Enter Matt Serletic, the band's trusted friend and longtime producer who worked with Matchbox Twenty on their first three albums. The group brought him to Nashville to help sort through the material and make his suggestions; before long, and perhaps not surprisingly, all concerned decided Serletic should once again take the producer's chair. The band then decamped for his Emblem Studios in Calabasas, California.
"Originally it wasn't going to be Matt producing the record," Thomas says. "He just came in as our friend to try to figure out what songs were really worth it. By the end of that night, at like three in the morning going through his copious notes, we were like, 'Hell, you should just produce this record.' "Doucette adds that, "Matt's basically family at this point, a really big part of our organization. We have a shorthand with Matt that we don't have with other producers...and he didn't want to go places we'd already been, either. Everything kind of took off once we made that decision." Thanks to all the preparation in Nashville, the sessions at Emblem went smoothly and quickly, with a determined sense of how the songs should sound. The romantic "Overjoyed," according to both Thomas and Doucette, was "the first time we felt like we had something special,". Kyle Cook took lead vocals on the incredible ballad "The Way," which he and Doucette penned together. "She's So Mean," meanwhile, represents a "storytelling exercise" during which Thomas, Doucette and Cook sat around a microphone free styling lyrics that they eventually sculpted into the cautionary tale about a hard-to-handle woman who Doucette promises bears no similarity to anyone in the group members' real lives. "No, not even remotely," he says. "The original lyrics weren't even about that, but once we came across 'she's so mean' it was like, 'OK, now we know what the song can be about.' We were just trying to write something fun, really." And the group has been both pleased by the out-of-the-gate positive reaction to the song. Listening deeper to NORTH, meanwhile, reveals even more different nuances, approaches and feels because of the group-writing dynamic. "When I first played this record for my wife, she had a hard time figuring out which ones Paul wrote, which ones I wrote and which ones we all wrote because we all stepped into each other's skins," Thomas says. "That's really important because I didn't want it to feel like these songs were written by different people. I wanted them to just sound like the band." NORTH will be sending Matchbox Twenty, back out on the road for the first time since EXILE ON MAINSTREAM, which saw the band playing SRO shows to their biggest crowds ever around the globe. The group plans to head out this fall, with North America in early 2013 and other territories after that. It's been awhile, but Matchbox Twenty has every intention to make it worth the wait. "Matchbox Twenty is pretty all-encompassing," Doucette says. "Once it gets rolling, we just devote all our time and energy to that. I can speak for everybody on this; it's the thing we hold the most dear because it's the thing we built the longest, so we want to give it its due. We don't make records that often anymore, so when we do we want to devote our time and energy to not only doing it; but also bringing that music to the fans."