da INTERVIEW del maggio 2005
intervista a Rob Thomas
ROB THOMAS: he's been on top of the
charts, ruled modern rock radio, and wrestled with critics who have
called him a master of the middlebrow. Now matchbox twenty's main man
is going solo—and staring down skeptics like never before
BERNIE TAUPIN: So, Rob, you've got this new solo album, ...
Something to Be [Melisma/ Atlantic]. How long have you been working on
RT: Well, that's hard to say because some of the songs on
this album were rejected from the last Matchbox Twenty record, and some
of them were written even before that; but I kind of unearthed them and
breathed new life into them. Sometimes it's just a matter of knowing I
was right and coming back to it again and saying, "This is a good song."
BT: It's interesting because it's a refreshingly varied album on
which you appear to have made a point to connect with people on
different emotional levels. Some of the tracks seem to be more potently
commercial, and others seem more personal. How personal do you get in
RT: On this record, songs like "Lonely No More" are done just to
write something that feels good, that will put a smile on people's
faces and doesn't really have any connection to my actual life. But
then songs like "Ever the Same" are more personal. This whole record
was kind of made under duress. The entire time I was working on it, my
wife was really sick, and dealing with that made the record itself not
the most important thing in my life. It was good in that way because I
completely trusted my instincts. I would just come into the studio, and
if a song sounded really good, I would just walk away from it so I
could get home to whatever was going on. Songs like "Ever the Same" and
"Now Comes the Night" are kind of about that. "Now Comes the Night" is
about death and being less scared to face it with someone by your side.
BT: That's really interesting to me because, as a writer, I also
tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. I find writing those kinds of songs
RT: And I get the added bonus of going out and screaming the
lyrics, which feels so good, man. You know, not a lot of people get
paid to go through primal scream therapy.
BT: Exactly. Did you feel it was important that this record be different from what is regarded as the "Matchbox Twenty sound"?
RT: Yeah, that was the only preconceived idea that I had going into
the project. I really never thought about it until someone said to me,
"Wait a second, if you write a lot of the Matchbox songs, then how's a
solo record going to be different?" That fucking haunted me. That was
when I decided that I didn't want to use a different producer or use
outside sources to kind of find this new sound. I wanted to really take
the album to another place by myself and find out what I'm capable of
on my own.
BT: We're living in a time now when corporate radio really has a
stranglehold on what the public listens to, and in my mind there's a
lot of great music that gets passed over. But your songs seem to get
through and receive a lot of airtime.
RT: Maybe my songs are just some of that other shit that's eating up the radio. [laughs]
BT: Why do you think it is that your songs get played and others
don't? When you're writing and recording, do you consciously do so with
radio in mind?
RT: I don't think you can work from that perspective because when
you do, the music loses something. Whenever Matchbox Twenty has come
out with something, we've always seemed to have been against the grain
of whatever was popular at the time. We were either outdated or we
weren't grunge or weren't some boy band--we weren't this or we weren't
that. So I like to think that the majority of what's on this new record
doesn't sound like anything on the radio, but I do think that I write
songs that should be on radio.
BT: Well, there are some people who can't help but write what is regarded as commercial.
RT: Having grown up a total radio head, I think that I do have an
ingrained sense that I'm writing songs that I think should be on the
radio. Not always, but with a song like "Lonely No More" I want it to
have that kind of vibe, and I sit down at the piano or the guitar and
just kind of get a rhythm that I like and let the song come out of
that. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you want people to like your
music, but there are those other, really personal songs that just kind
of pour out.
BT: It's interesting because sometimes the things that you really
don't feel are going to be accepted on a mass level end up connecting.
RT: Yeah, and at the same time a lot of stuff that you just don't
really care for that much can end up really big, and you're like, "Wow.
BT: But it is really satisfying when something that is very personal connects.
RT: And it's also nice if it's a song that you don't care about
because at least it's out there, and it means something to somebody. At
the end of the day, that's really what it's all about--that the music
has this power to change the molecules in people and make them happy or
sad, and that's an incredible gift. I don't believe that you or I or
any writer that I hold close is really responsible for it because you
always just kind of feel like a receiver, and if you're lucky enough to
be where that happens, then you are a lucky person. I feel fortunate to
have been in a lot of right rooms at the right times where the right
song was floating around.
BT: Are you going to go on a solo tour?
RT: Definitely. Right now I'm starting off with, like, a 10-city
club tour, but then I really would love to do a theater tour. Once the
record comes out, man, it's not up to me anymore.
BT: I hate to put you on the spot, but this is an inevitable
question that I'm sure you're going to get asked a lot in the next few
months. Most would say that when the primary songwriter and front man
of a successful band does a solo album, it's a sign that he's looking
to move on. That goes all the way back to Rod Stewart with the Faces,
or even Justin Timberlake with whichever group he was with--I don't
remember. My question is, if ... Something To Be comes out, and it's a
huge seller, then why go back to Matchbox Twenty? Why be democratic
when you can have total control?
RT: Well, I think that if I were fortunate enough for this record
to do as well as I would love it to, it's inevitable that the Matchbox
base would become something different.
BT: That's very democratic of you. [laughs]
RT: But I think that Matchbox is going to change anyway just
because everybody's grown older, and we're not
live-on-the-road-for-two-years-at-a-time guys anymore. But at the same
time we've created something with that band over the last 10 years that
very few people get a chance to do, and we've managed to make music
that means something to people; so I can't imagine not being on a stage
and playing some of those songs again. I also can't imagine doing it
with other people, so I just can't conceive of not going back to
Matchbox for purely selfish reasons--and not because I'm some sort of
saint or because the guys are that bad off sitting around without me.
I've never worked like this in my professional career--on my own. So
I'm just excited to get the record out there.