Matchbox Twenty’s debut album, “Yourself or Someone Like You,” achieved a level of success that might never be repeated in musical history. Recorded for a tiny subsidiary of Atlantic Records, the unassuming 12-song set was released in October 1996 to little fanfare. But the band started plugging lead singles like “Long Day” and “Push” on accepting radio stations, which were hungry for a sound that successfully blended soaring late ’70s arena pop with angst-ridden early ’90s alternative rock.
By summer 1997, when the album’s third single, “3 A.M.,” broke, “Yourself or Someone Like You” had been certified gold. By fall, it went platinum, and by 1998, it went multiplatinum in five far-flung countries. In 1999, Rob Thomas, Paul Doucette, Brian Yale, Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor settled in to record the album’s much-anticipated follow-up. But “Smooth,” lead singer Thomas’ electrifying one-off with Carlos Santana, became a mega-hit, eventually winning three Grammys and being voted by Billboard as the second-best rock song of the last 50 years.
That drove “Yourself or Someone Like You” to more than 10 million copies sold, earning the RIAA’s elite Diamond Award. But Matchbox Twenty never suffered the downward decline many critics expected. Its second studio album sold four million copies; its third, 1.4 million; and the fourth, 2012’s “North,” became Matchbox Twenty’s first to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Charts. Folio Weekly chatted with lead guitarist Kyle Cook about maintaining that level of success and writing in a truly collaborative fashion.
Folio Weekly: Has the current tour been going well, Kyle?
Kyle Cook: The audiences have been crazy. There’s definitely a lot of anticipation because it’s been five or six years since we’ve toured the United States.
F.W.: Given the band’s roots in Florida, are you all looking forward to returning?
K.C.: Everything came together in Orlando, so there’s a lot of nostalgia surrounding coming back. It really hearkens back to our early days of watching the fan base grow. It’s going to be fun.
F.W.: Was the massive success for “Yourself or Someone Like You” a blur for Matchbox Twenty? Or was the band grinding its gears, waiting for things to take off?
K.C.: It was definitely a blur, but a lot of it was probably self-induced. I was so young when I joined the band, and record labels courting us and wanting to take the band out to strip clubs. I wasn’t old enough to get in, though, so we were forced to go to Denny’s a lot. But even after we got the ball rolling, we toured in a van for a solid year and a half. It wasn’t until radio got involved that things really started to move quickly.
F.W.: Was the collective songwriting effort on your latest album, “North,” a prerequisite for the five of you to get together after the last hiatus?
K.C.: There was definitely discussion about hugely successful collaborative groups like U2. And also a sense of, “Let’s dig a little deeper and find out whether Matchbox Twenty is that collaborative force.” That did [require] Rob wanting to come along, though; we had to differentiate ourselves from his solo career. If we didn’t, I don’t think it would’ve been good. Every creative institution has to evolve, and we did by exploring different methods of writing songs.
F.W.: Was it a validation of sorts when the record hit No. 1 on the charts?
K.C.: Yeah, it did — it was our first time! There was a bit of hesitancy because we changed the formula of having Rob write all the songs and us, the arrangement machine, package and deliver them to the world. But then it was like, “Maybe we’re going in the right direction.” I’m sure there are plenty of critics who won’t agree with me, but I think if you really analyze our catalog, genre-wise it’s pretty diverse. We always made sure we didn’t repeat ourselves too much.
F.W.: And the group hasn’t had any intra-band meltdowns or public battles, which is impressive for a band that’s been together for nearly 20 years.
K.C.: We just get all the warring out privately and then we’re good in public. [Laughs.] There are a lot of “Spinal Tap” moments in the studio, where we get very argumentative and certainly don’t always agree. But you have to go through those creative pains to get to a place that’s interesting and memorable.
F.W.: Is this Matchbox Twenty’s last hurrah? Or is there more gas left in the tank?
K.C.: We’ve had four or five people steering this ship over the years, and we’ve finally figured out how to let one person take their hand off and let the other person steer for a second. So honestly, I think we’re really hitting our stride.