Matchbox Twenty expands sound on ‘North’

By John Benson

For all of the love Matchbox Twenty has garnered over the past 15 years, the Rob Thomas-led act still enjoys its fair share of haters.

“In the late ’90s, we were on the radio all of the time,” said drummer Paul Doucette, calling from Dallas. “Those bands always get hated. That’s just the way it is. I know people who worry about it. We’re pretty OK with it. If you don’t like us, that’s cool. We’ve definitely gotten that over the years, but it hasn’t harmed us in any way.”

With more than 30 million records sold worldwide, the Grammy Award-nominated Matchbox Twenty has been a staple of adult contemporary and pop rock since its 1996 debut, “Yourself or Someone Like You,” yielded ubiquitous hit singles “Long Day,” “Back 2 Good” and “3 am.”

Though two more albums quickly followed – 2000’s “Mad Season” and 2002’s “More Than You Think You Are” – so did Thomas’ solo career. That kicked off with a bang when Thomas joined Carlos Santana on “Smooth,” which Billboard named the No. 2 Most Popular Song Ever.

The frontman’s solo success presented a cloudy existence for Matchbox Twenty. Even though the outfit never broke up, fans for years have asked Doucette if the band was ever going to reunite. He stresses any downtime for the act was to provide Thomas room for his solo career.

That explains the lull that has followed since Matchbox Twenty’s 2007 greatest hits “Exile on Mainstream.” However, now the group is back with its fourth studio effort “North,” which not only debuted at No. 1 but also features hit singles “She’s So Mean” and “Overjoyed.”

Sound-wise, the latest album finds the quartet noticeably expanding its wings with the heavy beat of “She’s So Mean” coupled with the synth-laden “Our Song.”

“This time out we collaborated a lot more as songwriters,” Doucette said. “Rob has always been the songwriter of the band and then Kyle and I would write individually. This time we were like, ‘Let’s try to write something together,’ which we started on the greatest hits effort but then really got into it more on this album.”

For examples of the collaborative effort, Doucette points to “She’s So Mean” or “The Way” as tunes that in the past Matchbox Twenty wouldn’t have recorded.

“One thing we realized a long time ago is that we’re very fortunate to have a sound,” Doucette said. “That allows us to go into a lot of different places and it still sounds like Matchbox Twenty because of Rob’s voice, which is good because it’s very identifiable. While we’ve always seen ourselves as a pop rock band, now we’ve sort of honed that over the years.”

Finally, Doucette admits longevity appears to be in the cards for Matchbox Twenty, which is hoping to model its career similar to that of an iconic pop rock act that also got its start in Florida.

“We all like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers,” Doucette said. “They have always existed and have been known for quality. It just sounds amazing decades later and that’s kind of what we’re going for. It’s not like they were the biggest band in the world ever, but they had their moment and kind of stayed. We like that. If we end up with that type of a career, we’d be really happy.”

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