Interview: Goo Goo Dolls’ Robby Takac talks UK tour and the band’s musical evolution

InterviewJune 4, 2023Entertainment Focus

Punk cover band turned iconic rock group Goo Goo Dolls are set to come over to the UK as part of a nine date tour starting 13th June.

With massive hits such as ‘Iris’, ‘Name’ and ‘Sympathy’, Goo Goo Dolls have been in the industry for 35 years. They have faced challenges, successes and failures but come out the other side tighter than ever with the release of 2022 album ‘Chaos In Bloom’.

Ahead of the UK tour I spoke to band member Robby Takac to talk about their first trip here in three years, discuss their musical evolution and find out about their latest album ‘Choas in Bloom’…

Hey Robby, thanks for taking the time today to chat, how are you?

I’m good thanks Neil, how are you?

I’m well thank you. You’re coming back over to the UK for the first time in three years, tell me what your expectations and feelings are on the upcoming tour?

Yeah, it has been three years. We landed in the last time and about four days later, the pandemic happened. So they shut New York down and we sat in the house for a little bit (laughs). So it’ll be nice to come back and restart this whole thing again. It was just crazy but it seems like everything’s kind of in order again. We just love playing the UK man. It’s amazing for us to do. We play over here (in the States) all the time and we come over there (to the UK) every three years and it’s a bit more special. If somebody in America wants to see us, they just have to drive a few hours but we don’t make it over to the UK that often. I just love all the old rooms with all the ghosts of rock music you know. You can feel it when you walk in a room and the crowds are so engaged. It’s amazing!

You guys are both big entertainers on stage. I know John has said in the past he’s more than happy to play the big hits as well as some curveballs for the die hard fans. What can fans expect to hear on this tour, a big mix or more of a focussed set with the new album potentially?

Yeah, a little bit of the new album, probably a good dose of it. But you know, we like to play the songs people love to hear, we’re pretty sure what those are and there’s a couple that we’ve been pretty consistent with lately that we’re digging, they aren’t necessarily some of the bigger hits but some of the songs we know really work well live. So it’s just a great show, it’s just fun and like I said, the interaction especially in the UK between the crowd and the band, it’s just awesome.

Having toured for 35 years now, is it still as rewarding getting up on that stage every night than it was in the beginning?

I don’t know if I would tell you every night, but I would say most of them (laughs). We’re humans and life’s weird sometimes, but I would say a good 98% of them are awesome. We’ve been doing some touring outside of the US over the past little bit here and I think being able to bring your stuff outside of the atmosphere you’re used to really adds a whole new level to what you’re doing, a whole new level of excitement. So for us, just leaving the country and playing shows is a much different feeling. As I said, we do this an awful lot here. I’m about to go do it in about four hours (laughs).

Having toured for many years now, is there still a bucket list venue left you’d like to play?

Yeah, we’ve never headlined the Hollywood Bowl. We’ve played there before but we’ve always wanted to play the headline slot at the Hollywood Bowl. So that’s one of them.

I’d like to focus on ‘Chaos In Bloom’ quickly. Produced by yourselves in a little retreat outside on New York amidst the pandemic, what was the thought process behind the record? I understand it’s really about the anxiety inducing traumatic time we were and still are facing to a degree.

Yeah, I think that with at least our band, the records we make are about the things that have been going on around us and the things that affect your life and our lives. That ends up making its way into our thought processes and ends up being songs. But I feel like (during Covid), the world sort of got pointed in a direction, a pretty common direction and there was a lot of that feeling of anxiety. I think people were feeling very common fears and common themes throughout that time. So I feel like if you actually take the time to listen to what’s going on on the record, it’s pretty reflective of the uncertainty of those moments that we were living in when that record was being written. I think it’s pretty par for the course, as far as capturing our observations of what was going on, but I think it was obviously a pretty unique time and so it makes it a little bit different than the rest.

On a more frank note, as John has mentioned this album wasn’t written to necessarily produce a big hitter of a number one but how did you find fan’s reactions to it?

It’s a weird world right now. We’re not living in a culture where rock bands fly to the top of the charts these days. I think that coupled with the fact that we’ve been doing this an awfully long time and we’ve made an awful lot of records and we’ve got a catalogue that we’re building off of, I think all of those things together just sort of added up to it being the time to make that kind of record. That being said, John just wrote a single with Gregg Wattenberg and we’re about to release another single before this next summer tour. Sounds like it should be on the radio to me, but I don’t know (laughs). We’ll see.

What was the experience like doing your own production on it? It’s a step away from recent years releases.

