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ALISON STEWART, host:

Have you ever heard a song on the radio and it sounds instantly familiar?

(Soundbite of song, "If You're Gone")

Mr. ROB THOMAS (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) I think I've already lost you, and I think you're already gone…

STEWART: Halfway through the tune you're humming along with the verse and by the end mouthing a few words of the chorus.

(Soundbite of song, "Push")

Mr. THOMAS: (Singing) I want to push you around, well I will, well I will…

STEWART: For that, you can thank the songwriter - those people who have the gift to create music that is effortless to enjoy.

(Soundbite of song, "Smooth")

Mr. THOMAS: (Singing) You got the kind of loving that can be so smooth, yeah, give me your heart, make it real or else forget about it.

STEWART: Rob Thomas is a Grammy-winning, multimillion-record-selling, Hall of Famer singer-songwriter. He made his mark as the lead singer of Matchbox 20 but has taken time for some solo work. His second solo effort, called "Cradlesong," is due on June 30th, 2009. The first single is "Her Diamond."

(Soundbite of song, "Her Diamond")

Mr. THOMAS: (Singing) And she says, ooh, I can't take no more, her tears like diamonds on the floor. And her diamonds bring me down, 'cause I can't help her now.

STEWART: Rob Thomas joins us here in the studio. Hi, Rob.

Mr. THOMAS: Hey. Wow, when I hear you talk about me, I'm impressed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THOMAS: I was not that impressed, and then when I heard you talk about me I feel like, wow, I've done something.

STEWART: It's interesting: I've heard "Her Diamonds" on the radio. This is a great song, and then I read the lyric sheet and I don't entirely get it. I'm going to be honest. I get that she's having a bad day.

Mr. THOMAS: Yeah.

STEWART: Can you explain "Her Diamonds" to me?

Mr. THOMAS: Well, for me the song was about my wife, who has an autoimmune disease and kind of dealing with that. You have good days and bad days and the song was written on a bad day.

(Soundbite of song, "Her Diamonds")

Mr. THOMAS: (Singing) Oh what the hell, she says I just can't win for losing, and she lays back down. Man, there's so many times I don't know what I'm doing, like I don't know now…

My job is to write about how that moment makes me feel more than that actual moment. You know, like you don't, you don't live with my wife but I want that song to mean something to you. So the song is about empathy. Song is just about where, you know, somebody who's the most important person in the world to you and all you want to do in those situations is whatever you have to do to make them feel better. If they're thirsty, you want to give them water; if they're cold, you want to bring them a blanket.

And when you're dealing with certain things, certain things are just so big and so out of everyone's control. There's nothing that you can do but have empathy and sympathy and just be there. And if they need to cry, you need to be the one that they cry to or cry with.

(Soundbite of song, "Her Diamonds")

Mr. THOMAS: (Singing) I can't take no more, diamonds on the floor, no more, no more, no more. Diamonds falling down. I can't take no more, diamonds on the floor, no more, no more, no more. Diamonds falling down…

(Speaking) There's a couple songs on the record, like "Give Me the Meltdown" is another one. It's more upbeat, but it is about that. It's about, you know, I'm the only person in your life that you can unload on, so you can go ahead and completely unload on me and I will still be here when it's all done and when you're apologizing to me for unloading on me, I'll still be here for that, you know?

(Soundbite of song, "Give Me the Meltdown")

Mr. THOMAS: (Singing) Well, hey now, give me the meltdown, I can feel the world spin around, around, around. Hey now, give me the meltdown, I can feel the world spin around, around, around. Hey now, give me the meltdown, I can feel the world spin around, around, around.

STEWART: Is songwriting hard for you or easy? Is it effortless or is it something that you have to really sit down and mine and do?

Mr. THOMAS: I think it's both. You know, I mean I think the most magical part is the inspiration. You know, just the part that you don't have any responsibility over. It's the moment where you're sitting in a room or in a car and you hear a melody in your head and you start kind of humming along, like you said, and then you realize that that's a melody that doesn't really exist yet. And then that part you have no control over.

I think the line between inspiration and craft, you know, the inspiration part is magical. Everybody finds their niche of what they're good at. You know, some people are authors or some people understand cars or sports. You know, like somebody can listen to my car and tell me exactly what's wrong with it when I start it up. I don't know anything about any of those things, but for some reason music and songs just made sense to me.

