Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas stepped away from the band to record his third solo album, The Great Unknown. The first single "Trust You" was released on May 25, but the album won't be released until after the tour ends in September.
Thomas and the Plain White T's perform at the Murat at Old National Centre Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. NUVO sat in on a teleconference with Thomas before he began "The Great Unknown 2015 Tour" on June 11. Below is a select portion of that teleconference.
On his latest project, solo album The Great Unknown:
It always just works out as far as what's practical. I did the last solo record and I toured that, then we made a Matchbox record and we toured that. When that was over I had a whole other group of stuff to do. I think this record, the only noticeable difference is over a quarter of the record I actually worked with other artists, which I've never really done. Getting to work with people like Wallpaper and people like Ryan Tedder, I think it helped me keep things fresh and not feel like I'm going back to the same well and just writing the same songs over and over and over, which after 20 years, that's your biggest fear. You don't want to feel like that I listen back to "Push" and "3 AM" and then I listen to my new solo record and it sounds like that all over again.
I started off with just me and Matt Serlatic who I've done pretty much all the other stuff that I've ever done with. Then I started to add in. I went rogue with Ryan and if you have Ryan, you let him produce it because he's got his own style and his own sound. Then there was Wallpaper — Shep and Aaron, who produce and write with American Authors — I got together with those guys and then they produced one. For me, I think it was just about trying not to keep making the same sounds, so I wanted to get a little bit of different flavors in. Matt Serlatic executive producing the whole thing to make sure that there was a cohesiveness at least, and it didn't just sound like separate tracks but it somehow told one story. Then the rest of it was just songs that I wrote that Matt and I just placed in that we thought really fit in there.
There's songs like "Trust You." It's funny, they sound so different for me and then in some ways they really don't. I think if you're listening to Matchbox stuff, it sounds kind of like a whole other world, but if you're listening to something like "Lonely No More" off the first solo record, this sounds like a logical next step that I would go to. Just trying to do that, you want to be conscious about it, but then at the same time you don't want to be so conscious of it that it seems transparent, like, "Well, I'm going to do this now. This is my ..." It still comes down to trying to write and put down 12 of what you think are the best songs that you've written since the last record you've made and then putting those together.
On background of "Trust You:"
We started off with this vibe, but then we found this sample of this "Trust You" and it made us start thinking how everybody has that one friend that calls them up and when they do, no matter where they are in their life, no matter how stable they are and no matter how good things are going, they're going to go out and they're going to make a lot of bad decisions with this friend. Everybody has one of them. You're going to somehow end up in some dive bar at 7:00 in the morning with something on your shirt and you don't know your own name. Everybody has that one friend, so this is about that, "Hey look at me. I'm an adult. I've got my shit together. Everything's fine." Then the phone rings and then you're off on some crazy adventure.
On the process of pulling together a setlist:
It's funny because the first time ... When you first put out a solo record, you don't want to come out and just play a bunch of Matchbox songs with a solo band, so you try and get creative. There's a lot of covers that happen. You're doing all kinds of stuff. Now after going into our third record, now it's more about trying to set up a couple different set lists like Set A, Set B, and Set C. You know there are certain songs, certain singles, that people really want to hear that are going to be on every one of those sets. Then if I'm going to play three or four new songs, I try to make it so that I'm not playing the same new ones every night for people to come to multiple shows, they can check it out online, they can get to hear a little taste of the record before it comes out and hear it live. Then the rest of it is really just about feel.
If you put together a set list trying to imagine that you're in the crowd, what is going to keep these people engaged and what's going to be the set list that makes them not want to get up and go pee for the entire set? You know what I mean? What are you going to do and what kind of meter are you going to keep it running so that they feel like, "Well, shit, if I get up now I'm going to miss something"? You know? That's when you really feel like you've got it. They're like, "Shit, he's playing a single every other song. What if I miss this, and what if I miss this, and what if I miss a new one?"
On picking Plain White T's as an opener:
They just seemed like good guys. I like the records they make. I've been hanging out, following them on Twitter and they seem like pretty down to Earth guys. They're a real band. You realize that you're going to be with these guys on the road and you're going to see them play every night. You don't want to pick anybody that you don't like because you're going to not like them every night. The songs get stuck in your head and it would kill you. If I had "Hey There Delilah" stuck in my head every night, I would be okay with that.
On his support of the LGBTQ community:
I grew up with a lot of my friends who were gay and I think, especially in the 80's, the idea of if you have gay friends, then you're gay. Then you become one kind of person or the other. You either become someone who gets offended by the notion or someone who really doesn't see why that would be a derogatory term for someone to call you, and then you just move through life that way. It's just never been a question. I think with all of the things that happen in the world, you're born a certain way to love ... like I'm born a certain way to love a certain person.
On his creative "bucket list:"
Well, let's see. Pop. I've done 90's "I'm angry and I don't know why" alternative. I've done "I'm going to make you shake your ass" pop. I think if I could hit a real solid "cry in your beer," then I'm done.
I love the smell of the gas on the bus. I love the sound of the hum. I love waking up in a different place every day. You wake up every day, you don't know what it's going to bring. A lot of people can't say that for their job. You step out of your bus, you're going to be in a different city, you're going to meet hundreds of new people, anything could happen in that day. After a year and a half or two years, I need to get home for about a half a year. At least four or five months, which is funny because when I'm home, I don't do shit. I just sit on my couch and watch TV because the idea of going anywhere just doesn't excite me at all. I sit at home with my dogs wrapped around me watching TV. Then after about six months, my wife's like, "Okay, honey. You got to get out again. I'm going to kill you if you don't get back out."