Matchbox Twenty headlines sold-out show at StranahanWritten by Alan Sculley | | ASculley@toledofreepress.com
The first three Matchbox Twenty albums were all Rob Thomas when it came to songwriting.
But then the band took a break, and Thomas went on to establish himself as a solo artist in his own right with his 2005 solo debut, “… Something To Be.” That album reached the top of the Billboard magazine album chart and produced two hit singles, “Lonely No More” and “This Is How A Heart Breaks.” Both came after “Smooth,” the blockbuster single he co-wrote for Carlos Santana and sang on Santana’s “Supernatural” CD.
Meanwhile, Matchbox Twenty members Paul Doucette and Kyle Cook were developing their craft as well. Doucette formed a side band, The Break And Repair Method; Cook formed a band called the New Left and has been writing and producing several artists.
So when Matchbox Twenty regrouped to make the 2008 album “Exile On Mainstream,” a greatest hits collection supplemented with six new songs, Doucette and Cook essentially insisted on being part of the writing equation for that album — a trend that has carried through to the recently released Matchbox Twenty album, “North.”
Matchbox Twenty will play a sold-out show at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15 at Stranahan Theater. Phillip Phillips will open.
Thomas, in a mid-January phone interview, said he was happy to open up the writing process to his bandmates. But there were some around the band who weren’t so sure Thomas should collaborate.
“A lot of people were shi***ng their pants when we started talking about this (collaborating), the label more than management,” Thomas said.
Such concerns were understandable. As primary songwriter on the first three Matchbox Twenty albums, Thomas had proven himself to be one of rock’s most reliable hitmakers.
The band’s 1996 debut CD, “Yourself Or Someone Like You,” produced five hit singles (including “Push,” “3 AM” and “Long Day”), while the next two albums, 2000’s “Mad Season” and 2002’s “More Than You Think You Are” added another half dozen hits to the list, including “Bent,” “If You’re Gone” and “Bright Lights.”
The worry, of course, was that involving Doucette, Cook (and for that matter, the other two band members, bassist Brian Yale and drummer Ryan MacMillan) in the songwriting would dilute the quality of the material Thomas might write on his own.
What Thomas soon discovered — and what people at Atlantic Records and the band’s management didn’t know — was that Doucette and Cook, in particular, showed how much they had grown as songwriters very quickly once the three started writing together.
“All that (concern about losing control of the songwriting) kind of stopped when we got together and started writing,” Thomas said. “Like a song like ‘Overjoyed’ that I wrote with Paul and Kyle, I like that as much as I like anything that I’ve ever written alone. So that’s really where the proof is. I’ll write a song with my dog if it’s a good song.”
In the end, Thomas shares writing credits with Doucette and Cook on three songs on “North,” including the bouncy first single, “She’s So Mean,” the aforementioned “Overjoyed” (a first-rate ballad that is the current single from “North”) and “I Will,” a sweet, largely acoustic ballad. Cook and Doucette, meanwhile, co-wrote the song “The Way,” Doucette and Cook each got sole writing credit for one song each, while Thomas wrote five songs on his own.
And yes, “North” sounds very much like a Matchbox Twenty album with its mix of hooky upbeat pop rockers like “She’s So Mean,” “English Town” and “Radio” (the album’s lone Thomas/Doucette collaboration), mid-tempo tunes (“Parade” and “Like Sugar”) and graceful ballads (“Overjoyed,” “I Will” and “The Way”).
The band had some 50 song ideas for “North,” and planned to narrow the list and begin recording when all five band members set up shop in a cabin/studio in Nashville, Tenn. Instead, it became more of a party/bonding session.
Fortunately, one thing happened to put the project on track. Matt Serletic, who produced the first three Matchbox Twenty albums, stopped in to see what Matchbox Twenty was cooking up for the album. A lengthy listening session to the songs in progress resulted in a realization.
“After like two bottles of wine and 3 in the morning and him looking at everything we’re doing, we just kind of looked at him and said ‘We think you should produce this record,’” Thomas said. “‘So let’s, next year January, we’ll hit LA and we’ll start recording.’ That was kind of how we went about it.”
Now, Matchbox is touring theaters and casino venues this winter on its first tour in support of “North.” Thomas said the band is trying to cover lots of ground in its show. The band, though, is making sure to play its hits, devoting about half of its set to songs many concert-goers come to hear.
“We’re still there to entertain and we’re still there to give somebody a great night,” Thomas said. “They came and invested their time and their money, so you want to make sure they get what they want. But then you have that whole other half of the set that kind of becomes on different nights different album tracks and new tracks, covers and things like that.”