‘I am not open enough to be a celebrity’

IN THE MIDST of a photo shoot for a Bloomingdale’s ad in Manhattan’s West Village, singer-songwriter Rob Thomas overhears a conversation about Twitter.

By (Reuters)

Published: Sun 26 Apr 2009, 9:28 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:10 AM

“Dude,” he says, reaching for a new scarf to throw over a faux-vintage T-shirt, “I’ve gotten to the point where I sit around and wait for things to happen so I can Twitter them.”

Thomas Twittered about the interview (‘Did an interview with Billboard during the shoot. She was nice and surprised at my normality. So I peed on her.’) He Twittered about his outfit (‘I’m totally rocking the light scarf. Nothing says ‘rock’ like the light scarf. Totally.’) And he has Twittered about watching movies, being sick and making breakfast. In fact, if you subtract the time that Thomas spends answering fans’ questions about his upcoming album and tour plans, he could be just another guy, Twittering his lunch break away.

But of course, Thomas isn’t your average nine-to-fiver. In addition to singing, he wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the Matchbox Twenty albums and his solo albums and also co-wrote the Carlos Santana smash Smooth, the track for which he’s best known outside North America.

“I always saw being a rock star as my day job,” he says. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great job. But my job is to write songs and perform, just like your job is to do interviews and write articles. I don’t think of myself as a personality.”

He isn’t exactly a stranger, either. According to a survey commissioned by Warner Music Group, one-third of the total U.S. population age 13 and older is familiar with Thomas, and within this group 68 per Ncent are fans of his music. Many of them have also bought his music: His band Matchbox Twenty’s three albums and greatest-hits collection have sold 15.2 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan; and his first solo album, 2005’s Something to Be, sold 1.6 million copies.

Working it

Even with that impressive track record, Thomas doesn’t assume the public automatically will buy his next album, Cradlesong, due on June 30 on Atlantic. Keenly aware that his fan base ranges dramatically in terms of age and technological interest, Thomas and his label are making every effort to reach people regardless of their chosen pop culture medium. So his marketing plan marries Twitter and TV and SayNow and the Sunday paper.

If his previous sales are any indication, Thomas shouldn’t have to beat up on himself too much. Still, he says, he’s constantly reminded that it’s a whole different world now than when Matchbox Twenty started out in the ‘90s.

“We’ve always tried to be ahead of the curve,” says his manager, Michael Lippman. Lippman says adopting new marketing methods is necessary because fans have reached a saturation point, besieged by so many bands and different media outlets that they’re simply overloaded.

“There is no more brand loyalty,” Lippman says. “There was a time when a band could announce they were putting out an album, do a few interviews and play a few shows and people would just come and buy it. Now you have to keep convincing them.”

Avoiding the spotlight

At the same time, Lippman acknowledges that, for someone so well-known, Thomas spends plenty of his time out of the public eye instead of convincing people to pay attention to him. Thomas and his wife, Marisol, founded the Sidewalk Angels foundation, which helps homeless people and animals — but he doesn’t emblazon his face on his good deeds.

“Rob’s not a celebrity,” Lippman says, “nor does he want to be. People know him as a songwriter and a singer, not as the guy who got in a fight or dated a model and wound up in the tabloids. The record company has pushed, on occasion, for him to be more visible, but he always pushes back.”

“It’s a cliche, but I try to keep the focus on the music,” Thomas says. “I am not open enough to be a celebrity. I’m not going to move to L.A. and go out every night. I live in Westchester (County in New York). I’m not spilling my soul on Twitter.” Thomas is canny about what he writes — by letting readers know about his taste in things like scarves and sandwiches, he’s created an illusion of intimacy without letting them in on his personal life.

As to his longevity, Thomas says, “The secret is, I really don’t have a secret. If anything, we were lucky because we never had a moment. We were never huge and on the cover of Rolling Stone, and we never had a flop where everyone said we were awful. We wrote some great songs, and great songs stick around. People didn’t get into an image, they got into Matchbox Twenty or me.”

Thomas’ songs have appeared in a number of films and TV shows, and his first foray into the commercial world will be a partnership with Lyric Culture clothing’s upcoming line at Bloomingdale’s, with Thomas as the first contemporary artist to appear in the line’s ads. But that’s as far as his brand-building ambitions go.

“I have no mogul ambitions at all,” Thomas says. “I have a lot of money already. I could never sell another record and live comfortably for a while. I have a lot of creative and songwriting goals, and I never want to live album to album. But I’m 37-years old, I know what I want, and I don’t want a second career. If I were younger or single, sure, I’d try my hand at things. But I’d rather spend time working on causes I believe in and hanging out with my family.”

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