Interview with Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas, lead singer of one of the most successful bands of the last decade, Matchbox Twenty, has become a household name of his own since co-writing and performing the Santana smash, “Smooth.” Now he’s released his first solo effort, Something To Be, and is gearing up for promotion and touring in support of it for the remainder of 2005. Bullz-Eye.com got to speak with Thomas recently about the new album and all of his successes.
Mike Farley: Something to Be is your first solo record. Was this something you wanted to do separate of Matchbox or was it someone else’s idea?
Rob Thomas: No, I mean there are four members of the band and three of us are making records right now. So this was just kind of the time that we gave ourselves to do it.
MF: So, do the guys in your band dig the new solo record?
RT: I think they like it. Paul is the drummer and my best friend and we’ve talked about it a lot. And that’s the only definitive critique I’ve actually gotten. I don’t think my bass player likes it. (laughs) Or at least I know he doesn’t like “Lonely No More.”
MF: And what’s the feedback been in general? I know you did a club tour recently.
RT: The tour was amazing. That was, I think, just a really big…you know the only bad thing about it was there were only ten shows and we were done and we were ready for more. But I mean, I think its been great. A lot of these songs were the kind of songs that, as you’re writing them and recording them, you’re thinking about you know you want to play them live. So a lot of them were born to be good live songs too.
MF: How did that feel to you, playing clubs after playing arenas for the last eight years or so?
RT: It’s cool. With Matchbox we always do that anyway. We’ll always go out on a club tour first. So, that just seems like par for the course. You put out a record, you go do a club tour. And that way if you’re gonna suck, you’ll do it early and less people will see it.
MF: Exactly. I don’t really think you’re going to have that problem though.
RT: Well I can’t because I have a butt-load of professional musicians behind me.
MF: Sure, and great songs.
RT: Well thanks!
MF: So are there plans for a summer tour at all?
RT: Probably not. I think during the summer I’m going to be out of the country for most of the time. I think right at the end of the summer is when we’re going to start a tour here.
MF: You have won a lot of awards now and had so many #1 hits already. What would you say is the shining moment of your career so far?
RT: I don’t know, it’s all kind of part of the process, from just in general being able to maintain any kind of success over ten years with the band. Working with Carlos [Santana] and Willie Nelson and making a solo record that I actually I didn’t have to call people and tell them about, I think it’s all kind of part of the process. There’s never been like one thing that you’re like, “Oh, that was the moment.” And I’m still young, so I hope I haven’t already had it!
MF: That’s true, that’s one of the benefits of getting an early start like that and having so much success.
RT: Well yeah, and unfortunately with the state of the music business, there’s not a lot of other ways to do it. These days, you seem like you have to have some sort of success at first just so the record company doesn’t fucking drop you.
MF: Well, speaking of Willie Nelson, I’m based in Nashville, so I’m going to ask you a Nashville type question. Do you approach songwriting with a specific purpose in mind, like do you plan on using it for yourself or do you sometimes have a specific artist that you want to write for in mind?
RT: Every now and then, like if I’m sitting down to write with someone then you’re thinking for that person. For the most part, I just write. If I feel like I’m inspired I’ll sit down and I’ll write and I try not to hoard anything. Like if I’m working on a Matchbox record, whatever I think my best songs are at the time I’ll throw down on the table. By the same token, when I was working with Willie [Nelson], you know there weren’t certain ‘Willie’ songs. I mean, if I had "Lonely No More," I would never play that for Willie. But any song that I thought was just a really good singer/songwriter song, even ones like “Recollection Phoenix” that Matchbox could have done, or “Maria” even, that was the time that I was in, so those were the songs that I gave.
MF: Do you often write with other people?
RT: I like to. I like writing with other people more then I like writing for other people, because to me the whole idea to writing outside of the band is to learn something. So when I work with people like Corey Rooney, or I just wrote a song with Big Boi from Outkast, that is so completely different than what I do, that you walk away knowing things that you didn’t know when you went into it. And to me that’s the whole idea. I try and pick people just based on diversity. You know, country, Latin, hip-hop, anything that’s not singer/songwriter rock.
