Interview with Johnny Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls

InterviewJuly 13, 2011Limité Magazine

You know the band’s name and you know their songs. I can guarantee that you have heard many of their songs on the radio over the years. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the band. Many bands after 25 years will take the easy route and stick to playing their hits, but the Goo Goo Dolls aren’t interested in that, instead the band continues to write, record and release new music. I recently had a chance to sit down with lead singer/founder Johnny Rzeznik minutes before he took the stage for a special intimate concert as part of the About On Tour with SPGÆ program for Starwood Preferred Guest members at the W Hotel in Union Square.

LM: Congrats on the success of the latest album. And now you guys have a single on the summer’s biggest blockbuster Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon. So tell me, what do you think keep’s you guys going?

JR: As long as we can still do something that’s relevant it’s cool with me. If I start to feel like we’re becoming solely a nostalgia act then it’s time to hang it up.

LM: So you have the same line-up for close to 20 years now and there’s not that many bands out there that can say that without hearing about the drama, rehab, break-ups, divorces, fight fights, etc.

JR: (Haha). We just keep things concealed and under wraps better than others.

LM: Now you have been playing with bassist Robby Takac since 1986 and drummer Mike Malinin since 1995, so, what is about these guys that just clicks?

JR: It’s very much like a family. Some days it’s good and some days it’s not. But you work your way through it and you get on with it. We have learned to respect each other’s boundaries and we’ve all gone on to get married and divorced and married whatever. We all live in different cities and for a while that kind of freaked me out, and I had moved back here to the East Coast and Robbie lives in Buffalo and Mike lives in LA, and we’re sorta based in LA, that’s where all our gear is.

LM: Is it safe to say that with the amount of time you have spent on the road, and still do, you guys have become used to living out of suitcases?

JR: Yeah. I do most of the writing on my own and I can be anywhere to do that and pop out to LA for a week and do some demos with the band.

LM: What is it about music today that gets you excited or inspired? I mean what is it that still drives you?

JR: What is it that drives me? The fact that you can still make an actual connection in somebody’s life, even if it’s just for a second. That you’re sharing a moment with somebody. What still surprises me and is most satisfying about my job is when you see a group of people singing the words to your song. That, THAT’S pretty intense. That can get a little heavy or you can be incredibly grateful for it. So I try to air on the side of gratitude.

LM: It amazes me how hearing a song can take you back to a moment in your life. Hearing “Name” still reminds me of my girlfriend at that time. Itís been quite some time but the minute I hear that song its like “Wow”.

JR: I think it’s what makes music so powerful. It becomes like this snapshot and you can just remember everything in such vivid detail when that song sets the mood. That’s why you gotta be really careful to what kind of music you make love to. (Haha). Like Motorhead can really fuck your head up (Haha).

LM: But all joking aside I think that’s another great thing about your songs is that you find a way to connect. Your lyrics are not cookie-cutter they’re well thought out, they have meaning. And I don’t want to say heart-on-a-string songs as you have some really rocking songs, but songs like Name, these songs can become people’s wedding songs, the first kiss song, the first dance song, etc. I think it’s great to see that you’re still out there making music that’s relevant in these times. Where do you see you guys going now? I mean let’s face facts the industry has changed tremendously. The days of the major labels controlling an artist’s life has almost come to an end and artists today don’t really need distribution cause of the internet. But where do you guys see yourself continuing down the road?

JR: The old school model is definitely done. Everybody knows it’s dead. And I see us gaining more and more control over what we’re doing. I just got out of the longest publishing deal in the history of music and through making mistakes along the way. But, now I’m sorta sitting here going, Well, do I need to go get another deal? I could do it myself. I think that’s the great thing about the web it’s changing the playing field. But, for a band like us, it does a lot of good. But I think for a lot of new bands that are just coming up, its so much harder getting noticed and it’s so much harder to make a career for yourself. It’s tough, you know? It’s tough when young guys ask me What’s your advice for us. I tell them “You better mean what you say and keep your head down and keep going. Keep working and take any little victory you can and keep running with it”.

