Goo Goo Dolls Gung-ho For Diplomacy

InterviewSeptember 2, 2000The Morning Call

The subject is the recent Democratic National Convention, and Robby Takac, bassist for the Goo Goo Dolls, the multi-platinum rock band that performed brief acoustic sets at several campaign-related functions, is being, well, diplomatic about his impressions.

"It was really interesting for me to see how political politics is," Takac observes with a chuckle. `I'm in a pretty political business myself, you know.`

That might be an understatement. The Goo Goo Dolls began life back in 1987 as a Buffalo, N.Y., punk band modeled on the hard-living Godfathers of Grunge, the Replacements. Takac, singer/guitarist/cover-boy John Rzeznik and drummer Mike Malinin didn't hit it big by sticking to their oft-fired hard-rock guns, but by widening the band's listener demographic with sobering Rzeznik power ballads such as `Name,` `Iris` and `Black Balloon.` It was an image transition that would impress even a seasoned spin doctor.

Takac was dexterously vague about further comparing political compromise to the artistic variety, though he hinted that the democratic process could sometimes result in a weaker overall vision:

`Looking at it from a positive standpoint, you want to try and include everyone's opinions in the decisions you make, which is a cool thing. But it kinda dilutes things at times. Perhaps your initial idea isn't the one you're gonna carry out.`

According to Takac, when the band brings its kinder, gentler image to the Allentown Fair on Sunday night, the Goo Goo Dolls won't be stumping for the Gore-Lieberman ticket -- at least not during the performance.

`The thing that is kind of unique about what we do is that we don't bring it to our stage,` he affirms. `We're there to do a rock concert and you won't catch us up there preaching.`

Instead, the Dolls advocate involvement of all kinds by setting an example with their connection to USA Harvest, an organization that collects unused food for missions and other social-service agencies that cater to the impoverished. The group asks its fans to bring nonperishable food items to shows where they will be collected by USA Harvest volunteers and distributed locally.

While admitting that he and his band mates' electoral preference should be obvious, Takac maintains that the act's appearances at the convention were more about stimulating political interest in a generation often given to apathy than espousing any specific partisan tenets. In that light, Takac viewed the Dolls' invited participation as less savvy media manipulation than a simple opportunity to do some good.

`I feel like for the first time in our career we've been able to sort of step outside our musical circles,` he says. `We're always trying to do our best to reach out and make things a little more pertinent, without turning into preachy idiots.

`Our angle on all this,` he elaborates, `is that your opinion should count, does count, and if it doesn't you're really wasting your opinion. So just go out and make an effort to support the things that you believe are going to make your life and everybody else's life better.`

Though he fields questions smoothly like a seasoned campaigner, Takac has often been responsible for the more upbeat, hard-rocking tracks on Goo Goo Dolls albums, including the band's latest, 1998's monster hit `Dizzy Up The Girl` (Warner Bros.). The disc is still No. 113 after 100 weeks on the Billboard chart, and the single `Broadway` is No. 87 after 20 weeks. `I think I find it a little harder to let go of the past than John does,` he explains, referring to the Dolls' faster, harsher-sounding early days. `I'm the sentimental one of the group, so I think I cling on to that part of our career a little more.`

Still, he isn't complaining about the emphasis placed on Rzeznik's good looks and gift for the dramatic, rock-of-the-'90s-style, mid-tempo weeper, or the demise of the uncompromising, straight-ahead rock music that originally inspired the act. To survive in the music business (or politics) you have to balance pragmatism with perspective, and Takac seems content to get his licks in while waiting for things to come around again.

`I think guitar rock needs to go away every once in a while to come back in an interesting manner,` he says. `It happens time and time again. I guess that's how things keep themselves fresh -- they go away for a while and then come back with a vengeance.`