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September 2012 - Music Connection

With their first release in five years and first

all-new collection of music in a decade,

anticipation is high for Matchbox Twenty––Rob

Thomas (lead vocals and piano), Paul Doucette

(rhythm guitar and backup vocals), Kyle Cook

(lead guitar and backup vocals) and Brian Yale

(bass)––to add to their platinum legacy.

To connect the dots and create the magic,

band members lived together in a house in the

countryside outside of Nashville, TN, where

they concentrated on turning a wealth of ideas

into a solid set of 12 songs. Later, after joining

forces with longtime producer Matt Serletic at

his Emblem Studios in Calabasas, CA, Matchbox

Twenty devised a new project that is a true group

effort.

A solo artist and the writer of hit songs for other

performers, Rob Thomas is the most identifiable

member of Matchbox Twenty. In this exclusive

feature, he tells MC about maintaining a presence

as a group for 17 years, and how North signifies a

true collective experience for the veteran band.

Music Connection: For past Matchbox Twenty

projects, you have been the primary songwriter.

This time, we understand that the other members

of the band made significant contributions to

the songwriting. How did this variety of writers

evolve into what we hear on North?

Rob Thomas: It was a drawn-out process. Kyle

and Paul started everything in Nashville while I

was still on the road finishing my solo tour. As

soon as I got off we did retreats. We would go

to Paul’s studio for a week, then a month later

we’d go to Kyle’s studio in Nashville and then a

month later to my studio in New York. We were

concerned about inspiration over craft. We’d

have words and melodies, and not finish these

songs, just work on the ideas. We did that in all

of these places and then came to Nashville last

summer with maybe 60 ideas that we had to

figure out what we wanted to turn into songs. We

narrowed it down to 20 songs and we started to

record.

MC: What was the Nashville experience like?

Some rustic cabin out of Deliverance?

Thomas: The house is in the middle of horse

country––a cabin with a studio connected to

it. And right up the hill is a nice studio that Tim

McGraw and other artists use when they’re

making their albums. We’ve been apart for so

long, so we needed to get back together. Living

together brought back that camaraderie, pushed

it along, and made us all friends again––although

sometimes we still hate each other.

MC: What is your primary focus and contribution

as a songwriter?

Thomas: Percussive melodies. Thinking about

the lyrics and the melody and what the beat of

that is going to be, and where it’s going to land.

MC: In configuring the co-writes, was it a diplomatic

atmosphere?

Thomas: One of the advantages of playing with

guys for 20 years is that there are no punches

being pulled. So for me, who is coming out of

the solo thing, I might bring in a song I’ve been

working on and I’m excited, and I play it for the

guys, with that look of a kid at Christmas on my

face and they’re like, ‘This sucks.” That’s harsh.

MC: Your lead single, “She’s So Mean,” is a fun

opener.

Thomas: We have a history of taking ourselves

a little seriously, and that’s a lot me, because I

wrote most of the songs. And that’s what I would

write. When you’re feeling introspective is when

you sit down at the piano or pick up the guitar and

start writing something.

MC: So is “She’s So Mean” a joint effort?

Thomas: It was all three of us; it was like a songwriting

exercise. We thought it might be a good

hip-hop song, with a single chord progression

running through it. When we were writing it, each

of us would take one section of the verse. I’d start

with a line, then go to Paul, and then to Kyle in

that weird language that songwriters write in,

“WE’RE FAR AWAY FROM BEING THE KIND OF ROCK

ALTERNATIVE BAND WE WERE WHEN WE STARTED. WE

ARE MAINSTREAM––WE MAKE MUSIC FOR PEOPLE TO

LISTEN TO, NO MATTER WHO THEY ARE.”

when it’s not even words yet. Then we went to the

chorus and that went on forever. Once we came

up with the concept of “She’s So Mean,” then it

was all of us sitting around a table trying to figure

out, “Now that we’ve got the line, what’s the story

about? Let’s not make it about us, let’s make it

like an intervention that you’re having with a friend

who is dating this bitch.”

MC: Speaking of hip-hop, “Like Sugar” has an

urban edge. How did that song develop?

Thomas: I wrote it on piano in the original version.

We gave it to Paul and he took it to the studio

and brought it back to us with this weird, Dr. Dre

kind of vibe. And then [producer] Matt [Serletic]

added some Depeche Mode keyboards to it, and

Kyle came in with all these guitars. It was this

vibrant track, and everyone who did something to

it did it alone. They all went into their own world.

I didn’t hear it forever and I came out to L.A. and

was walking through the studio and they asked,

“Have you heard ‘Like Sugar’ yet?” Everyone kept

saying, “Just wait.”

MC: The sequence of songs opens with

“Parade.” It talks about the passing of time,

and the feeling of being afraid of missing out

on something important.

Thomas: The song is about life in general and all

of the experiences in it, and it equates to a kid in a

small town who is watching a parade go by. And

that’s the greatest time in your life; when it goes

away you want to go with it. And it talks about

life––you want to be out there for everything.

MC: There is a line in the song that says, “All the

streetlight secrets whispering for you to come

back out.”

Thomas: I think all musicians understand that

idea; you know, as soon as you go back to your

hotel you’ll get a call from someone who says,

“You don’t know what you missed.”

MC: Beginning with “Parade” and concluding

with “Sleeping at the Wheel” certainly creates

a steep emotional arc. You’ve clearly created a

conceptual body of work within this album.

Thomas: That’s a huge part of North. We’re in our

late 30s and early 40s, so we grew up listening

to albums. We make records for the few people

who are still listening to all the songs from one to

12. There’s a lot that goes into the song selection

process. We have a really quiet little song called

“I Will” right in the middle of the sequence. We

had another song we didn’t put on the record that

could have occupied the same spot, but we didn’t

have another place on the record to put it, or for

that journey to happen again.

COURTESY OF BLOOMINGDALES BY CLIFF WATTS

September 2012 www.musicconnection.com 37

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