It doesn’t get much bigger in music than Rob Thomas, and as Rob says, "Nashville is a song writing town,” so introductions here are merely a matter of formality.
Best worded by his PR statement, “for nearly a decade now he has been a ubiquitous presence on the modern musical landscape as the primary composer and lead singer for Matchbox Twenty. He has been the driving force both behind and in front of one of the most consistently successful rock bands in recent history.”
Abundantly titled, in jest according the Rob, “My Secret Record or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Biz” documents the making of Thomas’ first solo venture away from Matchbox Twenty; a brave endeavor for Thomas who admits having difficulty with “coming up with a song that really makes me go somewhere,” and having to “compete in a world with Beyonce´ and Jay-Z and Ashley Simpson—fight for radio real estate with these people.”
I knew my twenty minutes (funny huh?) with Rob Thomas would be memorable not only because I have been a fan since the beginning, but also because the nervous tremor I heard in the seasoned pro’s voice after my first question dissolved any preconceived notions that I’d be talking to an overconfident, arrogant Divo (masculine of Diva). I knew I’d be talking to Rob Thomas instead.
Rob didn’t hesitate or flinch though when he corrected me after I tried to affirm that he does indeed compare himself to other artists. “Well, not comparing…I think competing, whether you want to or not. I’m not competing when I write a song, I’m not competing when I make a record [but] it’s hard in this day and age to be a guy just writing your songs and get them on the radio. There’s a certain part of your celebrity that you need to keep up, just enough to keep your head above water so people will know that you have a record out. But how do you play enough of that game but have it not affect your music?”
I wondered what was spinning in the CD player of a recording artist who has reached the pinnacle of fame and devotion that Rob has. Buried in his computer at home in New York for the past few months, Rob says he squeaks in time to listen to the new record from native Tennesseans Kings of Leon. Among his other favorites are Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and lots of jazz.
O&A: Was the solo album meant to be a secret?
“There’s a little song I sing called ‘Secret Record’—it’s like an inside joke because I’m singing a song to a guy from my record company that actually leaked my record a week early. [He] like gave out a hundred copies of the record to radio winners a week before it came out, so it’s like out on the Internet a week early. There’s a scene in the movie where I’m gearing up and rehearsing for a show, and what you don’t see is him walking in the room, and I’m singing a song about how I had a secret record that’s not a secret anymore.
O&A: You mentioned that the title is sort of tongue-in-cheek, does this spill over into the film?
“It’s a funny f***ing business, you know what I mean—the things that you worry about and the things that you spend time on; things like shooting a video. I mean, these things are just kinda funny in themselves. It’s (the film) definitely got a light-hearted tone to it because it wasn’t a dark time. My wife (model Marisol Maldonado) was really ill during the making of this record—but overall I think there’s a sense of ‘What the f**k do I have to complain about?’”
O&A: I know of the work that you and your wife have done for children’s hospitals and animal shelters thru your non-profit Sidewalk Angels Foundation. Have you considered adding some GLBT initiatives?
“We’re really good friends with George Michael, and him and I have been talking about—there’s never been an initiative that was started by straights and gays for gay rights. It’s made exclusively, like, a gay issue, but it’s not. It’s a social issue across the board. That’s something that we are actually talking about.”
As to upcoming pressures, Rob actually doesn’t have exorbitant expectations for the film, he hopes to show at a few more festivals, and find it a home on DVD. Unlike some number crunching artists, he says he doesn’t feel obligated to keep a record out every year, evident by the fact that Matchbox Twenty has made only three records in ten years. With his single “Little Wonders” from the soundtrack of “Meet the Robinsons” still dominating the airwaves, he and bandmates Kyle Cook (lead guitar, vocals), Paul Doucette (drums), and Brian Yale (bass) will go back to the studio after Nashville to record new songs for a retrospective album commemorating the decade which has passed since their first record; signaling the close to one chapter and start to another says Thomas.
I asked Rob (acknowledging first that he is happily married with a son) the hypothetical question: If you were gay, who could you see yourself dating?
Thomas: “My guy crushes are always like Michael Pitt—like more of an effeminate kind of a guy. Maybe it would be like a Brad Pitt, not somebody too hairy. I can look at Clive Owen (the new James Bond) and I can say, ‘Aw man, Clive Owen is like an amazing looking guy.’ I can say ‘Well that’s a fuckin’ sexy guy,’ but I don’t know that he would be my type.”
This writer predicts that within the next 10 to 12 years, Matchbox Twenty will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This writer only hopes he can be seated in the audience on that evening. The Nashville Film Festival kicks off this Thursday, April 19.