John Rzeznik, frontman and lyricist for the band The Goo Goo Dolls, noticed a few unpleasantries while touring the country and recording the band's 2010 album, "Something for the Rest of Us."
People he met were suffering, whether from the effects of wars in the Middle East, layoffs and declining jobs, or just a general, and growing, lack of hope.
"I mean, I am a guy living in America at a very strange time," said Rzeznik, calling from the road in Cincinnati. "And I have a sounding board to use in the band. So on this particular album, I wanted to ... well, it's probably commercial suicide, but I wanted to write something that reflected what was going on in the real world. I wanted to talk about it on an emotional level, not as a preacher."
The band, known for songs like "Iris" and "Black Balloon," and for playing sublimely hook-laden rock balladry driven by Rzeznik's soaring vocal lines, plays a show on Thursday at Deer Valley in Park City.
"Utah is a gorgeous, amazing, special, magic place," said Rzeznik.
The Goo Goo Dolls first formed in Buffalo, N.Y., some 20 years ago. But it was just a weekend job until they hit big in 1995 with the album "A Boy Named Goo." Band members still have ties to upstate New York, having recorded about half of their most recent album at GCR Studios in their old hometown. But they also spend a good deal of time in Los Angeles, where they recorded the balance of the record.
And there, said Rzeznik, he came to fully recognize that the day-to-day struggles of most Americans are often not imaginable to those in his industry.
"You live in Los Angeles, you know, you realize it is not the real world, that is not what people do. The struggles real people live through are really, really a lot deeper and more traumatic, it is so different from the silliness where I was living."
Rzeznik made a point to talk to people at his shows as he traveled far afield from Los Angeles' glamour and glitz.
"When you see people going through so much ... well, I think we are in bad shape at this point in America. We are in two wars and the economy is tanking. There is a huge gap between the rich and poor -- there isn't a middle class to speak of. It's not a futurist worry. It's happening."
Rzeznik talks of one song, "Notbroken," and the fan who inspired it: "I met a woman at a meet-and-greet and she was telling me a story about her husband, who was injured in Iraq and was having a really bad time, coming home and readjusting. And I was really moved by her because you could tell how much she loved him, how much she wanted to get the point across that she was still OK with who he was. It also made me think how much people's lives can change in an instant."
Heartfelt in heartland
Rzeznik said the response of fans to the album and its more somber subjects has been positive.
"I think we are one of those bands that people use as medicine -- though I am not sure how much good it can do this time around. I worry that the American century is just about over. Unfortunately. It is because a few people had to grab so much, instead of letting anyone get the crumbs off the table."
Despite his concerns about the direction of the country, Rzeznik said he definitely has no political ambitions himself.
"I am pretty done with politics," he said. "I did do some fundraising in past years, but now, I am done. It looks like the new boss is the same as the old boss. They all seem to spend their time trying to get elected or re-elected, and then stick to their ideology instead of representing the people that elected them."
After a few years off -- there were four years between the last two albums -- the band is hitting the stage with a renewed energy with this summer's big tour, Rzeznik said.
"We put together a new set, a lot of different songs. We will play the hits -- always fun to play those. We got a lot of requests from the Facebook page and Twitter and that has helped with the set list. And we've gotten together a new light show. It is pretty outstanding."
The band, which has been a chart-topping trio for more than 15 years, has certainly seen changes in the business. The use of social media is one example. It has made the fourth wall between stage and audience a bit more transparent. Rzeznik said he likes some aspects of that, such as getting song suggestions for their set lists. But he also thinks artists must use caution when putting themselves out there to the fans.
"I am not one of these Twitter addicts -- none of this 'I am getting up,' 'Going to lunch now' stuff. What I do like to do on there is start conversations with people -- not individually, but like, pose a question, and get people to answer and discuss. Those kinds of things are cool.
"But we do need boundaries. Some people get to feel as though they know you when they actually really don't. That's when it can get dangerous."