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Keith Ryan Cartwright

I’m gonna start by saying my favorite record is Superstar Carwash.
That’s a great record.

Falling Down is still a favorite of mine.
You know, I had a little trouble with that record when it came out because I didn’t like the way it sounded. The guy that produced it, I thought he choked all the life out of the songs.

It still came out sounding pretty fuckin’ good.
Thank you very much. Thank you a lot. I appreciate it. That was a period in my life where I felt like I hit my stride writing songs and then the guy kicked me out, the producer kicked me out of the studio when we were mixing it because I was like, ‘ah.’

But, ultimately he’s your employee.
Yeah, but you sign a deal with him and stuff and you have all these stupid contracts and then he never produced another record for us. It just didn’t work out and we didn’t get along. The poor guy, the first day of making the record, we made him come up to Buffalo, and the first day he was walking down the street and got punched out by a bunch of kids. So at that point he was just like, ‘I’ve had it with this already.’

You felt like you were hitting your stride back then, but since everything kind of took off for you guys do you finally feel like your able to relax and enjoy being in the Goo Goo Dolls again?
Umm, wow. Wow. I don’t ever relax. I’m not a relaxer, but I do enjoy being in my band. It’s amazing. Every record is so different, like how you’re feeling, what you’re writing about, what the circumstance is in the music business and all that and to me I just try to keep my energy focused on how I can be a better songwriter. I try not to be concerned with the outcome or the guys at the record company or anything like that or you’ll end up writing a bunch of bogus stuff. You have to forget about the potential of commercial success.

How easy was that to forget? The last record you pretty much wrote while living in—
Yeah, I was living in New York.

You were looking to escape and now you’re in L.A. You’ve turned into a minstrel almost.
And, I’m seriously considering leaving Los Angeles too.

To go where?
I don’t know. I was thinking about Chicago. I love Chicago. It’s such a great place and it has like… it’s a city that is still alive. It’s got a cool vibe and I like how that kind of creeps me out.

Has there ever really been a fair representation of you in the media. I watched the Behind the Music and it was great and compelling and probably one of their five best episodes, but to me it made you look like you’re mad, sad and things in your life never went your way—
But, they did.

Yeah, but that’s all they showed. To me, having seen you all the way back in ’91 when you played with the Nerve Twins in Milwaukee at The Rave—
Shank Hall.

Yeah, that’s right, Shank Hall. Seeing you then and when you were on Leno a couple weeks ago, you’re just a guy that wants to have a good time wherever you are.
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, that doesn’t make for compelling television. It’s a strange thing and a lot of it is their line of questioning. They seriously sit you down in a room for five hours and interrogate you and it’s very much like that.

That has to make you feel a little uncomfortable after awhile?
I think that they want you to feel a little uncomfortable and then they edited it, overdramatically, but I think the end of it was really positive. It was like, yeah, we went through our shit, but we survived it. Did they dwell on the negative parts a little too much? Yeah, absolutely. I say this really and truly, but, man, as corny as this may sound it’s like I’m so grateful that if it ended tomorrow I would be like, ‘wow, I never thought I would be able to do that much with my life’.

Who would have thought? Shank Hall, was my first introduction to the band and I was like wow.
Yeah. Hey, whatever happened to the Nerve Twins?

Like every other band back then they played for a while, broke up and now they’re doing some gigs around town again like once a month.
I was just up there and made my mandatory stop at the Safe House.

With everything the band has been through how has the camaraderie between you and Robbie remained so strong?
Robbie and I are friends and we’ve been friends for like 16 years. We know each other well and we stay out of each other’s way when we have to. We still enjoy playing together. We really do.

Ultimately, does that enjoyment override and supercede any frustration?
This tour has been amazing, but it’s been a lot of work. It’s harder to sell records then it’s ever been and I want to sell records. I love selling records. I had a lot of records out that didn’t sell and selling records after you haven’t sold a bunch of records is a good thing. We’re working a lot doing interviews and radio station performances and stuff like that and it gets a little stressful after awhile, but like when we get on stage me and Robbie are like, ‘you know what? We’re fuckin’ good at this. Lets go kick everyone’s ass.’ I try to keep it in the perspective that these people aren’t here for me; they’re not here to worship me. I’m here to perform for them and I think if you keep that perspective it’ll keep you on a more real level with the audience. I’ve had my differences with the record company the way they’ve handled this album because a whole new bunch of people came in. On our last record we had different people working with us, and a different philosophy. The philosophy this time was, well, we have to make you appear larger than life. We were like, ‘yeah, but we don’t want to be larger than life.’ ‘Yeah, but you’re going to do this video and it’s going to cost you a fortune. Oh, by the way, you’re not going to be in it.’ (laughing) It was like… I just kind of sat there and we tried it because they really stayed out of our hair at the studio and let us make the record we wanted. Then they had this genius plan and it didn’t work and I was like, ‘Good. Now we can talk again.’

