Matchbox Twenty’s album North has been a decade in the making, and it’s been worth the wait, writes Neala Johnson
Strike up the band
IT’S mid- April and getting dark in Calabasas, California. This is not a part of LA frequented by tourists, but it is home to Matt Serletic’s Emblem Studios.
Gold and platinum discs line the walls, most of them for Matchbox Twenty or frontman Rob Thomas’s solo releases, many of them from Australia where the band has gone platinum 21 times since
busting out with Yourself in 1996 or Someone Like You.
But it’s a nondescript whiteboard in a room to the left that really catches the eye. On it is a list of songs vying for a place on Matchbox Twenty’s fourth album proper, North.
They’re split under headings such as ‘‘ Single contenders’’, ‘‘ Great album’’ and ‘‘ The rest’’. At one stage there were two boards – ‘‘ Gigantic, double- sided, ridiculous,’’ says Matchbox’s drummer-turned- guitarist ( and now back to drummer again) Paul Doucette.
But then, explains Thomas, ‘‘ we had the ‘ kill night’, where we culled the songs that weren’t gonna make it’’.
‘‘ This is what made it past,’’ nods Doucette.
What of the ‘‘ single contenders’’? Is the next Push, How Far We’ve Come or Disease among the eight songs listed?
‘‘ We think all eight of ’ em,’’ says Doucette.
Thomas: ‘‘ Sure, I’ll stand by that. At least six of ’ em.’’ Doucette: ‘‘ Maybe one.’’ Thomas: ‘‘ There’s definitely one or two.’’ As they mull over future hits, they’re interrupted by the arrival of several friends. Earlier in the day, record company reps heard their new music for the first time. Tonight it’s their mates dropping by for wine, nibblies and new tunes.
When producer Serletic pushes play on our exclusive preview of North, the first song to blast out of the speakers is a surprise. Put Your Hands Up features double- time drums, its dance- floor vibe matched by lyrics about staying out all night.
Then comes She’s So Mean – now ordained as the first single from North. Doucette and guitarist Kyle Cook will be in Australia this week to launch the song on radio.
It’s everything you’d want from a Matchbox Twenty single plus a few curveballs, about a girl who drives you mad but you still want her any way.
There’s also Overjoyed, a country- ish ballad; a beautiful piano ballad penned by Cook; and Sleeping at the Wheel, which has a Joshua Tree feel.
The songs go down a treat – the vibe is classic Matchbox, with added left- turns. But the foursome – completed by bassist Brian Yale – had to ride out some bumpy patches to get this far.
They’d last recorded together in early 2007, coming up with seven new songs to tack on to greatest- hits set Exile
But it wasn’t until Thomas was in the final stages of touring his second solo album,
Cradlesong ( 2009), that Matchbox Twenty began discussing plans to finally follow up
More Than You Think You Are ( 2002).
After week- long writing sessions in each member’s home base and armed with 40 partly formed ideas, they set up shop in a remote cabin in Nashville with a studio attached. That’s where the trouble began.
‘‘ We were supposed to be just shoring up ideas, something to bring to a producer,’’ Thomas explains. ‘‘ But we were getting bogged down and drinking irresponsible amounts of wine and fighting . . .’’
Doucette: ‘‘ Nashville definitely turned into a giant mess. But it was a necessary disaster. We did have to figure out how to be together as people again.’’ The fights weren’t personal. ‘‘ It should have been a reality show, it was pretty funny,’’ Doucette says.
‘‘ At the heart of it, it’s a bunch of guys who really wanna make something great and don’t know how we’re gonna do it.’’
It took the wrangling of Serletic and his whiteboards to finally give the band a focus.
North is the result. Thomas says the album was made by ‘‘ different humans’’ than those who made that last long- player 10 years ago.
‘‘ Hopefully you get better with age,’’ agrees Doucette.
‘‘ It’s about allowing everybody to have the space to do what they do. Like, everybody has a superpower . . .’’
‘‘ We’re like The Avengers,’’ Thomas interjects with a grin.
‘‘ We’re just like that.’’
Out on August 31 ( Warner) Matchbox Twenty is expected to tour before the end of the year
DOUBLE TROUBLE: Frontman Rob Thomas and drummer Paul Doucette are ready to launch a new single in Australia.