By Bill Ellis, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
One thing you should know about best-selling rock stars matchbox twenty: even the band is surprised that the hits keep coming.
Currently cruising the charts with latest single, "Unwell" (which features a banjo riff, no less!), the Florida-born act has outlived a lot of fads, trends and taste shifts to still be standing after forming a decade ago.
"It's surprising at this day and age," says matchbox twenty drummer and co-founder Paul Doucette. "We've only made three records, but we're veterans these days. I don't know if it's a statement about the band as much as it is about today's music industry."
Matchbox twenty's debut, 1996's Yourself or Someone Like You - which was mixed in Memphis at the House of Blues studio - took the long road to success, eventually selling more than 15 million copies worldwide and spawning four hit singles: "Push," "3 A.M.," "Back 2 Good" and "Real World."
The 2000 follow-up, Mad Season, also went multi-platinum, bolstered by another stream of hits including the title track and "Bent," while current album, More Than You Think You Are, looks to follow suit. Sporting a harder edge than previous outings, the latest record has gone platinum as well, aided by hits in the aforementioned "Unwell" and lead single "Disease," co-written by matchbox twenty singer Rob Thomas and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.
Matchbox twenty can't help but write a catchy tune.
"Like it or not, that is just the strength of this band," says Doucette, 31, who contributes to the songwriting process along with chief tunesmith Thomas. "We're extremely song-oriented. A lot of songs don't make the cut. . . . Our formula is start with a great song and see what happens. And we will always keep that formula."
One great song the band got a chance to play recently was the Charlie Rich Sun classic "Lonely Weekends." Recorded as part of the 2001 PBS documentary Good Rockin' Tonight and companion CD, the song got soulfully reworked into, well, a matchbox twenty tune. And, in the movie version at least, they got to do it at the Memphis studio with Sun legends Jerry Lee Lewis on keyboards and late label founder/producer Sam Phillips standing in witness.
Doucette was thrilled, even if the band and Lewis couldn't always agree on the song's key.
"To just be in the room is amazing enough but to get to play with Jerry Lee Lewis," he says. "We changed the song up a bit, we did it in a different key, and Jerry Lee Lewis didn't know our version. So he just kind of jammed along. And I think that was the reason why some people didn't want to put it on the record, because sometimes we were playing one chord and he was playing another. But I thought the energy of it sounded so great. When I saw the film, I was like, 'Well, that's what should be on the record, not the version of this doing it by ourselves. . . .' Sam loved the fact that we totally changed up the song."
The most famous pairing thus far in matchbox twenty's career has been Thomas with Carlos Santana for the mega-hit "Smooth." It made Thomas even more of a pop icon than he had been before, something that gives the band mixed feelings: matchbox twenty is an honest-to-goodness band after all, not just a foil for the frontman.
"We got into this for music," says Doucette. "You don't see our songs selling Doritos or anything like that. So we're not necessarily looking for celebrity. That said, a lot of times Rob will end up getting credit for something that maybe somebody else in the band did. But Rob also gets all the blows, too. So it's a double-edged sword."
Doucette says that matchbox twenty - including guitarist Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor and bassist Brian Yale - deals with the issue by basically not bringing it up. Another is that, despite the number of hits that have piled up, they stay focused on the craft of making music, not the commercial results of it.
Says Doucette: "Our view of success is not having hit singles or selling a lot of records, it's making what we consider is a great record."