Rob Thomas Reveals the Best Career Advice Bruce Springsteen Once Gave Him
Rob Thomas has let go of his control issues. “I got all my ego boost out on the first two solo records,” says the Matchbox 20 frontman, 43. Indeed, after those albums -- Something to Be (2005) and Cradlesong (2009), which reached Nos. 1 and 3, respectively, on the Billboard 200 -- he recruited outside songwriters like Ryan Tedder and Ricky “Wallpaper” Reed for the first time on third LP The Great Unknown (out Aug. 21), his most eclectic set yet.
The Great Unknown starts with two dance songs. How would you describe your dancing?
I’m a horrible dancer. I’m more of a flailer. That’s why a lot of the music is four-on-the-floor. That way, the beat is on every beat. You don’t have to think too hard. I’m a better singer than dancer, and I’m just an OK singer. So, do that math.
There are folk and even rap elements on the LP, too. How far do you think your fans will follow along with this genre experimentation?
I have a really open audience -- I don’t want to say “forgiving,” because it makes it sound like I’ve done something wrong. They want to hear a rock band, and they let me be a pop band for a minute, then a folk singer. They let me go where I want, which is nice.
Single “Hold On Forever” has serious wedding song potential.
I can see that. I once had a conversation with John Mayer, right after he put out “Daughters,” and he said, “Between ‘Daughters’ and ‘Smooth’ [Thomas’ 1999 hit with Carlos Santana], me and you are going to be played at every wedding until the end of time.” Who knows where the career could go. I could be playing weddings.
Your wife, Marisol Maldonado, recently underwent surgery for a brain lesion. How do you play shows with that on your mind?
Life is always coming at you. That two hours a night onstage is a great escape for your head. You’re going through all the songs you wrote over the last 10 or 20 years of your life, these moments of joy and pain, and you’re sharing them with a room full of strangers. Misery loves company. The worse things are in your life, the more of a relief a show can be.
How is she doing now?
We found out what’s going on. We know it’s not cancerous. When you’re dealing with these kinds of things, there’s the physical aspect, and then there’s the mental and emotional aspect of not knowing how you’re going to take care of it. Now that we know that, we’re in a much better place.
Nostalgia for the 1990s is at an all-time high. Has Matchbox 20 benefited from it?
At my shows, you see 65-year-olds and 12-year-olds. The kids grew up with their parents playing us; it’s like my love of Fleetwood Mac. I was once talking to Bruce Springsteen about how I was on my second generation of fans, and he was on his fourth. He was like, “Just keep playing to the people that really want to hear what you’re doing. Their kids will keep coming, and you’ll always have this growing fan base.”
This story originally appeared in the Aug. 29 issue of Billboard.