Unfamiliar territory, Q&A with Goo Goo Dolls lead singer John Rzeznik

InterviewApril 6, 2011News Press Now

St. Joe Live

The Goo Goo Dolls have been rocking out and penning ballads for a quarter century.

After forming in 1986, the band spent nearly a decade crafting a grungy punk rock sound. The Goo Goo Dolls achieved a little fame in 1993 but didn’t truly break through until 1995, when John Rzeznik took the reins as lead singer and the album “A Boy Named Goo” blew up on the radio powered by the high-adrenaline rocker “Long Way Down” and the polished, acoustic-driven “Name.”

The Goo Goo Dolls followed up with its first true pop album, “Dizzy Up the Girl,” in 1998. Just about anyone in America who could legally rent a car will tell you how unavoidable that record was. “Slide,” “Black Balloon,” “Dizzy” and “Broadway” were all top 10 hits, but it was “Iris” — an admittedly amazing love ballad featured in the film “City of Angels” — that shot the band into superstardom.

The Goos have since released three more albums and crafted a few more significantly played singles with “Here Is Gone,” “Sympathy,” “Big Machine,” “Give a Little Bit,” “Better Days,” “Stay With You” and “Let Love In.” And although the group hasn’t returned to the three times platinum success of “Dizzy Up the Girl,” it has maintained a pop radio presence and a large, loyal fanbase.

The trio also has ventured into unfamiliar territory in the past year. The band’s newest album, “Something For the Rest of Us,” features 12 songs written about people enduring hardship in the modern day. And to support the album, the band is going on an unusual tour.

One of those stops will take place at 8 p.m. April 15 at the Lamkin Activities Center (Bearcat Arena) at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Mo.

St. Joe Live recently talked with Rzeznik about the new album, upcoming tour and the legacy of the Goo Goo Dolls among many subjects. Here’s what he had to say:

St. Joe Live: Tell me a little bit about this upcoming tour. Is there a lot of production or is it stripped down? I ask because you’re going to be playing very different venues each night — from colleges and casinos to arenas and a baseball stadium.

Rzeznik: (Laughs). I’m not too sure about what the production is. I haven’t been to a production meeting yet, so I’m not sure what we have planned out. Um, it’ll look like a rock show. That’s for sure.

Live: Well, that’s good.

Rzeznik: (Laughs) Yeah, it’ll be loud and there will be lots of lights flashing. But that’s all I know. I’m there to play music.

Live: OK. Let’s talk about the new album, “Something For the Rest of Us.” Most songwriters focus on their personal goings-on when they write, but you made this album to give a voice to the emotional uncertainty that accompanies these “hard times.” Why did you and the band want to provide that voice?

Rzeznik: Because I have friends who have gone through some really bad times the past couple of years — losing their homes, losing their families. A lot of it is just through financial hardship. And the theme underneath that is what it’s like to live in a society that’s been on high alert for 10 years. I think people are feeling stressed out and a little more hopeless. I wanted to reflect a little on that.

Live: What inspired the song “Notbroken”? I heard that it was about a soldier in Iraq who was paralyzed and was ashamed to come back. What’s the story there?

Rzeznik: I met his wife at a meet-and-greet and spoke to her for a couple of minutes. She gave me a letter and he was just having a hard time coming back and adjusting. You know, he had his life changed in an instant. I was really kind of moved by it, so I took it upon myself to write a song for her to him.

Live: Why did you guys choose “Home” as the first single from the new album? It seems different musically. It’s more piano and drum-driven.

Rzeznik: Yeah! We just thought it was more of an up-tempo song. We wanted to come out swinging with an up-tempo number, so we chose that. The guys at the record company were OK with that. So everybody agreed on one song, which is good, because it usually winds up in a big battle between everybody about what we’re going to do (laughs).

Live: A lot of what’s popular right now is kind of this fun, party-style escapism. Ke$ha immediately comes to mind. Even this Rebecca Black “Friday” video is blowing up right now.

Rzeznik: (Laughs loudly) I finally saw that the other day! And now I can’t get it out of my head!

Live: Oh, I can’t either. It’s terrible! I don’t want it in my head, but it’s there. Anyway, were there any concerns that a serious record, like the one that you put out, wouldn’t be well-received? Or was it more of a situation where you’re an artist and you had to get this out of you?

Rzeznik: I think at a certain level, all songwriting is a little bit selfish. And you have to follow the path that your brain is on at that time. And, yeah, it might have been commercial suicide (laughs). I don’t know. But at this point, I’m like “meh.” You know, I just said what I wanted to say and I’m sure it’s not as popular as a lot of music. But in bad times, I think people are drawn to music that makes them forget things and there is a level of escapism. So, it is what it is. This is something I needed to do, so I did it. And whatever the outcome ultimately is, that’s the way it is.

Live: Although you were writing other peoples’ stories for this record, what song did you personally connect to the most? Like, was there any song that you could look at and say you lived through?

Rzeznik: Wow. A song like “Nothing is Real.” We’re sort of moving around and feeling like you’re not exactly sure where home is. Through the process of making this record, I kind of realized some things about myself. It’s like, where is home? I’ve been debating where I want to live, and my girlfriend’s from the East Coast and I’ve been living on the West Coast for 12 years. And we just moved back to the East Coast. Through all of this, it made me realize that home is where people care whether you live or die (laughs). And they’re happy just to see you when they see you.

