In Conversation with: the Goo Goo Dolls

'"The world has changed so much in the way people consume music"

Grammy-nominated band Goo Goo Dolls have just released a career-spanning compilation made up of unreleased gems, remixes, and live performances of their most-loved songs and more. ‘Rarities’ is a retrospective collection of the band’s multi-platinum selling career and serves both as a stellar introduction and a reminder of the bands prowess at writing and performing rock songs as well as cementing their status as one of the most influential rock bands of their generation.

House of Coco’s Music Editor Emma Harrison spoke to John Rzeznik and Robby Takac from the band about what motivated them to create this album,  what they are most missing about playing live and why they didn’t anticipate the global success of  ‘Iris’ and more.

House of Coco

Congratulations on your new album ‘Rarities’ – this is a collection of B sides, lesser known tracks and live performances. What motivated this particular release?

Goo Goo Dolls

During the pandemic, our manager Pat was cleaning out his office in the closet. He found boxes of these things called DAT tapes which back in the 90s were these little tiny digital audio tapes and that was the medium that everybody was using at that time to put their masters down and hold their recordings and things like that. So, I was with him in his office and it was like ‘Well, what am I going to play these on?! – I’ve got nothing to play these on!’  So I went on eBay, and I found him a data recorder for $400 bucks or whatever it was, and he just started listening to tracks and started marking stuff that he liked and he kind of put it together and then we said well you know, we like this – this is cool!’

But yeah, as he’s our manager, it was ‘curated!’

House of Coco

That sounds good to me. I like the word curated! So, in terms of the selection process how involved were you guys in terms of picking the songs that would feature on this album?

Goo Goo Dolls

I think it’s pretty exciting! He presented us with a bunch of songs, and we listened through them. It was a documentation of what was going on at that point in our lives. There was stuff from seven o’clock in the morning radio performances- you know stuff that we never thought we’d hear again, but I think it’s a great document of time in our life. Yeah, it’s like a warts and all – it’s fantastic feverish music!

House of Coco

Originally, the musical leanings of the Goo Goo Dolls or as you were previously known as the ‘Sex Maggots’ was very much steeped in punk rock. In terms of your influences, way back then – what were they and how do you feel that your musical leanings have changed in the last 35 years?

Goo Goo Dolls

At the beginning, I really loved The Clash and the Ramones and all those bands, and I still think the Clash was the most important band ever – in my life,  the amount of ground that they covered in such a short time was pretty interesting!

We also had a lot of other influences. I mean we played punk rock because we liked it. I love melodic punk, you know, but not like power pop punk. It was also The Damned and Elvis Costello, it was such an eclectic blend of music that was that was being thrown around this little community of musicians in Buffalo.

You know, at the time we were just having fun. But, we had the safety back then, you know we had and loved all these different kind of music, but we had the safety of these really loud amplifiers and when it filtered through us, everything became really loud and really aggressive.

Yeah, I don’t think that’s necessarily what we’re thinking, but that’s the way it came out, and it took us a while to refine that. Yeah, it was a very interesting time because I had to play with tons of distortion, because I was just trying to fill in space. You know one of the most influential concerts I think I ever went to was The Who – they played at this tiny hall at the university that I was going to, and they were so loud!

It was so aggressive and the mosh pit was insane, but it was very melodic and beautiful, it’s like you’re hearing these beautiful melodies in this cacophony. You know in this madness. And I felt like wow, there’s gold in there, you know, and sometimes you got to go mining through your influences, you know, pick things out!

 

House of Coco

How did you get into music in the first place?

Goo Goo Dolls

You know I got sick of playing in rooms full of shirtless men that were beating each other up. So, I was like, I gotta write a song that a woman would listen to!

House of Coco

That makes sense! So, you guys have been together for 35 years.

What’s the secret to your longevity and what are your standout moments of being together in a band?

