Rob Thomas keeps writing songs everybody wants to hear

By Ricardo Baca, Denver Post Staff Writer

'Push.' '3AM.' 'Real World.'

The list is long and familiar.

'Back 2 Good.' 'If You're Gone.' 'Bent.'

Make that incredibly familiar.

'Mad Season.' 'Unwell.' 'Disease.'

Rob Thomas, the everyday champion who fronts pop behemoth matchbox twenty, wrote or co-wrote all of the above singles. And when you look at his track record by the numbers, it's startling. The band plays the new Budweiser Events Center in Loveland on Saturday.

Matchbox twenty's debut, 'Yourself or Someone Like You,' sold more than 10 million copies. The sophomore release, 'Mad Season,' passed the 4 million mark. And the current 'More Than You Think You Are,' released a year ago, has sold more than 1.3 million copies and still has singles charting on Billboard.

When you toss in 'Smooth,' the 1999 smash Thomas wrote and performed on Santana's Grammy-winning 'Supernatural,' you have proof that Thomas has quietly become one of the most prominent songwriters in the world. And not only is Thomas in town this week, but so are his buddies in Maroon5, a band also known for its impressive songwriting talent and its posh opening slot on the matchbox tour earlier this year.

If you count all the projects he's been associated with, Thomas has played a role in the sales of more than 60 million records - in less than a decade.

He's come a long way since he was studying the piano in high school just to get girls.

Now Thomas is more concerned with songwriting. He says he strives to write honest songs for the masses, and a quick glance at Top 40 or adult contemporary charts shows that he's succeeding. He's at the forefront of songwriters who have a penchant for reading the public's mind, for giving the masses a product that not only connects but also has a shelf life that would make Fruit Roll-Ups jealous.

It's the 15-year rule.

'The whole idea when you're writing a song is that somebody will listen to it 15 years later like we listen to Tom Petty or Fleetwood Mac today,' Thomas said earlier this week. 'I feel like in 15 years, I'm still going to be able to hear (P!nk's) 'Family Portrait' on the radio or (Coldplay's) 'Clocks' on the radio and say, 'Oh, I love that song, turn it up.' As opposed to certain songs of the moment, which are just as good but they're just there to remind you of that time, and they're steeped in that time as far as the production value or the style of the music or the mood.'

'Unwell' has been on the charts for nine months - impressive for any single - and the new track 'Bright Lights' has been up for two months. 'Smooth' epitomizes Thomas' song-crafting prowess - some critics say Thomas continually follows the same yearning adult contemporary mold - and he's become an industry standard of sorts.

A way with words

When matchbox was touring earlier this year, the comparisons kept coming between Thomas and Adam Levine, the singer for Maroon5. Not that the two sounded similar, but they both have a way with the words.

Levine co-wrote the Maroon5 hit 'Harder to Breathe' off the 500,000-selling 'Songs About Jane,' another record that's proven to have legs. Even 16 months after its release it's still moving 15,000 units a week and is currently launching another big single, 'This Love.'

The key to selling records in the millions - ask P!nk or Alanis Morissette, Eminem or Thomas - is releasing records with true depth. Matchbox's debut sold 10 million copies because it was still spinning new singles even two years after its release.

Every band approaches an album's release differently. Thomas admits he plays it safe.

'We're just not a hip band,' he said. 'We don't think it's a bad thing to say that you write music for the masses, because we are the masses.

'And hopefully when you're writing, you're not playing too hard to what's on the radio. The trends change so quickly that, if we tried to chase (a trend), it would be over by the time we finished our record. If you're not going to be cool or hip, you might as well be consistent.'

Levine, who brings his Maroon5 to the Fillmore Auditorium on Monday, is following the lead of his muses and taking risks.

'OutKast is my biggest inspiration right now,' said Levine, who added that his group will release a remix of 'This Love' featuring an as-yet-undetermined MC. 'They're so forward, it's unbelievable what they do, and they never take steps backward. They're always thinking ahead. I think they're the best musical group out there right now.

'OutKast allows themselves to be influenced by everything, and they don't feel the need to be genre-specific at all. That's the goal of our band.'

Levine and his keyboardist, Jesse Carmichael, write all of Maroon5's songs, and they write them for themselves without allowing outside influences to taint the project.

'We write the songs for us, and then they're really connecting with other people out there, and it's just amazing,' Levine said. 'I don't know why songs are hits, though.'

Finding the muse

Thomas' songs focus on human relationships, and the process is innate - although insecurity sometimes gets the best of him.

'I sit down, and I have to fool myself into thinking that I'm playing a song that's already been written,' Thomas said. 'Every songwriter I've ever worked with has this way about him where once you get a good melody you start speaking this other language, this weird, tongue-language, like 'Disease' was just a chord progression at one point, and I was singing it and speaking nonsense for hours until I had a good feeling.

'Mick Jagger was a songwriter who I watched and found out that he writes the same way that I write. It was this feeling of, 'Oh, OK.' It made me feel good about the way that I do things.

'I'd already been successful with the ways that I do it, but seeing Mick Jagger do it the same way made me feel like I'm doing it the right way.'