Rob Thomas On Super Bowl, Justin Timberlake, Songwriting And Matchbox Twenty

February 6, 2018
Rob Thomas

Photo Credit: Ron Elkman/USA TODAY NETWORK


Rob Thomas was in town yesterday and Jay Edwards of the Morning MIX had the opportunity to meet up with his old pal and catch up on what is currently going on with the Matchbox Twenty lead singer.

Jay Edwards: So, were you able to catch the Super Bowl and did you have a horse in the race at all?

Rob Thomas: You know what, I didn't. I think I wanted Philly to win just because if you spend time in Philly, I don't know of a city that loves their team like Philly loves the Eagles. And the first thing I wanted to do this morning was to Google "watch Philly burn" and see how it went because I saw this video of one year where they lost and they wrecked the town. And I saw a year when they won, and they wrecked the town. They're just happier wrecking I guess on that one.

JE: Were you able to see half time with Justin?

RT: I thought it was good. It's funny, because before I saw it I read all of these reviews and it kind of seemed like it was getting panned for, at best case, being lackluster. But I'm not sure. Like, he's Justin Timberlake, he's a badass. I thought he went up there and he Justin Timberlaked that stuff.

JE: It was just like Gaga last year. It was all her. So it was all JT and I think everyone was expecting, is *NSYNC gonna come out, are you gonna bring out Janet? So I think people were waiting for the wow factor, but he IS the wow factor.

RT: Yeah, and I also think it's a double edged sword, the term safe, right?  I mean this is Super Bowl, America's past time. The entire world is watching. Every Super Bowl performance to some degree has been pretty safe. Some of my favorites, Tom Petty, Prince, they were great because they're playing great songs but I don't know what you were expecting him to do? Is he gonna light himself on fire? I mean Lady Gaga set the bar pretty high by flying down from the sky but other than that, what is he supposed to do? He went out there and I think he was great. He's an Orlando boy, we've gotta back that stuff up.

JE: So, the NFL comes to you and says, "Rob, we want you guys. We want Matchbox Twenty to take the stage next year at halftime." Who do you bring out with you as a "wow factor" if you could bring somebody out with you?

RT: You know, I'd probably bring out John Mayer. We're real good friends and he's played on some stuff with me and I think he's one of the best guitar players in the world. I mean, if we were just like shooting for the moon, my first thought would be like, let's bring out Bono. Let's go big. But then it would be just like, "Oh, Bono played the Super Bowl." I wouldn't want somebody to just totally dwarf me, like I wasn't there anymore. So I think you'd have to be really careful with who you pick. I would get like Bono, but with a lame leg and a raspy voice. You know, just keep him down a peg.

JE: So what are you doing in Orlando? People are like, hold on, Rob Thomas is doing a show tonight? No. You're just stopping back through town. What's going on?

RT: I'm off the road right now and working on a new solo record. So I do some of these gigs for charities and corporations to keep out on the road and keep playing because otherwise you'd just sit at home and you feel like you're getting stale. This is my third band. I have Matchbox Twenty and I have my solo proper band, and this is the quartet. It's like me and Matt Becker are the only constants in all three, my guitar player. We're doing it for this veterinarian conference. One of my best friends is like the premiere veterinarian oncologist in the country and so she called me about this so I came to do this.

JE: When you come back home to Orlando, do you ever have time to drive up and down 436 or go to the Waffle House on Douglas, or just kind of see some old school stuff?

RT: I did, but you know, my mother-in-law has a house here as well, so sometimes we get to come back through. This is like the most "old person" thing you could possibly imagine saying, but it's just amazing to go down and see how much everything has changed, because in your memory, it stays the same. You know, everything about Orange Avenue in my head is still Sapphire Supper Club and now it's like, when you go down there, if you drop me off in the middle of town I wouldn't even know how to get to that part of the street. Everything has just kind of grown up so much all around it.

JE: Is there a place locally that when you do come back from New York and you get to come back to Orlando, you're like we've got to go to that one pizza place, or is there one place here locally that you love?

RT: Don't hate me, fellow Orlando people, but I've been in New York now for twenty years so I'm a food snob now. And there's such a chain culture out here with a lot of this stuff. There's a couple of good places in Winter Park, some really proper, stand alone restaurants. But I think, when I come here, I do what everybody else does. I go to Disney, I go to Universal, I get my ride on, ya know? 

JE: You recently wrapped up celebrating twenty plus years with Matchbox Twenty. How is it different this time going out on the road? What's different now than it was before?