Goo Goo Dolls

I mean, this is just what John and I do –  we figure out how to get to the next chapter of it and you know we’re both still smiling and making music and decided that we want to make more records and we’ve succeeded. We’ve been doing this together since we were kids, so I don’t really know any other way of life other than, you know, let’s figure out how we’re going to do this next, and make it great!

It was really kind of terrifying when the pandemic hit when they just cancelled everything. I’m a notorious workaholic, you know?! I have to  keep moving all the time. I was like ‘what am I going to do?!’ So, we just went in and started making the Christmas record.

And then we were doing a lot of Zoom performances for charity and trying to help out as much as we could. So, it was a good time to be useful, you know, over here, it’s kind of interesting here right now.

It was best to try to stay as active as possible, musically, even though it was in a virtual manner. And then we got together and last spring we were up at Woodstock and just started working on a record which comes out next year. So, we’ve kept ourselves busy here and hopefully we were able to contribute in some way.

House of Coco

You mentioned your next studio album, what can we expect from that?

Goo Goo Dolls

All kinds of craziness!

House of Coco

I like that!

Goo Goo Dolls

All kinds of craziness! It’s really kind of a different thing for us and you know it’s fun, and some parts of it are tongue in cheek – which I’m looking forward to!

House of Coco

In terms of your approach to creating the new material for the next album – what comes first is it the lyrics, the melodies or is it just a mixture of both?

Goo Goo Dolls

I mean, for me, it materialises simultaneously, you know, I try to work the ideas. At the same time, John tends to write music first and then the melodies and then we sort of lean towards writing lyrics afterwards, but you know it can happen in all sorts of different ways, really. Yeah, I mean there’s days, I’ll pick up a guitar, and I’ll just go ‘Yeah! ‘and then you put it into your phone and everybody listens to it, then you go ‘That’s the biggest piece of shit I ever heard!’ Then we go back, and we start over again!

With this album, we invited the drummer, who plays with us to come into the studio and I had basic ideas. Then what we did was we played together, because this is the way we used to do it at the beginning of our career, we would be in the garage and would play for hours and hours, the same three chords, and then maybe when I got a better idea I’d say ‘ Let’s go to record this one instead of that one’ –  so it’s a very organic process. The important thing to me was always that Robby, and the drummer or whoever was drumming for us at the time, locked up and put this solid rhythm section together. Then you play guitar and you kind of make a live recording of a very rudimentary thing and then you can sort of doll it up.

With the new album, we went back and we recorded it on analogue, so that we actually had to make decisions, you know, like when you’re working in the digital realm and this is really geeky and dorky, but I love it!  I can have 500 tracks to decide, but when you’re doing it digitally, you get 24 tracks, so you can’t use the 19 guitar parts that you have – you got to pick your two good ones! You know, so it’s like just so. The record has been very sort of live ish, a lean mean kind of sound and I think it’s good – it’s big and open, you know, that’s just my record!

We went out for the first time in a really long time, for two and a half months, and we literally were like in the middle of the woods man with tick bites and dead animals laying in front of our dog, we woke up from being attacked by hawks! 

We were in the middle of the woods, and we would wake up first thing in the morning and would roll out of bed and call each other up, go have breakfast, and literally play music, until we’re like, ‘we got to get out of here!’

I think that this record is gonna have a real special feel to it. I mean it literally had our undivided attention. Aside from the tick bites, and the hobo that was wandering about – it was a lot of fun, but you had to get into the spirit of being there!

Like, it’s an understatement to call the place we were at rusty! But it was beautiful- an incredibly gorgeous dump, you know, yeah, like the vibe and the memories and the ghosts that lived up in this place, it was just really fun to hang out with!

House of Coco

Sounds bloody marvellous to me!

Goo Goo Dolls

There was an old church  set up on a hill at night, the moon would be above the church and the first couple of weeks I was pretty convinced that we weren’t going to make it to the top of the hill without being murdered! It’s a great place to make a horror movie!

It’s funny because our guy that works with us. He’s from Los Angeles and he’s never been out in the woods, ever! And he, for the first week he was kind of freaking out a little bit, because he felt like, I don’t know man, there’s just something so like murdery about that place! You know, Robby made friends with the hobo on the train tracks!

House of Coco

That sounds great! Do you have a date in mind for the release date for the next album, I know it’s next year?

Goo Goo Dolls

Yeah, it’s tough to call. We definitely have a tour that starts in June  2022 So, I would say probably early 2022, but now we have the luxury problem of having too much material!

House of Coco

That is a lovely problem to have! As seasoned professionals, what advice would you give to your younger selves knowing what you know now?

Goo Goo Dolls

The world has changed so much in the way people can think you consume music. And, you know, there’s not as much money in music as there used to be. My only suggestion, I never tell anybody what to do, but if someone asks, I’ll give them my opinion, that’s all it is. But I would work on really developing a live following and becoming a great live band. Because, at least in the States, because the playlists now are so tight, this dominant form of pop music. I think that here in the US (I don’t know about other places) it is very much about R&B, kind of hip hop, very urban – I mean you got to develop your live game, more than anything else.

I think really work on the areas of social media and things like that where you can develop a big following because there’s not a lot of money being made, streaming your songs.

House of Coco

I agree! I interviewed Groove Armada last year and they said, the amount of streams they get on Spotify, it’s not even enough to buy them a ‘half decent sandwich’ so that kind of says it all really.

When it comes to music, it’s only really touring and merch where there’s money to be made and neither have been possible in the last 18 months of course.

Goo Goo Dolls

No, that’s true. We’ve seen a lot of people that work in our industry, have to get out and find other jobs where they are going to be at home now. People don’t want to go back to touring now because they’re at home and they’re making decent money and they get to be home with their family.

House of Coco

What are your earliest memories of music and what motivated you to form the band and get into music?

Goo Goo Dolls

I was a scrawny little kid and I wasn’t good at team sports! I needed to figure out something to get girls interested. So that was the motivation! But our love for music and women was always the motivation for everything! You know it’s like the old thing about your ship that launched 1000 ships, the whole thing throughout history, wars have been fought and men have done ridiculous things to win a woman!

So, I learned how to play guitar. So, my first musical recollection that I have, was my sister having all these old 45 of The Beatles and I remember my favourite Beatle song ‘I’m Down’ when I was a little kid. I’m talking like kindergarten! (Sings!)  ‘I’m down (I’m really down)’‘ because it had this guitar break that was just insane. Like, I thought that was the coolest thing!

And, yeah, that’s one of my first things, and, and I think growing up in a house full of women and their taste in music and me being exposed to their taste in music definitely has influenced the way I write. I remember when I was a kid I got a turntable for Christmas, and I remember my father letting me go through his record collection and pick out like the records I liked from his record collection to bring into my bedroom. And that was like the first time that I felt like, wow, I got like this sort of like musical identity!

I think those early memories and the agenda that grew up in Buffalo and there was this radio station here and I think it formed our generations musical vocabulary and you could hear it halfway down the East Coast. It was an incredibly influential radio station, and radio back in those days, which would break artists. I remember listening to a cut down version of ‘Stairway to Heaven’.

House of Coco

So, we can’t not talk about Iris – one of the most recognisable and most loved love songs of all time – when you released it on the ‘City of Angels’ soundtrack. Did you ever anticipate it would be the success that it was?

Goo Goo Dolls

No, absolutely not! When the music supervisor asked me to come in and watch the film, and he showed me the part, he said ‘I want you to put something in here and I asked him ‘Who else is on this soundtrack? and he said  ‘U2, Peter Gabriel and Alanis Morrissette ‘and I’m like ‘I’m in!’

Because I just wanted our name to be in the same company as all these iconic people. You know that’s all I wanted, because it looked really good to be on the same album as U2. Yeah, it gives the average person the impression that like you and Bono are hanging out having drinks you know making the record!

