EXCLUSIVE: Rob Thomas on Musical Son, Matchbox Twenty Feud & Wife's 'Battles' 1 Year on From Brain Surgery
By Leena Tailor
Rob Thomas has opened up about the terrifying moment he learned his wife, Marisol Maldonado, would need brain surgery, and says that one year since the operation, she is still recovering.
"She has good days and bad days," the Matchbox Twenty frontman told ET before hitting the stage at Los Angeles' Greek Theatre last Thursday. "She was out with me the last couple of days, but today she's staying on the bus because L.A. shows have lots of people and it's too much stimulus. But she's back on the road and we've been having a great time… she just has to pick her battles."
The former model has long suffered from an autoimmune disease similar to lupus, a battle Thomas wrote about it in his 2009 hit "Her Diamonds." Her fight against the debilitating illness also inspired much of Thomas' latest solo record, The Great Unknown.
But just as she was turning a corner with her health, the couple were devastated when an MRI revealed a lesion on the base of her brain last year.
The news came as Thomas, 44, was in the middle of touring The Great Unknown, and prompted an immediate halt to his concerts.
"I thought God was laughing at me," the "Trust You" singer confesses. "It was really weird because we thought she was coming out of this whole thing, then all of a sudden we're in the middle of tour and find that out. Suddenly everything shuts down. Everything in your life is about the tour and the record, then suddenly none of that's important and you just tell everybody to go away."
"We sat in a parking lot in Chicago for two weeks waiting for results, then went back to New York and got the surgery done," he continues. "That was the hardest part. The idea that the person you rely on most and who has always given you strength is in a position where you don't know what's going to happen was tough. Surgery is scary and you hear all these horror stories, so that was the scariest time."
The couple persevered through the grueling period, admirably turning some of their darkest days into cherished times. Thomas recalls passing hours in Chicago by setting out to have fun with his wife, who co-manages his career and runs their Sidewalk Angels Foundation, which helps animal rescue groups.
"It was almost like Life Is Beautiful. We turned it into this great time, camping out in this parking lot in Chicago."
Although Maldonado is still taking things easy, Thomas says she's still his "right-hand person… and micromanaging everything!" and he remains in awe of his wife's resilience.
It was that stamina that inspired much of his latest record, even before her latest health scare. Songs including "The Great Unknown" and latest single "Pieces" came about in between doctors’ appointments in Mexico, where the award-winning songwriter spent hours "hanging in the desert" while Maldonado was undergoing treatments for her autoimmune disease.
"Sometimes to get better you have to get worse," Thomas reflects. "She just kept falling apart and 'Pieces' was born out of that. And 'The Great Unknown' is about her resilience and how with all these things she goes through, she bounces back time after time and is way stronger than I've ever been."
The couple will mark their 17th wedding anniversary next month, but Thomas is unfazed by such milestones.
"We pat ourselves on the back every anniversary, but at the same time when we got married the idea was that we were going to be married as long as we're alive, so we don't want to make too big a deal out of it. We were always headed this way, so it's just about continuing that promise."
It's not the only milestone coming up for the Songwriters Hall of Fame award recipient.
October marks 20 years since the release of Matchbox Twenty's smash debut album Yourself or Someone Like You. Spawning hits including "Push" and "3am," the record catapulted the band to worldwide stardom and two decades of unfaltering success.
While guitarist Kyle Cook announced his departure from the group in April (citing a breakdown of communication and conflict over touring plans), Thomas is optimistic the band will reunite for a YOSLY anniversary tour.
"Kyle's still not talking to me," admits Thomas. "But I expect it's just because I'm on this tour … my schedule can sometimes be a burden on the guys. I'm pretty sure by next year we'll all have sat down and figured something out. Fans want to see us play and I can't do it without Kyle, so we just have to make it work."
In the meantime, Thomas is thrilled to have resumed his solo tour, teaming up with Counting Crows, whose lead singer Adam Duritz is a longtime pal. The friends watch each other's sets every night, then reconvene over texts.
"We have a group text with me, Adam and the lead singer of our support act, K Phillips, so as soon as we get on the bus after the show we're like, 'How was tonight for you? What are you doing on our day off?'"
Road life these days is a stark contrast to Thomas' early days in music, during which he "used that rock star card at every place that accepted it," reveling in booze, drugs and partying, and getting into bad relationships to fuel his songwriting.
It wasn't until the birth of his now 18-year-old son Maison, from a previous relationship, and meeting Maldonado that the three-time GRAMMY winner turned his life around, and these days what was once a party bus is now a family home.
Maison joined the tour in July, even jamming out with his dad on stage in Charlotte, North Carolina, but has now commenced studying at Berklee College of Music.
Thomas couldn't be prouder to have his boy following in his footsteps, something he says was led by "nature not nurture."
"He's been sending me pictures of his dorm and sent me his address so I can send him money!" he says. "He's a very cool kid, and it's a great feeling when your son gets up and plays guitar with you onstage. And then you're on the bus hanging with friends and he grabs his iPod and starts playing music that blows you away and makes you and all your friends go, 'Shit, that's good!'"
"He's 18 and just a nice guy, whereas I was a douche at 18," Thomas adds. "He's much easier to be around than I was."
While having a child navigate the music industry and the darker temptations that accompany it might worry some parents, Thomas is confident Maison won’t stumble down the same dangerous path he followed.
"He doesn't drink, and it's a different world now than when we were kids. Drinking, smoking and excess is just not cool anymore and I'm really happy about that, because as much as I had a good time and found my own way out of things, it would've been a lot easier if I'd never had to find my way into them… so I'm glad that he won't."