And the idea of separating myself from just being a 'pop singer' is important to me. I like when people say, 'Oh, he's a songwriter, too.' It carries more weight. You also never know how long you can be a pop singer."

The matchbox tour follows its latest album, "More Than You Think You Are." It has a punched-up, more live-oriented sound than previous matchbox discs, and was recorded at the legendary Bearsville Studios in upstate New York. "It's where Jeff Buckley made 'Grace' and where the Psychedelic Furs, R.E.M., and Patti Smith have also recorded," says Thomas. "We wanted the record to be more like what we sound live, and Bearsville has that kind of sound in it.

"We also stayed away from synth sounds and used old vintage organs and Mellotrons, which helped us sound more like Tom Petty, as some people have pointed out," says Thomas. "And that's not a bad role model to follow."

While matchbox twenty will always be Thomas's home base, he expects to make a solo album after this tour. Other band members are also looking at solo projects. Guitarist Kyle Cook has a side band called the New Left (famed Jimi Hendrix producer Eddie Kramer has been working with them), while drummer Paul Doucette is also cooking up some new music. "I'm proud that everybody can do some music on their own," says Thomas.

The matchbox twenty show was originally slated for Monday but was moved up to Sunday because of a conflict with a Boston Celtics playoff game. "I guess rock doesn't rate when it comes to basketball," says Thomas. Then he adds with a quick laugh, "Of course, if I did like basketball, I'd be a Celtics fan."

By Steve Morse, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe