When Rob Thomas first agreed to have independent filmmaker Gillian Grisman follow his move from lead singer and primary songwriter of matchbox twenty to a solo artist, it was simply meant to be a keepsake.
But halfway through filming — Grisman captured 350 hours of Thomas over two years — they realized a story was developing. “That was when my wife and I decided to take over production and the payment of the film,” he tells Billboard of “My Secret Record or How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Love the Biz,” which recently premiered at the Nashville Film Festival.
Atlantic Records, Thomas’ label, had hoped to use the footage for a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of his “Something To Be” album. “We said, ‘We’re not done yet, we want to follow it through,'” Thomas says.
“For me it became about a person who considers himself a songwriter,” he says. “That’s what I do. I come down in the morning, I sit down alone with a cup of coffee, and I sit at the piano or with a guitar in the studio and I write.
“I got to go out and find that line between being a songwriter with integrity and being a force on the radio,” he adds. “Trying to figure out that line was what this movie became about.”
Plenty of industry heavyweights show up in the film — Lyor Cohen, Julie Greenwald, Clive Davis, Jason Flom, Matt Serletic and manager Michael Lippman — as do many musicians — Alicia Keys, Carlos Santana, John Mayer and Robert Randolph, among others.
In one hilarious studio scene Thomas and Mayer, who played guitar on the album, trade stories about being recognized and subsequently signing autographs in porn shops. In another, his wife questions his decision to do a photo shoot for High Times magazine. Later, Thomas berates an Atlantic publicist for a GQ story gone wrong.
The movie’s “warts and all” approach is refreshing, even for Thomas. “If nothing else, it’s the most me I can imagine it being,” he says. “I don’t look good all the time, there’s no prep or makeup. So anytime you get to step outside and say, ‘Oh, I see that he exists outside of the photo shoot,’ that’s a nice place to be.”
Thomas hopes to have the movie distributed via the Independent Film Channel or another outlet. “Eventually the idea is to get it on disc so people can have it,” he says. While he doesn’t rule out the idea, he leaves the decision to show it at another festival to Grisman. “I don’t think I’m that interesting, so it’s hard for me to say it should be at every festival,” he says with a smile.