He wanted to be a teacher and own a bar, but became a rock star instead

InterviewAugust 25, 2022The Mercury News

John Rzeznik leads the Goo Goo Dolls into Stanford

The Goo Goo Dolls were hardly an overnight sensation.

Having formed in Buffalo in 1986, the group spent years working on its craft and building a fan base before it finally broke through to the mainstream, in a big way, with 1995’s “A Boy Named Goo.”

That album was propelled to double-platinum heights in large part by “Name,” which topped both Billboard’s Mainstream Rock and Alternative Airplay charts and, at the time, seemed like it might be the best-selling single the band would ever produce.

But then came “Iris.”

The song, which was originally penned for the soundtrack of the 1998 film “City of Angels” and later featured on the “Dizzy Up the Girl” album from the same year, turned out to not only be the Goo Goo Dolls’ biggest single — but one of the biggest rock singles that any band delivered in the ‘90s. “Iris” spent multiple weeks at No. 1 on various charts, in several different countries, and sold over 7 million copies in the U.S. alone.

The Goo Goo Dolls are still going strong in 2022, having just released a new studio album — “Chaos in Bloom” — and embarked on a lengthy concert tour.

The trek touches down Sept. 4 at the lovely Frost Amphitheater on the Stanford University Campus. Showtime is 7 p.m. and tickets start at $39.95, axs.com. Blue October opens the show.

There are also two other stops in the Golden State — Sept. 2 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and Sept. 3 at the Santa Barbara Bowl.

I recently had the chance to talk with Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik, who opened up not only about the new album and tour — but also about some of the difficult personal challenges he faces in the music industry.

Q Good to talk with you, John. I think it’s been about a dozen years since we last spoke.

A Really — it’s been that long?

Q Yeah. I mean, you never write, you never call, John. What’s up with that?

A Well, you know, we’re both busy. (Laughs)

Q Speaking of busy, congratulations on your new album coming out.

A Thank you very much. It’s been a wild ride so far.

Q The Goo Goo Dolls got their start in 1986. And now it’s 2022. Is it a bit mind-boggling to think that you are still doing this 36 years later?

A It’s pretty, yeah, mind-boggling — you said it. I thought we were going to make one record and then I would go back to school and finish that up – and grow up.

My plan was I was going to be a school teacher. Then I was gonna be a bartender at night and eventually own my own bar. That was really what I wanted.

Q But, instead, you turned out to be a rock star.

A Go figure. (Laughs) It’s been pretty crazy. You know, it’s like I give up and I quit every day — once or twice. And then I go, “OK, umm, you have a pretty amazing life. Don’t let the stupid little frustrations of dealing with it get in the way.”

Glen Ballard, who is really an incredible producer — we made one of our best albums (2006’s “Let Love In”) with him. He’s just an amazing person. Somebody in the press was giving us crap and it really bothered me. He’s like, “That’s just like letting the lint in your pocket bother you.”

Q Well, I’m definitely glad you didn’t give up and quit before recording the fun new single “Yeah, I Like You.” Talk to me a little bit about the song’s storyline.

A I was trying to tell this sort of story about this guy — based loosely on myself. He meets one of these young influencers/online celebrities and he’s like, “You made how much money this year? I have no idea what you do. Why are you famous? Why are you important?” It’s just sort of a comment of the nature of celebrity in 2022 and just how kind of ridiculous it is at certain levels.

But the guy is also enjoying this insane sort of whirlwind that he winds up in with this person. He’s bashing it — but then all of a sudden he gets swept up in it.

Q The album feels very introspective. It feels like you’re up in your head a lot …

A Up in my head? Or up my (expletive)? Which one? We’ve got to choose here.

Q (Laughs) Well, with song titles like “Save Me from Myself,” “Going Crazy,” “Day After Day,” I’m just wondering how much of this record was inspired by the last two-plus years, when you might have had a lot of time to just sit and think. In other words, is this the Goo Goo Dolls’ pandemic record?

A After it was all put together, when you back away from it a little bit, you start to see the themes popping up — “Oh, wow, I guess there is the cohesive thread on this album.”

I think it was a combination of everything — being locked in the house and the civil unrest and the insanity in politics and all these kinds of different things. A lot of ugly things came to the surface during this time — and a lot of scary things.

Q Lots and lots of scary things.

A What I was apprehensive about was losing connection with our fans — with our audience — and just trying to mitigate that somehow. It was a scary time, because we were like, “We’re never going to work again. We’re done. This is the end of this.” On certain days.

Q One of my favorite songs on the new album is “Save Me from Myself.” What is there about you that you need to save yourself from?

A Just being my own worst enemy. That’s really just what that’s all about. Just this thing where I’m up in my head. I don’t feel like I fit in anywhere — completely. Then I start talking to myself up in my head. I can really paint myself into a very dark corner when I want to. Then it really affects my worldview and, yeah, I can get a little bristly at times.

Q “Chaos in Bloom” marks the first time that you’ve produced a full Goo Goo Dolls album. What was that like?

A It was awesome — other than running out of money before it was done. I forgot that part about being a producer — you have to make sure you bring the album in on budget.

Q Did the experience help you appreciate the producers you’ve worked with even more?

A Umm, a few of them. Like I loved working with Rob Cavallo. I loved working with Glen Ballard. I still love working with Gregg Wattenberg.

I just think because of budgets, and the way the music industry has gone, there’s not a ton of money in being a producer anymore. So, some guys just want to get in and get out. And I don’t think that necessarily makes for great music.

Q The band is touring for the first time since 2019. How does it feel being back out in front of fans?

A It’s crazy exciting. It feels like a reunion — not for (the band), but between us and our audience.

Q During the darkest days of the pandemic, when nobody seemed to know how long we’d be sheltering-in-place and avoiding contact with others, did you ever think that we might never get back to in-person concerts?

A It kind of felt like that. And everybody was scrambling to try and find some sort of replacement. So, it’s like, “Let’s do these virtual concerts. Let’s do this. Let’s do that.” And I don’t think any of it really caught on that much. But we tried a lot of that to just stay in touch with the audience.

I don’t think the metaverse, or whatever, is ever going to be able to replace what it is to be in a room full of people, listening to music and watching a show and being stuffed together in a crowd and making friends.

That’s human experience.