The Grammy-winning singer talks recording a Christmas album with Brad Paisley, Matchbox Twenty’s group text and celebrating the season’s festivities amid grief
He rocks out with country crooner Brad Paisley, reflects on the power of Christmas spirit with Bebe Winans and covers a Bryan Adams classic with Ingrid Michaelson, but among the fun collaborations on Rob Thomas’ new album Something About Christmas Time, there’s a bittersweet song penned amid grief that’s deeply-personal for the Grammy-winning musician.
The Matchbox Twenty frontman and his wife Marisol lost their beloved Pomeranian, Samy, in June and while he was largely by Thomas’ side as he recorded his debut Christmas record, the release and holidays are tinged with sadness in Samy’s absence.
With lyrics which will resonate even more widely as many around the globe face the festive season without loved ones due to Covid-19, Thomas expresses his own holiday heartache in “Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas (Samy’s Song).”
AUDIO: Rob Thomas “Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas (Samy’s Song)”
“We’re still in a phase where we feel guilty if we catch ourselves anticipating something wonderful at Christmas time,” Thomas, 49, confesses while discussing Something About Christmas Time, which was recently released via Atlantic Records. “So, we don’t know if we’ll do as much as we normally do. Samy not only survived [last] Christmas, but perked up health-wise – running around, bullying people for food and wanting to play, which was odd because he was so sick, so it’s greedy to ask for much more.”
“We also don’t know how long we’ll have this little guy,” he adds, petting Ollie, the couple’s dachshund/terrier mix. “And, how many Christmases do you get? You don’t know, so is it really okay to sh** on any of them? You need to at least put in an effort, but it’s bittersweet. I’m not sure how we’ll honor our little guy while not feeling guilty about feeling good.”
Thomas dedicates “something about christmas time” to Samy, who also receives an engineering credit.
The musician’s love for Christmas started early, with the festive season bringing solace and joy throughout a turbulent childhood during which his late mother, Mamie, struggled with alcoholism.
“I sometimes had a complicated relationship with Christmas because I had a complicated relationship with my mother,” explains Thomas. “But even in the worst of times, Christmas was a saving grace. It smoothed out the rough edges and made everybody get along better.”
Thomas’ fondest holiday memories were in South Carolina. “We had these grandparents, who I found out years later weren’t my actual grandparents – they were a couple who helped raise my mother and became like parents to her, so became our grandparents,” he says. “We didn’t have a normal life on a day-to-day basis, so when we went to their house, it felt very normal.”
“There was this two-week period in this nice neighborhood,” he continues. “We’d do neighborhood drop-bys where you stop by different houses on Christmas Eve and say, ‘Hi.’ It felt like the sense of community I was lacking at home, so anytime I was at Grandma and Grandpa Touchstone’s house was special.”
Those small-town holiday vibes are something Thomas now relishes in Westchester, New York, and honors in his album’s first single, “Small Town Christmas,” which is accompanied by a music video directed by David “Doc” Abbott. The video features holiday memories throughout the years, cute cameos from his bestie’s 1-year-old daughter, Maya, and clips of Samy.
Christmas traditions in the Thomas household involve making moussaka and watching It’s a Wonderful Life.
“I become a little bitch about it,” laughs Thomas, who together with Marisol runs Sidewalk Angels Foundation, an animal advocacy organization helping and raising money for no-kill shelters and rescues. “At a certain point, if we’re not watching ‘It’s A Wonderful Life,’ I’m like, ‘Guys, I’m starting without you!’”
The couple can now add spinning Something About Christmas Time to their holiday traditions. The 10-track record features original songs like “Save Some Christmas,” covers like “Christmas Time,” featuring Ingrid Michaelson and a reimagined version of Thomas’ 2002 release, “A New York Christmas.” The new version features in new Hallmark Channel film “A Royal Queens Christmas,” starring Megan Park.
Thomas also duets with Winans on a soulful cover of Ray Charles’ “That Spirit of Christmas,” covers Dolly Parton’s “I Believe in Santa Claus” with country songstress Abby Anderson and teams up with Paisley for “Santa Don’t Come Here Anymore.”
“I’ve known Brad for a long time. We’ve been casual friends for 20 years,” says Thomas. “Many years ago, I started this song, ‘Santa Don’t Like Bad Little Girls,’ and although it was very tongue-in-cheek, it felt like it didn’t hold up to the times – the title alone. I rewrote a song around that vibe, about a girl who gets caught cheating on her man on Christmas Eve, so Santa stopped coming to their house. And it was very country.”
Paisley recorded from Nashville, Thomas noting that coordinating guest artists in different cities was challenging, but made the album – produced by Gregg Wattenberg and with Marisol handling creative direction – even more satisfying.
Meanwhile, Thomas reunited with Carlos Santana for party-starting single “Move,” also featuring American Authors. The collaboration came 22 years after Thomas and Santana topped the charts with “Smooth.” Thomas also co-wrote Canadian musician Forest Blakk’s sweet new single, “Fall Into Me.”
Fans have even more to look forward to in 2022, with new Matchbox Twenty music coming ahead of a tour commencing May 17 in Vancouver before hitting the U.S.
Thomas says the band, whose last full studio album was 2012’s “North,” are like family who go months without talking then seamlessly pick up where they left off.
“We’ve had running jokes – which are just bad dad puns – on a text, but we’ll drop it for months, then suddenly somebody adds something to the last joke,” says Thomas, dad to 23-year-old Maison Thomas-Eudy, who’s pursuing his own musical dreams with his band Hand Made House. “It’s been a long time – 25 years since [Yourself or Someone Like You] and we were together before that.”
“When we’re together, we’re together all the time, then one of us goes to New York, one to LA, one to Florida and one to Nashville,” he adds about bandmates Kyle Cook, Paul Doucette and Brian Yale. “We all have different gardens to tend to, whether it’s careers, family or kids. It’s not how we imagined when we were kids, which is that we’d make it big then live in one big house together like some bad MTV show!”
VIDEO: Rob Thomas “Small Town Christmas”