If you’re lucky enough to have the same friends you had when you were in college this doesn’t apply to you. But for most, the distance and frequency between us and our friends expands every year. That happens in bands too and to some extent it happened to Matchbox Twenty. For almost a decade they did went on to do different things. They never stopped talking and played some shows. They even released a greatest hits compilation with six new songs, so their situation isn’t an extreme one. Still, it felt like a new Matchbox album would never come to be. They hadn’t worked in the studio together with the intent of making a Matchbox Twenty album in a long time. Things changed and slowed down for the individuals in the group, and after all that time had passed, the band had finally spent the past few years working on new music. Alternative Addiction caught up with Paul Doucette from the group to talk about making the group’s fourth album, North that’s scheduled to be released in September through their longtime label partner in Atlantic Records.
“Our process for making this record was so different,” said an always intriguing but slightly quirky Doucette. “So being together again everyone was just fine and normal. But figuring out our new way of working together now that we’re not in our twenties anymore was different. There was a lot more songwriting from Kyle [Cook] and I on this record. There’s songwriting from the three of us writing together and groups of two writing together. So figuring out how to make all of that work took a little time and trying to use everybody’s ability for where we are now from writing, production, and performance and making that all work together took a little bit.”
Before Coldplay grew to the point to where that band is now, Matchbox Twenty was the band at the top of the pop rock world. Their dominance at the top of the charts was due to the band’s ability to make great music, of course. But Rob Thomas was writing all of those songs back then, and he was penning some masterful music. With this new record, Paul and Kyle had more to do with writing material. After working outside of the group for the time off, they were ready to contribute in the process. Asked if Matchbox Twenty could have made this album a decade ago, Doucette adamantly said no.
“No. There’s no way. Kyle and I weren’t strong enough writers at that time. We had to go and work on our craft. Which is great and that’s exactly what we did over these past few years. We just have a lot more ability now than we did in the past. We do a lot of outside production stuff and a lot of outside songwriting stuff. We have more confidence and less ego too. It’s a lot easier to recognize when someone in the group has a better idea than you do. Its age and perspective, it’s kind of nice. You can relax.”
Rob Thomas has released two solo records since the last traditional Matchbox Twenty album has been released but the other members have stayed busy with outside projects too. One of Doucette’s projects was his solo album, Milk the Bee under the moniker The Break and Repair Method.
“For one thing making a record on my own was a huge confidence builder,” said Matchbox Twenty’s guitarist and drummer about his 2008 release. “I was less embarrassed to bring my ideas to the guys. I felt like I knew more of what I am doing and I discovered in that process that I knew more than I thought I did. It helped solidify what exactly I do or did at that time because my process of writing is different than Rob’s and Kyle’s. When you’re in a band with other song writers, you can be like ‘it’s supposed to work like that’ I’m supposed to be able to write a song like Rob writes a song.’ That’s just not how I write songs. That’s not my process of doing things. Mine isn’t the same as Kyle’s, Kyle’s isn’t the same as Rob’s. It’s all different, and that’s kind of cool. You have to figure out what your own way is and the Break and Repair Method taught me that.”
Developing a new process to write songs as a group was a decent challenge. However, the process they fell into was a chaotic one and Matchbox ended up finding an old friend to help them sort through the madness.
“We wrote most of it in little chunks. We’d spend a week at my studio and a few months later we’d spend a month at Kyle’s studio. So we gathered about sixty something fully-fleshed melodic ideas but not fully-fleshed songs. Then we moved into the house in Nashville with the intention of figuring out what was working and what wasn’t working and kind of getting a sense of the kind of record we wanted to make. In between that, left to our own devices, we found ourselves make a record with no real focus. It sort of became a big, huge mess. We were super-overwhelmed with choices and we brought Matt [Serletic] in to help us sift through stuff, then we decided to just do the record with Matt. We found a little bit of focus, and Matt helped us find that.”
Matt Serletic has produced all of the band’s full-length albums. He didn’t do the band’s last batch of new music with Exile on Mainstream but he’s remained close with the guys in the band over the years. When asked if anyone else had a legitimate shot to produce the record, Doucette was political enough to say that there were other choices, but he also understood that for what the band wanted out of this record, Serletic the correct choice.
“Steve Lillywhite was always really high on our list,” said Paul. “We love working with Steve and he has such a different way of working than Matt, which was really great. But we figured out what we wanted to do, what was our strength- the crafting element of our band, the crafting of record making. We’re that kind of band. We sit there and agonize over connecting melodies that maybe are just there to add support but we’ll be there for days finding the exact right one. And we kind of wanted to do that with these songs and Matt is in tune with making those kinds of records. There’s also shorthand that we have with Matt that we don’t have with anybody else, which is helpful.”
Despite not playing drums on most of Exile on Mainstream, Paul did go back to his spot behind the kit to record the drums for this album for a few good reasons.
“The guys were pretty insistent on it. We tried using another drummer, Ryan [Macmillan] came in and played on the Exile stuff and he did a great job, Ryan’s a great drummer. But there’s a specific feel that I have that people were missing. So for the recording of this we kind of felt it was important that I played all the drums on it. I’ve been playing with Rob for a long time. Where he lands his vocal and where I land my snare are very in-tune with each other. We also didn’t want to bring in people who weren’t us because we were writing as we were doing this so we didn’t want to have anybody outside of us in there.”
If you’ve seen the band’s new video for their latest single “She’s So Mean” then you’ve seen Doucette playing the drums on fire, literally playing drums on fire. The video was a normal process for the band, but writing that song was anything but. It’s one of the songs that came about while the band was trying to understand what the record was they were trying to write.
“We were writing so many songs. We would set up little challenges for ourselves to keep things moving. Like write a song in every key, or write a song about elephants or whatever it was. This was, we found one chord progression, we were like ‘we can’t move off this chord progression, we have to write the whole thing off of this progression.’ Then we just kind of went around and each one of us wrote a part off the top of our heads and that’s pretty much what you’re hearing. With the exception of the chorus, the chorus took us a long time to get to once we had that initial idea. But that initial idea came in minutes. We have this incredibly funny sounding demo of us just standing around one mic playing it on guitar and singing our individual parts, and we’re pretty loaded. It’s terrible to listen to [laughs.]”
There’s something about this project that’s so familiar. The band did a few things different through the process of making the album, but they did enough the same to know that the people that have clamored for this record won’t be disappointed. Having Cook and Doucette more involved with writing isn’t going to change the album enough to make it sound completely different. It will have changed things enough to make this album sound more evolved than the group’s last two traditional albums. It’s hard to tell right now, we’ll be certain when North hits physical and digital retailers on September 4th. Tour plans for the band will be announced shortly, although the group’s not expected to tour the U.S. until 2013.