I saw the clip of a film, and it just went like that in my head. It was like, ‘Oh, my!’ – the subject matter is right in front of me, you know. So, I thought to myself, what would I say if I was that guy to her. I was so in love with her, and it’s a pretty heavy kind of story when you think about it.

I thought ‘Wow, this guy’s willing to give up his immortality and everything that he has, as an angel – he’s willing to take that risk of living through all the pain of being a human, just to feel that feel things you know’.  I kind of understand that – I think we all understand, there are times where we all sort of feel like we’re standing outside looking in on the lives of other people.

House of Coco

Completely! Going back to ‘Rarities’ –  do you think the whole concept of B Sides is somewhat of a lost art due to how people are kind of currently digesting music?

Goo Goo Dolls

I mean, attention spans are very short, but at the same your ability to go unbelievably deep on a subject is there as well. You know, I guess it’s just the type of person you are, you know, if you’re the type of person for whom music is a surface experience, then maybe you’ll know ‘Iris’ and will come see us and that’ll be awesome. Otherwise,  we’ve got an awful lot of material for people to explore, so yeah!

I’m always into playing all the hits, when we go out on tour because  it’s expensive to go see a show and people want to be entertained and Robby and I always are about entertaining people, as well as trying to be a ‘quote unquote’ artist, or whatever!

 I love when you can connect with an audience, especially in the UK! I love playing the UK because I can literally grab my microphone stand and turn it around to the audience, and they’ll sing all night – that makes my job easier. I mean, they would sing all night, and that’s a different thing I think. It’s strange because our audience over there, and correct me if I’m wrong, is a little more male, and it’s younger than here.

I would say it’s different – people listen to music and get into music and avoid a deeper level than they do here, because we’re all on our phones – it’s like we were all winding up, I mean I think culturally everybody is winding up with super, super short attention spans, but it’s interesting we will play a deeper cut or an older song, and how these younger people are  – yeah it’s interesting!

House of Coco

Have you got any plans to come to the UK to tour?

Goo Goo Dolls

If somebody wants us, we’ll come! It would be great if we could. You know I love playing the UK as we always do the academies. Yeah, it’s like the history and the grunge emos of those rooms, you know. They’re so charming but at the same time – these rooms rock! They are loud and sweaty and smelly and awesome. It’s what rock and roll is supposed to be! Before the world went down, we actually were lining up a tour in the UK, so I know that there’s some things going on already, so hopefully we’ll rekindle those situations and get there very soon.

House of Coco

 I really hope so!  I think the O2 Academy is a great venue. I think the next band I’m seeing is Inhaler, – this amazing Irish band. I am looking forward to seeing them live – they’re doing some fantastic stuff at the moment.

What do you most love about playing live? And out of all the tracks from ‘Rarities’ – what are you most looking forward to revisiting in a live performance?

Goo Goo Dolls

Well, as far as playing live, I just can’t wait for it! I mean that’s been such a huge part of our life. And I know John and I were talking about it a while ago.  I can’t believe how much I missed that situation. You know that give and take that happens between the audience and such. I  can’t believe how much I missed it and I can’t believe how much it had become such an important part of how we live our lives.

It was quite a disruption, I’m looking forward to it because, because at least you’ll be in a room where no matter what anybody disagrees on, here everybody agrees on the one thing that they’re there for and that’s the band. To see a moment or have a couple hours like that, you know, is rare. 

House of Coco

What’s been the best gig you have ever been too? Who has blown your socks off?

Goo Goo Dolls

Yeah, I’ve seen The Who – they were amazing. Yeah, I mean even now! Jesus Christ, these guys are amazing! Springsteen and Oasis – when they were just getting big here in the States and we played on the same shows, it was amazing how they could just have the swag; how good they were- they just blew me away! They were the greatest band in the world at that time.

House of Coco

I definitely would agree with that! They were amazing! In terms of critical acclaim and nominations like the four Grammy nominations that you have received. How important are awards to you?

