'It's like being married to four other guys' matchbox twenty guitarist dishes on life in the band

By Amy Robinson, Charleston Gazette (West Virginia)

Matchbox Twenty hits the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets $ 25.50-$ 42.50. Call 342-5757.

Popular musicians matchbox twenty take criticism in stride. In fact, after releasing their first album, "Yourself or Someone Like You" in 1996, the guys turned it into a fashion statement.

"[Critics] used to use the word 'bland' all the time, and we had T-shirts with 'bland and timid' written on them in Sharpie," said guitarist Kyle Cook in a telephone interview from Nova Scotia where the band was preparing for a show.

"Those were the words they used. It kind of stung, but at the same token they coined that phrase for us. We would wear those shirts and we would almost promote their criticism of us."

On the other hand, Cook is not one to promote criticism of other bands. Even if he doesn't like being compared to certain musicians, he keeps his mouth shut. "I don't like to throw dirt. If I really can't stand a band or what they do I keep it to myself. That's how my mama raised me," he said.

Now on tour in support of the group's third album "More Than You Think You Are," matchbox twenty has found plenty of fans with hits like "Real World," "Push," "3 AM," "Bent," "If You're Gone," "Unwell" and its current single "Bright Lights."

When their first album debuted, the group was often compared to Third Eye Blind, who entered the mainstream at about the same time. Now that 3EB has faded into the background, new comparisons have arisen.

One such comparison is 3 Doors Down, who played Morgantown in August as part of WVU's Fall Fest. In fact, following the performance, one student was quoted in the school's newspaper as calling them "the next matchbox twenty." Cook said the comparison is not new to him.

"I've heard that several times before," he said. "I guess he's [singer Brad Arnold] got that kind of southern drawl to his voice - that and the big rockin' guitars and the similarities in the melodies.

"They're a band that's very much about the songs as opposed to studio trip-out trickery. I don't necessarily see them as the next matchbox twenty. They seem more like a metal band to me - but I guess that's what people say."

It's just as likely other bands will be compared to matchbox twenty, including Lifehouse and Maroon 5, who, incidentally, have toured with the band. Other opening acts have included Sugar Ray, Everclear and American Hi-Fi. Fountains of Wayne, whose hit "Stacy's Mom" is all over the radio, will join them for this second leg of the fall tour, which begins Tuesday. For the WVU show, Boston rockers the Push Stars will open.

Cook said choosing opening acts depends in part on the size of the venue. "When we did the larger places like the Staples Center and other arenas, we had Sugar Ray. On that level, we're looking for someone who has some draw - we needed a powerhouse like Sugar Ray for that additional draw to really fill out the place.

"Now we're doing more like a secondary market tour, with a lot of college arenas and smaller venues. We're seizing the opportunity to bring on a band that we don't necessarily need the big draw. We're hoping to do that service that you're allowed to do once you get success, which is help other bands that are not in that position."

Matchbox twenty's own success could be also be chalked up in part to its relentless touring. "More Than You Think You Are" was released in November 2002. The band hit the road in late April to support it and, for the most part, they've been at it ever since.

Cook said touring and road life definitely causes stress among band members, but nothing that's irreparable. "It's like being married to four other guys," he said. "You're just together all the time and whenever you get when you're up in people's faces all the time, an argument is bound to break out or someone is bound to get pissed off. We have squabbles but nothing you can't walk away from.

"We feel very fortunate to do what we do."

Perhaps it's because of their genuine appreciation for their careers that the band members always seem to be having such a good time. Videos like "Mad Season," in which they lampoon their success, and T-shirts like the one drummer Paul Doucette wore on the band's first Rolling Stone magazine cover ("Cool Bands Don't Sell Records") emphasize the band's attitude.

Even in discussing the evolution of the band's name (from Matchbox 20 to Matchbox Twenty to matchbox twenty), Cook displays a sense of humor. "I wanted matchbox two zero spelled out. I thought that would have been hilarious," he said.

Just because the band likes to have a good time doesn't mean its members aren't serious about their music. They also find time to pursue other projects.

Most notable of these is Thomas' songwriting efforts. He co-wrote the smash hit "Smooth" with Carlos Santana, and has written for the likes of Mick Jagger and Willie Nelson. Drummer Doucette is a songwriter, too; he wrote the track "Could I Be You" on the current album. The pair plan to release solo projects at some point, while Cook also performs with his side band the New Left.

In the end, though, it all comes down to matchbox twenty. The group's cohesion will be on display at the coliseum Saturday. Cook said fans attending should expect "a pretty standard in-your-face rock show."

Diehard fans may be interested to know that the futuristic set was designed in part by Doucette. Cook said, "Paul is a very involved person and an artist in a lot of different ways. He co-directed our video "Bent," and he's always very involved in the artistic side of like the packaging of the record.

"It brings the identity of the band into it instead of just hiring people to do the lights for us."