Rob Thomas Reveals His Solo Side
By Melinda Newman
Rob Thomas jokes that his label, Melisma/Atlantic, is seeing a different side of him as it prepares for the launch of his solo debut, "...Something to Be."
In the multiplatinum group Matchbox Twenty, drummer Paul Doucette was the "bad cop. I was good cop," Thomas says. "Now I'm good cop and bad cop. A lot of people who thought I was easygoing, pot-smoking Rob don't think that anymore. Now they see I'm not so easy."
Fans of Matchbox Twenty will also hear a different side of Thomas on the eclectic album, which hits U.S. stores April 19.
"...Something to Be" veers from familiar Matchbox Twenty sounds ("Ever the Same") and dance-oriented pop (first single "Lonely No More") to elegant, sweeping prog-drama ("All That I Am") and propulsive rock ("This Is How a Heart Breaks").
That ability to stretch a bit propelled Thomas' desire to record a solo album, although he stresses that there will be more Matchbox Twenty projects. "There are a lot of things I wanted to say that I couldn't say in Matchbox Twenty," Thomas explains. "The guys didn't like the song, or I couldn't finish the song. These were songs I wanted to see out."
Thomas wrote much of the album with longtime Matchbox Twenty producer Matt Serletic. The Virgin Records chairman was also at the helm for the solo project.
For material, Thomas often turned to what he affectionately refers to as "the scrap yard."
"When it comes time for a project, I look at the scrap yard and find what's good or bad. There could be a great verse you love so much, and you go to the scrap yard and find a chorus you love."
The "scrap yard" resides in two digital recorders and a stack of notebooks Thomas has accumulated during the last 10 years.
In addition to Thomas' readily identifiable vocals, the solo tunes share another bond with Matchbox Twenty songs: most deal with love gone wrong. "I have the hardest time writing about being happy," Thomas says. "To me, that's not interesting. That's why I try to spend so much time writing with other people."
"...Something to Be" will be available only as a DualDisc, priced at the regular CD price of $17.98. The disc will feature the new recording in 5.1 surround sound, as well as a 20-minute excerpt of a documentary about the recording of the album by filmmaker Gillian Grisman, Thomas' 2004 holiday tune "Christmas in New York," information about his charity Sidewalk Angels and a photo gallery.
While the members of Matchbox Twenty have never shown their faces on their album covers, Atlantic hopes to have Thomas' mug everywhere.
As part of an imaging campaign, Thomas will appear in a stylized black-and-white Target TV commercial performing "Lonely No More." The approach is similar to the performance spot Lenny Kravitz did for Target last year. In return for the ad support, the retailer will get an exclusive EP.
Thomas admits he wrestled with the arrangement. "Really, a lot of it is borne out of the fact that record companies have made a lot of bad decisions that the artists have to pay for," he says. "Now labels are coming to you and saying, 'Because of [illegal] downloading, we can't afford this,' etc... Here I get the free advertising, and Target gets the EP."
He stresses that he sees the Target deal as pushing his music, not shilling for the retailer. "I didn't get paid to do this," Thomas says. "But I really did stay awake at night, and at the end of the day, Target is using its resources to help artists. The record company isn't going to spend [that money]. This is advertising the record and where people can go and buy it."
Thomas remains firm in his resolve not to allow his music to be used to sell products. "I still turn down all the credit card and Gap ads," he says. "My publishing guy [Evan Lamberg at EMI Music Publishing] is not happy that I turn down all this money, but at the end [of the day], I'm doing fine with my day job."
Thomas is also paying heed to Internet opportunities. He is recording an AOL Sessions episode and is Yahoo Launch's April artist of the month. Along with streaming the album for a week before its release, VH1.com will Webcast an exclusive live performance by the artist.
Thomas is taping VH1's Save the Music benefit concert April 11 alongside such artists as Rod Stewart, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys and Joss Stone. The show will air April 17. He will appear on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" (April 19-20), "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" (April 25) and "Today" (May 20). Potential second single "This Is How a Heart Breaks" will be featured in commercials for the NBA playoffs, which start in June.
Thomas kicks off an 11-date solo tour April 15 in San Francisco. The club tour, which will be followed by a larger venue outing later this year, marks the first time Thomas has played clubs in more than eight years.
Regardless of how the album sells, for Thomas, victory is already assured. "The album not doing well wasn't my fear; I was scared I would get so far into recording and it wouldn't be what I wanted. But that wasn't the case. I'm so proud. Ten years after making music, I've made a different noise."