STEWART: There's something about the word cradle that is very intimate or very comforting. Tell me a little bit about the song "Cradlesong."

Mr. THOMAS: It's funny 'cause it's - you know, "Cradlesong" is a word for lullaby and this isn't a collection of lullabies. It's a collection of songs that cover everything from life and love and loss all the way to death at the very end of the record. "Cradlesong," to me, felt like, you know, from the cradle to the grave. It encapsulates kind of all these emotions that you have throughout your life. "Cradlesong" itself was a kind of lullaby. You know, the world is horrible sometimes but it's okay 'cause I'm going to sing you this lullaby and everything's going to be all right.

(Soundbite of song, "Cradlesong")

Mr. THOMAS: (Singing) Everybody's got a different story. Everybody want to give themselves away. But I'm still afraid. We can stay out of their field of vision. We can keep ourselves a half a world away…

STEWART: I learned a lot about you from your Twitter page. You took your dog to the vet, your wife had some really pretty flowers, you took a picture of those. You sort of wandered into some political territory, and you wrote a piece for Huffington Post as a result. Because you were very open about that you support gay marriage. The first line of your piece is funny. It says: I'm a straight man with a big gay chip on my shoulder.

Mr. THOMAS: Yes.

STEWART: Did you realize you were wandering into such contentious territory when you first Twittered about something?

Mr. THOMAS: That fact that it was such contentious territory was, I think, the whole beef of my article, because the idea that we were talking about something that basically boiled down to people's individual moral beliefs. And so, yeah, you kind of knew that you were opening up that bag of worms. I think anytime that you do that, people think that you're attacking their religion, you know, and I think that when you bring in the idea that, hey, I don't think you're your religion should have anything to do with the way that I live my life or my friends live their life, I think that all of the sudden people get really defensive about it. And this is coming from someone who is surrounded by Christians. You know, my friends…

STEWART: Some of your best friends are Christians.

Mr. THOMAS: Yeah, you know, most of them are. But they're - you know, but they're also tolerant, you know, of all religions. These are people who believe that everybody has a right, you know, to worship as they please and live as they please or not worship as they please. And anytime that you're talking about the way that people live their lives and civil rights issues, it effects all of us.

And I think that once you start taking them away from fringe groups - you know, I'm saying this with my little quotes that nobody can see - then it's only a step away from being able to take them away from anybody, you know. And then who's to say what they decide is a fringe group?

STEWART: Of all the songs on your new record, which one are you looking forward to performing live?

Mr. THOMAS: Probably "Fire on the Mountain." It was a song that I had written after I read this Dave Eggers book called "What Is the What?" And it was kind of like a novelized first-person account of a Sudanese refugee that had been transplanted into Atlanta, and then talking about firsthand what that was like, kind of growing up. And the idea of being so comfortable with terror and chaos, and you know, these rebels come into your camp and being able to look up in the mountains and gauge the distance of the village in the distance that's being burned. And where people who, like, live insulated, kind of comfortable lives like we do, just knowing that that was in our city, we would pack up and we would run. But they could look at it and go, well, you know, that's far enough away that we'll sleep now and then tomorrow we'll wake up and we can move our village and we'll have time.

But then just as a piece of music, it had this just, I think this great raw quality to it.

(Soundbite of song, "Fire on the Mountain")

Mr. THOMAS: (Singing) Fire on the mountain, through the fields, save yourself. There's evil in the garden, but you don't feel it, I can tell…

(Speaking) You know, we had Michael Bland, who's Prince's drummer, playing on it. It's funny, 'cause as soon as I play it, everybody's like, ooh, that's the show closer, right? That's the one, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Right.

(Soundbite of song, "Fire on the Mountain")

Mr. THOMAS: (Singing) How do you sleep while the city's burning?

STEWART: Rob Thomas, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. THOMAS: Thank you for having me.

STEWART: Good luck with the tour.

Mr. THOMAS: Thanks.

(Soundbite of song, "Fire on the Mountain")

Mr. THOMAS: (Singing) How do you sleep when there's blood in the water? Where do you turn when the whirlpool's gone?

STEWART: You can hear songs from Rob Thomas's upcoming album, "Cradlesong," at NPRMusic.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Fire on the Mountain")

Mr. THOMAS: (Singing) Fire on the mountain, you can feel it against your skin. You're standing by the river, let the reel take you in…

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