By Carol Anne Szel
In the mid-’80s, the Goo Goo Dolls came on to the music scene as this band of rebellious, punk, angry young men, ready to take on the world with their incensed sound of angst and abandon in the suburban working-class city of Buffalo New York. Far, far away from the niche of punk/alternative crowd of musicians banding around hot spots of New York City, the Goo Goo Dolls had an even more difficult hurdle to jump to clear and pass the popular sounds of that day with the likes of Madonna, Debbie Gibson, and New Kids On The Block dominating the top of the charts.
Goo Goo Dolls’ musical history reads almost like something out of a rock and roll handbook. Struggling for over a decade with albums that received great critical acclaim but relatively mediocre commercial success, the band found themselves with their first hit tune, “Name” in 1995 from their “A Boy Named Goo” release and toured relentlessly for the next couple of years, hot on the heals of that triumph. Solidifying their spot on the radar, however, came with a song they penned for the “City Of Angels” movie soundtrack, “Iris,” which ended up living almost a year on the Billboard Charts with seventeen of those weeks at the # 1 spot.
Now 24 years and 10 million albums later, this trio led by singer Johnny Rzeznik and rounded out by guitarist and co-founder Robby Takac, and drummer Mike Malnin, has brought their lyrical content back to a more mature sense of socially conscious urgency in a more introspective and thoughtful musical manner with the release of “Something For The Rest Of Us.”
Catching up with Rzeznik these days proved to be no easy task. With the end of their successful nationwide summer tour, I had the chance to spend time with this charismatic singer/songwriter to find a musician with candor, a great deal of real emotion, and ultimately an afternoon filled with intensely smart conversation.
I was looking at some of the Goo Goo Dolls’ bits and pieces of information on the internet. One outlet said you had gone from “old drunk thrash rockers,” to now being “modern rock superstars.” Is that a valid comparison of where you were to where you are now?
JR: I think so, yeah. I think a lot of writers hold that against us. That we didn’t disintegrate and we grew up but evolved into something else. But I’d always written like slow songs and ballads and that kind of thing. For a long time all I wanted to be was Paul Westerberg. All I wanted to be was The Replacements, that’s what we wanted to be. They were like everything we wanted to be.
But once you finally realize that you can’t, that you have to find your own voice — because you can’t capture the essence of what they were — then you’re kind of forced into a situation where you evolve and find your own voice or just stop. But then that song “Name” came along that we were completely blindsided by because it got picked up by so many radio stations and became a big hit. And I’m really grateful for that because somehow we wound up with the ball and we decided to hang onto it as long as we could and keep running.
Do you think you’ll ever go back to your alternative punk sound of the early Goo Goo Dolls era?
JR: No, I’m too old for that. That’s music for kids. It’s sort of like the boiler plates teenaged rebellion sort of thing. There will always be punk bands that will always sound like punk bands from 30 years ago.
How do you look back at those times?
JR: It was fun, I’m glad I did it. It made me, you know, traveling around the country in a van and sleeping on people’s floors and all the ridiculous things that we did just to survive out there. It made us really tough.