Rob's vision still 20-20

By MARIAN LIU, Sunday Mail (South Australia)

A new solo record means it's put up or shut-up time for Rob Thomas, says MARIAN LIU

IT was just a matter of time before Rob Thomas took a break from longtime band Matchbox Twenty.

In recent years, the lead singer had slowly been moving in that direction - collaborating with Carlos Santana on the huge hit Smooth, writing songs for numerous other artists and, recently, working with OutKast's Big Boi.

The time seemed right for him to strike out on his own as a solo musician.

"It's been 10 years in the same band, playing with the same people," said Thomas, whose new album is called Something to Be.

"As successful as it was, and as fun, it was still limiting. It's been a long time coming, but I'm not sure that I was ready to do it until now.

"I think I had to go through the process of learning how to do this as a group until I had the confidence to do it on my own."

Thomas said he was also spending a lot of free time writing for other artists, "country people and Latin people and hip-hop people", to develop his writing chops.

"So I think this record was put up or shut-up time. It was a kind of gut-check for me," he said.

"Could I do it on my own or did it all rely on everybody that I was surrounding myself with? I just had to go in there with my instincts and let it come out.

"Fortunately, the one thing that hadn't changed was the kind of magic that unfolds as long as you start out with a good song."

Currently on tour in the US, Thomas went through what he called an "American Idol process" to find his new backing band.

"It's a more soulful band," he said, revealing he'd been naming the band of two women and a guy something different every night, from Greasy Bottom Girls to the Rob Thomas Hallelujah Chorus. He also changed his look.

Instead of the long-locked Thomas, the musician is now sporting a closely cropped appearance. "I had a lot of hair. I realised I had had the same haircut for a while," he said.

Something To Be is a record full of light alt-pop. He sings about heartbreak and loneliness, machismo and having a "problem girl".

"I wanted to be different than Matchbox Twenty," Thomas said. "I know I'm going to go back to Matchbox Twenty, so it would be a waste of my solo time to do something similar, which I could do better with those guys."

The album is also a dual CD-DVD disc.

"If it's possible to give more for the same price, you should," said Thomas, who saw illegal downloading as rampant.

As for the future, he believes the music will keep him going: "That joy doesn't go away."

Something to Be is in stores now.

"So I think this record was put up or shut up time"