Matchbox 20:
fame on the road

An interview by Jennifer Kopf,
August 1997

A year ago, when Matchbox 20 hit the road, the music press wasn't exactly beating down their door for an interview. Nobody wanted to know their musical influences, their favorite songs or riotous stories from their childhood.

"At the time when we wrote the songs and made the record, no one cared to talk to us," says drummer Paul Doucette.

Times, they are a-changing.

With a platinum debut album comfortably ensconced in the Top 10, and a strong push from recording company Lava-Atlantic, the Florida-based group has concert requests coming out of the woodwork. That will keep Doucette, lead vocalist Rob Thomas, lead guitarist Kyle Cook, rhythm guitarist Adam Gaynor and bassist Brian Yale on the tour bus for months to come.

"It's great," said Doucette, calling from a hotel in Des Moines, Iowa, where he and his bandmates were giving their overworked tour bus driver a well-deserved nap.

He doesn't get much time to nap anymore.

In a debut produced by Matt Serletic, the same guy who took care of Collective Soul, Matchbox 20 pulled together a dozen songs by Thomas that addressed his own broken relationships, mistakes, triumphs and doubts. Though many of the songs are specific, "a lot of the songs are about things that I've gone through, that you've gone through, that everyone experiences at one time or another," Doucette says.

Hence, the album's title: Yourself or Someone Like You.

The big single so far has been "Push": "I wanna push you around, I will, I will / I wanna push you around, I will, I will / I wanna take you for granted." It's a song that's irked some listeners who interpret it as an ode to a man abusing a woman. Not so, band members have said. Instead, "Push" was written by Thomas to examine an emotionally turbulent relationship from her side as well as his.

Thomas gets full or partial credit for all the songs on Yourself, and that's fine with Doucette. "Rob's an amazing songwriter; that's our strength," Doucette says. "But we all write. We don't have time to work collectively now, but we're all writing individually -- on the bus, before sound check."

The next release will "definitely" include more collaborative writing, Doucette says. "Most will still be written by Rob, but we'll put everything into a pot and see what's the best that comes out."

It's been a long haul for Doucette, who comes to Florida via his childhood home of Pittsburgh. There he spent a brief part of his youth -- very brief -- taking piano lessons ("Couldn't play a thing now") before switching to drums when he was about 13. That was all it took, and Doucette was hooked to the life of a musician.

Those were the days when aspiring rock band drummers looked up to the likes of Alex Van Halen -- "Oh, when I heard them play 'Hot for Teacher,' I said, 'I want to learn to play that,'" Doucette says. "I grew out of that stage real quick."

When he was old enough, Doucette took a hard look at the Pittsburgh music scene, packed his bags and headed for Florida. He joined up with Thomas and Yale and, eventually, they recruited Gaynor from Criteria Recording Studios and Cook from the Atlanta Institute of Music.

"I knew the songs were better than any songs I'd played before and the connection, especially with Rob, was better than any band I'd been in before," Doucette says. "But still, you never really know. I know a lot of great bands, some of my favorite bands, that no one's ever heard of."

Like My Friend Steve, he says, out of Orlando. Or, on a national scale, Grant Lee Buffalo.

Matchbox 20 didn't have to struggle for years to make their name known. And, in mid-July, they stepped onstage at the Ed Sullivan Theater for their national TV debut on Late Show with David Letterman.

That experience, Doucette says, "was kind of, I don't know, you build it up for so long, and then you get out there and think, 'Hey, this stage is a lot smaller than I thought.' But it was as cold on the set as they say; I could see my breath up there."

The nerves and the temperature were forgotten when the band strode on during a commercial break to sound-check their equipment.

"The (Late Show) band's playing, and you just play along to test things out," Doucette says, "and you're thinking 'This is pretty cool. There's Paul Shaffer, all jamming out.'"

[ by Jen Kopf ]

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