John decided to produce the record. I think once again it was the situation that we were in at the moment. It was tough to find a producer who was willing to come and spend four months in the middle of a pandemic with a bunch of people. So I think that drove the decision but I’m not quite sure he’ll do it again. I think at the end there was an awful lot there that he had to go through but I think that once again, that record is really a product of the craziness and the chaos of that time. I remember we had CNN on 24 hours a day in the lounge because we were just waiting to see what was going to happen. It was like just waiting for the the other foot to drop or not, you know, and everybody’s waiting and you couldn’t do anything. Just that uncertainty added to how the record got made at the same time.

Both of you came out of it in one piece, and you’ve both been very tight over the years forming a kinship early. Would you say the band has helped keep you tight over the years?

We’re a lot like brothers, you know. Some days, we love each other and some days I would just rather not see him (laughs) and I know, he would be saying the same thing. It’s been like that for 40 years. We used to be roommates, living in literally the same room when we were kids and we’ve grown over the years. I think that if you don’t allow yourself as a person the chance to grow and become that person that you’re going to become outside of the group, I don’t think that the group has much of a chance, because I think there’s just way too much pressure put on it. I think you’ve got to make sure you got a little orbit going on, that you can retreat to and then come back and do your best when you’re here with the band and make it happen. Try to massage the relationships into the places that they need to be to make sure you can still make music together.

I know in the original days, you were the one who pushed the band to be a bit more serious and it worked!

Oh, I just wanted to practice! They didn’t want to (laughs) but I wanted to just practice.

The whole of ‘Chaos In Bloom’ is a far sight from your punk origins, how would you describe your musical evolution throughout the years? Going from a covers band called The Sex Maggots to 35 years later, being nominated for Grammy’s and breaking moulds.

Yeah, well you’ve gotta be willing to let it be what it is. I think it’s somewhere between that, letting it be what it is, and guiding it to be what you want it to be, you know. There’s a delicate thing that happens, sometimes you can’t bring your audiences along with you and we were always really, really worried about it. That’s why this band is called Goo Goo Dolls to this day. It’s not necessarily a fitting name for a band, but we didn’t want to lose those 400 fans that we got from our first album, you know. I mean, it’s got to be up to 20,000 copies sold by now (laughs). We didn’t want to lose that and that was because we knew that we had done something. Our favourite bands at the time were maybe playing 2000, 3000, 4000 or 5000 capacity venues, they weren’t playing to arenas full of people because we weren’t into that situation, that wasn’t our thing. So we always felt like we weren’t that far away from being where we wanted to be. Of course the world changed in the 90s. Bands like us all of a sudden had a chance to actually get a real record deal and stuff like that. So that was another phase of our band, we switched from being this band that didn’t have a chance of doing too much and we were happy with what we’re doing, to being a band that maybe had a chance and ‘Name’ happened and all of a sudden, we’re on MTV and then ‘Iris’… boom! But then we were that band that didn’t have those songs that were that big anymore, you know. They were still being played on the radio, but it’s a hard place when you’re that band but we were able to make it through that too and then once again we got two more songs on the radio. We never quite got to the size of what was happening in the 90s. But we’ve still been able to maintain this thing and keep a positive frame of mind as to where we’re going and I think that all stems from those early days, you had to stay as positive as you could, you know, just to get to the next place where maybe you get 100 or 200 bucks to get the next city. I think it’s the same attitude that drove this whole thing.

With a fair few hits over the years but with ‘Iris’ being up there as one of the biggest songs in the genres history I’d go as far to say, do you ever feel like your new work is being compared to your older releases?

No, I think we’ve been pretty careful to not try to release that song again. I think that that’s what a lot of bands put out. They’d think I have ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ so let’s try to release nine ‘Eye Of The Tiger’s’ and then they can’t figure out why it doesn’t work, you know? You have to find your moments and that song was a moment. It’s a great song. I think John’s written many songs that are as good as that song. It just wasn’t their moment. You don’t just end up on the Billboard charts for a year without some sort of magic happening. The biggest songs in the world don’t last 18 weeks at number one, they just don’t. So you can’t expect or gauge your career on whether that happens again or not. But I’ll tell you this, we’re just about to go to Sao Paulo, Brazil to play a festival and we wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for that song, I can guarantee you that. It’s given us the opportunity to go and play the rest of our songs for folks again, in Brazil and I know, they’ll all be singing and I know that they’ve all been listening to our records before we come so they’ll know the rest of the songs.

To follow that, which song or album are you proud of that you think maybe fell under the radar a little bit?

