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‘Yourself Or Someone Like You’: How Matchbox 20 Struck Gold With Their Debut Album
Warner Music
In Depth

‘Yourself Or Someone Like You’: How Matchbox 20 Struck Gold With Their Debut Album

Their success seemingly arrived overnight, but Matchbox 20 paid their dues before making their debut album, ‘Yourself Or Someone Like You’.

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For all the world, it seemed as though Matchbox 20 had simply materialised from the ether when their debut album, Yourself Or Someone Like You, first shot up the charts early in 1997. In reality, though, the band had been knocking around for quite a while, and they’d experienced what frontman Rob Thomas described in a 2016 interview with US TV host Larry King as “a really long overnight success”.

“At the very beginning we were opening for The Lemonheads and we pulled into Five Points Music Hall in Birmingham, Alabama,” Thomas elaborated to AV Club. “It was maybe a 1,000-seater club and there was this line outside the door and people clamouring to get in. We thought, Wow, The Lemonheads are having a good night. Then we found out it was because that town was the only one playing [Yourself Or Someone Like You’s second single] Push on the radio, and it was the biggest hit in Birmingham, and they were all there for us. It was a huge change for us. We were so used to playing to 20 people, or sometimes to six people.”

Listen to ‘Yourself Or Someone Like You’ here.

The backstory: “This guy came back to see if we were getting better”

Indeed, it took a long time – and considerable patience – for the Orlando, Florida, quintet to start reaping such rewards. The band had risen from the ashes of a previous outfit, Tabitha’s Secret, featuring Thomas and future Matchbox 20 bandmates, drummer Paul Doucette and bassist Brian Yale. They split before anything came of it, though their stint on the local scene brought them to the attention of Atlantic Records.

“This [A&R] guy, Kim Stephens, was there to see another band, wound up seeing us, and then every few months he came back to check on us to see if we were getting better,” Thomas told AV Club. “Then, when [Tabitha’s Secret] broke up, Atlantic came to me and said they liked my songs and asked me if I wanted to sign a record deal, so I brought in me and Brian and Paul, and that was the beginning of Matchbox 20.”

Tabitha’s Secret already had a set of songs, but after guitarists Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor were recruited to complete the new band, Thomas wrote a whole bunch of fresh material. “I went and wrote the whole first record, Yourself Or Someone Like You, in the five- or six-month period before we recorded it,” he revealed. “So that was kind of like my second record in a way, and it was just a writing spree, like get it out… and get it all down.”

The recording: “The studio was a whole different world”

Matchbox 20 crossed the state line to record their debut album with producer Matt Serletic, at Triclops Recording, in Atlanta, Georgia. The band remember the sessions going smoothly, but then they were as prepared as they could realistically hope to be by that stage.

“We as a band went into a storage shed and brought our gear in there,” Thomas told AV Club. “For a month we just played it over and over and over, so that when we went in the studio we were ready and prepared, because it was a whole different world for us.”

The hard yards were worth it, though. From being rehearsed to the max, Matchbox 20 emerged with an album full of killer tunes – and they’d timed it to perfection. In the immediate post-grunge landscape of 1996, angsty, melancholic songs with a firm grip of melody and a broad, radio-friendly appeal were just what the wider public craved. Yourself Or Someone Like You had an enviable surplus of such material, and while it started slowly (reputedly selling only 600 copies during its first week of release), Matchbox 20’s debut album soon found a sympathetic ear, thanks to a string of memorable singles.

The release: “We just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger”

The album’s lead single, the semi-acoustic Long Day, was a radio hit on the US West Coast, but once its slow-burning follow-up, Push, shot to the top of Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart, there was no stopping Matchbox 20’s rise to prominence. Subsequent singles 3AM, Real World and Back 2 Good all scored chart success and touched on subjects ranging from cancer (3AM) through to failed relationships (Back 2 Good) which made them easily relatable for the band’s burgeoning fanbase.

Collectively, the singles’ performance supported Yourself Or Someone Like You’s performance – and, following its release on 1 October 1996, the album eventually went off the scale, selling over 12 million copies in the US alone, where it joined an elite club of albums with diamond certifications, among them seminal releases such as Led Zeppelin II and Prince’s Purple Rain.

“We stayed on the road for like three years on that record,” Rob Thomas said, recalling his band’s rollercoaster ride. “We started off in a van and trailer when nobody knew who the hell we were. Then we had a hit, so we were playing small clubs on our own. Then we were playing theatres on our own. Then we were playing arenas all over the world and we just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

The legacy: “There’s a connection with people, that some have had for 20 years”

In the same 2016 interview, Thomas also confessed he “really didn’t know what a personal life was” at that time, but Matchbox 20 nonetheless survived living in the eye of the hurricane, keeping body and soul together to record subsequent multi-platinum albums such as Mad Season and More Than You Think You Are. The versatile Rob Thomas has also enjoyed a successful parallel solo career, scooping three Grammy Awards for co-writing and singing on Santana’s 1999 hit Smooth and writing songs for the likes of Mick Jagger, Willie Nelson and Taylor Hicks. The Matchbox 20 frontman has come a long way, but he still has a soft spot for the songs on Yourself Or Someone Like You.

“3AM is always more personal to me because I wrote that about my mom having cancer,” Taylor reflected. “I thank that when we play it live, Back 2 Good holds up. But at live shows… there’s a connection with people, that some have had for 20 years. So, all of [the songs] have a special place when we play them live.”

Looking for more? Check out the best debut albums of all time.

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