It's long past '3 A.M.'

On Saturday, April 21, matchbox twenty, touring behind its second full-length, "Mad Season" by matchbox twenty, returns to its birthplace a little bit older, a whole lot wiser and as headliners at the biggest venue in town: the TD Waterhouse Centre. It certainly has been a remarkable rocket ride for Orlando's first true rock success story, which got its start as a local scene fixture under the Tabitha's Secret moniker. (The other two rock success stories, Creed and Seven Mary Three, both worked scenes elsewhere before settling in here.)

Singer-songwriter Rob Thomas, bassist Brian Yale and drummer Paul Doucette eventually disbanded Tabitha's Secret, sending its two guitarists packing. The trio found suitable replacements in Adam Gaynor and Kyle Cook, signed with Melisma/Lava/ Atlantic as matchbox twenty and went on to conquer the world many times over with their single-packed 1996 debut, "Yourself or Someone Like You."

By virtual will of the musical community, mb20 was headed for a fall of epic proportions after enjoying complete market saturation -- that is, until the success of Santana's "Smooth," sung and co-penned by Thomas, gave the franchise a much-needed dose of legitimacy. Somehow, through it all, the pop-rockers have remained grounded and unaffected by the star-making machine -- especially Thomas, who has a perma-tan from being under the spotlight 24/7.

Thomas, 29, called from a tour stop in El Paso, Texas, to talk to Orlando Weekly, which has followed the group since back when it was nothing more than somebody's secret.

OW: How have you been?

Rob Thomas: [Laughs] I've been goin' and goin'.


Holding up well?


Yeah, man, I really am.

If I was host of MTV's Cribs, what special part of you and your wife's Westchester, N.Y., home would you show me first?


First, we probably wouldn't let you in the house. [Laughs.] They asked my wife [supermodel Marisol Maldonado] through her agency. ... Her answer to them was, "Tell them we have a home, not a crib, and they can't come." But it would probably be either my wife's little Zen room -- her little sitting room -- or maybe just the whole backyard that leads down to the brook. It's not a big house, it's just got a nice little pretty backyard.

Do the rest of the guys live up there, too?


No, Paul -- lives with his fiance in L.A. And the other guys -- Adam still lives in Miami, Kyle and his wife live in Orlando, and so does Brian.

Do you still consider mb20 an Orlando band?


[Laughs.] I'm the only one who is actually from Orlando. But, y'know, that's where we got our start. ... You're never from anywhere else. [Laughs.]

Have you been here recently?


Yeah, I'm there over the holidays. It's funny, it's like a whole different scene. ... It has nothing to do with the band or anything. It used to be ... going to Sapphire, going to The Mill. Now there's no Mill. Sapphire, last time I was there, it was like all these skate-punk bands playing. ... I go see my mom and go out to dinner and go see my in-laws that live there. It's just a more adult scene.

When matchbox twenty was first introduced to the world, you were portrayed as a "lost boy" type. Seven years later, how do you compare to that lost boy?


I think I was much more of a rock star when I was like 17, 18, than I am now. ... You have to figure out what's important to you. It started to become a lot more important to me to be a songwriter than a pop star. Regardless of what people say, there's just things you can do. You don't have to do every photo shoot that comes your way. You don't have to host every show. You don't have to work on being a celebrity to be a successful songwriter.

And you don't have to star in films if you don't want to. [Thomas is nearly famous for turning down roles.]

Yeah, exactly, right? It's funny, I wouldn't want to change in midstream. ... But, yes, I think we've been pretty good about ... just keeping our mouth shut and our head down and just playing music.

How do you think you guys have been able to weather anti-matchbox twenty feelings while still maintaining an incredible amount of momentum?


Lots of luck, man. The Santana thing was a lot of luck. It was funny, because we had sold 12 million records, but we took off so much time in between records because we had been out for so long. Y'know, anything could've happened in that time before the next record came out. ... Nobody could have planned it happening ... the way it did. It proved to be the perfect bridge for us to move across. At the time, on the business side of it ... when you are a radio band and you are just trying really hard just to be a band that plays songs, sometimes it's hard. Pop music just eats its young and tills its soil really frequently, and you just shuffle back down and shuffle back down. ... So, it was nice to have a distinguishing mark somewhere.

Is your audience getting older?


Now it's nice, because we see young kids all the way up to people in their 50s. And these people in their 50s ... 20 to 30 years ago they had long hair, and they were rocking naked somewhere in a field. ... It's nice to feel like you are kinda sticking to people your age and younger and older. It's nice not to be a teen band. It's nice not to be a cocktail band.

