The Goo Goo Dolls crawled out of the Buffalo, New York scene in the mid-‘80s peddling their brand of indie power pop and cheaply recorded albums from the back of a van that carried them from bar to club. The group was often compared to The Replacements. The Dolls did indeed share that same sense of melodic aggression and they also had a cult following that hung on every word and chord. Sometime in the mid-‘90s that all changed. First, the acoustic power ballad “Name” went into the post Hootie charts, then the song “Iris” was released on the City Of Angels soundtrack, becoming one of the biggest singles of the year and catapulting the album it came from (Dizzy Up The Girl) to multi-platinum status. This launched the band, lead vocalist/guitarist Johnny Rzeznick, vocalist/bassist Robby Takac and drummer Mike Malinin, to superstar status. Last year, the band released the long awaited follow up Gutterflower, which returned to a slightly more aggressive sound (albeit with a couple of prerequisite power ballads to boost sales). After touring for over forty weeks headlining sheds and theaters on their own, The Goo Goo Dolls are now about to join one of the most highly anticipated bills of the season as they take off with Bon Jovi for a major arena tour that lands at Atlanta’s Philips Arena on February 13. I spoke to Goo Goo Dolls bassist Robby Takac about the band’s transformation from garage to stadium and the future of the music industry as it tries to survive the digital revolution.
Chris McKay: How does a band go from being the unheard of Sex Maggots to a massive rock group that has one of the biggest hits of the decade and over a million plays on radio in one year? Was there a conscious effort to become more mainstream?
Robbie Takac: I think we tried harder at one point to be a better band, to write better songs. We decided to play. We thought, “Holy cow, we can almost really do this now.” Our first record was sort of a drunken car crash. Aside from that, we’ve always been trying to seek out some musicality. It was not quite as obvious then, but the underbubbling of something was there.
CM: I have a friend who was into The Goo Goo Dolls for a long time and then when you broke through, suddenly his girlfriend loved you. He didn’t anymore. Did that backlash affect the band?
RT: Yeah, you know that’s going to happen, man. I guess that’s something that just comes with the territory. I mean, I remember U2 playing on the Boy tour and they were playing with The Dream Syndicate in this place in Buffalo. A friend of mine was standing next to me and he said when Dream Syndicate was playing, “You know I’m probably going to split after this.” I was like, “Why?” He was like, “My little sister came to see U2.” I thought to myself, “you big dumb idiot.” It’s like, “What are you saying? Your sister came so you can’t stay?” You know? Over the years you sort of become your own band. I think those things that were there when your band was at its conception are things that make your band. A lot of those things are very peripheral and very surface. I think that if you manage to stay together this long, it’s a miracle in itself. After a while you start to become your own band and writing rock songs that are sort of unique to yourself. U2 is a perfect example. You’ve got pop kids there. You’ve got country music fans there. They write good songs.
CM: Who do you think makes up your audience now?
RT: I have no idea (laughs). Holy cow! We’ve always been the kind of band who has said that our audiences pick us. We’ve never had a target group of people that we’re shooting at or anything. I think a lot of people have come along with us. We’ve lost some along the way as well. That happens, you know? I think that we’ve been around long enough to where older generations can appreciate and I hope I’m clinging on to enough of my youth (laughs) so that what we’re doing is still semi-valid at the same time, you know? I think John gets pissed sometimes when I say this, but you know how at most shows, the minivan pulls up and drops the kids off? The minivans at our shows go drop the kids off, circle around back, park and go in with their friends. You know? It’s kind of weird.
CM: Do you feel as if you’ve lost the edge that you used to have? The Goo Goo Dolls were more raucous than people realize.