I think you guys are pretty standup in that you aren’t ashamed of past records.
Oh yeah we still play a lot of that old stuff. It’s really funny, we put out the Ego, Opinion, Art and Commerce record, which was a compilation of nothing that was ever played on the radio, and I loved doing that because I want people to know the whole story. Most people only know us from MTV, VH1 and the radio and there’s so much more going on.

Exactly, you did a show in the mid 90s in Los Angeles at the El Rey—
That was a great show. I remember that.

I remember you asking the crowd if they realized the band had released records long before Boy Named Goo, and they all cheered. I just remember Robbie saying ‘well, I hope so’ and then you launched into three old tunes right in a row.
Yeah, that was really weird. When we finally became a hit and we cleared a lot or rooms. (laughing) When we started whipping out the material that we had, I mean Jesus Christ we had five albums worth of material at that point, and all of a sudden all these people started showing up and they’re like, ‘wait a minute. What the hell is this?’ We’re up there banging away and we’d play Name and then everybody would leave. So we wised up and always played that song last. But, you know, it’s been fun and we’ve learned. Every time you learn something new and you learn something different and I’m not saying it’s better then the last one. So, no, I’m not all that ashamed of my past. I find it hard to be that arrogant or egotistical that I’m going to try and bury my history of bad haircuts. Inside the Ego record is a montage of my bad haircuts, which I think is funny. I grew up in public.

Are you truly comfortable with where the band is now?
I’m comfortable with being..I’m more confident with being a songwriter.

It’s amazing to me that after all these years it’s slowly taken you until recently to feel confident. I’m listening to shit off Hold Me Up and even Jed and I’m thinking this dude knew how to write a tune.
Thanks. I appreciate that. Underneath all that noise were actual songs. I grew up listening to 70s AM pop radio and I think that was probably the biggest influence on me and then I got into the big punk rock thing for a long time, but all I care about is being a good songwriter. I always want to be better. I want to learn more. I mean I’m taking guitar lessons now because I’ve never taken guitar lessons before and I figure it’ll help me eventually. I don’t know if I’m going to be in a rock band forever. I love writing songs for movies. I love doing stuff like that because to me it’s fun. It’s like a cool writing project. But, as long as this band feels relevant and we don’t look goofy doing it we’ll do it.

Cool. Is it more satisfying to write a particular song for a movie then having an existing one picked because it seemed to fit the premise?
I think actually writing the piece of music for the film is more exciting because it’s a different world. I sit at home in my room with a guitar and a piece of paper and that’s how I write my songs. It’s really interesting, I did some work for Disney and you work by committee. It’s kind of interesting to be this fish out of water. I mean when I write for myself or my band I’m this sort of antonymous kind of entity, but then you’re part of a team and I think it’s kind of exciting to absorb that kind of creativity. I worked with like 25 people. You have the writers, the director, the animators, the producer and it’s really exciting to be apart of that team. You’re there to fulfill a purpose that’s outside your own agenda. It’s interesting because you get to step outside yourself.

That’s another key, stepping outside yourself, and if you do this for a long time with one band you still need other outlets. If you only focus on one thing day after day for years you’ll get burned out, whereas, if you have something like this it makes coming back to your band that much more enjoyable.
Absolutely. It’s been a long marriage and once in awhile you go out and flirt with another girl and then you come home to your band and realize how good you have and that re-ignites all the creativity and the synergy between the guys in the band.

So what does Robbie do to get away?
He’s got a recording studio in his house and he records other bands and produces stuff. He writes a lot of electronic music, he’s really into that stuff, and he’s building a recording studio back home in Buffalo. He’s got his own little side things going. I have to respect the guy’s creative space. I don’t own him and I don’t want to own him. It’s like, especially with something like this when you’re dealing with people’s feelings and egos and their job. You have to keep it fresh. And, we’re friends and that’s a good thing.

That’s a very good thing.
It is a very good thing because we’ve always been an organic band. There are a lot of bands, these nu-metal bands and all these really young bands and they blatantly lie about their credibility as far as, ‘oh, we’re a real band.’ I know for fact and I’m not mentioning any names that it’s one guy and then the management company and the record company goes out puts a band together around him. Then they go out and pose like they’re a—

—band. Can you say, “Adema?”
My band is my gang. You know what I mean? It’s like this is my gang and I have to be loyal to my gang.

You and Robbie have earned that credibility back when you were traveling the country playing clubs and sleeping on living room floors.
That’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. We did a lot of that and I’m glad we did, but I wouldn’t want to do it again. Not in a million years.

