Lazy Eye interviewInterview • July 29, 1999 • Unknown source
"There are a lot of bands who go out and make a demo at 18, get signed, sell 4 million records, and then don't know enough to bring themselves back down to earth. You've gotta bring yourself down, because, dude, at 19, that is not your life. Someone gave you that life for a little while. You're 19 years old and you're gonna be spit out so fast. You're not royalty; you're just some schmuck. Your job is as important as the guy taking the tickets in front of the building. When it comes right down to it, you're just part of the process."
Words of advice from Goo Goo Dolls' co-founder Robby Takac, spoken by phone from Vancouver while rain poured outside his hotel window last Saturday. That night, the band was scheduled to play a huge outdoor concert. Takac hoped the current downpour wouldn't put a damper on things.
Maybe it's the weather that's made him so introspective. But over the course of an hour, Takac spoke from the heart about being a small-time punk rocker turned big-name star, and what it means to your career, your reputation, your life.
The first time I heard the Goo Goo Dolls was way back in '92, after staying up late on a Sunday night to watch 120 Minutes on MTV. When the video for "There You Are" came on, featuring Goo Goo vocalist John Rzeznick doing his best Paul Westerberg-style crooning over a punchy, punky power chord, I was intrigued.
It was the band's first video, and pretty much summed up their indie punk-rock sound and style -- three average Joes running around an empty Buffalo, New York, baseball stadium, smiling for the camera without a care in the world.
"We were happy being a punk rock band back then," Takac said, his voice and delivery a perfect match for cynical funnyman Dennis Leary. "We were happy with our little victories. Nirvana was just starting to happen -- everything was just starting to happen -- but things weren't happening very quickly for us. We would see bands zip by us on the way up, and eventually zip past us going the other way.
"When guitar bands started to get signed, we thought we had more of a chance. The odd thing was, as all that stuff was getting unpopular, our career started to take off. Maybe that's because we're not just a loud guitar band."
Which takes us to1998. Riding the success of their million-selling 1995 album, A Boy Named Goo, which featured the smash ballad, "Name," the Goo Goo Dolls went on to record the most played song on radio in 1998, "Iris," the theme from the Nick Cage/Meg Ryan chick flick, City of Angels. It netted them three Grammy nominations and a first class ticket out of the smoky punk bars and into sold-out arenas.
The band's legion of leather-clad, black turtleneck-wearing indie-music fans had been replaced by hordes of 14-year-old girls who look like Bryan Adams' fans from the '80s. Takac denies the band went out of its way to change its musical style. In his defense, the Goo Goo's latest, Dizzy Up the Girl, contains a number of punk-pop tunes mixed among the ballads that could easily have been released on their '91 indie anthem Hold Me Up.
"I think our sound has changed as much as someone who is 28 years old changes when he turns 35," Takac said. "Back then, we were really terrified to turn our guitars down. Not so much because we thought people would say we were pussies. We just weren't confident enough in our playing or songwriting to actually think we could have an impact without a turn-it-up-to-11 mentality."
Another difference was working with producer Rob Cavallo, who Takac said taught them that power comes with subtlety. "When we started this record, I sat down with Rob and said 'I want to know why this Led Zeppelin record and this Black Sabbath record sound so huge even though they're the worst guitar songs I've ever heard in my life,'" Takac said. "The power lies in so many different places. A perfectly placed shaker sounds every bit as intense as a Marshall on 10 if it's done correctly."
The formula seems to be potent. As of mid-July, "Dizzy… " has risen to the No. 57 spot on the Billboard Top 200 and has already gone double-platinum. But what about the cost to the band's so-called "indie cred?" Takac has no apologies for fans that have turned their backs on the band because they've managed to crawl their way out of the indie bar scene.
"Having been someone who for years could say 'We've got indie cred,' the term basically meant that critics liked us but we weren't selling any records," Takac said. "A lot of people hide behind that term. Look, no one doesn't want to sell 2 million records. Anyone who makes a demo in an 8-track studio wants to sell 2 million copies of it. And if you don't, you're an idiot. The more people who get to hear your music, the more people who come to see you play, buy your records, know your songs. It just makes it more fun."