RT: We felt like some of the edge was stripped away from us. Hey, this is by no means a jab at (producers) Rob Cavallo and Jack Joseph Puig. Obviously that record did incredibly well and it was all over the radio and it sounded great on the radio, but you have this vision of what your band is or at least what your band sounds like. For us, we go out and play every night and it was always a lot heavier. Sometimes it was like a ball peen hammer to the forehead of a few business suit wearing, secretary types that came to hear us. Especially in the early days, the only song that anyone knew by us was “We Are The Normal.” We’d come out to an audience expecting 10, 000 Maniacs and that’s what they got alright! They got serious, screaming maniacs is what they got! (laughs) . I think that the first real conscious decision we made was right before we made this record (Gutterflower). I think that we decided that things had gone far enough. I think it felt like we needed to take a step back and sort of take a look at where our records went after they left our fingers and our brains and before they hit the shelves. You know what I mean? The process of making the records is that once your tracks are down and you go into mixing, the things you’ve put on tape aren’t always going to be the things that end up on your record. Some of them are going to be muted. Some of them are going to be delayed 23 times and then repeated with electronic gizmos. This time, there was a lot more rock in the record. Before, there was a lot more rock in the band than there was on the records. The new one is not like the last record where we’re like, “Sorry, we don’t have the chamber orchestra for this track. We don’t have the full-on symphony for this track.” That’s what felt so good when we were done with this record.
CM: How much longer are you going to be on the road?
RT: We’ve been out for about forty weeks and we’ve been around the States three times. If you wanted to see us last year, you’ve certainly had the chance. We’ll do at least 12 weeks more, then…God, I don’t know, man. I guess it all kind of depends. If the record picks up a little bit more, maybe we’ll stay out. Otherwise, it might be time to belly up and take six months and get a life to fuck up and write about again.
CM: How did you wind up with Bon Jovi for this tour?
RT: We wanted to find another band to go out and play with and we started looking around and there were a few options out there, but not many. There weren’t a lot of bands out there that were bigger than us that we could hook up with and try to play to their crowd a little bit.
CM: Is that what you were thinking when you got this tour? Were you thinking, “We’ve got our own fans, we’re preaching to the converted, let’s go get some new ones?”
RT: That’s exactly it, you know? The choir loves you, man. I’m hoping to win over some new fans. If so, awesome, if not, I’m sure it’ll be a lot of fun. I’m hoping people come out early. If they do, it’s a really cool setting to see us in. It’s a lot of fun to play with a room like that. Let’s face it. We’ve been out for 40 weeks on this record, so we need a bit of a change.
CM: What kind of show can your fans expect?
RT: Just the hits, baby! (laughs) We’ll be playing just short of an hour. It’s a pretty decent length, though. I’m really excited to see how this whole thing goes, you know? We might get shit whipped at us, I don’t know. I don’t think so, but maybe! I think that we’ve been around long enough now that we’ve earned a bit of respect. Hopefully, we won’t get too many sneakers whipped at us. I do spend a lot of time in the backyard with my wife and a few cardboard boxes full of shoes. I have her just whip ‘em at me randomly while I have the guitar on so I have ninja like reactions now. (laughs)
CM: I think you’ll be okay opening for Bon Jovi. It’s not like you’re going out with Slayer. Then you’d have a problem. Bon Jovi’s just a straight rock act. The thing that freaks me out about them is that in Europe they’re considered as classic as Creedence Clearwater Revival or something.
RT: It’s unbelievable! My wife’s from Tokyo and Bon Jovi just spent three nights at the Tokyo Dome. Three nights!
CM: That’s what I’m saying. Obviously, due to their early years, people are hesitant to embrace them that way in America, but over there it’s like they don’t even know they existed in the hair metal years.
RT: I have friends that used to be out with Van Halen and Van Halen would be saying things like, “Dude, I can’t explain to you how big Bon Jovi are.” These are the guys in Van Halen! They’re saying this. They’re like, “Dude, they have their own jet!” No one has their own jet. How do they have their own jet? It should be a great tour, though.
CM: So when are you going to do your solo record? (laughs)
RT: Oh, dude, I’m doing my thing, man. I’ve completely shaken hands with the digital. Johnny and I have both bought consoles and Pro Tools and we’re learning and we’re becoming comfortable with the way the world is right now. I mean, the world has changed drastically. The entertainment industry has changed drastically. The people who are involved in the decision making processes are about to change drastically. You know, ‘cause none of them are going to have jobs anymore because they can’t figure out how to make money!
CM: How do you feel about this whole thing with people downloading music and such?
