Even though he’s won three Grammys, Rob Thomas has no illusions about his place in the rock pantheon.
"I’m not Tom Waits or Wilco," says the 37-year-old Matchbox Twenty anchor. "I’m a pop songwriter, and my job at the end of the day is to try and be honest, and to try and write songs about whatever is going on in my life. I’m not trying to look cool or appeal to a youth market, and if my music wasn’t getting older with me, it wouldn’t be as true as I hope that it is."
That modus operandi spawned the singer’s recent solo hit "Her Diamonds," one of the most unlikely singles ever released.
Set to a hip-shaking rhythm, the frank track — which he’ll be playing live in San Jose on Sunday — describes the pain suffered by his wife Marisol, who has a severe autoimmune disease.
"She says ooh I can’t take no more / Her tears like diamonds on the floor," Thomas chirps in the chorus, his warm rasp nearly obscuring the lyric’s gravity.
But concert crowds still shimmy along to "Diamonds," culled from "Cradlesong," his new album. "I dance when I sing it, too — I just can’t help it," he says.
The composer conceived the song at 3 a.m. in his home studio, while his spouse was asleep upstairs. Immediately afterward, he says, "I woke her up and let her hear it, and now it’s her favorite song, even though she finds it hard to listen to sometimes."
Marisol also provided backing vocals on "Diamonds," and helped arrange it. "So on one hand, it’s very cathartic, and on the other, it’s still very anonymous. That’s another part of my job — to write about a base emotion that everybody can relate to."
The everyman approach seems to be working. To date, Thomas — either alone, with Matchbox or with stars like Santana and Mick Jagger — has sold more than 80 million albums.
But "Cradlesong" is his most mature work; "Getting Late" is an elegy to his late mother and the title cut celebrates the solitude the couple craves with their two dogs, Samy and Tyler.
"Unfortunately, my wife is dealing with a lot of problems, and she has to deal with them publicly," Thomas says. "And traveling around the country, even well-meaning people giving you condolences after a while just grates into your skin. Until you’re like, ‘If we could just sit here, away from everybody else, then we would be perfectly fine.’"
Where: Event Center at San Jose State University, 290 S. Seventh St., San Jose
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $39.50 to $65.50