In support of their latest release, “Something for the Rest of Us,” as well as riding the wave of a track entitled “All That you Are” from the third installment of the Transformers soundtrack, The Goo Goo Dolls are hitting the road this summer. Musicpix sat down with the band just before a rehearsal at PNC Pavilion, Cincinnati, OH to talk about the mystery of songwriting, putting salve on our wounds, and doing the right thing. Read on…
Musicpix: The music business has certainly changed over the past 25 years but the essence of writing good music hasn’t. Can you talk about your decades of songwriting and how it’s evolved over the years?
John: I think when you write a song when you’re 19 years old, your priorities are a lot different and your worldview is definitely a lot different. We’ve been lucky enough to make a career out of it. You grow up. You change and your opinions of the world changes. You gather a lot experience…you’ve got a few regrets, but hopefully you can find some sort of fodder in there for writing songs.
Musicpix: Your latest release, “Something for the Rest of Us” is quite different than prior releases and was inspired by fan correspondence in response to real emotional issues that we’ve been facing due to battling wars and the US economy. Talk about this material…
John: It was sort of based upon fan response. But a couple of the songs were based upon conversations with people whom I’d met and were a part of our audience. A lot of it was a reflection from stories that I’d heard about people who were going through a lot of rough times. Loosing family members, homes, and their jobs… a general sort of anxiety of the hard times that we’re going through and I wanted to reflect that back. It’s interesting that I decided to do that because generally during hard economic times, the music tends to be bit more escapist. I may have committed commercial suicide by doing that, but I felt like it was something that I needed to get out of my soul. I felt really effected by what was happening. It was like wow, I live in this nice house…I’m doing alright but a friend of mine just lost his house. It’s one of those things I felt I had to address.
Musicpix: Do you think that this material puts salve on our wounds so to speak?
John: I think that this material is acknowledging the situation that a lot of people are dealing with it by trying to find the hope in the situation. Even if it’s just saying, you’re not in this alone… so yeah, I hope that it achieves that.
Musicpix: Music is a Universal language because it does speak FOR people and it seems to me there’s an urgent need to do so. So in effect, are you speaking our peace?
John: More and more people in this society are being marginalized in finding themselves in harder situations. We’re definitely living through the decimation of the middle class in America and it’s going to affect everybody in this country over the next 20 years. I think that’s something that people need to actively involve themselves in the preservation of the people who work for a living. There’s a growing chasm between rich and poor. I don’t think you can have an effective democracy when you’re living in a two class society.
Musicpix: The 1998 film City of Angels was responsible for launching your career with your Grammy nominated hit “Iris.” Today, you’ve got a track on Transformers: Dark of the Moon soundtrack…can you talk about your experience in the world of making music for movies then vs. now?
John: Every film project is different. I did a film for Disney called “Treasure Planet” and I was brought into that film more than a year before it was done…it was still in the stage of pencil sketches and as a songwriter, you were very involved in the process. You are very much a part of a team creating something much bigger. I really like working this way because you are playing a supportive role. Something that you say, or piece of music that you write, can really push emotional impact of a scene of a movie up to the next level. That’s a fun writing project. Then there are other films where you’ve already written a song and they think it’s appropriate for their film so you just say ‘sure.’ Other times, you only get to see one scene and that’s what you write for. That’s a little more frustrating because I’m not as aware of what the characters are really about. I just know them from that one little piece of film.
Musicpix: Songwriting is still very mysterious to most. Can you tell us how you connect the dots?
John: The longer I do it, the longer the more I rely on the craft of it. You obviously gain inspiration to write a piece of music but it only lasts for a few seconds and you have to seize upon that. And that’s where the actual craft of writing a song comes it. You have to rely on: ‘I know what to do here, or I think it would be good to put this in here or maybe I’ll change the key to this.’ In a lot of instances, I can compare it to putting a LEGO sculpture together or something… But you still need that spark of that inspiration. And sometimes, that just doesn’t happen. Then you’ve got to move on…
Musicpix: You’ve openly compared the band to a marriage…so have you renewed your vows to one another?
