There’s room in Madison for only one Rob Thomas.
Okay, except on Friday, June 7, when there can be two.
Rob Thomas, the Grammy-winning singer and songwriter and the reason strangers keep tweeting me GIFs from the "Smooth" music video, is playing Breese Stevens Field on Friday, with Abby Anderson opening. (Rob Thomas, the creator of “Veronica Mars,” has also been confused with the famous musician, and I have been mistaken for both of them.)
When his band Matchbox 20 first broke big in the 1990s, and people first started teasing me about whether I was lonely at 3 a.m., I figured I'd hang in there and eventually Rob Thomas and Matchbox 20 would fade into obscurity like so many '90s bands did. Right?
Instead, Rob Thomas has remained a popular and enduring musician, both with Matchbox 20 and on his own, famously winning three Grammys for "Smooth," his collaboration with Carlos Santana in 2000. At this point, unless I try a late-in-life name change to "Bobby Thomas," I can expect "Well it's a hot one!" jokes to keep going for the rest of my life. And I'm fine with that. At least my name isn't Michael Bolton.
While his band Matchbox 20 has been through town a couple of times, this will be Thomas’ first Madison show as a solo artist, with a full band in support of his new album “Chip Tooth Smile.” The album shows the 47-year-old musician feeling grateful about surviving and growing older (“One Less Day”) and digging deep into the 1980s music he grew up listening to (“Timeless”).
Thomas talked about making the album, growing older as a musician, and living in a world with so many darn Rob Thomases.
Publicist: Rob, you’re on with Rob.
Rob Thomas (the musician): Hey, there’s another one!
Rob Thomas (the writer): We’re everywhere!
I thought there was just two of us, but now there’s a third.
I have definitely been mistaken for you from time to time.
Have you ever been mistaken for the other one?
One time, somebody reached out to me on Twitter and said, “Oh, I really like your music.” And I had to say, “Thanks, but that’s not me.” And she responded, “Okay. By the way, ‘Veronica Mars’ is such a good show.” And I was like, “Yeah, I’m not that one either.”
The other Rob Thomas came to my show at the Greek. He came backstage and told me a story. He had been invited to the White House Correspondents Dinner, and didn’t realize until he got there that the invitation was meant for me. He still had a good time.
Well, if you need another Rob Thomas to step in at any point for your show in Madison, I’ll be sure to be on call.
I do appreciate that.
How are you getting ready for this summer tour?
It’s just basically rehearsal and that’s it. I’ve had the same band since 2004, so it’s just another family to step back into. They’re just amazing players, and it makes rehearsal a real joy.
I love the road. I understand people who have different feelings about it. But for me there’s something romantic about waking up in a new city and playing for a new set of people. I used to hitchhike around the country when I was 17, so I think I had that gypsy in me all the time.
Your first single “One Less Day” — you don’t hear a lot of singles on the radio about growing old. What made you decide to lean forward with that idea?
I felt so drawn to the melody at first. I realized that as I’m moving forward, one of the things that I love is making songs that don’t sound like the song that played before, or the song that played after. That’s just where my head’s at right now. I’ve heard from so many people my age, just coming out of the woodwork, who have said, “Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel right now.”
How does it feel to have this much time under your belt as a musician?
I don’t know that I ever imagined when I started out that I’d be able to still be doing this, or if I did, it was a romanticized idea. And then, five years in, you think, "There’s probably a really good chance that I won’t be doing this 20 years from now." So when it does happen, you realize that it’s a gift.
The fans have allowed me to take some pretty big leaps. The me that wrote “3 A.M.” is different than the guy that wrote “Lonely No More,” and different than the guy who wrote “One Less Day.’
You go hard on the ‘80s influences on this album, particularly “Timeless.” I was just laughing, noticing how many '80s references you had packed into that song. Was that inspired by the music of that time, or more who you were at the time you were listening to it?
My mom gets very, very emotional when she hears doo-wop music, because that’s what she grew up listening to. Me and (producer and co-songwriter) Butch (Walker), we were just radio heads in the ‘80s, sitting in our moms’ cars on long drives listening to Fleetwood Mac and Michael Jackson and George Michael, and then the next British invasion with Depeche Mode and The Cure.
Butch and I started to realize that we were tingeing a lot of production with ‘80s styles naturally. So when we noticed it, we leaned into it. This was the first song that he and I wrote together. He wrote that chorus, and then I went down into the basement and my studio, while my wife texted me all these album titles and song titles and references from the ‘80s stuff we loved, and I tried to put them all together into a believable song on its own, but it was like a scavenger hunt.
I know some of the songs on this album are autobiographical. How do you mine your personal life for material while still respecting the privacy of the people around you?
Everybody in my life knows that they’re fodder. It’s fodder, but it’s always in the abstract. If I’m writing about a moment between me and my wife, I’m really writing about the way that makes me feel, because that feeling is universal.
I don’t want to sit around writing songs about being a musician and being on the road. I want to write about the fact that I’m 47 years old, and I’m scared of the exact same things that you are, even if you work in banking. It's meant like for another me.