Interview: John Rzeznik of Goo Goo DollsInterview • August 8, 2022 • The Big Takeover
by Katherine Yeske Taylor
For their thirteenth studio album, Chaos in Bloom, beloved alternative rock band Goo Goo Dolls are examining the unsettled (and unsettling) status of the world these days. It’s a more thoughtful and forthright approach than many bands tend to employ, which may explain why the duo – vocalist/guitarist John Rzeznik and bassist/vocalist Robby Takac – have had so many hits across their four-decade career together: “Name,” “Iris,” “Slide,” “Black Balloon,” “Give a Little Bit,” “Better Days,” and many more. During a recent phone call, Rzeznik was just as candid as he talked about the new album, the band’s summer/fall tour (full dates listed below), the current (and future) state of the world, and what drew him to playing music in the first place.
What can people expect when they come to one of your shows this month and next?
JOHN RZEZNIK: I’m a huge proponent of being an entertainer. I feel like you’ve got to play all your hits, definitely. I get really annoyed at musicians who are like, ‘No, I just can’t play that song again.’ I’m always like, “You ungrateful bastard. That song bought you a house in the Hollywood Hills. What’s your problem?” But anyway – the summer tours are really big, so you get more casual type fans coming out to that, because everybody likes to go out in the summer to hear the hits. And you’ve got to play them for them. But you’ve got to throw a few deeper cuts or oddballs in there for your more hardcore fans.
And also songs from this new album?
JOHN RZEZNIK: Yeah, it’s always a terrifying thing to play the new songs. Just because I’m always worried that the audience is going to be standing there looking at me with their mouths hanging open, going, “What?”
How are you feeling as you’re coming up on a release date for another album?
JOHN RZEZNIK: I’m happy that I did it. I’m proud of it. I worked really hard, and I think it was a pretty honest reflection of where my head is at, at this point in my life. Just trying to be an observer, that’s all.
Why “Chaos In Bloom” as the album title?
JOHN RZEZNIK: I was listening to some old Chameleons records, and that’s a line in a song. [“Tears,” in 1986.] I just thought, “Oh, chaos in bloom – that’s kind of the times we live in.”
You produced this album yourself – the first time you’ve done that. How did you know you were ready to do that?
JOHN RZEZNIK: I have to preface that with, I had a lot of help. I wanted time and space to really explore my ideas and also, I’m a huge collector of vintage recording equipment – microphones, amps, guitars, pedals. This ridiculous collection of stuff. And I wanted the opportunity to try and grab some more unique sounds, because most of the time when you’re working with producers, because the way of the modern world of music works, you have to be in and out [of the studio] so fast. So I had the budget and the time, and I was just like, “Yeah, I’m going to dig into the sonics and use the studio like an instrument.” I find with producers that most of them don’t have the time or the inclination to really explore. They have a process that they follow, because there’s not a lot of money left in recording budgets. I think that limits a lot of the creativity that goes on. So if I’m not paying a producer and I have a decent budget from my patrons at Warner Brothers, I got a chance to make something that I felt had some more teeth and some more weight to it.
But with self-producing, it can be hard to know when to stop tinkering with things.
JOHN RZEZNIK: Well, that became the problem. It did. And that’s when I was like, “Okay, I’m in over my head.” I love collaborating with my friend Gregg Wattenberg, so when it was time to do the vocals, I was like, “I can’t produce my own vocals, because I would still be there singing.” So he came in right at the end and pushed it across the finish line with me. I think the results are really good. At that point in time, I was ready for someone else to give their opinion and work with me.
Did you have any particular themes or ideas you were hoping to get across this time?
JOHN RZEZNIK: I’m not into making political statements anymore. It’s too dangerous. But it’s been a really insane few years. Living through the pandemic, and the division in our country over everything, is exhausting. And I worry. I worry that maybe we’re falling apart. I think that the album is a reflection of that anxiety. At least, I hope it is. Things sort of unfold in front of me. Like when I’m working in the studio or writing, things kind of unpack themselves in front of me, and then the song starts to lead me. I start leading the song, and then at some point in the process, it shifts, and the song is leading me.
Your lyrics are evocative – how did you learn to write like that?
JOHN RZEZNIK: I don’t know. I barely made it through high school! Took a couple of college English classes. I just read a ton of books and listened to a lot of music. I like poetry. But I don’t like the poetry that everybody says you’re supposed to like. That’s a great question; I just don’t know how to answer it.
What about musically? When you started this band, did you have a particular sound in mind?
JOHN RZEZNIK: Everything evolves constantly. It has to. I taught myself how to play, so it was what it was. I couldn’t play music like other people played, because I had no education for music. I had no money to get a music education. I had to go to vocational school to learn a trade, because I was brought up in a very blue collar place. And I still have a lot of those values, which I think is how this band has stayed together, because Robby [Takac] and I share those same kind of working-class values. “Working class” is becoming start of an antiquated term these days, but I like to work. And I think people underestimate the power of hard work, and the meaning and the purpose that it gives your life. And also having a sense of community. I’m really starting to feel this need for community and a tribe in my own life. And I think people in general are starting to realize, “Wait a minute, hold on, these five thousand people on Facebook aren’t my friends! They didn’t show up on my birthday, and they’re not there when it’s moving day!” You know what I mean? You need real people in your life. It’s getting harder and harder to be a human. I know this sounds wonky and weird, but I was reading these essays and speeches by Henry Kissinger, and he was talking about artificial intelligence and the deeper implications of it. These masters of the universe that are going to make everything robotic, I hate to tell them, but there’s going to be eight billion people on this planet, and I think people may revolt against the robots. And I see this bifurcation happening where it’s like the established order is really being challenged – and the established order is going to fight back as hard as they can because they do not want to relinquish power. And what I fear is seeing the dissolution of our union and the rise of totalitarianism, where the few control the many. That’s why I think the next few months are going to be really, really crucial. Because they have to get rid of the filibuster. There has to be some way of leveling the playing field, because the whole thing is unfair. And they have to get rid of the Electoral College. And now here I am: I said I don’t want to talk about politics, but now I’m talking about politics! But it’s life. You know what amazes me, is how many people I feel alienated from. That I was good friends with, and we’re not as close as we used to be because of politics. And it’s like, really? It’s a ridiculous game. Keeping people divided along racial, ethnic, religious lines. That’s just a trick of rich people. They’ve been doing that since the 1500s. I opened up my big, stupid mouth at a show. It was after the election and I was just like, “You know, statistically, half this room voted for Trump, half the room voted for Hillary.” And I got booed twice! [laughs] So I said, “At least the one thing we can agree on is music.” Then I got cheers. But that’s the thing: music, and live music especially, you get all these people in the room together, and they’re sharing a common experience, and it’s a visceral one. And that is something that artificial intelligence and the metaverse is never going to be able to recreate. Never. At the deepest core, and the deepest, most primal part of our brains, we understand that we need to belong. And all this artificial belonging is wearing off, and it’s causing a lot of chaos.