Interview: John RzeznikInterview • February 13, 2020 • UK Music Reviews
John Rzeznick is an American musician, singer, songwriter and producer.
Forming the rock band, the Goo Goo Dolls in 1986 with co-founder Robby Takac, he continues to be the main songwriter, guitarist and front man of the band.
In 1998 he was asked to write a soundtrack for the film, City Of Angels, and the end product was the song Iris, which stayed on the top of the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay charts for a record breaking eighteen weeks and it also spent four weeks at number one on the Billboard’s Pop Songs chart. Later that year the song was nominated for three Grammys.
The Goo Goo Dolls have released twelve studio albums, but it was their sixth album, Dizzy Up The Girl which went on to amass multi platinum sales and brought them international acclaim. The album featured hit tracks Iris and Slide for which Rzeznick received the 2000 ASCAP Song of the Year Award.
In 2008 he was inducted into The Songwriters Hall of Fame and was also awarded the Hal David Starlight Award. In 2015 the Goo Goo Dolls also contributed to the soundtrack of the broadway musical Finding Netherland.
Rzeznick is also an ambassador for VHI’s Save The Music Foundation.
Whilst busy rehearsing for their forthcoming tour of the UK, John Rzeznick took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi John, how are you today?
I’m good thank you Kevin, how are you?
I have to say that I am very well thanks and before we move on let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
Not at all, thank you for being interested enough in what we are doing to give up your time for this interview.
And I must ask you, just how is life treating you at this moment in time?
(Laughter) better than most, but not as good as some.
We must speak about your forthcoming tour of the UK but if I may, I would like to talk about your recent album Miracle Pill which you released 13th September 2019.
Sure, that’s fine, go for it.
Well I must tell you from the outset that I love it. I think that it is a great piece of work.
Thank you very much, I really do appreciate that.
Are you and Robby (Takac) both happy with the final product?
Yes, we are, we really are. In fact, I must tell you that I personally had a lot of fun making the album. As you most probably know, I like to go out and do a few little field trips and making this album was the perfect excuse for me to travel around the States and record at different studios. It was also the ideal opportunity for me to work with different people, and I have to say that I really do enjoy that. For me, the whole episode is a learning experience. It is truly amazing what you can learn from other people. My writing was fine, but I just wanted to be able to expand it and then work with different producers.
We even managed to talk Alan Moulder into mixing a track for the album. He mixed a track for us which will soon be released as the next single from the album. Alan, as you know, is Britain’s premier alternative rock producer, mixer and engineer who has been working prolifically in the UK and USA since the 1980’s. When I heard what Alan had done with the track it was like ‘wow’ I was totally blown away. And the best part was that somebody else was paying for it all (laughter).
Your fans here in the UK are already saying that Miracle Pill is your best work to date. Would you agree with that?
I’m happy that it is good, and I am happy that people are receiving it well. However, I always find it hard for me to say what my best work is. I am enjoying it more now because it is something new (laughter). The shine of it hasn’t worn off yet (laughter).
If Miracle Pill made it, where would it sit in a Goo Goo Dolls top five albums?
I would most definitely have to say either two or three.
At this moment in time, I have three go to tracks. They are Lost, Fearless and Indestructible. I personally think that those three tracks are brilliant.
Thank you, they really are fun songs for us to play live. Well thinking about it, Lost isn’t that much fun but Indestructible and Fearless are both positive and pretty strong songs (laughter).
Putting you on the spot, do you have a favourite track on the album?
Don’t worry it’s not putting me on the spot at all. My favourite track on the album is a track which comes right at the end of the album called Autumn Leaves. For some reason, I don’t know why, that song just resonates with me a lot.
Are you always writing?
Over the past few years, yes, I am, because that just seems to be how the record business is nowadays. Back in the day you would write a set of songs, take a break, tour for a year or two, and then maybe take a little time off before writing some more songs. But now, you have simply got to keep going and let me tell you, it can be quite a grind sometimes. Having said that, I am enjoying the collaborations that I am doing with people now; it makes the process go a little bit quicker. Whenever I collaborate with someone, and it works really well it is like ‘wow, I never really thought to do that’ (laughter). So, for me, constantly writing is a good thing. I think that it also helps to keep the sound of the band fresh.
I have been told that you are coming over here to the UK to do some writing. Is that correct?
(Laughter) just who the hell has told you that? Yes, that’s right, I am coming over to the UK to write for the very first time with some British writers and I am excited about that. There is such a different take on music over there in the UK, and the music that I am listening to now that I love is Sam Fender, I absolutely love what it is that he is doing. I just think that there is a different aesthetic about music over there than there is here in America. I think that if I was able to infuse some of that into my music, then it would make it pretty cool. I consider myself to be a student of song writing.
They always say that you are never too old to learn, don’t they?
Yes, they do, but sometimes I feel too old the learn (laughter). I may not be but sometimes I feel like it (laughter).
