Rob Thomas never feels more in tune with what he does as a musician than when he is out on the road.
“Places like Utah, those are places that I probably would have never got a chance to be, and now it’s a place that I’m familiar with, and I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about the job,” Thomas told the Daily Herald in a recent phone interview.
The Daily Herald caught up with Thomas, known as both a pop-rock solo artist and the lead singer of Matchbox Twenty, ahead of his solo “Chip Tooth Tour” show Tuesday with Abby Anderson at The Depot in Salt Lake City. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
SARAH HARRIS: Is there anything in particular you like about Utah or places you like to go?
ROB THOMAS: You know, it’s funny … because usually when you’re playing, you’re playing in the middle of downtown and places like that, but it’s really all the scenery outside of that that’s beautiful, the big, open sky that you guys have that I’m not sure if you guys take it for granted. But living in New York, we’re either surrounded by buildings or by mountains, and so you always feel very, very enclosed, and the skyline doesn’t quite seem as big as it does in Utah.
HARRIS: This tour is promoting your new album “Chip Tooth Smile.” Could you talk about your album, the inspiration for that and what you’re hoping to accomplish with it?
THOMAS: For this one, I got a little more introspective I think on certain songs. I think you’re always just writing about yourself, and I’m a different person at 47 than I was at 37 than I was at 27, and so hopefully those things show up in there. Butch Walker, who produced this record, leaned into a lot of ‘80s on this. It was a really big deal for us. We both realized that we were children of the ‘80s growing up on ‘80s radio, so there’s a lot of ‘80s references that make their way through the production of this record as well.
HARRIS: Are there any particular songs on the album that especially stand out to you or are especially meaningful to you?
THOMAS: I would hate to say one because it might mean that the other wasn’t. I think “One Less Day” speaks to an idea of a comfortability with getting older, which I think is a big milestone that you’re lucky if you come across in your life. Songs like “Funny” were songs that I wrote to my wife to let her know that any hardship that I’ve had when I was younger, maybe it was preparing me for any hardship we might have in the future. … “I Love It” is not a very personal song, but I wrote that with my son, so that makes it kind of personal. “Timeless” was more of an exercise in our love of ‘80s music, but at the same time, me and Butch wrote it together, and it draws up all these memories of this great ‘80s music, so it has that. So I think if you do it right, every song has a little bit of something on there that you feel special about.
HARRIS: What’s your plan for the concert we might see in Utah?
THOMAS: I’ve had the same solo band since 2004 or 2005, so it’s another family. It’s a real band. But they’re also these amazing players that when they’re not with me, they go work with Alicia Keys and Ed Sheeran and Miley Cyrus. And they’re top-tier players and this is their heart and home. We’ve got 20 years of music if I included a couple of little Matchbox songs in there here and there, so I think for us, it’s really just about trying to bring joy. I know it sounds a little cheesy, but I think the whole idea in our job is to come in and make people not think about their lives for a couple of hours and just escape and be part of a bunch of other people who are just celebrating being alive and being human. And so if we feel like we’ve done that at the end of the show, then we’ve done it right no matter where we are.
HARRIS: “Chip Tooth Smile” is your fourth solo album. What has it been like to work as a solo artist, and how does that compare to your time with Matchbox Twenty?
THOMAS: Well, there’s certainly not one that’s better than the other. The freedom that I have in solo world is one thing, but at the same time, the surprises that I have working with Matchbox and us all writing together and having them to lean on and to play with, those guys are my brothers and my family. If this were debate class, I could make a half an hour argument on why either side is better. The idea of writing doesn’t really change for either one of those just because for me, I’m just writing all the time. And then if I’m with Matchbox, I sit in a room with them and we show each other what we’re working on and we all pick what we like the best, and if I’m doing solo, I do the same thing. I just sit with my producer and my wife, and we decide what we like the best. So I don’t think the process changes that much.
HARRIS: What are some things you’ve learned over the past 20 years of this musical career?
THOMAS: I think I’ve learned to not take myself so seriously. I think I’ve learned to have thicker skin. I think you learn that everybody’s favorite band is somebody’s least favorite band and vice versa. I think from Carlos, I’ve learned that the only things I control are my motive, my intention and my purpose, and I have to always be in check with my gratitude and be grateful for what I have, and also that as much as this career moves me and as much as it’s a really big part of my life, it’s not as important, it’s not the same thing as my family life and those things that can’t be replaced.
HARRIS: Is there anything specific you might want fans to take away from your new album or your tour?
THOMAS: I think that I want people to leave there and feel like we all shared a moment, with all of us, and it wasn’t just us there playing and people watching us play, but it was a shared thing that we were all a part of and that we all felt it, and then everybody went home and then a week later going, “Man, I remember that concert. We had a really good time.” I think that’s really all that we’re supposed to be doing.