Twenty-eight years in, the Goo Goo Dolls are still evolving

InterviewJune 18, 2014Charleston City Paper

Kids everywhere dream of becoming rock 'n' roll stars, but few ever reach that goal. And once they get there, few of those stars remain there for very long, which makes the Goo Goo Dolls something of a rarity. Looking back on a ride that has spanned 28 years, bassist and vocalist Robby Takac — who along with singer and guitarist Johnny Rzeznik form the core of the band — views his band's journey with an appropriate sense of wonder, because even he didn't think the group would have this kind of sustained success.

"We all thought we'd have normal jobs long before now, that's for sure," Takac laughs. "When you start off in a band as a kid, you're programmed to think that eventually you're going to grow up and make your way into real life, but fortunately — or unfortunately, I'm not sure — we've never really found that normal life."

Their version of real life has seen them sell millions of records, earn nominations for multiple Grammy awards, win multiple ASCAP awards, and create megahit songs like "Name" from their 1995 breakthrough record A Boy Named Goo and "Iris" from the City of Angels soundtrack. Dizzy Up the Girl (1998) alone produced five Top-10 radio hits and went on to be certified triple platinum. For a while you couldn't go anywhere without hearing one of the band's songs playing overhead.

"For so many years we've had the support of an amazing group of people across the planet who've stuck with us record after record," Takac admits. "The desire to do this is one thing, having the ability is another, but the rest of it is fate. We've been really lucky."

The reach of the Goo Goo Dolls has gone beyond their impact on the band's fanbase. For Takac, the band's music has also given him a lot of really great stories and demonstrates how music is woven into the fabric of his life.

He adds, "So many aspects of my life today come back to music. I met my wife in Japan because I was playing music. That never would have happened otherwise. Every time some kid walks up to me and says 'Your record's been in my house since I was born, and I used to listen to it with my parents,' that means a lot to me. Every time I hear something like that, it's all connected to what music has become in my life."

Given that Takac and Rzeznik have been together so long, it's no surprise their latest studio album, 2013's Magnetic, has a different vibe from the band's nine other records. The new songs have more of a pop-oriented feel than previous releases, and the group took a new approach to creating them, which Takac feels gave the tracks a chance to breathe and stand out on their own.

While Magnetic does contain some classic Goo Goo Dolls material — Rzeznik employs his trademark star-scraping vocals in the pop-rock number "Slow it Down," and Takac himself leads the charge on "Bringing on the Light" when the song's rock elements kick in — there are new wrinkles throughout. Numbers like "More of You" and "Rebel Beat" feel like a chip off the old Imagine Dragons block with their hip-hop-meets-pop sensibilities, while the echoing, almost ambient rock quality of "Bullet Proof Angel" calls to mind what might happen if Enya ever got involved with the band.

Add to this the driving rock of songs like "Last Hot Night" and you have a recipe for an album that honors what fans have come to love — the Goo Goo Dolls' knack for catchy melodies and anthemic choruses for example — without giving them the same thing 11 times on the album. Takac, for one, was intrigued by where the songs were going during the creative process, and he has a unique take on songwriting that most probably have not considered.

"You know, the right Lady Gaga song could very well be a Foo Fighters song because it's chords, it's lyrics, you know?" Takac laughs. "I'm one who definitely likes to write music first and then see where the song drags me, lyrically, which was an interesting exercise this time because musically the songs went in a much different direction than I had anticipated. I had written lyrics based on these other interpretations of the songs, so it sort of made for an interesting twist in my process this time."

And that is one of the things that excites Takac almost 30 years into the Goo Goo Dolls' existence: the fact that music can continue to evolve and that Takac and Rzeznik can evolve with it.

"When we started, I was a heavy metal kid, and John was a punk rock kid, and we wanted to make as much noise as we could and annoy people as much as possible," Takac says. "As we grew up though, we learned how to derive power from places other than loud amplifiers and screaming, and we were able to develop into what we are now. A lot of bands don't get that chance. The fact that we spent the first 10 years touring, making records, and making all our mistakes was great for us."