RT: We had a little bit of friction before this tour like when I was on my last solo tour. I went out the summer before and I think there was an expectation from the guys that we were going out that summer. And I didn't do it. Sometimes my schedule can piss them off, and Kyle quit the band for a minute. It was touch and go there for a second. Paul, who's one of my best friends for twenty plus years, we weren't talking, and that's never happened ever. We never had a personal rift in our entire life. Right before [the tour], we got on the phone and we just kind of manned up and we grew up. And we had more fun on this tour than we ever had in our entire life. We got along better than we've ever gotten along. Like to this day we still have this all-band text thread that we all chime in on like whenever we're watching something or whenever we want to loop anybody in on something. Music is one thing. You can make it a business, and I know a lot of people who have done that. There's always money in the banana stand, right, so you can always keep coming back and doing that. But it's a good feeling to get up there and really, really enjoy what you're doing because then I think it gives you a sense of that history and a sense of that twenty years and you're all kind of there and you realize a lot of people know what it's like to be in a band, and a lot of people know what it's like to be in a much more successful band than we are, but we're four guys that share a very particular experience that we all have and only we know what it was like to come up together like that. So it's good that we're still family.

JE: When you write a song, how do you compartmentalize...this is for me, this could be for the band, or this could be a great song for John Mayer or somebody like that?

RT: I really don't. Like over the past year and a half, I've probably written enough material for four records. But they're not four great records. They're probably not even four good records. But you do that so you can have one really good record. So at the end of the day, you just try to pull together the best of the songs that you've been writing up until that point. I'm not good enough to be like, well now I'm gonna do this. Every time I write a song that I think is good, I'm amazed with myself. It feels like a miracle that's just happened and then you feel like it's never going to be able to happen again. It's like some sort of weird math that didn't make sense and then all of the sudden it's there, and then you feel like the god of creation for a second. And then the next day you hear some song that's really good and you feel like a hack again. And you go back to the drawing board. So it's never really like that. Like with Matchbox, if I write a song, the guys dictate that. They'll say, I like it or I don't like it or let's work on it. And a song like "If You're Gone" from our second record. I almost didn't bring it in the room. I thought it was a sweet little song that I had on the guitar and it was kind of a lull in the recording and the guys were like, do you got anything else, and I was like, you know, I just started working on this and they were like, let's do that. You don't want to die with your best songs in your pocket so I think if you have the opportunity to record anything you want to get it all out there with the best of what you have. 

JE: Has there been a time when a hook came to you, where it was the actual instrumental part of it or the chorus of it, and you had nothing to write on and you went and called yourself on a voicemail or wrote it down on a cocktail napkin? And if so, what was that song?

RT: I think every song starts that way. And now, thank God, we have the voice notes on our phone, because we used to be, you'd come up with a melody in your head. And you'd write down the lyric idea. But the next morning when you come look at that lyric with no frame of reference in the melody, you've got nothing going on. And melody to me is the most important thing in the world, right? Because melody is what draws you in the first time you ever hear anything. Even before you know what the lyrics are. If you love a song you probably listened to that melody, it attracted you, and then you went back and you're like that's a really good lyric too. I always kind of equate it to, a melody is a hot girl standing across the room at the bar. And that's what draws you over. And if she's got a good lyric, that's great. And you hope so when the conversation starts. That's what I think draws you in. So thank God for the voice notes. You can take a melody anywhere. And I've got nothing but a thousand things on my phone that are like "beep" [Thomas hums random melody] "beep." Once a month I go through and get really honest with myself and be like, okay, that's crap, that's crap, that's crap. Or, oh no, that's an Imagine Dragons song, get rid of that. I've just ripped that off...all right.

JE: What is something that fans who come to shows know to NOT do?

RT: When we come up there, we've probably got a setlist figured out in our head. We've got two hours of music up there and we're going to try and get everything in there, and if you're the guy in the front row and you're screaming at the top of your lungs, "Back To Good" in the middle of every break, and you're just like, dude we're gonna get to it. That's when I always like to say that this is not request hour. This is shut up and listen hour. But I think that's the only thing. You try to have as little rules as possible. Even like our set lists are just a guide and we're moving along and feel out the crowd and be like, oh, we should do this for this crowd they're gonna like this, or we won't do this tonight, this crowd's too chatty. That type of thing.

JE: What advice would Rob Thomas today give 21-year-old Rob Thomas?

RT: The first thing would have been to never start smoking, in all honesty. If I could have done one thing differently, just in my personal life, I probably never would have picked it up because once you pick it up it's a hard thing to put back down. On the music side of it, in the business side of it, you have to do it because you really, really love it and with no expectation of any kind of success whatsoever. I think if you have some sort of an idea of what you expect to happen to you you're going to miss the things that are actually happening. You're going to have this idea of what you expect success is supposed to be and life is going to pass you by because you're chasing something that's not there. We struggled for a long time I think. We had this really big first record and then we had to spend the next twenty years living up to it and living it down all at the same time. You kind of need to go in with the idea that you really, really love the way it feels to turn somebody on to some music and want to be around that your whole life and that's the only reason you should do it.

JE: New Rob Thomas music . . . when do you think?

RT: I'm hoping by the end of this year. I've been writing and writing and sharing some songs and doing it mostly with Butch Walker and Benny Blanco, two producers I'm working with. So my first week is like on the 19th, I'll be in New York working like the first real recording, so hopefully by the end of this year everything will be kind of put together.