Matchbox Twenty: Back To The Light

The band talks about how family and the ’80s fueled their first album in 11 years

Matchbox Twenty (Image: Atlantic Records)

As they tour Where the Light Goes, their first new album in 11 years, Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas and Paul Doucette are reflecting on nearing three decades together and band life in their fifties.

And unlike the tunnel vision approach that carried them through the smash success of nineties hits like “Push” and “3 a.m.,” the musicians tell us they’ve contently found a balance between the band (Thomas, Doucette, Kyle Cook and Brian Yale), family and solo endeavors. 

“We all have lives that are equally-important to us and Matchbox can never be more important than our families,” says Doucette, who has focused on fatherhood and working as a film and television composer on shows like “For All Mankind” since the group’s last album, 2012’s North.

“It’s gone full circle from having to make our lives and families fit around Matchbox, to now making Matchbox fit into our lives,” adds Thomas.

So, it’s only natural that when it came to Where the Light Goes, family weaved its way throughout the music, whether it was Doucette penning a powerful track for his child, who also performed backing vocals on two tracks, or Cook finding inspiration in an argument with musician girlfriend Tina Dawn, who lends her vocals to upbeat singles “Wild Dogs (Running in a Slow Dream)” and “Don’t Get Me Wrong.” 

Matchbox Twenty Where The Light Goes, Atlantic Records 2023

Thomas, 51, meanwhile wrote “Queen of New York City” as an ode to wife Marisol, whose heartbeat opens the track. 

“My wife had been going through a lot and she does it with strength and resilience,” explains Thomas, whose 24-year-old son Maison opened the group’s recent Hollywood Bowl and Irvine shows with his band The Lucky, who have just released their catchy single, “Tell Him.” “I had this figure of her like this Don Quixote. She grew up as a New Yorker, so I had this queen of New York imagery – this beautiful, strong figure, who almost has to be a little delusional to keep going.”

“In the beginning of the song, there’s a [background] noise from a doctor’s appointment [involving a] heart MRI,” Thomas continues. “It was the sound of her heartbeat and I recorded it.”

Produced by Gregg Wattenberg, Doucette and Cook, and released via Atlantic Records, the 12-track record follows the launch of the group’s “Slow Dream Tour.” The 50+ date trek was initially slated for 2020 and the Grammy-nominated group had planned to record a few new songs to take on the road, but following three postponements, an entire record was born.

Reconvening for their fifth full-length album following a decade of individual pursuits – like Thomas’ solo records, Chip Tooth Smile and The Great Unknown, and Cook’s 2019 solo debut Wolves – wasn’t without its challenges.

“Our first time together was this Zoom call that ended in a fight,” says Thomas. “But because we’ve been together so long, if there’s a big fight, it ends with a big apology. It’s somebody going, ‘When you said this, it made me feel like this,’ then someone’s like, ‘But I felt da-da-da.’ Then everybody’s like, ‘Ok, I understand,’ and we move on. But every time we were back in the studio together, it felt fun and there were lots of laughs.” 


VIDEO: Matchbox Twenty “Don’t Get Me Wrong”

That positivity was the theme as the band steered away from dwelling on COVID-19. “We didn’t want cynicism and to reflect on the pandemic,” says Thomas. “We wanted hopefulness about what’s to come.”

“And what’s still here,” adds Doucette, 50. “In today’s age, where everything’s rage-filled, it’s easy to forget people are people, connection is connection and love is love. All that stuff’s still here. It’s probably also a result of the times and our age, but we didn’t want to put anything negative into the world.”

“We’re in our fifties, so there’s a calm, where you’re like, ‘This is what I do and this is who I am,’ and you’re more comfortable with it,” continues Doucette. “We’re making music we like and there’s no, ‘This isn’t what the band should sound like.’ That stuff doesn’t mean anything anymore – we just followed what was exciting to us.”

That meant embracing the ‘80s influences that soundtracked their youths and continue to inspire them. Those colors show on rock-fuelled tracks like “Rebels” and “Where the Light Goes.”

