Hitmakers: Johnny Rzeznik reveals the secrets behind The Goo Goo Dolls' Iris

InterviewJune 26, 2018Music Week

Twenty years ago, The Goo Goo Dolls’ frontman Johnny Rzeznik wrote Iris for the City Of Angels soundtrack. In 2017, it was still the UK’s most streamed rock song. Spoiler: here, he gives Music Week the inside story...

The music supervisor of the City Of Angels soundtrack wanted something tailored specifically to the film. I didn’t think Iris was going to be a hit just by virtue of who else was also on that album: Peter Gabriel, U2 and Alanis Morissette. I didn’t think we would even be noticed but they were paying us a small fee so I was like, ‘OK, I’m in!’

I saw the film first, and it was very interesting to have my subject matter in front of me, instead of just having to make up a story. It was helpful because I was sitting in front of the movie screen and I thought, ‘This guy [played by Nicolas Cage] is so in love with this woman [Meg Ryan’s character] that he’s willing to give up his immortality just to be with her – to feel all the horrible things that come along with being human, just to feel her.’

I just thought to myself: ‘What would I say if I were him?’ Then it all came together relatively easily at that point.

I wrote the song on a guitar where two of the strings were broken. It was a happy accident, I had to detune the guitar to [make it work] and I fiddled around until it just came to me. I called the music supervisor that afternoon and said, ‘I think I’ve got this, can I play it for you?’ I played it on the same four string guitar and he was like ‘Great, let’s cut it!’

Eventually, I took the song to Rob Cavallo who was producing us at the time – and he produced a few of the bands on the soundtrack. We went into the studio and he said, ‘You know what this song needs? Strings.’ He probably brought about 16 string players in.

When the strings hit the bridge in the song – which was written on guitar – Rob and I were looking through the window into the live room and we just about jumped out of our seats. I was like, ‘Wow! This is incredible.’ Then I looked at him and he said, ‘There’s no going back from this one.’

We actually thought maybe we should take the strings off because we were worried our fans would be offended by us doing this because we’d always been a scrappy indie band who’d had one little hit at the time. We didn’t want to lose our fanbase but I was like, ‘We need to go for it’.

That song blew up. All of a sudden everyone wanted us to tour with them and we were getting big offers to play in big venues. I was simultaneously working on the Dizzy Up The Girl record at the time – which is unbelievably 20 years old.

Time is flying all over my face! Iris was such a big hit that we eventually put the song on that album because we thought it would help us sell a ton of records. Our single Slide became a hit on the coat-tails of Iris.

I just think Iris expressed the way that a lot of men and women feel but don’t say. I wrote a couple of lines
and I was lucky enough to hit that – it’s not always easy to do. Now I know it’s got over 307 million streams [on Spotify alone]... It’s obviously a blessing. Not bad for an old guy! T

o have an experience like that in your lifetime is amazing, even if it doesn’t happen a second time. I would play that song every night for the rest of my life so long as somebody wants to hear it.