Thomas enjoys co-writing but admits to being nervous before each session. “I’m always more comfortable by myself,” he confesses. “It’s kind of like going to the movies-you never want to get out of your house and drive down there, but once you get to the movies, you feel better about being there. You are glad you went. It’s the same about writing with people.
Thomas enjoys co-writing but admits to being nervous before each session. “I’m always more comfortable by myself,” he confesses. “It’s kind of like going to the movies-you never want to get out of your house and drive down there, but once you get to the movies, you feel better about being there. You are glad you went. It’s the same about writing with people. I’m nervous about whether they are going to like me and think I’m a good writer, and what if we don’t hit if off. Then once I get in a room with someone, it’s like ‘Oh I could have never taken that avenue.’ All writers should meet people outside their element if they can. It’s the only way to learn anything.”
Thomas says he doesn’t approach writing differently when working in different genres. “You can write with a country writer and it doesn’t mean you are going to come up with something country,” he says. “I think the only way to go into it is to go into it not thinking about anything at all, just the thought of writing a song. You have to write as if no one is ever going to hear it. You are kind of writing for yourself. That’s how to write a really good song-just write one you would love to hear.”
Thomas plays both piano and guitar and writes on both instruments. “I love to write on the road,” he says. “Nothing inspires you more than being on a tour bus. The only thing is to remember to bring your guitar on. We had to make the bus pull over while we were on the highway just to pull out our guitars because we had ideas.”
Though he writes on guitar, Thomas admits to feeling more comfortable on piano. “I’m really limited on guitar so there’s a similarity going into the chords structures and a lot of the arrangements on the first record because it was the only way I could write,” he says. ‘When I went into this record (‘Mad Season’), I’m not a great piano player than a guitar player, but I’m a much better piano player than a guitar player. I don’t have any limits as to what I can do. I can go wherever I want and use different chord arrangements and chord structures that would spark new melodies for me.”
Lyrically Thomas is known for writing complex, emotionally-charged songs, colored by his personal experiences. Among those is “Rest Stop” off the Mad Season album, which reverberates with one of the most poignant, sorrowful lyrics about love gone sour. The song is about a woman who breaks up with her boyfriend by waking him up, and kicking him out on the side of the road ‘just three miles from the rest stop.’ On the chorus, he shares the woman’s thoughts on the demise of the relationship: ‘while you were sleeping, I was listening to the radio and wondering what you’re dreaming, when it came to mind I didn’t care.’ So I thought ‘Hell if it’s over, then I had better end it quick or I could lose my nerve.’ Are you listening? Can you hear me? Have you forgotten?”
Thomas has a way of cutting to the very quick in his lyrics, making his songs unique, and he appreciates listeners who analyze and scrutinize lyrics, even though he knows they are in the minority. “As a writer, sometimes you realize you are doing your hardest work for 20% of the population,” he says. “Your harder work means you are really sweating over things that are only appreciated by other songwriters and people who sit by the radio and read the lyrics. But if you don’t do it, it’s not there for people to appreciate.”
Thomas’s lyrics are often somber and sad in stark contrast to the warm, smiling boy next door he appears to be in person. When asked about the contradiction, he just laughs. “I’m just the goofiest, happiest to be here guy, and I’m Southern. We are the geeks of the music industry,” he says of his band. “We are really happy to be here…Whenever I write, I’ll just have it represent the worst part of me. Then I can be this way (happy) the rest of the time. I only of me. Then I can be this way (happy) the rest of the time. I only discover the dark side of me when I write. The rest of the time I can be a pretty happy me.’
When asked if it’s difficult to be so vulnerable in his songs, Thomas responds, “I don’t think so. You can never think about it that way. This is what I do. I write songs, and it’s really self-indulgent.”
Love and happiness can often squelch a rocker’s angst-ridden creative muse. Now happily married to wife Marisol for nearly two years, he says it has impacted his writing. “MY life loves me, but she cried at night (when they first met) because I was a musician and there was a whole life that she didn’t know she was ready to enter into. So I was begging her to,” he says. “I found the person I want to be with the rest of my life. I don’t have to look cool anymore. It really frees you up to be able to do that. You can be as vulnerable as you want.”
He poured that vulnerability into the hit “If You’re Gone.” The chorus reads: “If you’re gone—maybe it’s time to go home. There’s an awful lot of breathing room, but I can hardly move. If you’re gone—baby you need to come home. Cuz there’s a little bit of something of me in everything in you.”
Relationships always provide creative grist for songwriters and Thomas says his wife accepts the process. “I’m lucky the woman I married is really understanding that I’m a writer,” he says. “Sometimes we could just have a huge argument. As a couple, you get past it and move on. It makes you bigger and stronger, but as a writer, you sometimes have to hang in that moment, and analyze it, pull it apart, and follow it out to another, maybe, conclusion to look at it from all different angles.”
With his wife for inspiration and a plethora of high-powered collaborators to stretch his bounds, Thomas continually grows and develops his craft. Still, he admits, there’s nothing quite like the creative process he enjoys with his fellow bandmates in matchbox twenty—Kyle Cook, Adam Gaynor, Brian Yale, and Paul Doucette and producer, Matt Serletic.
“When I bring it to the guys, I try to bring it as bare as possible,” he says of his songs, “like a coffeehouse version, me on the guitar and me on the piano. We all sit down and have meetings and everybody pitches in what they’re thinking. The whole beauty of being with the right band is that they can’t take these songs and really bring them to life, which is the difference between writing a good song and making a good album. These guys do it in a great way. When we get together, it’s like magic every time.