Live: I know Robby (Takac; the bass player for the Goo Goo Dolls) sang “Now I Hear” and “Say You’re Free” on the new record. I’m just curious — why did you guys want him to sing on those two tracks?

Rzeznik: Robby does a couple of songs on every album and he’s been my partner in this for a long time. That’s what was on his mind and it was cool. He wrote the lyrics and I kind of helped him dot his I’s and cross his T’s. That’s about it.

Live: Well, I know Robby was the lead singer for the group early on. So now, when you perform live, do you play anything from before “A Boy Named Goo”? For a while, it didn’t seem like you were playing anything from before that era.

Rzeznik: Yeah! We were discussing playing some stuff from “Superstar Car Wash” (1993 album) because that was a really good record and it was passed over, you know. It’s one of those situations where I feel like if someone is paying $35 or $40 or whatever it’s costing, they come to see us play all of our hits. And you try go deeper with some of those old albums, but it’s kind of like you were blessed with having some commercial success. You have big songs and people want to hear those. We like to perform them and we just hope people have a good time.

Live: I was just curious because I’m sure there are people who WOULD like to hear the deep cuts from those early years.

Rzeznik: We discussed that. And we always try to slide in a couple of them here and there during sets, but it’s a dilemma, you know. Do we have enough time?

Live: What’s the biggest difference between performing now compared to your 20s and 30s when the band was still trying to make a name for itself?

Rzeznik: Wow. What’s the difference? (Laughs.)

Live: Maybe it comes a little more natural now?

Rzeznik: It definitely comes more natural. I feel more comfortable doing it. I know that I can handle it, whatever stage I’m on. But I still get nervous!

Live: Really?

Rzeznik: Yeah. Every night, you stand at the side of the stage and they turn off the lights. And you’re like, “Well, I can’t run and hide. So I better get out there and do it.”

Live: Obviously, the Goo Goo Dolls have a lot of fans who have been there since the ’90s. But do you feel the band has a swelling young fanbase? I ask because you’re playing a lot of college shows like the one you’re playing in Maryville. You know, a lot of these college freshmen were only 3 years old when “A Boy Named Goo” came out.

Rzeznik: A lot of the parents brought their kids up on those records. I find it interesting that teenagers and a lot of people in their 20s come out. We’ve been on the radio consistently for a while, so they really grew up with those songs. We’re NOT the young new artists that we were at one point — breaking in — and we’re seeing a generational change. Who knows? Some day, we might be completely obsolete. It’s like, we have to get out there while we can (laughs). If people are still listening, I’m going to play.

Live: Was there ever a time when you were sick of playing “Iris” or “Slide” or “Black Balloon” or any of the gigantic hits you guys had?

Rzeznik: You know what? I’ve got to be honest with you. Nope. I have friends that are “rock stars” who have had really big hits that made a fortune. One night, I was sitting at the bar with a guy who will remain nameless. And he said, “I can’t play that song one more time! I’ll kill myself if I have to play it!” And I said to him, “Dude, you wrote that song. And because you wrote that song and people pay you money to hear you play that song, it’s why you can afford that house you live in.” It’s like these people pay you rent, dude. I always looked at like I was really lucky that somebody listened.

Live: Do you have a favorite song you like to play live?

Rzeznik: I like playing “Notbroken.” And I really love playing a song called “All Eyes On Me” and, of course, “Long Way Down.” I just love those rockin’ songs! You get the energy up in the room.

Live: Since “Dizzy Up the Girl,” you’ve put out an album every four years. Is that a pattern you’re going to continue or is there an urgency to put the next one out faster?

Rzeznik: I already started working on the next record in my downtime. And on days off, I’ve been writing out on the road. It’s too long between records. And we ain’t getting any younger! It’s one of those things where we need to step on the gas here. If it’s good, I’ll continue with it and complete it. But if it’s not good, I’m going to take my time with it and make sure I’m doing something I’m proud of. The world is moving very quickly.

Live: So when do you want to put it out?

Rzeznik: In the middle of next year. We’re going to tour through the summer and then we’re going to Europe to do some festivals. After that, I’m going to do my best to shut it down and work. Give myself a six-month window.

Live: You mentioned that four years is too long. I don’t think it used to be too long, but there are just too many bands now. There’s a flood of music and it’s like there’s something new every week.

Rzeznik: Also, I’ve kind of wondered about the merits of putting an entire album out now. It’s a single-driven world now. I was playing with this idea — and I was talking to this guy at the record company about it and I don’t know how he really feels about it — but if you write a song that you think is really good every month or every other month, put it out. Put it on iTunes and promote it. I mean, no one’s buying albums.

Live: Are there any up-and-coming bands that you’ve gotten into recently?

Rzeznik: There’s a band called Deerhunter that I really love. I think they’re really great. And even though they’re not a new band, I love Tegan and Sara. And I was really, REALLY into the Silversun Pickups for a while. They’re like a modern Smashing Pumpkins and I love that. Um, Mumford & Sons and Kings of Leon had some great songs. There’s a lot of good music out there.

Live: What can the fans expect from your show in Maryville? How long are you guys going to be playing each night?

Rzeznik: We’re generally playing an hour and a half or a little bit longer. It depends on what time you go on, the curfew and all that nonsense. I think the college shows are going to be a lot of fun with that young energy. And everyone’s there to have a good time. When I was in college, I used to work all the shows. You get the T-shirt and you get to load cases into trucks. “Oh my God! I just got to see Johnny Ramone! Oh my God!” It was really a lot of fun.