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Rob Thomas Goes It Alone

Matchbox Twenty leader pursues pop stardom with funky solo disc

BRIAN HIATTPosted Apr 19, 2005 12:00 AM

Carlos Santana didn't play a note on . . . Something to Be, the just-released solo debut from Matchbox Twenty singer Rob Thomas -- but the album wouldn't exist without him. Six years ago, Santana rescued Thomas from radio-rock facelessness, enlisting him to co-write and sing on the slinky pop smash "Smooth."

"Carlos kind of fortified my belief that 'Hey, I'm a songwriter, and this is what I'm supposed to do,'" says Thomas, who launched his first solo tour on April 15th. "And it just gave me the confidence to be able to say, 'OK, I can step off for the next couple years and just be on my own.'"

It looks like that self-assurance was justified: "Lonely No More," the album's first single -- which borrows the Latin flavor of "Smooth" -- has gone Top Ten on Billboard's pop chart. But Thomas still worries that the heavily produced "Lonely" is too slick. "I don't know, man, this could fucking be career suicide," he says. "I wanted it to be an ultra-pop song, but that is definitely as far to that side as I will go."

The other tracks on the album range from the funk pop of "Fallin' to Pieces" to the John Mellencamp-does-soul tune "Streetcorner Symphony" -- but little of it could be considered rock. For Thomas, though, that's not much of a change. "Matchbox Twenty stopped rocking a long time ago," Thomas says of his on-hiatus band. "I don't think we changed; mainstream rock got heavier, and we stayed kind of the same. I want my next record to be a stripped-down, folky kind of thing -- so why shouldn't this be my pop period?"

Ultimately, however, Thomas wanted to combine his guitar-centric roots with the deeper grooves of urban music. "The thing that gets me off is having tracks that have Tom Petty's guitar player and Dr. Dre's bass player on them," says Thomas, who also recruited John Mayer to play guitar. "I wanted a record that bass players would listen to and go, 'Man, that's funky.'" Adds the album's producer, Matt Serletic, "Rob's always been sort of a soulful singer. This was an opportunity to highlight that."

Thomas is enjoying the solo life -- "You don't have to wait for five guys to get things done" -- but he swears that he is still committed to Matchbox Twenty, who have released three platinum albums since 1996. "We've broken up so many times that I don't imagine it ever sticking," he says. "But we were uninspired. If we had made a record now, we would become every bad thing critics have said about us."

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Ultra-pop period


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