RT: You know, I’m glad you asked me about that. Okay, to me, digital music is causing a huge problem. People who are involved in the music industry now are getting boned. Everybody except the biggest pop acts who are probably the most offensive (laughs). The reason it’s such a hassle is the ease of transfer for digital files. There’s our problem, but the same thing that makes that a problem also allows you to manipulate and store and work with audio which, as I stand here in this pile of gear, allows someone to be able to spend the amount that a demo would’ve cost ten years ago to make an album which will sound as good as anything that goes on the radio. And…for $19.99 a month, you can have access to the world’s largest distribution system and you can send that stuff anywhere you want and anyone can come to you and get it. There’s a revolution going on here. Unfortunately, some quality people are falling, but you have to flush out the good with the bad at times, I guess. It’s going to happen. Let’s face it. The music industry has gotten pretty…weird as far as the industry and record deals and how all of that stuff goes. It’s a business built on people’s dreams. I mean, with our first deal, we only got 1500 bucks, but we were like, “You like what I do and you’re going to put this record out? Okay, cool. We’ll take that 1500 bucks because a) I don’t have that 1500 bucks and b) because if I don’t take it, somebody else is going to.” Then, boom! You’re gone for five records and that’s how the business works. That’s so weird.
CM: I think I read that Billy Corgan said that the future of music, in his opinion, would be more like pro athletics. They don’t have a hard product, but they make their money from appearances and endorsements.
RT: Right, exactly. The difference is that right now there’s still a way to control the broadcast rights for television and unfortunately for music since it’s such a compact and specific thing to trade, it’s too easy.
CM: And it’s just too tempting for too many people.
RT: Yeah, but this whole mp4 that they have now is such that you’re going to be trading movies in fifteen minutes and that’s when it’s going to be we-eee-eared, man! (laughs) The bottom line with record deals is that the musicians pay for pretty much everything and that the record company makes the majority of the money. That’s how it works. With movies, actors pay for nothing…and they get an advance. The music industry is the only industry in the world that works that way. When that happens, they’re really going to be losing money.
CM: Do you feel like Don Henley’s on the right track with all of the bills he’s out promoting to change the way the industry works right now?
RT: Yeah, but I don’t think anybody wants to listen to somebody with 100 million dollars bitch. It’s like, “Shut up, man!” That’s what everybody thinks when he goes to Congress and sits down and spins his gold ring around. They go, “shut up!”
CM: Yeah, and he’s up there doing this while trying to convince Congress that musicians are starving.
RT: Exactly. The bottom line is that the general populace doesn’t think that what we do is really like a job. It’s like you being a writer, people are like, “Oh, you sit around and think of things. That’s what you do.” Yeah, that’s what I do, you know? Some people can’t handle that as an occupation and I think that’s the way the government looks at it.
CM: It doesn’t help with musicians going around saying things like, “I just pulled this song out of the air.” That doesn’t really sound like there’s any work or craft involved.
RT: Yeah, exactly. It’s like they think the music industry is all just drug addicts and losers and misfits. The problem is that, once again, it’s a business built on dreams so you have completely irrational people making completely irrational decisions at all times!
CM: Yeah, like the Mariah Carey thing where they gave her 80 million to sign a recording contract, then changed their minds and paid her 40 million to NOT record anything!
RT: How wack is that? How about Puff Daddy right now? He’s on the brink of signing what is potentially the biggest deal ever with Universal Records. I just saw it on CNN a couple of minutes ago. I mean, what exactly does that guy do?
CM: He takes other people and/or other people’s songs and makes a lot of money for a lot of other people by revising and re-releasing their tracks.
RT: It’s unbelievable! What does he do? Does he just like own all the rights to all of the artists that he produces?
RT: Jesus, man, there’s money to be made somewhere.
CM: What are your plans for the future?
RT: I just bought a recording studio in Buffalo and we have 3 Pro Tools rooms and we’re trying to keep that full right now. Someday I’ll retire there and write my manifesto. (laughs)
CM: It’s good that you’ve got plans for your retirement!
RT: Yeah, and it’s going to be a good one, too! (laughs)
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