Simply out of the box

By PAUL NASSARI, Sunday Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia)

Rob Thomas will include Australia on his solo world tour. Expect him in February, writes PAUL NASSARI

LOOKS can be deceiving, as Matchbox Twenty frontman and now solo artist Rob Thomas is only too glad to tell us.

It might surprise some that Thomas doesn't believe in his image as a chiselled sex symbol and rock star.

"Far from it. The camera lies," Thomas chuckles.

"I'm going to blow my image here, but you know that wicked pair of pants I'm wearing in the clip for my solo single, Lonely No More?

"I love those pants. They look incredible, right? Well those things barely fit me. All of that footage with me sitting on the bed looks great from the front. But from the back, my a--- is hanging halfway out. And I have extras behind me the entire time, just eating apples and watching the a--- hang out of my pants.

"They earned their money that day."

While that clip seems to be about a procession of nameless women ending on his hotel bed, the truth is that after a show Thomas is most likely to be found in his hotel room relaxing with wife Marisol.

One of their regular topics of discussion is The Sidewalks Angels Foundation (named after a song on the first Matchbox Twenty album) they founded to draw attention to and aid small charity and goodwill organisations in and around major cities.

"It's like a drug," Thomas says.

"Help people feel good and you wind up making more of yourself than just a career.

"A lot of my job is self-serving and I have to dedicate most of my time to it.

"This is one of the only ways we've found where we can turn it into a positive for somebody else."

On the Lonely No More clip, Thomas also has this to say: "It's funny. My wife and I do talk about my videos.

"For instance, I don't feel it's appropriate for me to be making out or rolling around with girls in my film clip in my position as a married man.

"As long as there's no suggestive touching, we're both OK with it all.

"A video like that is pure fantasy. It is so much more about how there are two worlds coming crashing together -- the lonely world with the guy sitting by himself on the bed and the one where he's seemingly popular and successful.

"If you notice, that's also the difference between the lyrics and the beat."

Thomas admits to being constantly fascinated by the collision of opposites.

"A lot of my songs are that way," he explains.

"Take (the hit Matchbox Twenty single) Push, for instance. That has such a bleak outlook on love and yet the tone of the music is so positive it seems to be saying the opposite -- that maybe, by the power of love, you can be set free."

It may be hard to believe, but Matchbox Twenty has had more No.1 hits and spent more weeks at No.1 on the American Billboard chart than any other artist in history, according to Rolling Stone magazine.

As the chief songwriter and leader of one of the most successful commercial rock bands, one would imagine there would be no need for Thomas to begin a solo career.

"That would be the case if I really was the band leader, but I'm not," he says. "Our band doesn't have a leader. It is five guys who argue until we come up with a record. For all of us to do something we're 100 per cent happy with, we have to take it outside Matchbox Twenty.

"The truth behind being in a band is, even if you make a record you love, there are still going to be some moments on it you would've liked to have done differently, but you have to concede.

"That's what a democracy is all about. There are a number of songs on my solo record that would have never worked with Matchbox Twenty."

It seems the seed for the solo album took a while to germinate, though Thomas was not the first Matchbox member to take the plunge.

"When we started the last tour, we came out of the studio and went out on the road and knew, as soon as it was finished, we were going to take a long break," he says.

"And so everybody knew, if they had something special they wanted to do, this was the time to go and do it.

"So Kyle (Cook, guitar) got busy with his side project called The New Left and Paul (Doucette, drums) made a solo record.

"It wasn't like we stopped the band for me to make a record."

It seems the fans were more than ready for it.

Something To Be entered the American Billboard 200 Album Chart at No.1 -- the first time a male artist from a rock or pop group has begun at No.1 with their first solo album in the 50-year history of the Billboard charts.

"That's all great," Thomas says. "It's overwhelming. But it wouldn't mean anything, really, if I wasn't happy with it. And I really am."

To help Thomas and long-time producer cohort Matt Serletic make Something To Be, they attracted such star power as John Mayer, Mike Campbell (Tom Petty's Heartbreakers), Wendy Melvoin (Prince & The Revolution), bass guitarist Mike Elizondo (Dr Dre, Eminem) and drummer Gerald Hayward (Mary J. Blige, Beyonce).

"We tried to stretch my idea of who I could be as much as possible," Thomas says. "I canned so many songs because they didn't quite fit. I've tried to allow for no album fillers."

Modesty overrules ego in Thomas's world, which is quite something when you remember the songwriter has collaborated with such people as Santana (on Smooth, written for Santana and which earned him three Grammy Awards), Mick Jagger, Willie Nelson, Marc Anthony and Bernie Taupin.

Surely he's earned the right to some harmless ego-stroking?

"Believing the good things people say about you can be worse than believing the bad," he says. "I always like to remember that I'm no better or worse than anyone else, and that helps me keep my feet on the ground."

He also promises his solo tour will make it Down Under.

"Australia is one of the places that really seems to get what I'm doing," he says.

"It's been so welcoming to myself and Matchbox Twenty over the years that I couldn't imagine a world tour without including it. Expect to see me in February."