A Tale of Three Goo Goo Dolls : The Band Has Sweated Through Hard Times, but It Still Has Great ExpectationsInterview • July 22, 1995 • Los Angeles Times
By MIKE BOEHM
These are the best of times and the worst of times to be a Goo Goo Doll.
In the 1980s, the band from Buffalo sweated out its dues on the low-budget independent-rock scene, where full-fledged rock stardom seemed an absurdity.
But having survived into the post-Nirvana years, when such kindred raucous-yet-melodic contemporaries as Soul Asylum and Sugar have found commercial rewards, the Goo Goo Dolls can see the trends turning in their favor.
On its latest album, “A Boy Named Goo,” the trio keeps on creating tunefully yowled anthems that hit with plenty of punk-inspired throw-weight. It is a far, far better thing for rock ‘n’ roll that such fare has come to stand a good chance in the marketplace.
As a result of that changed climate, the touring Goo Goo Dolls (who play Sunday at Music City in Fountain Valley) found themselves taking a hastily arranged detour to Los Angeles last weekend to shoot a video for their eloquently bereft ballad “Name.”
The band hadn’t planned on making the song into a video, at least not at this point, bassist and co-founder Robby Takac reported a couple of days later over the phone from a tour stop in Seattle.
But taste-making modern-rock station KROQ began playing the song and, not wanting to pass up something that looked like the break they have been waiting for, the Goo Goo Dolls decamped to L.A. for a day to shoot a new clip in such settings as Union Station and aboard a vintage Greyhound bus, shots designed to fit the song’s mood of plaintive anomie.
Shelved, for the time being, was an already-shot video for “Flat Top,” an anthem that bemoans, with a typical Goo Goo Dolls mixture of irony and anguish, the souring effect that televised political bickering has had on American life.
“It has a man with a TV in his head wandering through it,” Takac said, sounding just a little disappointed that the band has had to set that footage aside temporarily in favor of the bus and train depot.
Only bands with prospects make videos in such an urgent rush. Thus, the insta-vid for “Name” is part of that best-of-times scenario for the Goo Goo Dolls. On the other hand, Takac noted, having prospects that so far remain unfulfilled can make it the worst of times.
Spending a day of filming as a denizen of a train station and aboard an interstate bus might have reminded Takac that he does not, at present, own an automobile.
“You want to be able to eat and drive a car, and [having a car to drive] is not a luxury I’ve been allotted for many of these years,” he said in a low, grainy voice, sounding a bit road-weary at the midway point of the Goo Goo Dolls’ current yearlong touring campaign, yet still able to muster frequent chuckles as he reflected on the life and times of a band fated to wander in search of a breakthrough.
“I find myself sliding in and out” of frustration, he said. “Sometimes I’m just happy to be here. I’m thinking I can maintain this at 30 years old, come out and play decent shows and put out records. But when your rent comes up, it’s ‘oh [expletive].’ ”
He thinks the Goo Goo Dolls’ unfulfilled career hopes could have something to do with the darkening cast of their records. Their first major label release, “Hold Me Up” in 1990, was full of songs that sought, and found, ways to lift the spirits even as they acknowledged that life might be nothing but a dirty deal. It ended with Johnny Rzeznik, the band’s co-founder and guitarist, singing the refrain, “Everything is wrong, well, it’s all right.”
There are no such defiant affirmations on “A Boy Named Goo.” In the climactic number, “Eyes Wide Open,” Rzeznik imagines a world so bleak that he dreams of being granted sovereignty over it so that he then might “kick it on down.”
“We start to get older and we start to see what’s out there,” Takac said. “Our first couple of records were just sort of very carefree. Things started to change around ‘Hold Me Up.’ Starting to look for answers, we make those introspective records we all hate to admit we make.”
Takac added that “a weird couple of years” in Goo Goo Dolldom might have boosted the new album’s desperation level a bit. “We know bands we were coming up with [such as Soul Asylum]. I see them again and all of a sudden they are doing really well. There was a lot of pressure in my mind about the business taking over too much of what we’re doing. There’s the whole pressure nowadays that your record may actually be played on the radio.
“That,” he added, “was never a chance for us” during the band’s early days, which go back to 1986. The Goo Goo Dolls began when Takac, a young radio disc jockey, hooked up with plumbing trainee Rzeznik and drummer George Tutuska. Before long, they were Buffalo’s primary contribution to the world of college-alternative rock.
A falling out over matters both musical and personal led to Tutuska’s departure six months ago, after “A Boy Named Goo” had been completed. Mike Malinin is the new drummer. Rzeznik writes about half the songs himself and collaborates with Takac on the others; the two divide the lead vocals.
It has been the Goo Goo Dolls’ unwanted honor to garner frequent comparisons to the Replacements, one of the definitive bands of the ‘80s alternative rock moment. The Replacements’ leader, Paul Westerberg, is a friend of the Goo Goo Dolls and contributed the lyrics to their “We Are the Normal,” a pained ode to alienation that appeared on their “Superstar Car Wash” album (1993).
“John talks to Paul all the time. [Westerberg] doesn’t see it [the contention that the Goo Goo Dolls sound a lot like the Replacements], we don’t see it, but everybody else does.”
In fact, everybody else is right, as Takac, giving a bit of ground, partly concedes when pressed. “A lot of the reason we sound the way we do is that we listened to a lot of things they did as we were coming up. We didn’t hear a Replacements record and say, ‘Wow, we gotta sound like that.’ ”
Takac said the band is most concerned about not trying to sound like the latest hot modern-rock band.
“That’s one of the main rules of what we’re doing, one of the only rules. I’ve seen a lot of other bands do that sort of thing. I want to be honest. We just go do Goo Goo Dolls, and if [the records] don’t do well, we’ve got more in us, better ones in us.”
He acknowledges that, with the band’s 10th anniversary approaching, he and Rzeznik have wondered at times how long they can keep plugging for a commercial breakthrough before they will have to concede failure and give up.
“But there’s definitely an underlying sense of optimism, as far as songwriting and doing more records goes,” he said. “It’s one thing we know we can always do. Given the tools needed, we know we can go in and do a great record.”
* The Goo Goo Dolls, Smoking Popes and You Am I play Sunday at Music City, 18774 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley. 8 p.m. $8. (714) 323-8683 (taped information) or (714) 963-2366 (club).