Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas doesn't do things by halves

By NEALA JOHNSON, Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia)

Are you hard at work on this solo album everyone's talking about?

Yeah, I've been working on it for quite some time; as soon as Matchbox stopped touring the last record. It has been nice and easy, but it's weird, quiet, 'cos there are a lot less people.

Is it a chance for you to try sounds that people wouldn't approve of in Matchbox Twenty's world?

Yeah, this record is definitely different enough that people could very well hate it (laughs). So that's always fun. The question has always been, if I wrote the bulk of songs for Matchbox, what was the difference for me to go do a solo record? But that doesn't really say a lot about my band, and those guys are the reason Matchbox sounds the way it does.

Just how different might it sound? Rumour has it you might even work with hip hop producers.

I'm working with Matt Serletic, who we made all the Matchbox records with. I didn't wanna be like, "So what I'm gonna do now is go find a bunch of hip hop producers and have them paint me up like this". I wanted him and I to work with different hip hop drummers and bass players, and guitar players that don't play a lot of rock, and just completely change the way I look at writing. So there's a hybrid in there, without me going, "OK, this is my half-salsa, half-hip hop, half-rock record." That's three halves . . .

Do you feel the need to compete with whatever's hot right now?

I don't think that's gonna happen. Part of my blessing in life is I've never been hip. We were successful early on, but it was never built on heat, it was built on us playing music. So I'm just trying to make something all the guys in my band are gonna listen to, be proud of, and still wanna make music with me when it's over. And something I wanna put on in my car.

Are you also using this album as an excuse to play with some of your favourite musicians?

Man, you know it! Wendy Melvoin came in and played guitar, and John Mayer. Mike Elizondo, he plays on all the Dr Dre stuff, he's a completely out-of-left-field guy, but an amazing bass player. It has been fun.

How have you felt looking on as your label Warner has cut jobs and slashed its artist roster?

It's scary. I went in after it happened and was having meetings with all the new people. It was weird because I felt like I had to reassert myself. We had a freedom for years, and now there's a whole new regime that isn't aware of how things work in our camp. They're like, "We wanna stop by the studio! Hey, what's with your hair? Are you thinking about cutting your hair?" And I'm thinking, "Wow, slow down." I take it in small doses until I start to figure it out.

After three albums, are you happy with the way Matchbox Twenty is perceived?

Yeah. I'm even happy with the people who don't like us. The more I go through life, I find I really don't like a lot of those people anyway. I'm on my crusade against the hip this year.

How does this crusade manifest itself in your everyday life?

I like to do really proactive things like get drunk and read Spin magazine and complain about hip bands. So far, that's as far as I've gone. But I do plan to extend it in the future, to maybe complaining to other people about hip bands that suck. I don't like to name names, but you go out and see some of these bands play and you realise part of the criteria for being a really hip band is that you must suck live, you must not know how to tune up your guitar. If that's hip, they can have it.

You let cameras follow you for the doco on Matchbox's new live DVD, Show. What was off-limits?

The only people we let set rules were the wives. If the wives didn't want to be seen, it was their prerogative because they didn't sign up for that. But we were game for whatever.

You've been fairly open about your personal life.

Oh yeah. There's nothing that we hide about our lives. Our wives are really amazing people and the fact they put up with this whole life is amazing in itself. I'm a married guy and that's important to me. I don't mind at all people knowing I'm a guy that loves my wife. She's a huge part of everything I do, she's a part of my music and a part of why I write. So to me, it's all interrelated in some way. I mean, I'm lucky, like, I'm not a Backstreet Boy, I'm not Ben Affleck, so people aren't following me when I go to the grocery store and wanting to know when we're gonna have a baby.

When are you having a baby?

(Laughs) Aw, soon, soon. My wife has been a little ill over this past year and she's just getting better, so I think it'll be one of our first priorities.

Last time you were in Melbourne you had to make an early exit when your voice gave out.

Oh my God, that was the worst. It was so awful. That was right when my wife started to really get ill. We were scheduled to go to Sydney to do a TV show and we had to cancel, and I had to leave early and take my wife home. It was the roughest time we've ever had, going through Australia. The crowds were great, but as soon as we'd get off the stage, it was hell and heartbreak every day.

How often do you dip your toe into the celebrity party scene?

Well, you wind up going to a lot of industry things, and I meet a lot of people at shows. The beauty of it is, I can sit at home and do nothing, and there are enough rumours floating around . . . I heard a great rumour that me and Kevin Spacey were picking up guys together at Hollywood parties for a threesome. I heard a great rumour that I was backstage at Conan O'Brien doing some girl in the prop room. That was in New York, and my drummer, Paul, in LA, heard about it from Janeane Garofalo. So I realised I don't have to do anything at all -- everyone already has these different realities laid out for me. So I have more time to work, which is good.