Even so, Takac said it was hard for the band to walk away from a lifestyle that glorifies anonymity. "When 'Name' started to get big, we started getting calls to be on fuckin' Dick Clark's New Year's Eve Show, or 90210 or Friday Night Videos," he said. "At first, we'd be like, 'oh gee, I don't know. What's everyone gonna think?' And it wasn't 20 seconds before John and I were looking at each other and saying, 'Who cares what they think?' Are we going to be so pretentious and lofty as to say our music is not for the main stream? Our music is for us; whatever happens, happens."
But along with the success comes accusations of selling out for a big label record deal. It's a story that everyone from R.E.M. to Trent Reznor to any band that's played on MTV or radio eventually has to hear. The Goo Goos are no exception. "We've been on a major label for half of our career," Takac said, "and I have been fucked worse by indie labels than I've ever been by a major label. The problem with the whole indie world right now is that it's become a status thing. There's a lot of Southern California pop punk bands out there who are selling lots of records and getting millions and millions of dollars from major labels, and they're still trying to tote themselves as some sort of poster children for indie punk rock.
"I want to tell them, 'For God's sake, take off that $700 shirt if you're gonna do that, and give all your money to start a label and make other little bands marginally successful. But don't sit back in your mansion on the side of the hill and say "Man, we are still so punk." Whatever… just make your records, man, and stop it.'"
Takac said the cost for those bands of maintaining the hip, indie lifestyle while juggling a million-dollar record deal is a brief career. "They find a very simple recipe and stick to it. The problem is, they're not gonna be around in 15 years. People are going to expect the same thing every time they put out a record, and eventually are going to get sick of it. And then they're stuck having a 6-year career, putting out the same record three times."
Though they may be enjoying the view from the top of the heap these days, are the Goo Goo Dolls immune to the fickle tastes of today's music buyer, who six months ago ordained Marilyn Manson as the high priest of pop culture, only to see him fall six months later to Ricky Martin? If or when the fall comes, Takac is ready.
"I think that it's inevitable," he said. "I can't see us as the Goo Goo Dolls being an influential band for another 20 years. I think that would be foolish, and we'd look foolish being 55 in a band called The Goo Goo Dolls. As people, John and I will still be relevant, but it will have to move beyond this. Although, 15 years ago, I would have never thought I'd be here, doing a Goo Goo Dolls interview.
"Our biggest fear is looking as retarded as Foreigner does now, or Journey traveling around with Steve Augeri on lead vocals."
Despite all that, the present is looking pretty good for the Goo Goos, right? Takac's view of life on the road as a superstar: "It's pretty fucked up, really," he said. "Since last August, I've done my own laundry once, I haven't made a bed, haven't taken out the trash, I haven't driven myself but three or four times in a car. All the things that happen in your life peripherally you have to put out of the way, so you can go out and do what you do."
So does he really miss taking out the trash or doing the wash? "Yeah, or having discussions with your loved ones about what's fucked up in your life. You don't want to bring yourself down out here. It's easy enough. I've been home maybe a total of two weeks since last August, you've got to try to keep your stiff upper lip out here."
Meanwhile, back home in Buffalo, Takac says, time seems to have ground to a halt. "I've been to Japan twice this year, Europe three times, Australia twice, to New Zealand, across the entire United States three times and Canada once. We've done an awful lot. And then you come home, the same asses are planted in the same barstools like they never left. What the fuck are these people thinking? Get up, do something! At least go to another bar to hang out."
If he sounds cranky or bitter, Takac is anything but that, laughing good-heartedly throughout the interview. You can tell he hasn't been jaded by the whole music business.
"I don't know how you get jaded when good things are happening to you," Takac said. "It's like, 'Oh Jesus, I'm selling millions of records and I'm doing sold out shows. This sucks.' No, that don't suck. 'Suck' is trying to pull your record off for $15,000 and driving around in a van for six months. What's always weird to me is that when no one wants to talk to you, you're trying to talk to everybody. The second everyone wants to talk to you, no one wants to talk to anyone anymore. We realize, especially in this day and age, that if you go away for a year, they forget who you are, and you have to come back in swinging with all the viciousness you did before.
"It's all just part of the process," Takac adds. "Someone can always get plugged into your spot. I'm not James Brown. It's not a guarantee anymore, not even for R.E.M. "
Yeah, but what about the Rolling Stones? "That's human oddities," he says, laughing. "Like the guy with the 2-foot prick. It's not the norm."
Printed in The Reader July 29, 1999.
Copyright © 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.