Goo Goo Dolls bring 25 years of hits to Wilmington’s Grand Opera House

InterviewNovember 2,

It's not a “25th anniversary tour” bringing the Goo Goo Dolls to Wilmington's Grand Opera House on Wednesday, November 9 – but it could be. As hard as it might be for fans or the band itself to believe, the venerable rock trio has been together for a quarter century, having formed in Buffalo, New York in 1986.

Twenty-five years is a long time for any band to remain together. But the Goo Goo Dolls are part of an even more elite class. The group – Robby Takac on bass and vocals, John Rzeznik on guitar and vocals, and Mike Malinin on drums – remains on a major label (Warner Bros.), continues to record new music, tours regularly worldwide – and does it all very successfully. To date, the group has amassed 14 Top-10 singles and has sold nearly nine million albums in the United States alone.

The band’s remarkable longevity and accomplishments are not lost on Takac.

“I'm proud of what we've done over the years,” he said in a recent telephone interview, “but I'm even more thrilled and amazed at how we've been able to keep putting music out and have the fans be so supportive of the new stuff. Each time we go out on tour they seem to come back. That's what I'm most appreciative of and the most amazed at – watching people who are 60-years-old or 10-years-old singing our new songs back at us – it's awesome to me.”

The Goo Goo Dolls' latest studio album, Something for the Rest of Us, was released in August 2010. It features the hit songs “Home” and “Notbroken,” adding to a list of hits that includes “Name,” “Iris,” “Slide,” “Here Is Gone,” “Better Days,” “Stay with You,” and many others.

During its first ten years together, hits for the Goo Goo Dolls were nearly nonexistent. The band was a quintessential critics favorite – consistently garnering praise for its music, but unable to score a hit. Glowing reviews welcomed the group's first four albums, but despite some airplay on alternative radio stations, each languished on the sales charts. As one writer put it, they were "America's best-known unknown band."

Things changed with the band's 1995 release, A Boy Named Goo. A thoughtful, more refined album, it proved that the group could successfully expand its musical approach beyond hard-edged punk rock.

"Name," a plaintive, acoustic ballad pulled as a single, became a huge hit. Suddenly, the Goo Goo Dolls were a platinum-selling act.

Ironically, the band's first commercially successful album was also the first to be panned by some critics. Like other bands that developed from punk-rock bashers to more refined rockers, the Goo Goo Dolls have taken their share of criticism by those who equate commercial success with "selling out."

"We always did what we wanted to do," Rzeznik said in an earlier telephone interview. "The truth is, no one from our record company has ever tried to tell us what to do in the studio. Nobody knows what song is going to be a hit. If I knew that, I'd be a lot richer than I am. If you believe in what you're doing, success will follow.”

One of the keys to the Goo Goo Dolls’ success has been the band's willingness to embrace growth and change. Although Rzeznik is considered the band's primary lead vocalist these days, Takac was actually the band's original lead singer. Rzeznik didn't sing lead vocals at all on the band's first album, and it wasn't until the third album, Hold Me Up, that he and Takac began sharing vocal duties equally.

The band's sound has also evolved considerably. The Goo Goo Dolls started as a punk-rock power trio playing grungy, aggressive rock – very different from the polished pop-rock sound the band is known for today.

“We were learning how to make records,” Takac says. "As we went on, our sound smoothed out a bit – mainly because we had the money to make the record sound more like we wanted it to.”

Takac says that evolution continued up through the recording sessions for Something for the Rest of Us. The album marked the first time that the group enlisted multiple producers and co-produced an album themselves.

“Over time you become more a part of the process,” Takac explained. “John and I do some production stuff on the side, so we had that experience. I don't think we could do a record on our own because, number one, we'd probably kill each other, and I do think having someone in that role is important.

“We didn't go into that record planning to use numerous producers. It's just sort of what happened as the record moved along. I think we did something really special with this record. I think this record sounds like our band actually sounds – more so than the past couple of records we've put out. I think that that's a good step for us.”

Fans who come to the Grand Opera House show can expect to hear all of the band’s biggest hits, but that wasn’t always the case.

“There was a time for about a year when for some reason John didn't want to play ‘Name,’” Takac says. “And that was all we heard about from the fans. I think it was a lesson for us. We know that we have about a dozen songs that we have to play every night.”

Fans attending the show are asked to bring non-perishable food items that will be collected at the door.

“We work with an organization called USA Harvest,” Takac says. “We do what is basically a good old-fashion canned food drive at all of our shows. Our Goo Goo Dolls Street Team comes in and they have bins at the front doors and they collect the stuff. USA Harvest has a network of people locally and the food that gets collected actually goes directly into the communities that it's collected in. Whoever brings the most stuff ends up coming back, meeting the band, and getting their picture taken with us.”

The band is active on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Takac says the outlets provide unique opportunities to connect with fans, but entail additional responsibilities as well.

“Today social media is a part of people's experience – it’s what they do with their day,” he says. “If you want to be part of their world, you've got to be part of that experience. It’s not the kind of thing that you want to just hand over to your record company. A band has to learn how to take control of those kinds of things. I think a lot of artists were very Johnny-come-lately to that whole thing. We've always been pretty heavily into it. Early on, we were blogging before we knew that ‘blogging’ was a word.”

The Goo Goo Dolls flew to London in October to play two dates at Wembley Stadium and also perform the pregame show at the NFL's Pepsi Max International Series game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Oct. 23.

“We had a pretty amazing thing happen with the song, ‘Iris,’” Takac says. “A kid sang it on the British version of ‘X-Factor’ and I woke up one morning and it was number three on the UK Top-10. It's kind of mind-blowing, but we've got a Top-10 hit over there right now with a 13-year-old song.”

Takac says the current tour, which ends New Years Eve at Caesars Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, will be the final road jaunt for the band before work begins on a new album.

“I don’t want to curse myself, but we've been talking about trying to get into the studio in the next couple of months and make another record happen soon,” he says. “Four years is too much time between records.”