It’s been a decade since Matchbox Twenty, the band behind ’90s anthems like “3AM” and “Push,” released their most recent studio album, 2002′s More Than You Think You Are—but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been busy. The group’s next album, North, comes out in September, and the first single “She’s So Mean” is already making its way up the Billboard charts. Today, TIME has an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the “She’s So Mean” video shoot. Lead singer Rob Thomas also spoke to TIME about the inspiration behind the song, his solo career and which part of the video caused the most injuries.
TIME: Can you tell me a little bit about the concept for the She’s So Mean video? Where did that come from?
Rob Thomas: We wanted to work with someone new, and Rich Lee had done a bunch of stuff with people like Will.i.am and the Black Eyed Peas—slicker stuff than we’d done in the past. None of us are actors so you want to figure out a way where you can incorporate yourself into an actual linear storyline but at the same time not come across as somebody trying to act. That’s one of the saddest things ever to see. So the idea was that way we could be in our element, we could be doing what we would do, and just let the girl be the chaos. I wanted it to be if we were making our own version of Weird Science and this was our Kelly LeBrock and she was just coming in and creating havoc, and then the only change that was really made was that it didn’t seem chaotic enough yet. We wanted to push it a little farther. That’s when we started talking about what if everything caught on fire. Of course, all those ideas that we came up with turned out to be the parts that almost killed us.
Were there any really scary moments during the shoot?
Paul [Doucette, Matchbox Twenty's drummer,] on fire was really scary. We kind of thought you’d set the drums on fire and you’d do it once. Paul is literally, physically playing these drums while they’re blazing up. And then they’re like, “We need to do it again to get another shot.” We wound up doing it maybe four different times, and each time Paul’s getting redder and redder and he’s literally emanating heat from himself. That was kind of scary. And the part where people got hurt the most was, oddly enough, when they were throwing the albums. Those little f—ers are thin and sharp!
And those flying records are sort of Matrix-y. Was it just throwing them at the camera? Were there special effects?
No, it was literally me trying to sing while somebody stood off to the side and whipped them at my head.
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I read that the song itself came out of a songwriting exercise when you guys were working on the album, but do you have any real-life experience with mean girls?
I’m lucky enough to not really remember that much. I’ve been married for 14 years almost. When it comes to that it’s probably just an amalgamation of bad things in the past, and then to be quite honest there were probably a lot of times where I was the a–hole. At the end we wanted it to be about the idea that people in general, for some reason or another, will be fascinated by things that are bad for them. That could be a metaphor and that works for men and women because they’re both guilty of finding the exact wrong person and for some reason wanting to be with them forever.
Why do you think that is?
I guess it’s the same reason people like a roller coaster ride. People like a little element of danger in their lives just so they know that when they get out of bed there might be something that happens that they’re not sure of.
There’s been about ten years since the last Matchbox Twenty album. Is that a source of pressure for the new album?
I’m sure if we were smarter it would be. I think it helped that I did a couple solo records in between and we did a greatest hits [2007′s Exile on Mainstream] that had a proper single on it, and we toured that. But at the end of the day we’ve always felt that if we make a good record then it will do great. Right now if you’re in Justin Bieber world, you’ve got this kind of heat on you that you need to continue to capitalize on as quickly as you can. We’ve been doing this for 17 years so now we’re in the world of, if we put together a good group of songs our fans will find it and we’ll still have a career. We don’t have to play the are-we-a-super-relevant-band game.
That sounds like a relief.
It really is. Your expectations should just be you want to find a group of people out there that want to hear what you have to say and will come see you do it live and let you do what you do, as opposed to what we were worried about in 1996. At that time we were selling crazy amounts of records and every song was all over the radio, and we were still these kids going, “Why aren’t we the guys on the cover of every magazine? Why aren’t we the cool band?” At some point we were like, maybe if we just shut up and keep our heads down we can make a career out of it.
(MORE: TIME’s 2007 Q&A with Rob Thomas)
What’s it like to go do your own stuff and then come back to Matchbox Twenty—to be in both the solo and the band worlds?
When we came back we started things differently right off the bat, with everybody writing together, which is something we didn’t do in the past. We weren’t as collaborative as we are now. I think that kind of kept things fresh. At no point do you ever feel like I’m doing the same thing with different people, or that I’ve been doing the same thing from album to album.
Do you think that the evolution of the creative process is something you can hear on the new album?
It has to be. A song like “She’s So Mean,” no matter how many songs I’ve written, whether you like my songs or not, that’s a song that I wouldn’t have written because there were parts that came from Paul or just came from [guitarist] Kyle [Cook].
I think Yourself or Someone Like You was the first album I ever bought in CD format.
We’re old! [laughs]
But listening to North it seems very recognizably Matchbox Twenty. How do you balance keeping that sound with that evolution on the creative side?
We think that for Matchbox Twenty it’s kind of inherent in the way that Kyle plays guitar and the way that I sing; that’s the only thing that really ties it together. Because of that, we don’t really worry when we write a song, “Does this sound like us?”
What’s up next for North? Do you have a second single lined up?
There’s a song on the record called “Overjoyed” that we’re going to do next. We start the radio tour and there’s a promo when the record comes out. Then we’ll be the U.K. for a week or so and then we’re going to be in Australia for six weeks, and after all that’s done it will put us right around Thanksgiving. Next year we’ll go on an American tour.
And you’re also a mentor on Cee Lo’s team on this season of The Voice. What appealed to you about the show?
I don’t know a whole lot about the show other than my friend Adam [Levine] is on it. I like the concept. I like the idea that it’s based on talent, that there wasn’t an age limit. It’s just nice to every now and again be able to do something that’s outside of just you and your corral of people you work with. Pretty much what we do is we make records, we go play them live, we make some videos, we do some interviews and that’s about it. But there’s this whole world that’s happening outside of you.