Yeah, we put out a record called ‘Hold Me Up’ a long time ago and it was when John realised he could sing and we realised we can write songs and we started listening to our producer. I think it’s a really special record from our youth. I feel like it has the fact that you could see everything that was about to happen but it just simply is not on that record. But you know what’s coming…but it’s not on there at all. I love that record, I I often tell people to listen to that one because I think that’s the one that changed this band from being just the drunken mess to a group that could actually craft a pop song.

How often do you reflect on the past in terms of musical endeavours or is it very much eyes fixed forward in your career these days? Obviously you released ‘Rarities’ in 2021.

That ‘Rarities’ record was our manager who had a box of tapes in his office and he was going through listening to them and he just sort of put that together and released it. It’s interesting to listen to all those old recordings, a lot of that stuff was just stuff from radio stations and such that we had never even heard. They just ended up in our mailbox and we sort of threw them in a box. So I don’t know how much backwards listening we do. I think we take a cruise through, but I think in general we’re trying to move forward.

Having been making music for years now and having faced turbulence from record labels and others, do you prefer the music world in the 80’s and 90’s or past the millennium?

Well, it’s just different I think. Obviously we’re in a different place now than we were, you know, we were struggling through the 80s (laughs.) At the time, I didn’t love the music industry back then. I thought it was elitist. There was no room for free thinkers, that’s the sort of idea I had when it came to mainstream music. But obviously, things changed for us over the years as we became a different band over decades and so I think that industry was great for what it was, it supported itself. You sold records, you got money and that’s how it worked. Now, you were still getting a loan at an 80% interest rate because when the record company lends you their money, to make a record and do all this, you’re making this money, but you’re only making 20 cents on the dollar to pay this bill off, and they make the rest of the money. So that part of the music industry was horrible, and we got ripped off unbelievably. When they write textbooks about how bands got ripped off in the music industry, quite often we have a chapter. In colleges, we’re the worst case studies because we signed some of the worst deals ever but it was because we just didn’t care. You know, we’re just kids playing punk rock, and we didn’t care. We’re just like ‘yeah, let’s do it!’ Matter of fact, I remember the lawyer walking up to us with a piece of paper in his hand, and he’s like, ‘do not sign this‘. Literally, we’re like *mimics signing it* and into the mailbox (laughs). It’s not like we weren’t forewarned, we were you know, but that being said, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you right now if we didn’t set in those deals when we were kids. Lucky for us, lightning struck many, many times and we were able to regain that ground that we lost because of the stupid decisions we made when we were kids. Everything happens for a reason, right?

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen during your time in the industry?

Streaming, absolutely. Absolutely. The fact that you can have your entire…no, not even your entire album, the entire record collection in your pocket is a pretty huge advancement. Considering I used to tour with three books full of CDs, that many CDs, just so I had stuff, something to listen when I was travelling. Now I’ve got it all on my phone. That’s definitely the biggest change I would say. Negatively it’s obviously disrupted the revenue streams to a point where the music industry really doesn’t even know what to do anymore but that is what it is but the other end of it is the immediacy is unbelievable. We can put out a single and two days later, the first ten rows are singing the song back to us because they can get it on their phone. We can release it on the way to the gig, you know, and they would be able to listen to it in their car. It’s amazing and I think the algorithms are great. I don’t think it’s as personal and as awesome as the mentors I used to have when I was a kid when I would hang out in the record stores and they would play me stuff but I think the algorithms do a pretty great job of leading you down roads, to learn about new music and to learn about the origins and the roots of the music that people listen to. I think that’s a great thing.

So if you had to choose either good or bad for streaming, what would it be?

Oh, man, I think ultimately good. I will say the same thing about most technologies, the internet also. Same thing about AI. Ultimately, it’s probably a good thing. But you know man, just gotta watch yourself. There’s always going to be great music, because people don’t make music because they want to make money. People make music because they make music. That will always happen. But I think you know, there are most certainly challenges you know, in the new model but it’ll sort itself out.

Thanks for taking the time out today to chat, I wish you well on the tour and I may catch you guys in London when you’re over.

Absolutely Neil, thanks for the conversation!

You can see Goo Goo Dolls upcoming tour dates:

June 13th – Dublin (Vicar Street)

June 15th – Birmingham (O2 Institute)

June 16th – Bristol (O2 Academy)

June 17th – Bournemouth (O2 Academy)

June 19th – Nottingham (Rock City)

June 20th – Glasgow (O2 Academy)

June 22nd – Sheffield (O2 Academy)

June 23rd – Manchester (Manchester Academy)

June 25th – London (Eventim Apollo)