When Rob Thomas wrote Matchbox 20’s debut disc in 1996, he thought he knew what life was all about. He penned songs about love and heartbreak, tracks that millions of people connected to, but what he says now was “speculation.”

“When you’re in your 20s it’s the biggest thing in the world when a girl leaves you,” he says. “When you get older and experience real love and loss it comes from a different place that’s true.”

He knows what he’s talking about. At 37 the singer-songwriter has already lost his mother and his wife is battling a rare autoimmune disorder. That’s made his sophomore solo album, Cradlesong, which came out in June, one of his most personal records yet.

“I’m writing from the same place, but now I have real experiences to draw on,” he explains. “Not my 20-something fabricated idea.”

Although Thomas was projecting what he thought love and loss should be like on his older records, he still relates to some of the tunes. His most famous song, 3 A.M., even feels somewhat new.

“I wrote that when I was 20,” he says. “It was about my mom having cancer and me being young and dealing with that. They gave her six months to live. She died, but not from cancer. Now that she’s passed away I play it with a tinge of sadness. I’ve never played it like that before. Now that I’ve evolved I can reconnect with certain things in a new way.”

What he hasn’t revisited, however, is his band’s old sound. While his latest disc is still planted in the radio-friendly boy-next-door sort of feel, Thomas’ music is more polished and ready for romantic comedy soundtracks than ever before. It’s not quite as bubbly or frat-like as it used to be. In fact, the material on this disc is his darkest.

“It wasn’t meant to be that way,” he insists. “But when I feel sad or depressed I immediately write. That comes out in my songs. Playing music frees me up to be happy.”

In Concert

Toronto: Massey Hall, Nov 4.

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