Taking Care Of Your Voice

Canadian Musician

CM brings you an interview with Rob Thomas who is currently taking a break from his group Matchbox Twenty to support his solo record, Something To Be.

Did you ever take vocal lessons?

I didn't take vocal lessons until I got signed. There's a big difference being in a local band and playing on weekends and then all of a sudden doing it six nights a week plus interviews all day and all night, you start to realize that maybe your voice can suffer. I have a really great vocal coach out in Atlanta - she is a rock and roll vocal coach - and she understands that I'm going to be getting high and I don't want someone to yell at me. I simply want her to get my voice in the best shape that she can. She understands that...

How do you maintain your voice when you're on the road?

I don't talk to anybody. (Laughs) You just get better at it. The first thing you learn is that you can't party every night if you want to sound great. You have to pick your battles and you have to at some point limit when you sing. We play three shows in a row and then take a day off. I can't drink as much as when we were an opening act, because you only play for 45 minutes. Now I'm singing six nights a week for two hours. It comes down to simply maintenance: you can't be a fuck up because people are paying money to hear you.

How do you prevent vocal stress or damage?

I have a harder time I think than the real technical singers because part of what makes my voice sound the way it sounds is singing incorrectly. It's like I'm a boxer every night, to get a growl in your voice you sort of have to beat yourself up a little bit. So, wear and tear sort of becomes part of my voice. It makes it even harder to maintain because you have to really be sure that every time you're not on stage, you're not doing anything to fuck it up.

When you are recording vocals, is there a specific time of day in which you prefer to hit the studio?

When I'm writing I usually come in at 1 p.m. and stay to whenever. I like to come in and feel like it's a job. Once I get in and start going through demos I could just work all day. Vocals are better at night I think. You let your voice kind of warm up and let your body warm up.

How much warm up time do you need before stepping into the studio?

It depends. Some nights I'll go in and if I feel rough I'll take a half an hour before I go in and some nights I'll just walk right in.

How comfortable are you with people watching you record your vocals?

I used to hate it. I've always, for years, just turned off every light in the room. This year there was a woman who was filming a documentary about the record so I had to learn to forget about her being in the vocal booth with me.

How would you describe a good day in the studio and a bad day in the studio?

A good day is when you walk out with something that didn't exist when you walked in. A bad day is when you walk out with the same exact shit you had all day.

What advice do you have for those who are starting into vocal lessons?

I think it's really important that when you're on your own time, worry about doing your vocals, worry about your pitch, worry about doing your warm-ups, worry about working through the scale so that your voice can hit every note that is in the scale, and then when you're singing the song, forget it. Forget everything that you've worried about. Don't worry about your posture, don't worry about your breathing and don't worry about your gut because sooner or later that will come second nature. Some people are so concerned with how they're singing that they forget what they are singing. If you take Bob Dylan, Tom Petty: the reason that they can make you cry is that they don't have these technically great voices, but they mean every word they say. And it really shows in between what they say and how they say it.

Rob Thomas is best known as lead singer for Matchbox Twenty.