Goo Goo Dolls Aren't Going Gaga Over `Fame'

InterviewMarch 27, 1993The Morning Call

Your band is signed to a major label, has been written about and has had its picture appear in a major magazine, and has received persistent and passionate praise from no less an authority than Paul Westerberg, the former leader of what many consider to be the best American rock 'n' roll band of the 1980s, The Replacements.

All of this has to make you feel at least a wee bit successful, right?

"No," says George Tutuska, drummer for Buffalo, N.Y., power-pop trio Goo Goo Dolls. "We're still playing in bars. And I'm far from being rich. In fact, none of us in the band has any money, and I consider being successful having money. We're not that popular. I mean, it's exciting to see your name on the cover of Rolling Stone. But ...

"I think we're getting closer," Tutuska says on the telephone over the din of a Van Morrison album he's playing at his home. "I hope we do all right, because I've given up a lot to do this. I've quit school to be in the band. If this fails, I'll just be another guy standing in the unemployment line."

For now, Tutuska, guitarist Johnny Rzeznik and bassist Robby Takac are getting steady paychecks on the twin strengths of a tour, which stops Tuesday night for a sold-out all-ages show at the Trocadero in Philadelphia, and a new disc, "Superstar Car Wash." The band's fourth disc -- the third released by Metal Blade/Warner Bros. -- is loaded with enough rousing guitar riffs and bracing melodies that, in a perfect world, would land any of its 14 tracks on the radio. While most songs reflect the 1970s influences band members absorbed as kids --catchy, metallic stuff like Bachman-Turner Overdrive -- they kick with the primal energy that first drew Tutuska and Rzeznik into punk rock and bristle with the kind of hard edges that prompted Takac to first take up heavy metal.

"I think our stuff could be popular," Tutuska says. "It's got hooks, both musically and lyrically. And our playing is getting better. I don't want to say we've matured, but we have. You can't hang on to your youth. Our sound is slicker and smoother. That's good only up to a point, and I don't think we've reached that point yet. I can only laugh when I hear some of the kids who've said we've sold out. I'm still just trying to make a living doing this."

The Goo Goo Dolls sprang to life seven years ago in a rather modest setting -- in a hallway at the small Buffalo college where Tutuska, now 28, had been trying to turn his love for author James Baldwin and Romantic poetry into a career as an English teacher. "I was looking for some rolling papers," Tutuska recalls, "and I saw this guy walking down the hall with a Kiss T-shirt and bell bottoms. I figured that this guy has got to have some papers. It turned out to be Robby."

The pair struck up a friendship, thanks in large part to the records Tutuska would play for Takac back in their college days -- records by The Lime Spiders, a great underground Australian band whose '60s-style garage-rock tunes exploded with '80s-style punk-rock rhythms and guitars.

Having gradually grown tired of playing in other people's bands, Tutuska and Takac, now also 28, decided to form their own group. They signed up guitarist Rzeznik, 27, who was familiar to them through his activities in the small but supportive Buffalo rock underground scene. Their lineup complete, they needed only a name.

Says Tutuska: "Robby was on the phone lining up a gig and said to us, `Quick, we need a name.' Johnny was reading True Detective magazine and saw an advertisement for goo goo dolls, which are little troll-like dolls. The name stuck. It looks good in print, with all the `o's in it."

The Goo Goo Dolls released an independently produced debut album, and then got signed to Metal Blade/Warner Bros. Among the band's early admirers was Westerberg, who asked the Goo Goo Dolls to accompany The Replacements on one of the group's tours. The friendship resulted in Westerberg penning the lyrics to "We Are the Normal," a song on the Goo Goo Dolls' new record.

Goo Goo Dolls is the middle part of a three-band bill topped by Soul Asylum that will play a sold-out, all-ages show Tuesday night at the Trocadero Theater, 10th and Arch streets, Philadelphia. Doors open at 7 p.m. and Vic Chestnutt begins playing at 8 p.m. For information, call 923-ROCK.