Rob Thomas Reveals What Inspired His New Album

Rob Thomas
Randall Slavin

Rob Thomas

For a singer-songwriter with over a dozen radio hits and more than 18 million albums sold in the United States (according to Nielsen Music), Rob Thomas is surprisingly OK with the fact that his brand of driving alt-rock is not currently in vogue. “Everything we’ve ever done, Matchbox Twenty or my solo stuff, always has existed a little bit to the left of whatever was happening,” says the 47-year-old. “When Matchbox had [2003 hit] ‘Unwell,’ everything else on the charts was like Nelly and Ludacris. This is just what I do, and it has never been hip, cool or cutting edge.”

Aptly, Thomas opens his fourth solo full-length, Chip Tooth Smile (out April 26 on Atlantic Records) with “One Less Day (Dying Young),” a single about appreciating life as you grow older. Produced by Butch Walker (Weezer, Fall Out Boy), the album finds Thomas -- who’s celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Smooth,” his mega-smash with Santana -- reflecting on marriage, fatherhood and finding peace as “the guy that, if you go into a CVS, at some point you’re going to hear one of my songs.”

Aging: When I was in my 20s, I simultaneously thought that I was going to live forever and I wasn’t going to make it past 25. And then as you get older, you realize that the alternative to not getting older is fucking really bleak, and it’s also a privilege that is not afforded to everyone -- I’ve lost friends from high school on. "One Less Day" was spurred from the realization that, at 47, I was already too old to die young. For Atlantic to let my lead single sound like it’s from a grown man about being a grown man? That was pretty trusting.

FaceTime: Butch Walker and I made the album in such a comfortable way, between his home studio [in Bedford, N.Y.] and his studio in Santa Monica [Calif.]. We did stuff on FaceTime, and there were a lot of late nights. I did my own vocals for the first time. I just cut them at home. It was nice to have that freedom, to just start singing. And if I didn’t feel it, I would stop and go back upstairs. It was very cool and calm to work with a peer like that, another singer-songwriter who just happens to be an accomplished producer.

Spotify Suggestions: I like that Spotify caters to your listening habits. I spend a lot of time listening to playlists, and if I really like something, I’ll go down the rabbit hole. That’s how I fell in love with Father John Misty -- I love Iron & Wine, and Kurt Vile, too. I go through a purge period of not listening to new music when I’m making new music. I still haven’t seen A Star Is Born or heard [Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow”] in its entirety. I saw footage of them singing it at the Oscars -- that’s not how I want to see it, at the Oscars making out! I want to see them in character.

This article originally appeared in the April 20 issue of Billboard.