Growing up, Rob Thomas had the kind of life that inspires songs, but not rock songs like the ones he's known for writing '- "3 A.M.," "If You're Gone" and "Bent," to name a few. Instead, his upbringing was one of those sad country songs about living on the wrong side of the tracks. Raised mostly in rundown trailer parks in South Carolina and Florida by his mother and grandmother, Rob dropped out of school and left home at 17. For three years he was homeless, hitchhiking around the southeast and writing music. Eventually, he settled in Orlando, where he held odd jobs during the day and sang at night.
In 1996, he changed his tune. Thomas assembled a band named Matchbox Twenty, and a year later, their first album went gold. The band's still together, but it's on hiatus right now because Thomas, who is the primary composer, has gone solo with Something to Be, which hit number one its first week out. He's also turned his life into a love ballad '- for nearly six years he's been married to Marisol Maldonado, a grad student turned model he met backstage at a show. They have settled in the 'burbs just north of New York City.
Recently, we spoke with Rob about going solo, being hitched and his hot new 'do.
Were you surprised by the success of your album?
Sure, because everyone tells you the odds, and how rarely singers come out of successful bands and do well with a solo record. After you get fed that so many times, you figure it's a lost cause.
So are you enjoying the solo thing?
It's quiet, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. I love that there's not so much deliberation over everything. Usually Paul [Doucette] and I run everything in Matchbox. But even with us doing the legwork, we don't do anything without it clearing it with everyone in the band. So it's nice not to go through that process for a change.
Are your wife and dog touring with you?
Most of the time. Now I have my own bus. Years ago, after we started dating and she came on tour with me for the first time, we were sitting at home and I remember her saying: "I miss the bus." I thought: I love you! You're the perfect woman.
Is it harder writing songs now that your personal life is so rosy?
It's a lot easier to write songs about loss when you have something to lose. Happy lives are happy because you've gone through some s**t. As a writer, you take that moment where we felt bad, and even though we went through it and became a better couple because of it, there was still that moment where you had that pit in your stomach and didn't know what was going to happen. You didn't know if you were going to stay together. I write about that.
Before the album came out you said that you worried "Lonely No More" was too slick and thought it could be "career suicide." Want to take that back now that the album's a hit?
Nah, I still think it could have been career suicide [laughs]. But it was important to do something that had a good chance of failing, because, to me, doing something that seemed very safe would have probably been a bigger failure. If I went ahead and did a Matchbox record without Matchbox, then it probably wouldn't have been successful. You have to not fear failure.
Is Marisol going to be in any of your videos, or was her appearance in the video for your 1999 collaboration with Santana, "Smooth," a one-time thing?
At some point during this record she'll be in one of my videos because she can. Sometimes it's weird with the band because a lot of guys have wives. Why should my wife get to be in the video and not Kyle [Cook]'s or Brian [Yale]'s? Now [that I'm solo], there's nothing to stop us. There's a song that's really personal to us called "Ever the Same," and if we do the video for that she'll be in it.
Let's talk about something really important '- your hair. Why did you go short? And did you go to a big, fancy salon to get it done?
My hair [laughs]. I just got tired of having all that hair; it was a burden. When I cut it, it was so freeing. I love the feeling, especially now that I've done shows. I realized how great it is to do a show with [short] hair. I cut it myself. I went to Eckerd and I bought one of those Wahl shavers; now I shave my own head. It's beautiful.
You're really involved with charity work, like Pets Alive and Sidewalk Angeles. Why is it so important to you?
Sidewalk Angels is the foundation that my wife started. She did it because we run into all these really great organizations '- like Pets Alive, which is a no-kill animal shelter in Middletown, NY '- that don't have the benefit of thousands of marketing dollars. We use our influence and the people we know to put on different benefits and draw awareness for these smaller organizations. And I wrote a Christmas song and set it up so that all the proceeds '- not just from the sales but also from the publishing '- go to the foundation any time it gets played.
So you adore your wife, cut your own hair and give tons of money to charity. You're totally not the typical rock star.
I know. Shhh '- don't tell anybody.