Beyond the Goo: success

May 28, 2002


With 1998's "Dizzy Up the Girl," the Goo Goo Dolls became the rare rock band
to break into the multiplatinum pop stratosphere, thanks to romantic hits such
as "Iris." But this was very different group from the one many fans had long
been familiar with.

Songwriters John Rzeznik (guitar and vocals) and Robby Takac (bass) first
came together in their native Buffalo, N.Y., 15 years ago. And while Rzeznik
maintains that the band could not continue without that partnership intact, the
emphasis has shifted dramatically in recent years from Takac's pop-punk to
Rzeznik's lush balladry.

These days, Rzeznik is front and center in the videos with his spiked hair and
black eyeliner, while Takac hovers like a shadow in the background. I spoke
with Rzeznik about the changes the band has undergone prior to the start of a
tour in support of the new "Gutterflower" (Warner Bros.), which brings the Goo
Goo Dolls to a sold-out show at the Riviera Theatre on Wednesday.

Q. I first saw the Goo Goo
Dolls at a small club in 1987.
A lot of people who knew the
band back then think it's
almost a completely different
group today. Do you ever feel
that way?

A. I see it as a logical
progression, but I'm up to my
eyeballs in it. There are a lot of people who came on board, obviously, after we
had a couple of hits on the radio. I don't think a lot of people really know the
whole history of the band, but I don't think they care. I think they just enjoy what
we do.

Q. It's got to be odd, having this long history and roots in the underground, now
being lumped in with the "Total Request Live" pop scene.

A. I'm always grateful when we have a hit or whatever. We slammed around the
country in a van for eight or nine years. It's nice when people start to buy your

Q. But it's a different kind of connection. Carrying your amps out of a club at 2
in the morning and taking time to stop and talk to fans has to be different from
meeting people at "MTV's Spring Break."

A. It's a little different. That's one of the things I miss--not carrying my amp, I
don't miss doing that! That's hard to do, and you question, "What the hell am I
doing?" But you'll have one moment that's like really brilliant or really funny,
something that keeps you doing it. It's amazing: Those moments always come
right when you think you're gonna stop, when you're like, "I can't take this
anymore. I haven't slept in five days and I'm sick of driving." It's funny, on our
last van tour, we had so much stuff packed into the van that we pinched the
brake line and we had to drive with the emergency brake. I think we were
coming from Chicago and going to Green Bay. We used to be driving through
the desert and we'd have to keep the heater on full-blast so the van wouldn't
overheat. We used to drive to college campuses and just park the van and go
find the gym so we could get a free shower.

Q. Not to romanticize that, but do you find that the depth of people's connection
with what you're doing as a songwriter was different then, or is it just as intense

A. I think it's just as intense as it was then. When somebody comes up to you
and they actually want to talk about your music, that's an amazing thing.
Mostly people want to know, like, "How do you get your hair to do that? Who's
your girlfriend? Can I hang out with you guys?"

Q. Having paid your dues, does it bother you when people slag you off as a pop

A. They can think whatever they want. Everybody's got their opinion, and it's
like, "Am I gonna let everyone's opinion affect me?" No. I know who I am and I
know what I do. It amazes me, because so many people in the indie-rock scene
automatically assume that just because your band got popular it's just not good
anymore. I did the same thing when I was a kid with U2. I heard them on the
radio and I was like, "F--- those guys, they're not good anymore!" And I was
wrong. But that's OK; I can't dictate who my audience is, and I'm not gonna
discriminate against who likes this music. I should be happy that the room is
full, and it doesn't matter who it's full of. Those people came to see it, and that
means something.


A. It's a dubious thing to have your dreams come true. It really is. There's a lot
of [crap] you don't bargain for.

Q. What was the biggest difference between making "Gutterflower" and a
record like 1989's "Jed"? When you were making an album in 48 hours, you
didn't have to prove anything to anybody. But there are now corporations that
are planning their spring quarter around the Goo Goo Dolls!

A. It takes some effort not to think about that. Look, I'm the first guy to know
how transient this whole thing is, and I'm just grateful that I've been lucky
enough to do it for a living. Does it bother me when somebody misinterprets
what I do? Yeah, a little. But I can't please everybody, and I don't want to. There
are people who intensely hate what I do. They hate it enough to spend time
writing about it. And I'm like, "Why? Why won't you go find a band to champion
and waste the ink on them?" Because that's difficult. It's a hell of a lot easier to
break a window than to make one. But this is all transient and fleeting. People
ask you questions like, "Don't you worry about how far you've come and how far
you can fall?" Well, what makes you think I'm not gonna just climb down from it
with some dignity and walk away and live the rest of my life?

Q. Because nobody does! The Rolling Stones are touring this summer and
charging $350 a ticket.

A. That ain't about music. They're businessmen. That's a huge corporation.

Q. What is a good song for you? How do you define it?

A. I can always tell when somebody is telling the truth when they're singing or
playing. When I hear that, you can hear in the lyrics or in the music the struggle
that this guy or this girl had when they were writing the song. You can just hear
the truth of what they're saying. A good song is really anything you relate to.
There are people who hear Britney Spears and say, "Wow, that's such a good
song." I don't understand it, it's like musical wallpaper, but it matters to them.

Q. What I liked about the Goo Goo Dolls from the beginning was the fact that
there was melody and songcraft, but it was delivered raw and unadorned, like
the great Replacements records. The new album is called "Gutterflower," but I
think there's a little bit too much flower and not enough gutter.

A. In the studio, on this record, we tried to use a really old board and we got an
old-time rock 'n' roll engineer, and we used the [computerized] Pro Tools mostly
as a tape recorder to do some editing. I didn't let them fix my vocals. I just
listen to a lot of records that come out now and I'm like, "What the f---?" Me and
Robby and [drummer] Mike [Malinin], we always play together in the studio; we
just knock out the songs with the three of us playing together, and then we add
on to it. That's why we go out and play acoustically all the time: I do want
people to know that we actually are playing, we actually are a band.

Q. What does Robby do for you? He's been with you forever. What's the
chemistry there?

A. I always say he's the brother I never wanted! I mean, we're friends. He throws
the straight fast balls down the middle, and I throw the curve balls.


A. He puts the songs on the record that he wants, and that's cool. He said to
me, "Well, you write songs that become hits." And I'm like, "That's bull----." So
he'll say, "I'm gonna put these four songs on the record 'cause I really like
them." And I'm like, "That's great! Let's try to make these four songs the best
that they can be so they all fit together." I think Robby's extremely necessary to
lift people out of where my f---ing head is, and I think it's that injection of that
into the records and into the live show that keeps it good and balanced. If
Robby said, "You know, I don't want to do this anymore," I would be like, "Cool,
it's done." I wouldn't get someone to replace him. This is our band; this is mine,
this is his, and that's the way it always will be. And when one of us gets sick of
it, it will end.