Goo Goo Dolls

Well I gotta say – the nominations – so we got nominated for four Grammys!   

I had a t shirt made underneath my suit that said, ‘I was nominated for three Grammys, and all I got was this lousy t shirt!’

I pulled it off, but we were doing press afterwards. And I had this T shirt on and I had to make light of it – I mean, did it suck to lose? Yeah, kind of, but I didn’t expect to win! We were up against Cher, Celine Dion and Aerosmith and all these monsters, you know, so I didn’t expect us to win anything like that, but being nominated definitely gives you so much public exposure and it’s good. It’s good. It helped our band!

We used it to sort of generate more business. Yeah, for sure, I mean it was fun. It was fun to go to the whole party, and it would have been way more fun if we would have won!

But that being said, I mean you know that experience was amazing for us and you know it just went to show that I don’t care personally so much about that kind of stuff, but it just goes to show that we got recognised by the mainstream enough to be there, and that’s pretty cool. Yeah, you know, what was interesting about is you take a band like us, who three years before that record came, we were making and as we grew as musicians, because we were learning to play when we started. We were listening to music and were learning things from those artists and then we add our own sort of natural innate melody in our heads. So to go from being considered like a goofy punk band to being nominated for a bunch of Grammys for something against Celine Dion!

House of Coco

What are you influenced by right now musically? What are you listening to back at home you’re kicking back and enjoying a cup of cocoa?

Goo Goo Dolls

I found myself listening to super old music that I did listen to then because I was so far up my own indie rock that I couldn’t even listen to David Bowie. There’s a guy named Sam Fender who I love and every time someone asked me like who’s new that you love and Sam comes into my mind. I think that guy is or could be the voice of his generation. If you dig down into his lyrics and read them. It’s like he’s capturing what his generations is dealing with. And it’s amazing because he does it in such a succinct articulate way, and the songs are super hooky.  I just heard some of this music by Olivia Rodrigo – she’s great. I just hope she doesn’t get put through the music business meat grinder and turned into the same old thing again because she’s got something special, and I hope people around her understand and just leave her alone. Let her grow because she’s incredible.

House of Coco

I agree! In terms of future plans, you have the new album out next year, what else can we expect from the Goo Goo Dolls?

Goo Goo Dolls

Well, you know – lots of stuff blowing up on stage and, we’re just gonna keep going and I think having a couple years off was actually probably good for us.

Yeah, it’s like when you’re married you, go away for a long weekend and you’re very happy to see the people you live with and have a crazy break to  have a little bit of time to see your kid grow up for a little while before you get to go out and be away again.

It gets harder and harder to be away and to spend time on the road. But, you know, by the end of making this – by the end of the sessions that we did up in Woodstock, which was like 10 weeks. all I could think to say to these guys was, I’m really looking forward to getting a chance to miss you!

So, you know, we do what we do and, and try to do it better. That’s what I’m always striving for, is to learn something new from somebody.

House of Coco

In terms of ‘Rarities’ which is out now is there anything else you want to share with us at all that I can pass on to the readers, I think we’ve covered quite a bit already, but if there’s anything I’ve even had missed?

Goo Goo Dolls

I think you have covered it well and once our manager finishes going through that box, we might have five more albums like that. So, there we go!

I personally want to thank you Emma for not bringing up to ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ in this interview! (laughs)

House of Coco

We can talk about that if you want but that wasn’t really on my list, so don’t worry! I’m a Brit after all so I can’t understand the game of baseball at all. It’s not really a game I’m familiar with, but it looks like fun?!

Goo Goo Dolls

I think it’s like cricket, only, you know, it doesn’t take 40 days to play and you don’t have to sweat in a wool sweater! There’s something soothing about it!

The Goo Goo Dolls latest album ‘Rarities’ is out now to stream and to buy.

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Emma Harrison
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05/09/2021
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