Rob Thomas believes the lead single from Matchbox Twenty’s first album in more than a decade worked because the band didn’t overthink it.
“Wild Dogs (Running in a Slow Dream),” the pop-rock singalong that features a racing tempo and a handful of rousing hooks, was added to the tracklist of Where does the light go?the band’s fifth studio album, after Thomas, drummer/multi-instrumentalist Paul Doucette and producer Gregg Wattenberg recognized a spark in its music and lyrics—then proceeded to do as little as possible to mess with its momentum.
“There was a vibrancy to that song – a drive, a visceral feeling that if we spent too much time polishing and re-polishing, it would disappear,” Thomas recounts. billboard. “Greg was very careful to say, ‘We’re going to go in and as soon as we get it, I want you out.’ Catch it, then back away from it. Don’t just keep adding to add.”
In a way, Matchbox Twenty didn’t need to add to their discography: the alt-rock veterans’ catalog starting with 1996’s Diamond-certified. You or someone like you, boasts hits like “3 AM,” “If You’re Gone,” “Unwell” and “How Far We’ve Come” that can fuel summer amphitheater shows for years to come. More Where does the light go?due out this Friday (May 26) on Atlantic Records, is the product of creative drive and years of collaborative ease: Thomas, Doucette, bassist Brian Yale and guitarist Kyle Cook conceived the follow-up to the 2012 album. northwhich topped the Billboard 200 upon its release, as a loose, unashamedly heartfelt check-in from a collection of old friends.
Matchbox Twenty kicked off their 54-date Slow Dream tour earlier this month and will be playing a mix of old hits and tracks from new albums while on the road in August. Before the start of the tour and the release of the album, Thomas and Doucet spoke with billboard about how an incredible feature film turned into one of the most satisfying projects of their careers together. (Ed. note: this conversation has been shortened and edited for clarity.)
Considering it’s been over a decade since the last Matchbox Twenty album, how does it feel to start the machine back up?
Thomas: Oddly comfortable and normal.
Doucette: We’ve done so much in our lives that it feels like we haven’t done it in a long time, but it doesn’t necessarily feel that different. The world is different — it’s like we didn’t have to worry about TikTok [before]. We just did a video for “Wild Dogs,” and part of that conversation is, “How does this work in tiny little cuts?” These aren’t conversations we’ve had before. So there are definitely new things in this process for us, but it’s still the process we’ve been doing our whole adult lives.
Thomas: Since 1996, we have existed only through change. When we started, it was this period where we had to make a lot of mistakes and they were private – they didn’t exist online, nobody was there with a camera, TMZ didn’t exist. We were a band that came along at a time when we said the true phrase, “Do you think we need a website?” Social media didn’t exist until about three records in.
So I think we came in at a really good time to expect and be ready for change when we start a new venture. But at the same time, we’re getting ready to go on tour and this process of taking the gear out, we’re making sure we have the exact sound – it was exactly the same in 2017, in 2015. That’s the job, and it feels like very familiar.
When did you start focusing on this group of songs?
Thomas: We were almost at a place where we didn’t think we’d ever make a full-length album. Going into 2020, it was, “Let’s record a few songs to go with the tour, and then maybe that’s our business model—you know, we tour every two years and maybe put out a song or two.” It didn’t. excited Paul. He wasn’t sure how much effort he wanted to put into a few songs, so he said, “If you want to run with it, go for it.” So during this time Paul listened [the song] “Where the Light Goes,” and he just said, “I like that, maybe you should work on that.” And Kyle and I worked on it.
It was 2022 and other bands were really touring and we didn’t go out. And it felt like we were letting the fans down. It was Kyle who started the conversation with, “Maybe we really want to do a full-length record—we’re going to sit at home, not do anything this summer, and that’s going to make next summer even more exciting for people who’ve been waiting three years. It’s another level of excitement in this touring process.” So that just got the ball rolling.
Doucet: I finished the third season of [co-composing the score for] For all mankind in April, I think, and then in May I flew to New York to start working on it, and that was basically May to December. I think we all kind of felt like we were never going to make another record – and then all of a sudden, we were making a record and this record was done! In the grand scheme of things, this record came together probably faster than any record we’ve ever done.
Thomas: To be honest though, it wasn’t a situation where we go into the studio and write all the songs. Some of them were written during the process, but then some of them were 75% done and then we would step in and help finish it together, and some of them were 100% done. We went in with a lot of material and then cut a lot of that album down with things that were started at different times and then just finished as a band.
How much of the creative energy between you was like old times, and how much has it evolved over the years? After it’s been so long since you all worked together on an album, how did it feel trying to get your groove back?
Thomas: Some things are very automatic. You’re just like, this is how this works, I see where you’re going with this, let me take it. It’s happening among a group of guys who are 10 years older than the last time we did it – and the last time we did it, we weren’t young. And so I think there’s a refinement of the process that’s welcomed, in a really big sense, and a civility in the process. We are less precious about our feelings and ideas—we want to get something done, but at the same time we are very precious about other people’s feelings and ideas. So I feel that anything that was different was only for the good.
Doucette: Also, you don’t fight for an idea just to fight for it. We just want to come up with the best thing, and that takes a lot of the pressure off because you’re more likely to try things that might get taken down. We were working on a song called “One Hit Love” on this record and we were trying to find the chorus for it. We played the track in Greg’s studio and we had a microphone and Rob would get up and say a line, sing a melody. And I was like, “Oh no, let me try this.” And I was going to try something and he said, “No, no that.” It went back and forth until we got it right without saying, “It has to be this, I believe that more than anything!” The advantage of age is simply that we are better at it, more aware of our feelings for each other. You can have this conversation in a healthy way.
Many lyrics on the new album contain personal specificity, although the themes are quite universal. I think of a song like “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” which is about identity and how your past informs your present.
Doucette: I know, at least for me, I try to write from a place that seeks positivity. There’s a poster by an artist named Deedee Cheriel that says “You’ve got everything you need,” so I wrote “Friends” for that. “One Hit Love” is a song we wrote about it may be doomed, but we’ll do it anyway. I just want to keep writing about hopeful things. However, there is one song, “Warm Blood,” that is completely negative.
Thomas: I always write, write, write and end up writing four or five songs for each one that I really like. After 30 years, it’s about getting an idea of what you’re writing about, but then trying to find a way to say it that has its own flair, its own color. When talking about relationships, it’s easy to fall into the same tropes—you want to try and find new ways to express yourself. The effort we put into the lyrics on this record I think makes it one of the strongest we’ve written.