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By: Adrian Varnam - April 7th, 2010

Since the release of their fifth record, A Boy Named Goo in 1995, the Goo Goo Dolls have been mainstream pop/rock music icons. Their smash hit-single “Iris,” released three years later for the film City Of Angels, sent the band, and their frontman and primary songwriter Johnny Rzeznik, into superstardom. Now, after over 20 years together, the Goo Goo Dolls are slated to release their ninth album, Something for the Rest of Us, sometime this year. Recently, I spoke with Rzeznik about the life of a rock star, his Buffalo, New York, roots, and what matters most in his life.

encore: What does it feel like for you, waking up and knowing that you’re doing what you truly love every day?
Johnny Rzeznik: Well, it depends on what my perspective is when I get up. Most mornings I feel really grateful [for] making a living doing what I love. I try to always remember that it could be otherwise; I could have to get up and do something I don’t want to everyday. So, from that perspective, I feel pretty lucky.

e: Was there ever a point where you said, ‘We either sink or swim at this point?’
JR: Right before A Boy Named Goo came out I was like, OK, if we don’t sort of “make it” on this record, I’m gonna finish up college and go on my way, you know? And that record happened, and I’ve been earning a living doing this for—this has been like my only job for—the past 15 years. So, yeah, it’s been a good run.

e: Could you imagine doing anything else?
JR: Yeah ... yeah, I could. I mean I’m 44 years old now. I love playing. I love making music, and I love being in the studio. I’m grateful to all the people who still come out to see us. But, yeah, I see myself at some point settling in, staying in one place, having some kids and trying to be a good dad, you know? And I’ve gotta finish up college at some point, too. I really do, man.

e: Why is college still important to you?
JR: You know, it’s just one of those things. The music career came up and I never finished. It’s like a small piece of unfinished business, and you never know when the bottom’s gonna drop out of this. I may have to go find a job, you know? I’m being funny, but I’m not.

I grew up in Buffalo, and when you grew up in Buffalo, you always had to have your doomsday scenario planned out. I mean, you really needed Plan B. My old man always told me that: “Don’t quit your job until you got a new one.” Coming from that working class, blue-collar mentality, it doesn’t leave you. No matter how hard you try or how successful you think you are, you’re always like, “Holy crap, I don’t wanna be broke in the gutter.”

e: Has that blue-collar Buffalo upbringing stuck with you throughout your career?
JR: Yeah, definitely. I know what it’s like to be poor. There was a point after I was 16, after my parents died, [when] I was homeless. I was lucky enough to have a friend whose parents let me sleep on the porch. Luckily, it was summer. You don’t forget that stuff, and there’s still times I go back to that moment, and go, “I ain’t goin’ back, man. I ain’t goin’ back to that shit.”

Sometimes it haunts me. I don’t wanna get corny, but there’s no question in my mind that something’s watching out, because I’ve done pretty well for myself, considering where I came from.

e: Is that why you went back to Buffalo to record the new album?
JR: Yeah—you can’t grow up in a place like Buffalo and not have it be part of your DNA. There’s just a certain feel there, and I am of that place, I’m made of that stuff. Just having that in my face everyday made the process [of writing and recording] more visceral, a little more real.

e: Did it take you back to your childhood; were you reminded of things that came out in the new songs?
JR: I was reminded a lot. It’s kind of weird; mostly, I was reminded a lot of struggles my mother had at the end of her life. She was working in a factory, sewing buttons on suits, doing piece-work, and it made me think a lot about her and what lengths she went to try and provide for us. That meant a lot to me, and it started me thinking about the angst and uncertainty of the times that we live in and how it affects people emotionally. Because I know how it affected her emotionally; her having to say “no,” and how that must’ve broken her heart to have to say no, because we just didn’t have anything.

e: Has that been a driving force for you in trying to continue to be successful?
JR: Well, it ain’t about collecting a ton of money, but I have a hard time saying no to anybody. It keeps me working and going. When you don’t know how you’re going to feed yourself, that leaves an impression on you.

e: In your success, do you identify more as a “band guy” or as a songwriter?
JR: I’d say I’m more of a songwriter, but I’m still a band guy. I go out and do a lot of private charity events by myself, but I don’t really have solo projects or anything like that—I haven’t felt the need to do that. I mean, I like my band.

e: Speaking of charity, you wanted to highlight the organization you’re working with now, USA Harvest, for this upcoming concert at Trask Coliseum.
JR: At all of our shows, we ask everybody to bring as much non-perishable food as they can to the shows, and there are collection points. USA Harvest is this really interesting all-volunteer, direct-action organization—there’s no money being exchanged in hands at all. The volunteers come, collect all the items, and distribute them to the women’s shelters and homeless shelters in the community that night. It’s really important, and I’m just asking for everyone to bring as much as they can. Right now there are a lot of people that need a lot of help, and you will enjoy the show more and I will work much harder because of it.

e: What was getting inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame like for you?
JR: You know, that was really, really cool, because we haven’t exactly been critics’ darlings. A lot of music critics toss us off.

There was some validation in certain respects. You know, that’s the only award that I have in my house—it’s the only one that I’ve got. All the gold and platinum records and stuff, all my sisters have all that.

e: Do those awards mean anything to you?
JR: Not really—that stuff sort of passes. I feel really comfortable where I am now—not complacent, I’m still working my ass off. But all the affectations, all that peripheral nonsense, is gone. I’ve settled into a nice life. We’re not the biggest band in the world, and that’s okay. I don’t live in a mansion, and that’s okay. I have a girlfriend that I adore, we’ve got a good life together, and I’m gettin’ to do what I want to do with less pressure from the outside world. It’s great. I’m actually enjoying myself.

Originally published in Encore Magazine: www.encorepub.com
Source: http://adrianvarnam.com/published-writings/all-the-goo-johnny-rzeznik-talks-humility-and-charity-among-music-stardom
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