“At the age we’re at, if we tried making a record copycatting a 21-year-old popstar, it would be disingenuous,” says Thomas. “We write based on our influences now, but it always mirrors things we grew up with and loved, so there’s lots of different 80s flavors on the record. I hear [Tom] Petty and [Bruce] Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love period, but I also hear T’Pau, Go West and Level 42.”

“Go West?” asks Doucette, thrilled at the comparison. “Yes! I’m gonna kiss you!”


A fun, good-humored brotherhood is evident when talking to the rockers and their candor is refreshing – like when Thomas admits he ruled out recording album opener “Friends” (written by Doucette) because he couldn’t enhance it.

“I loved the track, but couldn’t do anything with it, so I thought it was not a good song,” laughs Thomas. “Then we tried to write together on it and since we’re friends and can talk like this, I eventually went, ‘Dude, there’s no way this song is gonna be on the record.’”

Doucette, who had written a grandiose instrumental opening but was struggling to complete the track, turned to friend Matt Nathanson, who’s supporting the group on select dates of their “Slow Dream Tour.”

“He wrote some really great stuff, but it still didn’t feel right,” says Doucette. “I just kept going and going and going until one day I came up with the ‘Friends’ part.”

“When he sent the finished version, all the lyrics, melody and parts were in place,” adds Thomas. “I went, ‘You got there, but I couldn’t get there.”


 Doucette also penned powerful “Hang on Every Word” with moving lyrics inspired by parenthood. The track fulfilled a lifelong dream to work with composer John Metcalfe, who led the strings arrangement at London’s famed Abbey Road Studios.

“That song’s about being a father [and] wanting to tell my child that no matter what, I’m right here and that’s never going to change,” says Doucette.

The musicians also fulfilled another lifelong dream with their latest record – a tour stop at California’s iconic Hollywood Bowl, which they lit up with colourful lighting and visuals while cranking out fan favorites like “Long Day,” “Back to Good” and “The Way,” plus a stirring, stripped-back version of “If You’re Gone.” The hits were served up with Where the Light Goes tracks like “Rebels” and “Queen of New York City.”

“In 27 years, this is our first time playing the Hollywood Bowl,” Thomas told the crowd, which included actor pals Wilmer Valderrama and Malin Akerman. “So, here’s what I’m thinking. We all have a lot of sh** going on in our lives, in our head, right? It takes a lot to get here. We’re here. For the next two hours, none of us will worry about anything that’s not happening in the confines of this space and when it’s done, we’re going to leave feeling like we shared something special. Are you with us?”

Concert-goers roared with cheers before the group launched into “Disease.”


Marking their first concert run since 2017’sA Brief History of Everything Tour,” the rockers are rewarding fans’ patience with fun VIP options featuring perks like sitting in on soundcheck, having a chat and photo with the group and taking part in a Q&A. Their recent Las Vegas Q&A covered everything from artificial intelligence and rent-a-dogs, to why they’ll never perform “Bed of Lies” from their 2001 Mad Season album live.

“We resented that song being on the record – and I wrote it!” said Thomas.

“We did resent that song,” added Doucette. “This is probably something we should get past, but there’s reasons that happened within our world that make us look at that song maybe not [fondly].”

In addition to soundcheck and Q&A fun, those splurging on the group’s top-tier “Side Stage VIP” package get to enjoy the ultimate experience – watching the first three songs of their set from side-stage. Escorted into position moments before the band kicks off the concert with “Friends,” fans get to witness all the last-minute adjustments crew members make behind-the-scenes, band members walking past to take their place and the crowd reaction as they catch their first glimpse of the musicians on stage.

It’s on that stage where Matchbox Twenty couldn’t be more thrilled to be, night after night, following the tour’s lengthy postponement.

“We’ve been a live band since day one and it’s part of the circle – the creation ends with the live presentation,” Thomas tells us. “And we’re a really f***ing good live band! It’s a big deal when somebody spends their night with us. We feel an obligation to give them a piece of ourselves and we do that with joy because we enjoy doing it. When we’re on stage, we’re literally having the best time ever!”



Leena Tailor

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Leena Tailor

Leena Tailor is an LA-based Kiwi journalist published on Entertainment Tonight, Billboard, Vogue, Rolling Stone, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Sunday Star Times, Woman's Day. Follow her on Twitter @LeenaTailor.

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