Robby: This is what I do. This what I’ve been doing since I had to think about having something to do, so I guess it’s like any relationship that you have that goes on for a really long time. There are things that get pushed to the back that shouldn’t…and things come to the front and then explode that shouldn’t… but you manage to make it through those things as long as all the folks want to continue to make it happen. It’s just like tending to any kind of relationship.
Musicpix: You’ve written literally hundreds of songs that have been released…but what about stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day? Do you keep stuff or recycle it?
John: There are a lot of things that are sitting on cassette tapes, hard drives and my iPhone that I haven’t worked on yet. I’m not one of those guys who writes a hundred songs and then goes into the studio and tries to pick the ten best ones. I like to work on one song at a time and get it to a point and then move on to the next thing and the next thing. It makes the process much easier. When you try to write an entire album all at once, it becomes really overwhelming. It really overwhelmed me on the last album, ‘Something For the Rest of Us’ and it took awhile to recover from that one. That one left a mark. That’s when I decided to keep writing all the time. It’s like a muscle. You have to use it all the time or otherwise it’s just going to atrophy.
Musicpix: I heard you say in an interview: ‘you got to keep your head on straight.’ How exactly do you do that when thousands of people hang on your every word? How do you stay normal?
John: Uh, I don’t know that we are normal….[laughs] It’s great to talk to people, and make connections with your fans, but there are boundaries with those kinds of relationships. Because of the nature of what we do, and we travel so much, having a large circle of close friends is really difficult. I don’t nearly have as many friends as I used to. It’s because of the life that we’ve chosen to live. When you’re constantly moving and you lose touch with people who mean a lot to you.
Musicpix: After two decades of making music, you’ve been touring the world for years which is no easy task. Has your touring perspective changed?
Robby: I think that the changes in the music business changed our perspective on touring. And also, I think that growing up a little bit and realizing that we’re not out here ‘to rock and roll 24/7’ because you just can’t do that and perform. You’ve got to figure out how to pace yourself…bands burn out real quick these days. We’ve been fortunate to keep the energy up for a lot of years.
John: I’ve been trying. I’ve tried to keep my party going for a long time but it just doesn’t work anymore. You just break down and then you’re useless.
Musicpix: I saw an old video interview where you kept saying, ‘I just try to do the right thing’...such a simple statement but so telling of your personality. The pivot word is ‘right’....talk about your compass. How do you know what’s ‘right musically?’
John: It’s difficult because there’s a certain period of time during the songwriting process that you can’t judge anything that you’re doing and just have to let things flow. Then there comes a time for editing. I tend to edit way before I’m done creating and that’s been a problem of mine that I’ve tried to correct. I’m hypercritical of the work that I do and that can really diminish your return on what you’re able to accomplish. You have to take risks. You have to consciously do things to change the sound and try things that you haven’t done before. I’ve been doing a lot of collaborating with other writers and it’s been an incredible learning experience because they have a completely different view of what makes a good song than I do. It’s interesting when you get to meld those things together. Sometimes it’s a mess and it’s horrible. Other times, it’s brilliant and you walk away feeling. Wow, I learned something really important from having this interaction with this other writer.
Musicpix: Any plans to collaborate with writers of other genres of music?
John: I have a few friends that I like to write songs with and sometimes. You get those songs cut. I enjoy writing for other artists…its fun because it’s them taking the risk with it and not me. I just wrote it. [Laughs]
Musicpix: You’ve got a long summer tour ahead of you… what’s afterward?
Robby: We have some fall college shows coming up. I’m trying to get this thing out of the way. We’ve got a big adventure ahead of us right now so it pays to just digest the whole thing slowly. It’s constantly shifting…just do the task at hand…
John: Just take small bites and chew… a lot.
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