MF: And the single is “Lonely No More?”
RT: Yeah, that what’s been out. The next one’s gonna be “This is How a Heart Breaks.”
MF: Did you co-write “Lonely No More” with someone or is that all your own?
RT: No, that was mine.
MF: Looking back ten years, did you ever think you’d be as successful as you are today?
RT: God, no. (laughs) I mean, ten years ago when we just started, we were kinda at that point where you just want your record to go gold so you can make another record. And gold seems like this amazing thing. So no, I don’t know if anybody can (forsee) that kind of success.
MF: Yeah, that’s pretty awesome. What’s currently in your iPod?
RT: Oh, my goodness. I mean my iPod is super-, you know, from Miles Davis to Willie Nelson. But right now I just got the new Amy Ray record, which is actually kind of cool. And I just downloaded a bunch of shit into my computer. I went apeshit because it’s time to go to Europe. I picked up the Nancy Wilson Live in Las Vegas, that’s pretty fucking good. And Louie Prima and Keely Smith, Live in Las Vegas, that was great too. I’ve been going through my standards phase, so I’m into all the music of the early sixties. Total like show tune-y, you know, “Luck Be a Lady” type shit.
RT: And there’s some band, do you know how to pronounce is it Feast or Fiest? Have you heard this?
MF: No, I haven’t heard it.
RT: Oh man, this girl who just has this really beautiful voice, it’s almost like torch-songy but it’s with acoustic guitars. It’s really good. It’s like Feist...F-E-I-S-T.
MF: I’ll have to check it out. If you could pick one songwriter as an influence, who would it be?
RT: Willie Nelson.
MF: What do you like to do when you’re not making music?
RT: Umm... that’s about it. (laughs) You know, I mean, if I’m not making music professionally I like to just be the part of me that used to play when I was sixteen. You know, just sitting around just writing songs or working with other people. I’m a big reader, I like to read a lot.
MF: And your trip to Europe, is that like a pleasure trip or is it business?
RT: No, there are no more pleasure trips for the next year and a half.
MF: So this is a touring thing?
RT: Yeah, it’s just going over for promo. And then we go back at the end of June I think and actually bring my band over and play.
MF: Very cool. Touring question, it’s the last one I’ve got…your favorite place to eat on the road?
RT: Ooooh. You know man, the first place that comes to mind when you say that is Rendezvous in Memphis.
MF: Oh man, I love that place. With the ribs?
RT: The barbeque place. The sausage and cheese plate? Oh my god…
MF: Yeah, with the dry-rub ribs.
RT: Man, that place is so fucking good.
MF: OK, how about your least favorite place to eat?
RT: Oh, umm, Applebees. (laughs)
MF: (laugh) OK, why is that?
RT: I don’t know, it just sucks. (laughs harder)
MF: I guess you’re not going to do any Applebee’s commercials.
RT: Yeah, right! (laughing)
MF: Oh you know what, one other thing real quick. One of your songs, was there a Miller Lite reference?
RT: A Miller Lite reference?
MF: Yeah, I didn’t hear the record, but I was just listening to the clips on iTunes, there was one song that sounded like there was a Miller Lite reference.
RT: Hold on, let me think…. No, I think it maybe “ we may never find the meaning of life?”
MF: OK (laughing).
RT: Yeah, I think that might be it. Meaning of life…..Miller Lite.
MF: It’s funny, my wife pointed it out, she’s like “Did he just say Miller Lite?” I said, “I don’t know but it could be a good marketing…”
RT: You know what’s fucking funny? When I put out “Lonely No More,” there’s a line that says, “Open up to me like you do your girlfriends,” and so many people were telling me that they thought I was saying, “Open up to me. Let me do your girlfriend.”
MF: (laughs) Wow.
RT: Well, that’s a whole different song, isn’t it? I don’t want to be lonely no more, let me do your girlfriend.