Rob Thomas has played EW half of his new solo album, Cradle Song, which is due to hit stores June 30. The Matchbox Twenty frontman had originally intended for his second solo CD to channel the Latin music-fueled vibe of Paul Simon’s 1990 The Rhythm of the Saints collection. But the tracks EW heard roam from the INXS-esque power pop of “Meltdown” (a possible first single) to the epic, tribal drum-driven “Fire on the Mountain” (which was inspired by Dave Eggers’ book What Is the What) to the Tom Petty-evoking “Getting Late” (the set’s likely closer and a track Thomas describes as “a little ditty about death”).
After Thomas finished previewing his follow-up to 2005’s chart-topping collection …Something to Be, he talk to us about the new material, the future of Matchbox, and the time he smoked Salman Rushdie like a bong.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There are a lot of lyrics on Cradle Song about troubled relationships. Does your wife, Marisol, ever say, “Hey, it would be nice if you wrote about us having a good time”?
ROB THOMAS: I only write songs when we’re having a bad time, it just works that way. But she’s a good sport.
“Meltdown” has a definite Kick-era INXS feel to it.
That was in our sights without a doubt. I was born in ’72. I’m an ’80s child. I feel like that’s really represented on this record.
And “Getting Late” definitely tips a hat to Tom Petty.
In my heart, Willie Nelson and Tom Petty –- that is it for me. I have to make records that I like. But I want to feel they would like them too. That, if they heard it, they wouldn’t hate it.
And not sue for plagiarism.
Well, yeah, that would help!
So, what happened to your master plan of evoking The Rhythm of the Saints?
I was writing all these songs and they just didn’t fit in that vibe. But I grew up thinking that album and Graceland were the coolest things that ever existed. I guess I was at the right age when they came out. I remember I was sitting with George Michael talking about The Wall. To me, that’s one of the greatest records ever made. But he’s a little older than me, and he’s English, and he had an affinity for Pink Floyd before The Wall and so he has a completely different opinion.
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You share a manager with George Michael. But I still find the idea of the two of you sitting around discussing The Wall one of the oddest I’ve ever heard.
Isn’t it? I have a picture of me smoking him. Because I smoke famous people. Not in a, like, a weird sexual way.
Yeah, you’re really going to have to expand on that.
Itake pictures of me grabbing your thumb and pretending to smoke youlike a bong. A long time ago I took a picture of me pretendingsomething was a bong. And so me and my stoner friends started to dothat with everything. Then I got a few famous people let mesmoke them. I have pictures of me smoking Salman Rushdie, PJ O’Rourke,George Michael, Alicia Keys, I think. I’m hoping to build it up so Ican have a coffee table book of me smoking famous people. To me, it’sabout people that you just wouldn’t expect to be up for that kind ofsilliness and frivolity. Like, I would never in a million years thinkthat Salman Rushdie would be that kind of guy. But he is. He’s the kindof guy that will sit with you for hours and have a lot of drinks andtalk about books. And let you smoke him!
Matchbox Twenty haven’t released a proper new album since 2002’s More Than You Think You Are. Is there any news on that front?
Ithink next month we’re going to get together in Nashville and startwriting some stuff. We want to build it up so that, when I’m done withthis, we can be ready to do a Matchbox record.
Do you know when that might come out?
I can’t imagine. [Laughs]We just did a gig two weeks ago –- a casino gig –- and I said, “Guys,the rule is, until my record is out, you can’t ask me any questionsabout what I think is going to happen. I’ve got to get this record out.That’s the rule!”
The creator of Veronica Mars is also called Rob Thomas. Do you ever get his mail?
No.But e-mail a lot. And I get a lot of people that are, like, Hey, Ididn’t know you wrote for Veronica Mars! I’m, like, I’m working hard!