LM: It’s an interesting thing now. You guys are seen as the elder statesmen and you’re not doing the nostalgia hits tour, instead the band continues to put out new music. Has there been a situation where the band has thought about being that mentor to help a new band or artist under your wing?

JR: Yeah. I mean I’ve produced a couple of new artists or they were new artists at the time and that was an “interesting” job. You really have to be, I learned you really have to be, gentle with people. I mean while you’re kicking them in the ass. Making an album is like making an emotionally scarring experience. You gotta handle them with kid gloves and then get on with it. I have some ideas about publishing where I would like to work for a publishing company and find talent and help record that talent even if they don’t have that record deal. Help them to find places and homes for their songs where these young bands can earn some money and keep their careers going. And then sort of accelerate their careers by you know, using the web and placements through televisions ads, films, video games and all that. Those other places and then helping propel the band in to having a career that they can actually make a living at. And then maybe down the road they can sell records.

LM: I definitely think its valuable for new bands and you, yourself having gone through the publishing thing and all that. And it with it not being an obviously pleasant thing to experience you can them share that knowledge with them and help steer them away from the pratfalls to avoid.

JR: I’m actually willing to share my mistakes with people. I am always willing to own the mistakes I’ve made with people because it’s how you learn.

LM: Well it’s like a cycle. You were once that naive student in need of guidance and now here it is you’ve become the teacher. I really think that it’s important to give back.

JR: Absolutely. I like doing a lot of work with ASCAP. I like doing panel discussions with ASCAP and workshops cause it’s all that’s really important. They have been really helpful with our career. And our publishing company was extremely helpful with us. They were very fair to us. It’s just through a series of misadventures in the early 90′s that I ended up with a 20 year publishing deal. You know?

LM: Well, I imagine at the time 20 years felt like something of an eternity.

JR: Yeah I had made a deal with myself. You have until you turn to 30 to make a living doing this. And if you’re not, you gotta go back to school and get a real life. And when I was 29 everything just came together. And once we got the ball we just kept running with it. That was the most important thing. We did a lot of things and some of those things we took a lot of heat for but it helped the band survive and get to the next place.

LM: I think another thing that you guys are known for is sticking to your guns. You knew what you were good at and you never let anyone tell you different. You never went off that path but at the same time you were also never afraid. My first experience with the band was Long Way Down which is a really rocking tune, and then you also had the ballads side of you. Longtime fans of the band know that you guys are a rock n roll band at heart.

JR: The radio audience has a lot of people that really don’t know the band has a huge body of work that hasn’t really seen the light of day. And all my musical heroes like Paul Westerberg, Bob Mould, and Lennon and McCartney have always wrote ballads on. I think that its gives them balance and sort of depth. It gives the album a 3D quality to change the mood up. I enjoy that and I’m good at it. So I figure “Why not do it?” But at the same time, I’m a freak for guitar amps and pedals.

LM: So last question. New bands today. Who are you hearing that are catching your ear? I mean there are a million bands out there, but who stands out?

RZ: Adele. I mean Adele obviously. She is just completely undeniable in every way. This band called Deerhunter that I really like. I like Band of Horses I like them a lot. The Hold Steady and Van Iver. God, there’s so much good music out there. Mumford and Sons, TV on the Radio, Arcade Fire, The Airbourne Toxic Event.

LM: So before we end, where can we catch the band next?

JR: The band is out for the next 7 weeks in the States and then we’ll hit the UK after that.

Having been a long time of the band it was a pleasure to sit down with Johnny and pick his brain. My thanks to the folks over at Digital Brand Architects who arranged the whole thing. Be sure to catch Goo Goo Dolls on tour and you can also hear their single “All That You Are” on the movie soundtrack for Transformers: Dark of the Moon.