Matchbox Twenty: ‘We’re Still The Greatest Pop Rock Band In The World’

22 June 2023 | 11:22 am | Mary Varvaris

“I wouldn't want to take a song that we think is a good song and not do it because we don't think it sounds like Matchbox Twenty. Because at the end of the day, whatever we do is Matchbox Twenty.”

Matchbox Twenty

Matchbox Twenty (Credit: Jimmy Fontaine)

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“Few acts have dominated the contemporary music landscape in this country, from the mid-’90s right through the 2000s, quite like Matchbox Twenty,” Christo Van Egmond, Managing Director of TEG Van Edmond, said in a press release about the band’s upcoming Australian tour. He’s right.

Whether you jam Matchbox Twenty CDs in your car or listen when they come on the radio, there’s a good chance that their music has soundtracked some of your dearest memories. They’re an intergenerational band now – with Gen X parents bringing their millennial and Gen Z kids to the shows and streaming their albums on Spotify.

In February 2024, Matchbox Twenty will return to Australia for the first time in nearly twelve years. That news was teased a few months ago when founding members vocalist Rob Thomas and multi-instrumentalist Paul Doucette appeared on The Plug podcast with Neil Griffiths and dropped the information that they were planning an Australian tour, immediately thrilling the band’s longtime, patient Australian fans. And they can’t wait to be back.

When The Music catches up with Rob Thomas, he immediately comments on this writer’s rage shirt. “I used to love that show – I used to just sit in front of a television for hours watching that,” he laughs from the band’s tour bus in San Diego, California. “Rage was like your MTV, right? Like what we had for our MTV? Only rage kept playing music when we stopped.”

Is there a rage Guest Programmer slot in Thomas’ sights? He’d be honoured to be asked. “Oh, I’d love that. You can have me! That’s my lane – I can drive in that lane all day.” And what songs would he choose? “A lot of INXS would be in there.

“Those guys have been really, really good friends. Like, we've all stayed in touch and stayed close. That's a wonderful band with some bad strings of luck every now and then.” Talking to Thomas, a few things are immediately evident: for one, he’s a pretty fast talker, but no less engaging to talk to. And that energy he carries on a tour bus translates to studio recordings and arena stages every night.

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Last month, Matchbox Twenty released their first album since 2012’s North, Where The Light Goes. Their new album is joyous; the band wasn’t kidding when they promised “another great batch of real, relevant, and relatable songs”. Thomas explains, “We definitely didn't want to do any songs that we felt cynical or depressive – we’d just come out of a period of time over the last three years before where there was so much uncertainty.”

From the 3 AM singer’s perspective, he observed rage and plenty of dark clouds looming over people. Nobody needed any more of that negativity in their lives, “So we wanted to write a song that had a little more joy and a little more positivity in it. We didn't start with that intention; it was just when we got halfway through the record that we threw around out of all the songs that were out there; we picked six that we knew we liked.

“We could tell that they all had a certain theme and were trending a certain way. You know what I mean? We tried to keep almost everything positive. There's still moments of doubt, just like in life; there's moments of doubt that creep in there. But we think, on the whole, we try and trend towards joy.”

That joy makes Where The Light Goes another release that Matchbox Twenty fans will undoubtedly lap up. The first single, Wild Dogs (Running In A Slow Dream), is an upbeat pop-rock number destined for radio success, while Don’t Get Me Wrong elicits nostalgia with its grunge-rock grooves. No matter what Thomas is actually singing, he comes across as so likeable and relatable that despite the album having no distinct unifying theme, it’s unquestionably the band their fans know and love. Matchbox Twenty are well and truly back.

“There's no unifying themes on the album; I think there's always just a certain bar there because I write all the time,” Thomas laughs, but every six songs, he finds himself hitting that dreamy sweet spot. “We kind of look back at our records, and we're like, ‘Oh, shit, that's where we are now. That makes sense!’ We’re like, ‘Oh, it turns out that we have a lot of thoughts about mortality going on. And we have a lot of thoughts about our families and our friendships. So, it's a learning process for us as well.”

The learning curve for Thomas, Doucette, guitarist Kyle Cook and bassist Brian “Pookie” Yale is understanding “each song is like this little universe unto itself. And sometimes they sound like they could be completely separate bands,” Thomas shares. His voice and Cook’s guitar playing, in particular, combine the magical elements.

