Rob Thomas, Matchbox Twenty play Hard Rock Live in Hollywood

The alt-rock band Matchbox Twenty made its mark almost two decades ago with hits including 3 a.m., Push, Real World, Back 2 Good and If You’re Gone. Today the group led by Rob Thomas — who left the group to find solo success with the singles Lonely No More and the Grammy-winning Smooth alongside Santana — is back on top with its No.1 album North.

Matchbox Twenty plays the Hard Rock Live on Wednesday night, and Thomas talked to about the show, the new album and how it feels to hang out with stars such as Mick Jagger and Carlos Santana.

After all the success the band had in the mid-’90s and early 2000s, North is the band’s first No.1 album. Are you surprised by that?
Yeah, sure — I mean, I’m surprised that we still get to make music. For us, taking a break that way and letting each other go off and do our solo things and to come back — yeah, I think it was a big surprise.

How much of the new album will we hear at the show?
I think probably half of it. We have a two-hour show going, so it’ll work out where we have all the singles for people to hear and then we’ll have maybe half of the new record, and then the other portion is different album tracks from different records.

You guys went on two different hiatuses, both in the mid-2000s. Why did they happen, and were they amicable?
Well, two of them were because of my solo records that I wanted to make. So I haven’t been on hiatus since 1996, but the band did. And luckily, we’ve been like brothers for 20 years, so for us it’s like just making sure everybody gets what they want. And then when everybody’s ready, we come back and make Matchbox records.

Are you happier back with the guys, or do you prefer solo, or what?
To be honest, I wouldn’t be happy if I had to do just one. If I was only solo I wouldn’t be happy, and if I was just with Matchbox I wouldn’t be happy either. There’s just something that I can get here that I can’t do alone and there’s something that I can do alone that I can’t get here.

You worked with Santana and Mick Jagger and Willie Nelson. Were you star-struck at all?
Yeah, of course. I’m not star-struck by famous people, but I’m star-struck by famous people that I f—— love. You know what I mean? Like, I would be more excited if [Wilco frontman] Jeff Tweedy walked into my bus than if Justin Bieber walked into my bus. So being able to sit in a room with Willie Nelson or Mick Jagger and hang out with them and talk music with them … it’s awesome.

So how did these opportunities happen? I mean, these things don’t just typically fall into people’s laps.
You know, I think Smooth was a big help, and that one just fell into my lap. And people started to see me as Rob Thomas, a songwriter who sings for Matchbox Twenty, not just that guy from Matchbox Twenty.

What inspired you to go on “The Voice,” and how was that experience?
Well, first, they asked me, and I thought that was nice. To do something like that and be a part of something that’s such a huge part of popular culture — but also I know [Maroon 5 singer and Voice judge] Adam [Levine] really well — and seeing those guys and how hard they work, I just don’t know that I have that in me, so to be able to be a part of that without having to commit my life to it seemed to be a great opportunity.

How do you feel in general about those singing competitions?
I think that they have their merits. Especially in this day and age where people like to opine about the lack of A&R and development and stuff in the music industry. And all that is because the labels don’t have the money to develop their artists. So that is the new A&R. [American Idol winner] Phillip Phillips is an insanely talented musician, and he just finished playing with us on the first half of this tour. When you see him live, you don’t think about American Idol, but he needed that to get out there. And now that he’s won, he’s got to work harder than he ever has in his entire life because he has a record deal, doing press all day and shows all night.

What does the name Matchbox Twenty mean?
Uhh, absolutely nothing. We needed a name, and we were at a bar trying to figure it out, and Paul saw a guy with a soccer jersey that had a 20 on it and some patches on it, and one said “Matchbox,” and so he said “Matchbox 20!” And there was some drunk frat guy next to me and I said, “Hey, would you go see a band called Matchbox 20?” And he yelled “Matchbox 20!!!” And we were like, that sounded good when he yelled it. And now we have a love-hate relationship with the name. Like, if you don’t like it, it doesn’t matter — that’s just who we are.