You’ve been touring the US in advance of the release of your new album The Great Unknown. But last month you had to cancel some shows after doctors found a lesion on your wife ’s brain. How is she?
She’s getting there. Her surgery is lined up for September 11. The song The Great Unknown is actually about my amazement at how strong and how resilient she is — how she goes through all she’s going through, then if she has the grace of a good day she just picks it up and runs with it. After everything she’s been through all these years … I’d be in a corner somewhere, in the foetal position. But she’s kinda f—in’ amazing.
— (@ThisIsRobThomas) August 1, 2015
Pictures on Twitter show fans holding up #TeamMari signs at your shows — did that come out of nowhere?
Yeah the first time that I walked out on stage after we made the announcement, a fan had brought a bunch of them and handed them out and I got all choked up. It’s really, really cool.
After 15 years of marriage to this strong lady, where do your songs about other kinds of girls come from — crazy party girls who’ll scratch your records, for example?
Well, that’s her too (laughs). I’ve been married for a really long time, so I can’t Taylor Swift it — I can’t have multiple relationships then go write about them. So I have to write about every facet of this relationship. If we get into a really big fight, like all good couples do, we make up and we get stronger. But as a writer, I’ll go back and write about that moment: ‘What if it hadn’t worked out OK?’ Or maybe I’m downstairs, still mad at her, and I want to write about this hypothetical horrible person (laughs).
You’ve worked with pop co-writers/producers like Ryan Tedder (first single Trust You) and Ricky Reed (Jessie J, Pitbull) on this album. Was there an element of not wanting to repeat yourself in that decision?
There always is. If I’m going to work with other people, I don’t want to work with people that do exactly what I do, or, quite frankly, someone I think I could do it better than. I want to work with someone that looks at pop music in a way that I can’t, because that’s the only way I’m going to learn. I always want to do something different.
How different will your next solo album be, then?
I’ve already started thinking and writing and it’s going in a whole other direction. It’s time for my David Gray/Ryan Adams folkie/acousticy record that I’ve always had in me but I haven’t really made yet.
So that’s the one where you want to look out into the audience and see grown men crying into their beers?
Well, yeah. Nobody’s going to want to see me shaking my ass after a certain point, trust me. Nobody’s going to want to see that. So I’m going to need to start calming it down. Not yet, but soon.
You wrote Smooth for Santana, as well as songs for Marc Anthony and a few country singers … Were you ever close to going down the Ryan Tedder path of churning out hits for other artists fulltime?
I thought about that … I like being on the road too much. I mean, Ryan does it too — he tours really successfully with OneRepublic then writes giant hits for everybody else. But that kid has more energy than anyone I’ve ever met. When OneRepublic were opening for me, we’d have a day off and he’d fly out to LA to write a song with Beyonce then come back the next day for the next show. I’m not that ambitious. I like to tend to my actual life.
Why did you go solo 10 years ago? Was it people getting in your ear after Smooth was such a huge hit saying, ‘You’re a star, kid’?
No, my God. I had everybody trying to talk me out of it — my band, my record company, my manager. They just wanted me to stick with what was happening. But I saw the turn for Matchbox, where we were starting to be more collaborative. The only way that could happen, as much as I write, is if I had another outlet to pour other songs into. And I saw myself writing songs like Lonely No More and knowing my band would never go for that. I wouldn’t want to take on every weird journey my head goes.
Next year is 20 years since the release of Yourself or Someone Like You. Do have big plans to mark the anniversary?
Definitely we’re going to reissue the record — we’d like to remix it because we just don’t like the way it sounds. We’d love to do a couple of shows playing it all the way through because there’s some songs on there we haven’t played in 15 years. So it’s very much in our mind, we’re just trying to figure out the best way to handle it. I f—ed it up for everybody by doing this solo record!
3AM is the song from that debut you always play. Is that because it speaks to you or because the fans demand it?
The fans really want it, but I share that sentiment. It was the first song I ever wrote that I liked, it was the reason I started writing songs about my life and it was the first song I thought other people would want to hear. It was a song about my mum having cancer … It feels like my flagship song, like that’s the song that started it all for me.
Have you started making Australian tour plans?
We’re planning on coming over at the beginning of next year, because I’d love to play those vineyards.
So, a song, a glass of wine. A song, a glass of wine. Repeat?
THE GREAT UNKNOWN (WARNER) OUT TOMORROW