You are the epitome of evil to the hard-rock set. How does it feel?


I could give a fuck, really. It's funny -- somebody ... once said that the Beastie Boys had made a comment, and it was a nasty comment about "bands like matchbox twenty." And they wanted to know what I thought about it, and I said, "I think the Beastie Boys are cool." What are you gonna do? ... It's not really gonna bust my chops what Limp Bizkit thinks about me. If they don't like it, then obviously I'm doing something right.

I hear mb20 songs everywhere, and "Smooth" is played constantly.


"Are you Rob from Santana?" [Laughs.] The best was in Hawaii -- "So, did this Santana thing open up any doors for you?"

Back when you were playing The Mill and the Junk Yard, did you ever think you would get to this point?


I think that even when I thought of getting to this point, I never even imagined this point. To me ... filling [former Orlando club] Resurrection -- I thought that was it. I felt much bigger. Once you get signed, and we went gold, we felt like we must be the biggest fuckin' rock stars in the world. We had a record deal, we had a video on, we sold 500, 000 records ...

You made it.


Exactly, and then the more success that comes, the more you really put into perspective, the more you are put into a field with unbelievable people. And you're just like, "I got so much to learn." I spent a couple of days hanging out with ... Willie Nelson, and [I'm] just like, "Oh my God, this guy is just so effortlessly good at writing." And there's nothing that can do that except for another 25 fuckin' years.

What's the worst thing that has happened to you since you've became famous?


A few lawsuits -- I can't go into them all. You feel like a dick complaining about any of it. On the scale, everything is working out better than I ever thought it would. There are so many great bands out there that just aren't getting this chance to do what we're doing. So it's really, I think, important what we do with it and how we view it. We have this conversation amongst ourselves all the time to remind each other how lucky we are.

The two guitar players that you parted ways with already released a Tabitha's Secret album and are set to release another.


Yeah, I've got both of them.

Do you keep in contact with those fellows?


We had a bad falling out -- copyright things. ... [mb20] didn't just want to do all of the Tabitha's Secret songs and have to go through even more hassle. "3 A.M." -- I felt really really close to. And ... the only reason we did "Rest Stop" was because I finally got it back. [Laughs.] There's a song, "Dear Joan," that Tabitha's Secret did that I would love to do, but I just don't know if I will. I still have it and can still play it for my friends, but I can't stand the idea of making someone else money.

I'm sure you've probably given away a lot of it [with legal battles].


When we first got signed, they said to expect one writ per hit. And they were right.

So, how do you keep a supermodel happy?


I have an easy model. She likes the tour bus and doesn't mind being on the road. And she's not ... what's the word? ... a bitch. ... I think that's the hardest thing, [to] find a woman that's willing to accept this job and everything that comes with it. And we're not like Poison, y'know, we're all pretty settled-down guys. But still, the routine is just such a pain in the ass.

What are you reading or listening to these days?


I just read "The Girl's Guide to Fishing and Hunting." [Laughs.] It was actually very good. ... I've been going back and reading all of the old stuff that I had to read in high school but didn't appreciate. ... It's funny now, because you have a few of us in the band that'll pass 'em around. It went from drugs and all-night bar trips to "I'll see you at the gym in the morning" and "Here's my Kafka version -- you take it and give me your Camus." But I'm been listening to that David Gray record -- I can't get enough of it. And the Coldplay record is really fucking great. And the Train record I love, too. We're taking those guys out on a summer tour.

Did you ever think that people would care so much about you weight? I couldn't believe how much press that got.


Yeah, right. [Laughs.] That was the first time [the band appeared] in Rolling Stone. It made me realize ... that I was drinking way too much. And I'm happier now. I look at old pictures of me and I don't think I could have made it through a two-hour set back then. I don't think I could of got my fat ass around the stage. So I think there's a lot of good things that came from it, you know. I mean, if you wake up one morning and Rolling Stone is making fun of you for being fat, you might change your weight a little bit. It's definitely motivation.

Is the band over the Rob Thomas, superstar, thing now?


It never really was a problem. We've turned down the cover of Rolling Stone twice now because they wanted to put me and not the band on the cover. Coming from within, we are tight with who we are and what we are.

I read a quote in which you said that matchbox twenty is far from being a great band. When do you think that will happen?


I think we're closer. I think now, on any night we play, we are a damn good band, and that's more than we can say when we started. But some nights, I really think that we are a great band -- it all falls into place and we're having a good time ... and you're sharing energy, you know what I mean? You're creating it in the room, and it just fills the room. And then, y'know, some nights your chasing it just a little bit. But either way, on any night, we're a damn good band. Ask me in another five years.


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