High Times Greats: Rob Thomas

Matchbox Twenty’s lead singer talks cannabis in a 2005 interview.
High Times Greats: Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas/ Wikimedia Commons

For the September, 2005 issue of High Times, Rob Thomas expressed a love for all things marijuana. On the occasion of Thomas’ birthday on February 14, we’re republishing Shirley Halperin’s interview below.

The year is 2002, and the multi-platinum Matchbox Twenty are about to release their third album, More Than You Think You Are. As the record’s getting its final touches, I’m invited to listen to some of the tracks at New York’s Hit Factory studio. Coming in, I expect to hear hits—as in hit singles. The engineer blasts songs like “Disease” (co-written by Mick Jagger) and “Bright Lights,” both future radio smashes, through the monitors. What I don’t expect to hear is the sound of bong hit after bong hit of the kindest New York nugs packed into a little plastic red Graffix. Frontman Rob Thomas is in the studio lounge waiting for feedback.

“Want a hit?” the singer-songwriter asks with a courteous gesture of the bong.

The smoke clears, and what transpires next is two hours of the most insightful, witty and intelligent conversation that I’d had in a long time, not to mention an absurd amount of pot consumed throughout. Admittedly, I had come with a certain perception of Thomas as the author of countless lite-rock staples, which automatically deemed him uncool. The closest Thomas had come to being cool was the 1999 Grammy he received for collaborating with Carlos Santana on the ridiculously catchy “Smooth.” The general consensus was that Matchbox Twenty were for suburban secretaries, not stoners. After hanging out and getting high with Thomas, though, I was ready to change that tune about him.

The more I ran into Thomas over the next few years—sneaking a joint at a black-tie music-industry function, being followed by the camera of Gillian Grisman (Grateful Dawg, Press On), who’s documenting his maiden solo voyage, Something to Be…—the more I came to like him. And the more I learned about his past—which includes a long and sometimes dark history with recreational drugs—the more convinced I became that he might be one of the coolest rock-star potheads alive.

But the moment that clinched my eternal fondness for Rob Thomas came on the day of his High Times photo shoot, when he received a goodie bag as a parting gift and ended up immediately misplacing it. Classic space-out move, right? But here’s the kicker: Five minutes later, in the midst of his interview-packed schedule, Thomas returned to the photo studio inquiring about the lost bag. Now that’s a true, dedicated stoner. “If it was a watch, I wouldn’t have come back. But for weed….” He was given a replacement goodie bag. (The lost bag ended up on the street near the studio and, luckily, was found by a High Times employee.)

Later that day, while still very high from a combo of bong hits, joint pulls and vaporizer inhales, Thomas rang me up and we had the following conversation.

What were your first experiences with pot like?

My grandmother owned a country store [in South Carolina] that we all lived in, and she used to sell weed and bootleg liquor to make a little extra money. When I was about eight, she showed us how to break it up and make nickel and dime bags with these manila envelopes. She was selling it to farmers to get high, but she never smoked herself.

I drank all through high school and didn’t actually start smoking until after that. My first time high was back in my hitchhiking phase. I was in this car floating down some dirt roads. They dropped me off in the middle of South Carolina. I was making an adventure movie in my head and thought, “I could live with this.”

Have you ever been busted?

Once, while driving in Orlando around 1994-95, I got pulled over. They found [my weed], arrested me and I spent the night in jail. New York cops tend to be more chill about it.

A lot of people don’t know this about you, but you were quite the acidhead.

I had about two to three years of pretty heavy acid use, where I would take about four tabs every three days. There was a whole quasi-hippie group where we used to sit around watching Disney cartoons and going to laser light shows.

You’ve also admitted to using cocaine in the past.

In the early Matchbox days, there were a couple of years of consistent use. Coke was like a social lubricant. I’d stay up and meet girls. When you’re first starting out, you never want to miss anything—whatever party was going on that night, you had to be there. And as far as shows, I used to like to perform all fucked up. One time, I was coming off an acid trip, so I did coke all day to stay up for the show, and VH1 came to film it that night. When I saw the footage, it was scary—I was like a fat Elvis, panting and sweating because I was 55 pounds heavier.

I didn’t feel like me on coke—I was overbearing and annoying. And the older I got, the more I didn’t like the high or the culture. I didn’t like the people around me, and when I separated out who I was hanging with just because of coke, that was all the assholes right there. So the only thing that ever stuck with me was smoking weed.

What is it about pot that provides the right balance for you?

For being creative, it’s great. It helps me destress so I can write. You can get an idea to flow out. When you’re making music, you think from the outside in—what kind of song it is and how it fits with other songs you’ve written—then you start to craft a song. If you get a little high, you almost feel like you’re listening vicariously to it through someone else for the first time, and you just start playing music. It helps you tap into that place and lets your instincts come through.

So some of those massive Matchbox Twenty radio hits were written under the influence?

I’d imagine the majority of them were—and performed that way most of the time, too. The thing is, if I said that I had a little glass of sherry before I penned a song, someone would respond with [in faux British accent]: “Oh, how lovely, that’s sounds quite nice. I’ll have a glass of sherry as well.” But if you talk about pot, it becomes, “That’s wrong. It’s bad.” Yet all of these things that can truly fuck you up—the pharmaceuticals, alcohol, tobacco—are acceptable?

Are you political about pot?

Weed shouldn’t be illegal. The argument is about choice: There are certain drugs where the government trusts you’ll use your judgment. And some of those are addictive drugs that can kill you or put you in a situation where you might harm others, yet that’s fine—you can buy a handgun really easily in this country, too. And you have non-violent drug offenders overcrowding the prisons.

What’s your preferred method of smoking?

Bong—because it’s just better. When I travel, I’ll buy a $10 bong and then ditch it or give it to a friend. At home, I have a plastic one and a two-foot glass one that someone got me for Christmas. But I don’t use the big one too much—it’s like the good china you bring out when company comes over.

Does your wife Marisol smoke?

She’s always been one of those people who never smoked, but all of her boyfriends and work friends smoked. But I love it when she does smoke, because she gets all giggly.

How do you score on the road?

On tour, there’s always somebody that knows. But more and more, weed is becoming the hard thing to get.

What’s it like smoking with Willie Nelson?

I hooked him up with a guy in LA. The guy came by and played us his CD when I was working with Willie. It was heavy metal-dark, borderline-satanic stuff. Then one day Willie called me and asked, “Where can I get the devil weed?”

And what about the Willie weed? Have you smoked it?

Oh, yeah—he’s got really good pot, and he just smokes it, smokes it and smokes it. He’s got a guy that just stands next to him and rolls it. Willie’s got the craziest weed, but he loved the devil weed.

Do you think people will be surprised to learn that Rob Thomas, the Grammy-winning performer and songwriter, is also a semi-professional pothead?

I thought that because I smoked a lot of pot, I was a professional pot guy, but I just left a photo studio full of professional pot guys. They reminded me of the characters in High Fidelity, but with weed. So I just discovered that I’m an amateur. I’m a hobbyist. And I also figured out what kind of job, other than the one I have, I could see for myself: interning at High Times!

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