Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas On 'Horrible Relationships,' Cocaine, Fatherhood

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Matchbox Twenty | James Minchin

Rob Thomas won three Grammys at 28 and then was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame, but he reveals he spent his twenties hell-bent on brewing up drama to fuel his musical success. The 41-year-old Matchbox Twenty frontman spoke to The Huffington Post ahead of the band's summer tour of North America, which marks their 20th anniversary.

"When I was young I used to think I had to create drama around my personal life so I could write about it. A lot of the relationships and bad decisions of my early twenties was me subconsciously wanting to create the kind of environment that bleeds angry songs. I was trying to get into horrible relationships that I knew would fall apart spectacularly, so once they did I could write about them.

"Now I realize that, unfortunately, as you get older that drama is there all the time so if you turn over enough rocks you’ll find it. Anyone who works hard enough will find highs and lows. My life is my muse, whether it's my relationship with my wife or something with my son."

Marisol Maldonado, his wife of 13 years, and 14-year-old son Maison (from a previous relationship) have helped him find professional and personal bliss following an at-times rough upbringing which saw his parents divorce when he was young. Sent to live with his alcoholic grandmother in South Carolina, he eventually rejoined his sister and mother in Florida, but left school at 17 and spent the next two years sleeping on park benches and doing drugs.

He started Tabitha's Secret, which later turned into Matchbox Twenty and the band were signed by Atlantic Records. Suddenly, everything changed.

The success of their debut album "Yourself or Someone Like You" with hits like '3am' and 'Push' catapulted Thomas and his bandmates to global stardom and they revelled in the rock'n'roll lifestyle, enjoying parties, drugs -- and the bad relationships which ignited Thomas' songwriting.

It wasn't until the birth of Maison and finding love that Thomas -- whose Grammy-winning collaboration with Carlos Santana on 'Smooth' spent 12 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 -- turned his life around.

"After Maison was born there was a sense of understanding the idea of mortality more clearly. There are two things -- losing your parents and having a child -- both of which made me realize that even if you live to 100, the longest ride we have here is short in the grand scheme of things. It made me rethink the choices I made."

While Thomas says he was never a slave to drugs, fatherhood quickly taught him that even when the habit was somewhat controlled, the lifestyle wasn't fitting.

"We were always the band that could rely on each other -- even when we were out-of-control we would make sure nobody got too out-of-control. We had periods where we were doing a lot of cocaine, but it was never like, 'Wow, I've got a problem.
"We did a lot of cocaine then one day we stopped.

"But a lot of that had to do with my wife. Being married to someone who's stable and having a son makes you think about better choices. I didn't want my son to come onto Huffington Post and see my mugshot.”

Interview continues after video slideshow
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Maison is following in his father's footsteps, playing guitar and listening to music which makes his dad proud. "When he was young, I'd pick him up from his mother's in Boston and he'd want to listen to Jonas Brothers or whoever was on the Disney Channel. Now he gets in the car and puts it right onto Alt Nation. I'm like, 'That's my boy!' I’m so proud he has good musical taste.

“And I’m really lucky he’s a good kid. Teenagers can be assholes -- I was. He's this amazing, sweet kid who still likes to hang out with me and his mom. But you never know. All of sudden he could get zapped with the asshole genes that'll last until he's 19, 20 then he'll come back around."

While Thomas and his wife, a former model who suffers from autoimmune disease, haven't yet had their own children, they're doting parents to their dogs and have a charity, Sidewalk Angels, which focuses on animal advocacy and other causes. The organization is run by Maldonado, who also co-manages Thomas.

"She's a double'threat because she's a model with a master's degree in marketing so she's a huge help practically, but I also can't imagine her not being the first person to hear a song.

"Even if it's 3am, I wake her and make her come listen to what I just did. Her opinion's the benchmark for everything that I write."
The writing process with "North" evolved from Matchbox Twenty's previous records. While in the past Thomas wrote a bunch of songs then the band took their picks, this time he got writing with bandmates Kyle Cook and Paul Doucette, trotting from studios in each of their hometowns then convening in LA to record.

"It was a whole different process and I think right now, after being together for as long as we have been, it was about time to figure out a new way to do it."

While "North" marks the band's first full-length record since 2002's "More Than You Think You Are," Thomas says time apart has helped keep dynamics fresh and fun -- "plus there's something unnatural about having a group of men in their forties together all the time."

He will begin work on another solo record in 2014, but for now is looking forward to hitting the road with the Goo Goo Dolls, across the US and Canada -- "a cleaner and more polite America” – at the end of June.

Surprisingly the groups have never crossed paths, but Thomas warns they should watch their backs given Matchbox Twenty’s reputation for epic pranks.

"We had a New Zealand band The Feelers on tour with us in Australia once and got the cops to come arrest them, drive them to the middle of nowhere and leave them there with a note.

"Then with Sugar Ray we dropped 1000 ping-pong balls from the rafters and had four guys dressed like ninjas come down and start fighting them during the show!"

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