Former Birmingham radio station 107.7 The X was responsible for breaking a lot of acts in the 90s and early 2000s; folks like John Mayer and Train. And matchbox twenty, a band that went on to arena rock success, first found its audience when Program Director Dave Rossi decided to play a cut from the debut, Yourself or Someone Like You, that was not being promoted as the single.
That album would went platinum 12 times. Though lead vocalist Rob Thomas has also gone on to a successful solo career, the band reconvenes as time permits. They’ve released three records since, the most recent, North, in 2012.
Guitarist Paul Doucette named the band. He doesn’t really have an explanation for where it came from, but it was his idea that stuck. Ahead of their return to the Magic City, Doucette chats about Rossi’s decision that propelled the band to superstardom and what to expect of the band’s future.
Was Birmingham one of the first places that matchbox twenty got radio play?
That’s 100% accurate. The very first time that we had a moment where we paused and said, “Is something happening here?” we were on tour – playing for three people – no one was coming to see us. We had gotten used to that. We pulled into Birmingham and played Five Point Music Hall and there were 1,000 people there. And there was a line. And we thought, “What is happening here?”
Dave Rossi [former program director at 107.7 The X] had decided to start playing “Push” on his own. That was not the single at the time; the single was “Long Day.” It was getting some play, but it wasn’t doing very much. And he said, “No, I like this song. I want to play this.” And it just blew up for us. Atlantic Records took notice and the rest is history. Without Dave, none of this would have happened.
What did he see in “Push” that the label didn’t?
I don’t know; I’d love to go back and ask him that now. That was such a different time. It was before radio became one giant radio station; you had guys that could do that. “I know this is what’s going on over here, but I think I want to play this.”
That sort of thing was relatively common then. Things happened regionally, which definitely happens a lot less now.
You’ve taken several long hiatuses.
But does it feel like everything is just as you left it when you return from them?
Yeah, actually. We did the first show [recently] and for the first time in years, I was genuinely nervous. Because we hadn’t played in years. You get up there and you just hope that everything falls into place. Then you get up there and everything just falls back into place. You’re like, “Oh, wait, yeah. We’ve been doing this our whole lives. We know how to do this.”
When you have a 20 year career, even though we’ve definitely taken a lot of time off, we’ve played an awful lot. We’ve played a lot of different sized venues. We’ve played some amazing shows. We’ve played some really bad shows that were completely embarrassing. You get through all of that stuff and you realize: this is just what we do now. You gain that experience that you can just lean on. It’s not autopilot, but you can no worry about anything and just have a great time.
You formed in Orlando while the whole boy band thing was happening. Was this ever supposed to be that?
Oh God no. [laughs] Me, Rob [Thomas, vocalist] and Brian [Yale, bassist] were in a band called Tabitha’s Secret back then and we were a big local band. I’d heard of the Backstreet Boys only because we would work in local studios and I remembered seeing a picture of them on the wall and not knowing who that was – but they had also worked in the studio. That wasn’t a thing in Orlando. We didn’t know that was a thing until we were in Germany. After Tabitha’s Secret had gone and matchbox twenty reformed, we got our first record and we went overseas to Germany and we arrived at our hotel and there were tons of girls at the hotel and we thought, “Wow, what is this happening in Germany? Right on.” And we get off the bus and we find out that they were not there to see us. At all. We asked what was happening and someone told us it was the Backstreet Boys, and we’re like, “Ohhhh…those guys are from Orlando!” That’s when we connected it.
The Orlando music scene was much more like what we did back then. There was a band called Seven Mary Three, My Friend Steve…it was very melodic, song-oriented rock. We were influenced by Pearl Jam and alternative rock radio, but we were also way more rooted in R.E.M., 70s rock…which all came out more as we developed as a band.
When and how did you reunite with Kyle [Cook, guitarist]?
We always knew that was going to happen. It gets hard. Rob has his solo career, and that gets tough for us to manage; to keep matchbox twenty going and keep everyone’s schedule’s together. Sometimes, it gets a little rough, and it definitely got a little rough last year, which resulted in Kyle leaving for a little bit. But I always had a feeling it was a temporary thing, that it would calm down. And it did. We’ve been together for so long, and we’ve known each other for so long that there’s a family element that you really don’t leave and we all sort of recognize that.
Do you play Rob’s solo stuff in matchbox twenty sets?
No. He has his solo band and there’s matchbox. They’re very different worlds. What he does in his solo band isn’t what we do; it’s not really our vibe. It’s a different kind of experience for him. I think he likes the fact that he can go with the solo band, have that experience then come back with us and have something completely different. It keeps it exciting for him, I think.
Will there be new matchbox twenty music with this reunion?
Eventually, I’m sure there will be, but not now. He’s working on a new solo record. Kyle has Rivers and Rust, who will be opening up this tour. Rivers and Rust has a record coming out in January. After that, maybe. We’ll see. We’re not done. We definitely talk about doing new music. It becomes a timing thing. I have the scoring thing, they have their thing…it becomes, “When can we make all of this work?”
matchbox twenty and Counting Crows bring the “A Brief History of Everything” Tour to Oak Mountain Amphitheatre in Pelham on Wednesday, August 9. The show begins at 6:45 p.m. Rivers and Rust opens.