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Matchbox Twenty tours behind 1st album of all-new material in a decade

By Malcolm X Abram, Akron Beacon Journal (MCT) • Feb 15, 2013 at 7:27 AM

AKRON, Ohio — It’s been 10 years since the post-grunge-band-turned-pop-stars Matchbox Twenty released an album of all-new material.

In the 21st century world of pop music, that is the equivalent of an epoch’s worth of shifting musical trends with a gaggle of brightly, if briefly, shining pop stars, and the increasing dominance of the Internet in our daily lives.

But the band, featuring singer-guitarist Rob Thomas, bassist Brian Yale, drummer/ guitarist/ pianist Paul Doucette and guitarist Kyle Cook, didn’t totally disappear during its recording break. Frontman Thomas released a chart-topping solo album “Something to Be” in 2005, and in 2007, the band released “Exile on Mainstream,” a compilation featuring seven new songs.

The band toured through 2008 before taking another break for Thomas’ second solo album, “Cradlesong.”

By the time the band took that first break in 2004, it already had three multiplatinum records, including its 1996 debut, “Yourself or Someone Like You,” which achieved the very rare diamond certification for sales of more than 10 million.

The band found fame in part by riding the mid-1990s, post-grunge wave. But where many of its peers adhered closer to the low, Drop D-tuned sound and teenage and 20-something angst that fueled much of grunge, MB20 kept the soft verse-loud chorus blueprint and the Florida/ South Carolina-raised Thomas mysteriously sang with a Midwestern accent.

But the band focused on layering catchy, hummable pop melodies on early hits such as “Bent” and over the years became more of a classic pop-rock band incorporating more funk and dance elements in songs such as the Mick Jagger co-written “Disease” from 2002’s “Mad Season.”

The new album “North,” which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and has sold platinum since its late summer 2012 release, is a big shiny pop record that feels thematically lighter than much of MB20’s previous material. It contains nods to current pop trends such as the soul pop of lead single “She’s So Mean” and the neo-disco grooves of “Put Your Hands Up” and the simmering electronica-laced funk of “Like Sugar.”

The band is on its biggest tour in years.

Doucette took some time out of his busy schedule (chilling on his tour bus during a break in Dallas) to talk about the new album and the band’s musical evolution.

Q: So it’s been a decade since a new album. That’s a loooong time. Were you worried that no one would still care?

A: I know, that’s a lot of cobwebs, right?

I think we definitely felt like, “Hey, does anyone care?” But the reality is we’ve always felt does anyone care. Every time we go on tour, we wonder if anyone is going to show up. (Laughs.)

At the same time, we realize this is what we do, and we’re conscious of the fact that someone’s going to like it — whether it be 5 million people or 500 people, I don’t know. We’re not in charge of that; all we’re in charge of is doing what we can do the best. We can do it, and using our own gauge of what we think is good and let the chips fall where they may.

Q: So MB20 is creeping up on 20 years, how does that feel?

A: It’s been 20 years since Rob, Bryan and I met. We started playing 20 years ago this year.

First off, when you get up in the morning, it’s hard to not think about it. We think all kinds of things. It’s amazing. I’m sitting on my bus 20 years later doing the same thing just at a different level. And then you also have the thought that, “Wow, we’re 20 years older. How did that happen?” (Laughs.)

Q: Considering it’s been a decade, this album has your shortest collection of songs. Was that on purpose?

A: (The songs are) shorter this time, but that just sort of happened. I don’t know why that is. Maybe because as we get older we sort of become better at economy. As you get older, you sort of realize what you like in a song and you just kind of pinpoint that and pinpoint that and pinpoint that. We’re big fans of great crafted pop songs and I think we try to get closer and closer to that. It’s not necessarily in fashion, but the music we aspire to … and hold in high regard tends to have a very concise form to it.———

©2013 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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