“I just want to point out however old you think you are, add five years to that and that’s where we all are right now.”
That’s Rob Thomas reflecting on the 20th anniversary of “Smooth.” It’s hard to believe, but the hit Santana song that Thomas co-wrote with Itaal Shur, which swooped up three Grammy Awards and spent 12 consecutive weeks at No. 1, is turning 20 this year.
Even Thomas feels “old” thinking about it.
“Literally four nights ago, I was talking to Carlos [Santana] about it, like this crazy thing,” Thomas told HuffPost in a Build Series interview. “Oh yeah, that happened a lot longer ago than we remember it. It feels like we were just out a couple of summers ago premiering it for people on the road.”
“Smooth” appeared on Santana’s 1999 album “Supernatural.” To this day, Billboard ranks it as the No. 2 biggest hit of all time, right behind Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.” The Matchbox 20 frontman says that looking back, he could never have predicted the path it would take.
“You never know those kind of things. Even then, any success that I’ve ever had, that was the only thing of that magnitude I’d ever been a part of. Like before ‘Smooth,’ Matchbox 20 had our first record, we sold 13, 15 million records. We thought that was the pinnacle of what it takes,” Thomas said. “But I saw what the power of one song with the power of a legend like Carlos could do, and all of that paled in comparison with this one song that we did — being a part of his moment.”
But that moment faded for Thomas at some point. There was a time when he couldn’t stand to hear his own song.
“We were sick of it — and when I say ‘we,’ I mean we all of us. It came out and it’s like, ‘That’s a catchy tune.’ And there was a whole 5-10 year period where we’re just like, ‘I never want to hear that again. I want to bury it somewhere.’ And then it came back on I’d say year 15 and you’re like, ‘It’s a pretty good song.’ But there was a period in the middle where it was almost a parody of itself,” Thomas revealed. “It had gotten so big. I honestly couldn’t listen to it for a long time.”
He still played it in concert, though, because performing “Smooth” live has an entirely different feel compared to listening to the recorded version, he explained.
“There’s a lot of songs like that … Like ‘Real World.’ I could never hear ‘Real World’ again, and I’m totally fine. But I love playing it every night. I enjoy that experience of me and the fans sharing it together. I just don’t have to hear that recording. Live, it could breathe every night. It could be something different. But that recording is capped in time, forever.”
Thomas will soon get a chance to perform his music live when he goes on tour in March for his upcoming album “Chip Tooth Smile,” due out April 26. Produced by Butch Walker, the solo set finds Thomas channeling his ’80s influences and the pop-rock songs for which he’s become so well-known.
The first single, “One Less Day (Dying Young),” out now, features a catchy hook set to lyrics about living every day to the fullest. It’s also an ode to people Thomas has lost in his life.
“I don’t wanna say ‘it’s gonna melt your face it’s so good’... but I’m really proud of it,” Thomas said of his new album.
Asked where his music fits within the current musical landscape, Thomas said he doesn’t really think or worry about that; his focus is on his dedicated fanbase.
“I found, over the last 20 years, a group of people who care about what I’m going to do next. And I feel like I’m speaking to those people. And to a few uninitiated that might come in ― and now a lot of their children,” he said, adding, “You’re not going to control those things anyway. You just want to make sure that you’re doing something that feels right to you and the reason you write music. And at the same time, it’s going to appeal to the people who liked you when you started.”
To watch the whole Build Series interview, check out the video below.