Goo Goo Dolls Have Kept Some Punk-Rock Spirit

InterviewJuly 17, 2017Westword

The Goo Goo Dolls are probably best known for the monster ballad “Iris,” from the City of Angels soundtrack, a fact that must drive their hard-core, longtime fans crazy. The song is great: soaring, emotive and epic. But the band has eleven studio albums in its arsenal. It’s been nearly two decades since “Iris” and the Dizzy Up the Girl album was released, and the band, from Buffalo, New York, has hardly sat still. The Boxes album, released last year, rose to a respectable number 27 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, and number three on the Billboard rock chart.

That’s not bad for a band with a thirty-year history that many people write off as a ’90s legacy act. To their credit, the Goo Goo Dolls have always refused to rest on past glories, and nowadays they’ll only perform songs from the past five or six albums.

“Our first album was a three-chord punk record that was born at CBGB, and the Continental Club in Buffalo, and Maxwell’s Tavern in Hoboken,” says singer/bassist Robby Takac. “We were just able to move forward enough every record and feel that we were doing something that challenged us a little bit more. If you give that thirty years, it has a chance to actually mature and turn into something. We never looked at each other and said that we had to get on adult radio. It was just moving on to the next idea, the next thing. Happening to have an acoustic song on one of our records twenty years ago that charted, that opened up some avenues for us. So I think it’s just a natural moving forward of our situation.”

To Takac, the Goo Goo Dolls have never truly lost their rock-and-roll edge, despite the aforementioned defining ballad. The tone might be softer on the surface, but dig a little, and those punk kids are still in there somewhere.

“When you’ve got twelve songs on a record, and for eight years the song the radio would play most of the time was the ballad, that’s the impression that people sometimes get of your band,” he says. “But I don’t think that we personally ever had that impression of our band. I guess it doesn’t feel strange to play that type of stuff — although there definitely are songs from our first, second, third albums that just wouldn’t feel right to play in these circumstances, for some reason. I don’t know why. It just feels like we’re different people now or something.”

May saw the release of a new EP, You Should Be Happy, hot on the heels of last year’s Boxes. Takac says that, rather than marking a creative hot spot for the band, the rapid-fire output is actually thanks to producer Drew Pearson.

“We found a comfortable place to be creative with him,” Takac says. “John [vocalist/guitarist Rzeznik] is working on a couple of demos. So, yeah, I think he’s very much a part of what we’re doing here. We really enjoyed the experience. Record-making for us was for many decades like dental surgery. It was just so difficult. It was like trying to pull records out of ourselves. For the last couple of records, we’ve gone at it with a little bit more. Like, here’s an idea — let’s try to move this idea forward. Let’s get this finished and then move on to the next idea, rather than crawling out from under the pile and working on fifteen or sixteen unfinished ideas that, by the end of the process, you’re not so sure about anyway.”

Takac says that, as has always been the case for him and Rzeznik, the band’s recent material has been inspired by regular life — the things that happen to them and to the people around them. The title track from the new EP, for example, is about the current psyche of the American people.

“The twists and turns that this country seems to be taking over the past couple of years, and people’s lack of comfort level with the whole thing,” Takac explains.

The band is in the middle of a mammoth U.S. tour, and the Dolls hit Colorado on July 18. Despite the fact that the musicians are getting up into their middle ages, Takac says that he still enjoys touring.

“I still love it, but I have a five-year-old, so it gets a little tougher,” he says. “I still love it, though. I love the connections. I love finishing the cycle. But it gets tougher when there’s a little girl at home going, ‘You’ve really got to go again?’ But she knows. And she comes out, too. She has a great time on tour.”

Takac says that he’s always enjoyed performing in Colorado, whether at Red Rocks or, as is the case this year, Fiddler’s Green, describing the people here as "free thinkers." As for the set, he says that the band will be digging a little deeper than usual.

“We’ll try to find some songs we haven’t played in a while and reintroduce them into the set,” he says. “Try not to disappoint anybody by leaving out anything they’ve come to hear. We know that there’s a dirty dozen [of songs that have to be played], as we call them. A big rock show. Lots of lights and loud rock.”

When the tour is over, Takac says that the band will be working on another new album, then rinsing off and doing the whole thing over again.