The members of Matchbox Twenty made a conscious effort not to repeat themselves on 2012’s “North.”
The Florida band’s fourth album, their first since 2002’s “More Than You Think You Are,” pushes even further out from its post-grunge roots, experimenting with modern dance pop trends and lighter lyrical content.
Continuing the collaborative trend that started with the seven new songs on 2007’s greatest hits package “Exile on Mainstream,” many of the songs on “North” were co-written by frontman Rob Thomas, lead guitarist Kyle Cook and rhythm guitarist and drummer Paul Doucette, further widening the album’s sonic palette.
“At this point, it was four records out, and Rob had had the two solo records at that point, and then he also had that successful thing with Santana [1999’s Grammy-winning single ‘Smooth’],” Cook said recently, while on a promotional tour with Thomas in Seattle.
“I think there’s always just a sense of, where are we gonna go? . . . You don’t want to just keep making the same movie over and over again, and I think that’s always a discussion with us, especially in the writing process and, more importantly, in the deciding-what-songs-to-record process.”
Matchbox Twenty and Goo Goo Dolls
WITH: Kate Earl
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, 108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs
HOW MUCH: $115, $99, $85, $59, $55, $39, $25 (lawn)
MORE INFO: 584-9330, www.spac.org
Like getting on a bike
The evolution seems to have paid off commercially as well as artistically for the band. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, an even more impressive feat considering the band’s lengthy hiatuses centered on Thomas’ two successful pop-oriented solo releases, 2005’s “. . . Something to Be” and 2009’s “Cradlesong.”
After the album’s release, the band hit the touring circuit hard for the first time since 2007, with the initial North Tour lasting through April. This summer, the band will strike out once again on a co-headlining tour with fellow pop-rockers the Goo Goo Dolls, which heads to Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Wednesday night.
Even with the time away, Cook and the rest of the band, which also includes bassist Brian Yale and touring musicians Stacy Jones on drums and Matt Beck on multiple instruments, have found it easy to slip back into life on the road.
“We’ve been a band for 15 years, so we’re moving into that kind of veteran category, I think, where it comes to playing the old hits — it’s kind of like just getting back on a bike, really,” Cook said. “You do kind of maybe clear out some cobwebs, but most of this material, I’m sure everybody would say we could almost just do it in our sleep.
“That’s where it gets interesting in terms of creating an interesting set design, always keeping the lights interesting, the props, the video screens. What we tried to do this time is to create a show that people want to come back and see again and again.”
Goo Goo Dolls on a roll
Buffalo’s Goo Goo Dolls are on the tour supporting their 10th album, “Magnetic,” released last week. The two bands share a common pop rock audience, breaking into the mainstream at roughly the same time — The Goo Goo Dolls with the success of the 1995 single “Name” off “A Boy Named Goo,” and Matchbox Twenty with their 1996 debut “Yourself or Someone Like You,” which spawned a whopping five singles — but have never toured together before.
“We had met in passing in a hallway once at a radio show years ago,” Goo Goo Dolls bassist Robby Takac said recently from New York City. “I think our agent came to us and said, ‘We’ve got this idea,’ and we were sort of like, ‘Wow, I wonder what took so long for this to happen?’ I’m sort of surprised we hadn’t played together before.”
“Magnetic” has continued The Goo Goo Dolls’ streak of successful radio singles that began with “Name,” with lead-off single “Rebel Beat” reaching 16 on Billboard’s Adult Top 40. It’s something the band is certainly conscious of.
“Things are nicer when you have stuff on the radio — there are more people at the shows when you’re selling more records,” Takac said. “But I think you can only do what you can do — you make your songs, you get them on the album, you figure out a name for it, and at that point it’s pretty much up to fate as to whether or not radio is friendly to what you’re doing at that particular moment.”
Following 2010’s darker “Something for the Rest of Us,” which found lead singer, guitarist and main songwriter John Rzeznik focusing on more socially conscious lyrical fare, “Magnetic” lightens the mood considerably.
A lot of this is due to the band members’ personal lives surrounding the making of the album, with Rzeznik about to get married and Takac celebrating the birth of his first child.
“I think the last ones got a little dark on us, and I think that was probably pretty representative of some of what was going on at the time,” Takac said. “Now, I think we’ve sort of gotten a chance to slow down a touch and kind of take a look and appreciate what’s around us a little bit.”
Catching little moments
“North” also finds Matchbox Twenty in a lighter mood than past albums, with songs like “Put Your Hands Up” and “She’s So Mean” reveling in pop melodies and catchy beats. The collaborative process helped to open the band up to new writing methods.
“We did a lot of referencing of U2, and bands like that whose process is very collaborative,” Cook said. “A lot of it came from jamming, or improvising — I hate the term jamming. We would improvise in the studio, capture an energy and catch little moments, and we’d run with them or move on. That was just the concept — we all have a love of those bands like U2, so why don’t we try adopting some of those techniques and try to update the sound of our band?”
Cook also switched roles with Thomas for the ballad “The Way,” which he wrote with Doucette and sings lead vocals on.
“[That] was a song Paul and I had started in Nashville, and Rob did sing a version of it,” Cook said. “We just felt like, maybe there was just a little bit more — whatever quality I had for that melody, we all liked it, and everyone agreed it was nice to have a little color change vocally, which I think we will probably do more and more of in years to come. We like that feeling of becoming more of that kind of Eagles-like band, where there’s some diversity in the vocals in the band.”
It isn’t the first time he has sung lead on a Matchbox Twenty song, though — “Hang,” the closing song on “Yourself or Someone Like You,” was an initially uncredited duet between Thomas and Cook.
“A lot of people didn’t pick up on that or realize that,” Cook said. “What was funny, when that first came out — it was politics and stuff. When they printed the liner notes, I was like 19, 20 years old when the record came out, so I didn’t know much about the way the business went, and I didn’t really pay much attention to the credit end of things. The first several million they printed up didn’t even credit me; they sort of changed that later on.”
Another hiatus likely
Matchbox Twenty will continue supporting the album for the foreseeable future, but fans should take advantage while they can — it may be another long layoff before the fifth Matchbox Twenty album hits.
“I think Rob is gonna do another solo album this time around, so there’s a chance it’ll be several years until we do another one,” Cook said.