Playing same tunes gets old, group says

By Rob Bailey, Arizona Daily Star

Even Matchbox Twenty gets sick of hearing "Unwell."

After all, it's been six months since the multiplatinum band's latest single started its heavy rotation ad nauseam on Top 40 radio.

To sum up his stance, lead guitarist/songwriter Kyle Cook sang a lyric -- "All day, the radio's been playing the same song" -- from an old tune by Fountains of Wayne, the band that has been opening for Matchbox concerts.

"It speaks volumes about the world of music that's run by Clear Channel and radio and what it's become," said Cook in a phone interview from the Chesapeake Bay area in Maryland. "It does seem like there's a circulation of five to six songs you're gonna hear four or five times a day. It's a little ridiculous, a bit silly. It creates an environment where people aren't as concerned with record-making as they are single-making."

Cook and company said it's frustrating to see most album tracks get ignored because a couple of singles get a "gigantic push."

"We look at it as, everybody in a band feels this way, but we realize that it takes two or three songs to pull an audience in to buy a record," Cook said. "It's for demographic reasons. It's a good thing that they're gonna hear it, but there was a time when radio was filled with very few repeats and a lot of variety."

The current FM climate hurts artists like Radiohead, who are more concerned about the experience of the entire record, Cook said.

Matchbox Twenty's 1996 debut, "Yourself or Someone Like You," looked poised to get lost in a glut (Dishwalla, Collective Soul, Candlebox) of post-grunge guitar rockers. When the single "Push" did just that to the buttons of mod-rock fans, critics dubbed them a one-hit wonder.

But "Yourself or Someone Like You" was still spinning off singles two years later and has sold 12 million copies.

The 2000 follow-up, "Mad Season," is quadruple platinum. Hits, anchored by Cook and frontman Rob Thomas's heartfelt lyrics, signature melodies and overwrought production, include "Push," "3 a.m.," "Real World," "Bent" and "If You're Gone."

"Unwell," from Matchbox Twenty's latest platinum-selling release, "More Than You Think You Are," is holding steady at No. 3 on the "light rock" chart. That status recently earned the band the dubious honor of being the biggest-selling adult-contempo act of all time, according to SoundScan, Pollstar and Billboard magazine.

Cook ventured a guess as to why the rock star cool factor has eluded Matchbox Twenty:

"Is it because we don't wear cool enough shirts?" he said, laughing. "We're not really a celebrity band. I think that requires some sort of activism. It doesn't matter much to me. The creation of the music, and the respect that comes from the music, is what matters."

But with popularity come some pitfalls, Cook admitted.

"Yeah, dealing with the new friends, so to speak, that you kind of accumulate," Cook said. "And being able to discern those from your real friends. You find yourself possibly withdrawing to a certain degree, socially. But it's tightened my social circle. A lot of those friends I probably didn't need, anyway. They were leading me down the wrong path."

Cook, who hailed from Frankfort, Ind., said he regretted the wedge of alienation that fame has driven between him and his high school buddies.

Still, the band members -- Cook, lead vocalist Rob Thomas, rhythm guitarist Adam Gaynor, bassist Brian Yale and drummer Paul Doucette -- remain surprisingly down to earth.

"The whole band is still shocked and humble, because early on you just wanna make a record," Cook said. "We barely thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to make just enough to get to make another record,' let alone how we would feel if we sold 10 million. Any artist hopes that what they do retains some sort of timelessness."