Thomas explains, “Everything still sounds like Matchbook somehow, even though this song might sound a little more Americana or country, or this one might sound a little more like a 90s rocker. This one could sound a little more alternative, or this one's just straight-up pop. That's just where we're at on that day.

“I wouldn't want to take a song that we think is a good song and not do it because we don't think it sounds like Matchbox Twenty. Because at the end of the day, whatever we do is Matchbox Twenty.”

The new songs are also receiving an ecstatic response from fans across the band’s mammoth 50-date US tour, and recent setlists are a good indicator of what Australian fans will behold.

It’s a good balance – five Where The Light Goes songs, five songs from More Than You Think You Are, five from Yourself Or Someone Like You, three from Mad Season and for North, and two from Exile On Mainstream. For a band with five albums packed with hits everyone knows and loves, it must be pretty tricky to curate a setlist, right? For Matchbox Twenty, they’re just having a lot of fun.

“We’re just getting the tour kicked off, so that meant we were playing a lot of these new songs before the record was out,” Thomas notes. “We felt like they [fans] were responding to the new songs just hearing them live for the first time. So, that was a really good sign for us.” Unfortunately for some, like yours truly, the band hasn’t performed the stunning new piano ballad, I Know Better, yet. There’s a reason behind it, though.

Thomas animatedly tells the story: “Here's what happened! We were doing four songs [from Where The Light Goes], and we were keeping everything the same until we played the Hollywood Bowl, so everybody had some time to get going,” but then, “Pookie got sick. I had to bring in another bass player to play, and he's still playing tonight. And so, we're gonna start making certain changes and move songs around and try playing I Know Better.

“We’ve been on a holding pattern until that time, but right now, we're playing [those songs]. Kyle has another song called The Way that he sings on, but as soon as we get Pookie back, we're all excited about getting I Know Better onto the set. So, by the time we get to Australia, it'll 1,000% be in the set.”

Before the band’s current expansive US tour began in mid-May, Matchbox Twenty hadn’t performed together since a one-off gig at the Churchill Music Festival in Canada in August 2022. Before that, the group hadn’t played live since October 2017. Somehow, “it feels like no time has passed.

“Like, literally, from show one, you're just like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is what we do,’” Thomas shares. He recalls looking out at his bandmates: “There’s Kyle, and there's Paul, and there's Pookie. This feels right. It's amazing how if you have a certain muscle that you've used for 27 years or whatever, even if you take three years away from it, as soon as you start doing it again, there's muscle memory to it. You know exactly where you're supposed to be.”

Throughout 2018 and 2019, Rob Thomas had gone out for a solo tour again, so “I was missing it even more.” He’s also missed Australia – it’s been far too long since Matchbox Twenty last visited our shores. Since November 2012, to be exact. But not too much has changed since then. To Thomas, “I think we're still the greatest pop-rock band in the world.”

Touring the world still means a lot to Matchbox Twenty. “To share the moment with fans, it's not just about us grandstanding and showboating and playing music for people; it's about… You know, we always think, that's not just their [the audience’s] Saturday night, it's our Saturday night too. And we want to have a good time too. We want that shared moment with everybody.

“We feel great if we leave there and everybody feels like the band and the crowd all shared the same moment like we're all part of something,” Thomas adds. “It takes a lot to get somebody to leave their house, drive to a show, find parking and get babysitting and go through the concessions. It's a lot to go to a show, man [laughs].” Matchbox Twenty knows and understand those struggles, so they appreciate your time and will put on a show that you won’t want to leave early and return to the car.

Where The Light Goes is out now. Matchbox Twenty will tour Australia in February 2024 – tickets are available via TEG.

Matchbox Twenty

2024 Australian Tour Dates with Goo Goo Dolls

Tuesday 13 February – RAC Arena, Perth

Thursday 15 February – Adelaide Entertainment Centre Arena, Adelaide

Friday 16 February – Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne

Saturday 17 February – Rochford Wines, Yarra Valley

Tuesday 20 February – WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong

Thursday 22 February – Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney

Friday 23 February – GIO Stadium, Canberra

Saturday 24 February – Newcastle Entertainment Centre, Newcastle

Monday 26 February – Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre, Gold Coast

Tuesday 27 February – Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane