Goo Goo Dolls' John Rzeznik Talks 'Miracle Pill,' Staying Fearless & Catching Feels Listening To Beach SlangInterview • September 12, 2019 • GRAMMY.com
Ahead of their new album release, Rzeznik discusses the concepts on 'Miracle Pill,' his thoughts on social media, why he's "so pro-daughter" and more
Alt-pop heros the Goo Goo Dolls are one of those bands that just keeps going. Even before they shattered the charts with jangly radio staples like "Slide," "Iris" and "Black Balloon" in the '90s, singer/songwriter/guitarist John Rzeznik and bassist Robby Takac were just a punk duo from Buffalo, New York, releasing records on indie labels—four, in fact, before their 1995 effort, A Boy Named Goo, broke them into the mainstream with its yearning acoustic strummer "Name."
More than 12 million album sales and three GRAMMY nominations later, Rzeznik and Takac haven't slowed down. They're still together, still releasing albums and still faithful friends. which, as The Ringer recently pointed out, makes them rather unique entities in rock 'n' roll circles.
That's not to say that the times haven't rattled them, though. On their latest album, Miracle Pill, which arrives on Sept. 13, the duo attempts to grapple with the changing look of celebrity, the way social media breeds insincerity and the need for instant gratification and, perhaps most important, what it means to become a father.
Ahead of Miracle Pill's release, Rzeznik called up the Recording Academy to talk about the concepts on Miracle Pill, why he's "so pro-daughter" and getting a lump in his throat listening to fellow Replacements fans (and future tourmates) Beach Slang.
Listening to this album was a lot of fun. I appreciate the thematic thought that went into it. I'd love to get your thoughts on why Miracle Pill felt like the right name for the album?
Well, conceptually, it's the idea of "miracle pill" to me when we were working on everything was kind of like the instant gratification and kind of quick-fix society that we live in, which has proven to be really dissatisfying.
Yeah, I think we can all agree by now that scrolling through Instagram can potentially bring about less-than-satisfying feelings of worthlessness. Not to mention the lengths some people go to achieve influencer fame using those platforms.
Yes. It's unfortunate. That's kind of where I'm going with this. I've met very lonely people who have 10,000 friends on Facebook. And it's just not real. We've set up this artificial society in cyberspace. And that's supposed to be a community, like a real community. It's supposed to be where people go to get solace or friendship or have fun. "No man," and, "That's interesting." That was an observation that was made in my own head because I don't dare speak about my opinion in public about politics anymore.
I think [our] audience is divided 50/50 on politics, but at least they all agreed that they wanted to come and see us [on tour] or they wanted to come see Train. At least [music] is one thing we all have in common.
So if we're living in a time when being a popular artist means that you must have an active social footprint, how do you personally choose to utilize social media?
Yeah, I tried it and I just found myself getting into arguments with people. You can hate my band, I really don't care what your opinion is. You can hate my music, you can tell me how sh*tty I look because I gained 10 pounds or whatever. But when you drag my wife into it or my daughter or any of that kind of thing, then it's like, how do I not respond?
So I quit all social media and I hired a guy to do it, and I send him texts and stuff. "Hey, I'd like to talk about this, but I don't even want to see what the responses are." I'm putting information out.
For me, social media is a one-way deal. It's like all the traffic goes one direction and I don't care how many people follow me, I don't care how many people like what I do, give me a thumbs up or whatever it is. I am here to share a piece of information that I've decided is relevant to our relationship as musician and audience member. And that's as far as it should go, you know?
Yeah, it's interesting because the Goo Goo Dolls showed up at a time when album sales largely determined your success. Now, you can’t be a band starting out with no social following. Artists are basically signed to labels now because of their social following.
It's a much more complicated path. I want the music to actually speak for itself because that's what's ultimately driving these people. And sometimes I feel as though maybe I’m, for the second decade of the 21st century, an inadequate entity. Maybe I don't have star power or star potential or whatever you want to call it. Or maybe I don't have qualities that someone in 2019 needs to maintain a certain level of stardom. I don't know, but I don't care about it because it's the songs are going to get through.
Personally, given your position, I don’t think you have to worry much about maintaining your social presence.
I'm getting to a point where I don't care about the light show. I still care about people. What I'm trying to write on this album is my observations about what's going on. A lot of the record is about getting second chances, about making connections. That’s one thing that was an unintentional theme that kind of took over the record.
I didn't sit down and go, "I'm going to write a concept album." It's just, this is what's on my mind. I'm not bringing my daughter up in this, but there's a song called "Lost" on the album.
Derek Fuhrmann, the guy that I wrote the song with, he and I, his wife's about to have a baby and I got a kid and we just started writing this thing, and it's just like this song unintentionally became like a little piece of advice to our kids.
I am so pro-daughter, not that I'm anti-son, but we all have daughters, the whole band. Every guy in the band who's got a kid has a daughter. And we get all our little girls together, we take them out on tour with us for a little bit at a time. And the older ones are spray painting their hair with the pink and the blue, and they're spray painting the little girl's hair. It's a joy that I never thought I would have in my life. But the point of what I was saying, I got to backtrack you because I'm obsessed with my daughter.
That's super sweet.
I love her. But the message is, you got to be strong, you got to be yourself. There's a lot of shiny, pretty objects out there that when you actually touch them, they just fall apart. And it's like, you need to be authentic, you need to be yourself. That was the point of that song. And you can't have any fear about that, which brings me to the song "Fearless."
That song is definitely about where this society, and the world at large, is sort of perched precariously. And I don't know how much is media-driven, I do not know how much is reality. Because I think the wounds of this country are real. I don't think they were ever properly healed and resolved because of a small group of peoples' unbridled greed.
I think the media has a great way of irritating a wound to the point where it becomes sensationalized. And it's like, no, these things need to be addressed in a thoughtful way. It's like, you can't explain your position on climate change in a 10 second soundbite. But that's the world that we live in.
How are we going to do anything meaningful? I have started trying so hard to sit down and just spend time just reading a book, not on a computer. And like calling people on the phone. People are weird about getting calls now.
Yeah, people panic and think something's seriously wrong when a call comes in.
I want to hang out on the phone and bullsh*t with you. I don't know, man, you've got to be fearless. That's all there is to it. And the people who are going to be bold are the people who believe everything's going to work out okay. This country's going to have a few more dings and dents in our skull, but I think everything's going to be okay. Ultimately.
You’ve mentioned your daughter a few times in this interview. She's still very young. What made you decide you wanted to have kids? Keeping in mind, well, all of the problems you outline on Miracle Pill.
I thought it was important to become a dad. I don't know. I never thought I was going to have kids. Never ever thought I was going to have kids for all those reasons that you just mentioned, the world can be so bad.
But it's like, when I finally got sober and I was sober for a couple of years the selfishness that drove my life, the selfishness and the self-pity and the self-seeking behavior just kind of melted away. And I didn't realize how deep a purpose, trying to guide someone through this little thing, this little tiny thing, and all of a sudden all the selfishness just kind of drained out of me.
I remember holding her when the doctor gave her to me and saying to myself, just saying this little prayer, "God, please don't let me f**k up this little life. Give me the strength to be a good dad."
Switching gears for a minute, I was thrilled to see that you guys were touring with Beach Slang. Didn't Robby just produce their MPLS EP?
Did he? I didn't know that.
Yeah, I read that. I just think it’s awesome how your band and Beach Slang aesthetically orbit around the Replacements. Alex James from Beach Slang is super up front about his Paul Westerberg influence, and the Goo Goo Dolls' earliest work takes a similar track.
Among others things. Let's not forget the Replacements just pretty much stole everything they did from like the New York Dolls and bands like that. So, whatever. But continue.
Well, I wondered if this touring combo had anything to do with your similar tastes.
I didn't know that Robby had worked with them. Somebody said these guys are available to tour with you. And I was like, okay, I got a whole list of guys, a whole list of bands. And I went to Spotify and started listening to an album by them or it's like a playlist. "This Is Beach Slang" or something like that.
And I got a lump in my throat. Because it was something, there was something so ... I don't know, man, just so emotional about the music and it brought me back to a time where I felt, I don't know, that honest, attached with that naive. I don't know what it is. You know what I mean? It's just sort of, the music really like, it just struck a chord with me and that's the best I can say. And yeah, it did, it reminded me of us, only better. When we were, like the Superstar Car Wash era.
Well, I just have one more question. You guys recorded Miracle Pill at Capitol Records in Hollywood…
Yeah, down in the basement. All the famous studios are down in there. We worked on Gutterflower in that building. There's just good vibes. The woman who runs it, Paula Salvatore, is just, she's amazing. She had a lot to do with getting some of the sounds on this album because I went to her and she is a Los Angeles institution. This woman is, she's an institution. And, man, if you could ever talk to her the stories, unbelievable.
And she's such sweetheart. I'm like, "Hey, I don't know any gospel singers. Do you know any?" [She says,] “"eah. Yeah, honey. I know some, let me make a phone call."
I don't know any string players, could you help me find them? “Sure, no problem.” Boom, these badass string players show up. It's like she's just so supportive and wonderful, and that's what makes the experience. Also, the place is full of really cool ghosts.
Yeah, was there anything you noticed this time that stuck with you?
There's this one enormous photograph of Dean Martin and he's singing inside a glass, well, a booth, a vocal booth with these big windows in it. And it's not that I'm looking at him singing, but I'm looking through the window into the recording studio and there's about two women.
I don't know, there was just something about it that just made me go, why are there a couple of dozen women in the recording studio with Dean Martin? I'm like, oh yeah, of course. Dean Martin, that's what happens when you're Dean Martin.