When will you start writing for the next album?
I will be doing a few writing sessions before we leave for the forthcoming tour this summer. Plus, I already have a couple of songs that I just want to finish right now, so that is what I am doing now, until we come over to the UK.
You mention the UK; you will be back here 19th February for the tour. Do you enjoy the time that you get to spend here?
Yes, I do, I love it over there in the UK; the crowds are great. I love playing at the O2 Academies, and I have to say that they are just great rock halls. We don’t have a lot of those here in the States. It really is a great vibe. People have a different perspective on music over there than they do here.
Do the UK audiences look after you?
Yes, they do and that feels great. I know that this is going to happen again but, it really is a great feeling when you come out onto the stage, you are playing your very first song, and everyone starts singing along with you. That to me is just like ‘wow, you can hear them’ and its like ‘damn, I can hear the audience’ (laughter). That really is a cool experience; there is so much enthusiasm and they love their music so much.
You will be playing here in Nottingham on Monday 24th February. Will that be the first time that you have played here in the city?
You could be right; I don’t even know if we have played in Nottingham before (laughter). Let’s just say that I am just looking forward to being there. London has got a great vibe; I love being able to play there. I also love going up to Glasgow and seeing everything. Everything over there in the UK is so close in comparison to the States. I was recently listening to a Podcast on Spotify and it was basically an oral history of The Clash. The boys were saying just how insanely huge America was. They couldn’t believe that it took so long to get everywhere (laughter). Then, whenever I come over to tour the UK, I sit down on the tour bus, start reading a book, and after only a couple of chapters I’m like ‘what, were there’ (laughter).
Let’s just say that the UK is small but quaint.
Yes, let’s do that. I love it; I enjoy talking to the people and getting their take on just what is going on in my country (laughter). Take it from me that can be interesting. I can’t wait to hear what they have to say about the whole (Donald) Trump thing; it’s going to be so interesting hearing people talk. I don’t drink but there will be nights when I will go out to a pub, sit and try to talk to some folk; I love it (laughter). Having said that though, I won’t be doing much of that in Manchester because I think that they are likely to hold me personally responsible for Trump, and drag me out into the street and beat me (laughter).
Before you stopped drinking, did you manage to acquire a taste for our warm beer?
Yes, I did, far too much of a taste for it in fact. I haven’t had a drink in five years now and I have to say that I feel better but, I must be honest and say that things simply aren’t as interesting as they used to be (laughter). How can you go to Manchester and not get drunk; it is really difficult (laughter)? Not drinking is alright as I still get to observe people. Since I quit drinking, I love hanging out, watching people drink.
It’s okay providing that they are happy drunks and not violent drunks.
That’s right, but if things get uncomfortable, I simply step away. I tend to slip away to the bathroom and never come back (laughter).
Going back to the new album and the forthcoming tour; how many of the new songs will make it onto the set list?
Well we are most definitely going to play Fearless, Indestructible and Autumn Leaves, although we won’t be playing Lost, or maybe we will; we will have to see how it goes once we have rehearsed it.
With your back catalogue increasing to twelve albums now, is it difficult for you to put a set list together for the tour?
Yes, it is a little bit because there are songs that we have really got to play. In my own opinion all about being in a band is that I am an entertainer and so by the nature of the beast, I have to entertain. There are people who spend an awful lot of money in order to come and see a show, and that’s not cheap. If I am honest with you, I am doing okay financially, but my wife recently wanted to go and see Billy Joel, and when I saw the price of the tickets I was like ‘what’ (laughter). I was calling everyone who I knew trying to get some free tickets (laughter). I honestly could not believe just how expensive those tickets were. So, taking all of that onboard; if people want to hear the songs that they grew up with; the songs that they love and the songs that take them back to a moment in time, then that is okay.
Part of our job is to facilitate that, and I also get to indulge myself and play some deeper cuts. There are a lot of fans out there who are very hard core, and so we will occasionally throw in a couple of songs from Superstar Car Wash, something like that, simply because I think that it is important for us to entertain those fans. We are starting to play a longer set now, which is good, but I still don’t understand just how Bruce Springsteen can play for over three hours; I just don’t get it. Once you get into the realms of three hours, that is no longer a concert, it suddenly becomes an event. Plus, you must remember that he changes the show every night. I wish that we did more of that. Having said that, his catalogue is so deep; he is working with over forty-five years’ worth of music. That really is a lot of music, it’s crazy.
You formed the band back in 1986. Could you ever have envisaged that you would still be doing it some thirty-four years later?
In one word; no. And that is why we still have the name Goo Goo Dolls. If I had thought that there was going to be a future in it, I would have most definitely changed that name to something a little more sensible. But then I think to myself The Smashing Pumpkins and Red Hot Chilli Peppers; our name is just as stupid as theirs’ (laughter).
Have you enjoyed the ride so far?
