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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 it?

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 your songs?

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 very cathartic.

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. Okay, really?"

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.