For some reason – and he’s not sure why, exactly – John Rzeznik houses every last award he’s won with his barnstorming Buffalo outfit The Goo Goo Dolls in a trophy case located in his kitchen. And after 24 years and nine albums together, the man has assembled quite a collection – four ASCAP Songwriter Of The Years, four Grammy nominations, a Radio Music Award, even a coveted Teen Choice Award. But the kudo that pleases him the most is a little acrylic pyramid called the Hal David Starlight Award, recently presented to him when he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. “That means more to me than winning a Grammy or whatever,” claims the composer, who’s penned over a dozen Top 10 hits, including memorable no. 1s like “Iris,” “Name,” and “Give A Little Bit.” “For me, it’s always more important to be a songwriter than a rock star, because rock stardom kind of goes away, but I can write songs for the rest of my life if I want.”
The Hall Of Fame event was an odd one, too, Rzeznik recalls. He flew to New York from his adopted home of L.A., decked himself out in a nice – but uncomfortable – suit, and, with his girlfriend and band manager in tow, dropped by the intimate hotel where the dinner/ceremony was being held. “But it was pretty cool, because there were a lot of heavy hitters there,” he notes. “There were a lot of the old lions from the publishing business, and it was really fun to talk to those guys and listen to their war stories, like, ‘The way it used to be in the old days, we’d be selling the records out of the trunk of a car!’ But Paul Anka was there. Paul Anka was in the elevator, which was pretty amazing. So I said ‘Hi’ kinda timidly. I mean, the guy wrote ‘My Way’! But I just don’t know what to say to famous people.”
Rzeznik isn’t joking. When he met his guitar idol Brian May in London once, he could only stammer an awakward ‘Uhhh . . . what kinda strings do you use?’ And when he met late legend Les Paul during a tribute-album session, he was literally speechless. Especially after Paul handed him a personally autographed acoustic six-string. Again, the Goo Goo Doll wound up gravitating to old-schoolers during the recordings (he performed U2’s “All I Want Is You”). “The guy who produced that album, Bob Cuttarella, was one of the classic producers, and a really interesting guy,” he says. “And he was really creative – he made you feel like what you were doing was really important, ya know?” Rzeznik sighs, somberly. “I like to work with guys like that who have a pretty long past. I find a lot of the new guys just don’t wanna be creative.”
Rzeznik underscores his point with a zany tale of a certain Scottish producer he and GGD co-founder Robby Takac once worked with, who absolutely despised the band Cheap Trick, particularly its first fourth studio set Dream Police. So it was mischievous glee that Rzeznik – a longtime Trick disciple – would be blasting said record at maximum volume every morning when the producer would arrive at the studio. “Just to, you know, kinda start our day off right,” the 44-year-old snickers. And it’s a reasonable aesthetic question: What purported music fan in his right mind could deny the brilliance of the early Rick Nielsen catalog?
So Rzeznik is serious about this songwriting thing. Dead serious. “That’s why this new record, Something For The Rest Of Us, took so long to make,” he explains, of the new GGD effort, produced by Tim Palmer, with additional work by John Fields and the in-demand Butch Vig. “Because you listen to it and you’re like, ‘What can I do differently? What can I do better? How can I dig a little deeper?’ So we all decided that we had to dig a lot harder. When we heard the first version of the album when it was done, we were sorta like ‘Yeah, O.K., it’s good. And we can put it out. But why?’ So we wound up taking six months more and – I think, at least – really making it better.”
The final mix does, indeed, ring like the proverbial bell. There are huge, arena-rousing chimers (“Hey Ya,” “One Night,” “Sweetest Lie”), string-buttressed power ballads (“Notbroken,” “Still Your Song”), and perfectly-sculpted pop-rock anthems that find Rzeznik pleading for sanity – and the sanctity of home life – in a world gone mad (“Home,” “Soldier,” “Nothing Is Real”). Alongside, of course, two scrappy entries from the chipmunk-voiced Takac, “Now I Hear” and “Say You’re Free,” who’s still blissfully residing in the group’s punk-rock past.
– Tom Lanham
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