That’s interesting. We were recently talking about this during a very long van ride, and we just started talking about it. A guy that works with us said “what’s it been like” to which I replied, “well it was great, but you actually pay for it in ways that suck”. The thing that I personally like the least about it is when people treat me differently to any normal guy. Don’t get me wrong, I like having fans at our shows, but you need friends. Sometimes friends are lacking because you travel the world constantly, so you miss the roots. Then I begin to get envious of my friends that have stayed in the same place their whole lives. Then they get envious of me and you must be very careful because everyone wants to steal your money; the record companies and everybody out there wants to try and rip you off.
Along the way we have lost friends, we have lost marriages, but luckily we didn’t lose any children in the process, but we have pissed a lot of people off along the way just by the virtue of being successful. The big take away from that is, for me at least is that; you have to be around people who are happy for you when you are doing well. I do my best to be happy for everybody who is doing well, like them or not. Don’t get me wrong, it is not always easy, sometimes you think ‘that talentless piece of shit, how did he wind up being so successful’ (laughter). Then I take a step back and go ‘why not’. I think that it is better to want everybody to be happy than it is to wallow in self-pity and loathing. I gave up to comparing myself to other people a very long time ago now, but, take it from me, it is not always easy because this is also my job and I want to be great.
I was never any good at sports; I have always been athletic but in a private way. I have always worked out, taken care of my body, but I have never gotten into team sports or anything like that because I simply was never good at them. So, what I really got competitive about was music.
After all this time together, do you and Robby argue?
Yes (laughter). I can’t decide if we are an old married couple, or just a couple of brothers who are together in this band. After doing it for thirty something years it just makes you want to roll your eyes at each other sometimes (laughter). Having said all of that, there is no question about it, I love the guy. Only the other day we were screaming at each other over something stupid, so stupid that I can’t even remember what it was (laughter). It’s at moments like that when I start to think about Ray and Dave Davies of The Kinks getting into their fistfights (laughter). I think that a lot of it is down to proximity too. I live five hundred miles from Robby, so I think that that helps (laughter).
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
One of the highlights would have to be when we were nominated four times for a Grammy, and don’t get me wrong, that is very good for business, but winning one would have been nicer (laughter). The nomination was great; it bought so much press and so much attention to the band, that it really propelled us upwards a little bit. Thinking about it, I have got to say, a highpoint in my life was the day that I didn’t have to work a day job anymore. But having said that, it was also a little bit frightening because I had always been a bartender. I also had a food cart that I ran, and even though I had always played in a band, I had always got a couple of side hustles going on.
So finally, when I didn’t have to do those other things anymore and I had to dedicate myself to being a fulltime songwriter, it was a little frightening because I would often think ‘are you really a songwriter or is this just something that you do in your spare time’. Getting together with the band, writing songs, playing and doing all of that was a relief from doing all the drudgery of all of these menial labour jobs.
Testing your memory now, what was the first record that you bought?
The first record that my mom gave me the money to buy, which was one American dollar and six cents, because of the tax, that was exactly what she gave me (laughter). I went off to a local department store all on my own, and I bought a 45 of Fox On The Run by Sweet. That really was amazing. Plus, they gave me a free yellow adapter for the middle of the 45 (laughter).
Who did you first see performing live?
The first concert that I ever saw was Van Halen and I was around twelve years old at the time. I have to say that the whole experience was terrifying; I had never heard anything that loud before in my life. It was also the first time that I had ever smelt weed (laughter). I really was terrified, and I was heard to say that I never ever wanted to go to a live concert again. I think that seeing Van Halen was what propelled me into really seeking out different music and my older sisters were very much into bands like The Clash. What you have to remember is that in a town like Buffalo, New York, a band like The Clash back in 1982 never got played on the radio out there.
Over here in America The Clash had just the one hit which was Train In Vain. After that they didn’t have another hit in America until Should I Stay Or Should I Go and Rock The Casbah. When I was in High School, I bought my Echo & The Bunnymen Heaven Up Here album into school to give to a friend, and it was like if you didn’t like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Van Halen and all of those hair metal bands, they would give you shit like ‘Echo & The Bunnymen, well they sound like a bunch of pansies’ (laughter). The problem was that they were all frightened of something a little different.
What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
Oh my god, where the hell did that come from (laughter). I always get a lump in my throat whenever I hear Nobody Said It Was Easy by Coldplay. It is such a well written piece of music, plus it is also the sentiment of the song. There really is something about Chris Martins voice; he has got one of those once in a generation voices. I know that I will most probably catch shit because I like Coldplay but (laughter).
I must say that here in the UK there is a tendency to find a reason not to like Coldplay as opposed to finding a reason to like them.
Really, well you can edit that bit right out (laughter).
John, on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today; it’s been great, and I am hoping to be photographing you over here in Birmingham.
Thanks Kevin, I have loved talking to you man, it’s really been fun. I will make sure that I have shaved, and I promise to wear some clean clothes (laughter).