When Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas sat down to write ''Push,'' the controversial radio hit that has shoved Yourself or Someone Like You, the debut album by this otherwise conventional post-grunge guitar-pop band, into the top 10, the singer forgot his sensitivity training. Thomas, whose Beavis-like chuckle makes him sound even younger than his 25 years, insists he had no idea that such lyrics as ''I wanna push you around...I wanna take you for granted'' might be perceived as misogynistic by some folks. Among them an ex-girlfriend, who claims their relationship inspired the song and that she is entitled to a share of the royalties.
Regarding his peeved former flame, who has yet to take legal action, Thomas admits, ''She was an ingredient in the song but other people have scarred me. I mean, I'm not gonna pay my third-grade librarian, who gave me s--- about not returning Green Eggs and Ham.''
Before forming matchbox 20 with guitarists Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor, bassist Brian Yale, and drummer Paul Doucette, Thomas lived a turbulent youth in suburban Orlando, Fla. The singer had difficulty getting along with his mother, who developed cancer when he was 12, so, five years later, after nursing her through her illness, he became voluntarily ''homeless'' like Jewel, only without the van. ''It was a lifestyle,'' Thomas explains. ''I had friends in the same situation. We'd wind up sleeping on a bench or with friends whose parents were away. We were into it, really.''
At 17, Thomas earned his GED and began pursuing a career in music. ''I was in a bunch of really bad cover bands,'' he says, ''and progressed to bad original bands.'' He wound up in a group with Yale and Doucette, which eventually disbanded but not before coming to the attention of Collective Soul coproducer Matt Serletic. Impressed by Thomas' songs, Serletic kept in touch and wound up behind the boards last year when Matchbox 20 recorded Yourself.
Since then, these lads have had a grand time playing clubs and rock-fests, and watching ''Push'' scale the charts naysayers be damned. Thomas wistfully recalls a fan in Baltimore, who, after giving the band a lift, pulled him aside and said she'd remember her few hours with them forever. ''I was, like, wow,'' he says. ''To have that effect on anybody it's really cool, you know?''