So many bands who had their heyday back in the late '90s and early '00s are returning with new music this fall, including Matchbox Twenty. On September 4, the band will release North, their first album of entirely new music since 2002 (they released a greatest hits collection in 2007 with a few new tracks), and on Monday they debuted the music video for their first single, "She's So Mean." In it, the band is picked on by a femme fatale who smashes their equipment, hurls records at them like Frisbees, sets the place on fire as they're playing … and then sprays them all with an extinguisher.
Although the single has been doing well on the Billboard charts since it was released June 12, the band was initially worried that because they've been out of the spotlight for so many years, perhaps no one cared about them anymore. "But we would have been worried about that even if we put out an album last year," lead singer Rob Thomas tells omg!. "I think [me] being out in the solo world and not disappearing completely helped that. We've always had this theory that it really doesn't matter. You can go away for 10 years, you can go away for 20 years, but if you put out a good enough record, hopefully people will like it."
For this record, their fourth, Matchbox Twenty took a new approach to their songwriting. In the past, Thomas would create songs on his own and then present them to the band, which would then arrange and record them. But for North, "we changed everything," he reveals. Guitarists Paul Doucette and Kyle Cook had been doing their own solo projects and writing for other artists in Nashville, "so they had become really good writers," explains Thomas, who will be a guest mentor on "The Voice" next season. "So we actually started this record by everybody writing together. We went through three different week-long sessions in L.A., New York, and Nashville, where we all live, and came up with like 60 different song ideas."
Over a three-month period, the band hunkered down in a cabin-recording studio just outside of Nashville called Dark Horse. "We just kind of lived there and drank way too much wine and tried to fight our way through these 60 songs," says Thomas of the tracks, which ran the gamut from acoustic alt-country to "poppy pop" and rock. In the end, 12 songs were left standing, including Thomas' favorites, the ballads "Parade" and "Overjoyed," and the dance-y "Put Your Hands Up."
Before Matchbox Twenty blew open the doors with 1997's "Push" from their debut album, Yourself or Someone Like You, the band was thisclose to being dropped by their label. At the time, they were on tour opening up for the Lemonheads and performing for a few hundred people a night. "One radio station in Birmingham started playing 'Push' and it started doing well in that market, so [the label executives] were like 'Let's give them one more chance,'" explains Thomas. By the time the tour had made its way to the Alabama city, "there was a line around the door and they were there to see us. From that moment on, everything just switched around and changed." As for what the Lemonheads and their lead singer Evan Dando, who famously dated Liv Tyler, Kate Moss, and Kylie Minogue back in the day, has been up to, Thomas jokes, "I don't know, but I'm sure wherever he is, he's being brilliant. He's a pain in the ass, but a brilliant one." (For the record, the Lemonheads toured earlier this year around the U.S. and performed their 1992 hit album, It's a Shame About Ray.)
Since that turning point in 1997, Matchbox Twenty has gone on to sell 30 million albums and have 13 Top 10 hit songs on the Billboard charts. But although their legions of fans can't get enough of their music, there are some MB20 songs that Thomas could do without. "If they come on the radio, we turn them off. If I never hear 'Real World' again, I'll be totally fine," he tells omg! of the 1998 hit. "But when you play it live and the whole place kind of lights up because it's somebody's favorite song or it's a good memory for them or reminds them of time, that becomes really special. So I think live you can suspend disbelief, and it just kind of feels new every night."