Not even for old time sake? Just one time? One fuckin’ night?
Umm… that was kind of hard. It was a really exciting, romantic thing to do when you were 20, you know, but Jesus, I’m 36 now. There’s gonna be a time when, yeah, we’ll do a short tour in a van, but I don’t know. I’m not looking forward to it. It’s romantic to reminisce about it, but doing it? No.

I did the same thing and, yeah, I guess you’re right in that thinking about it is what’s romantic not actually getting back in the van and being ready to rip each other’s heads off over who’s turn it is to drive.
Yeah, it’s your turn to drive. What the hell are you doing? Ah, I got too drunk I can’t do it. Then you have to stop driving for 12 hours. You know, that’s where you prove yourself. Robbie and I proved ourselves in that way and it was something that our old drummer didn’t want to do anymore.

So you got a new one. No big deal.
We had no choice. It’s like Robbie and I still believed in it and he didn’t so we had to move on.

And the motherfucker gave up at the wrong time too.
Well, we gave up on him. Robbie and I had no clue as to what was going to happen with that record and we went out in a van one more time and we made plans that we were going to make $200 a week. We were making enough money on the road that we were going to make $200 week and the big luxury was a trailer attached to the van so we didn’t have to sleep all over the gear. We actually got a whole bench seat to sleep on. He was just like, ‘nope, I ain’t doing it.’

You know what I got paid?
How much? Were you in the band too?

No, no, no. I just sold merchandise and eventually became the tour manager and all around right hand man. I got $5 a day. That’s all we got. Even the band only got $5 a day.
Five bucks a day! That’s amazing dude. Just a per diem?

That’s it. That’s what the guys in the band got too. We were playing some shows for $250 and then Chicago would come along and pay us $1,500 and we were like, ‘cool, now we can go to Old Time Buffet and have a full on meal.
Yeah, we used to do that all the time. It was amazing our first tour we got $5 a day each and we’d go to the Wendy’s super bar and then you’d eat whatever they gave you at the club—

And, that was two meals for the day.
You always got beer, so you always had beer and it was free so that was cool.

We’d save the deli tray for breakfast.
We’d buy a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of wheat bread and that was breakfast everyday. But, I got really good at coning club owners. I’d walk into a club and just start kicking the cigarette machine and going, ‘man, it ate my money!’ It always worked. ‘Oh man what kind did you want?’ Marlboros. That’s how I’d get my pack of smokes.

If I remember right, didn’t you used to work as a bar-back at some bar in Buffalo?
Yeah, the punk rock bar. The guy who owned it always let me go on tour. He was excited that there was a band from Buffalo that was actually getting in the van and going out. He’d slip me like a $100 and be like you know you got your job when you come back. It was cool.

That is cool of him.
He really helped us a lot. He always had good advice. If we got in trouble out on the road, he’s a club owner, we’d call and say, ‘hey, this guy doesn’t want to pay us. What do we do?’ There were a couple times it came down to just stealing shit out of the club.

That’s the tough part about clubs, you don’t know what to expect. Now you’re playing amphitheaters, arenas and theaters and that’s not going to happen.
No, it’s not and you know what? I used to feel almost guilty about it. Then one day I just said, ‘Fuck this. I earned this.’

Exactly. Any band that says shit is just jealous because they’re trying to get there too.
That’s pretty much it—

Don’t feel guilty.
Nah, I don’t anymore. I’ve really learned to ignore negative, destructive opinions because I know the truth about myself and the rest is just conjecture. You’re entitled to your fuckin’ opinion, but why does it mean anything to me. I get constructive criticism too, which I sit and think about.

I recently read where you said you really have learned from some of the constructive criticism.
Absolutely. Yeah, I read this one review of our new record in Rolling Stone and it was weird because I had to do a face-to-face interview afterward with that guy. It was a pretty good review and it was the usual disdain for music in general that a lot of those guys have. But, I said to him, you know you brought up a really good point in this review and you really made me think about it a lot. That’s really cool. That’s never happened to me before.

Did he seem to respect you more for admitting that to him?
Ah, I don’t know if you’d call it respect, but there’s a certain kind of category of music critics that really hate anything that a lot of people like. If it becomes commercially successful obviously it can’t be good because you’re dealing with the lowest common denominator in their minds. You’re dealing with the masses and what the fuck do they know? Well, that’s great then you’re an intellectual and that’s fine or you try and pass yourself off as an intellectual and your opinion really doesn’t matter to me. That’s OK because, you know what it is? You run into some kid who marked a point in his or her own personal history by something that you said. You remember what song was playing the first time you got laid. You remember what song was played the first day of high school. You mark your personal history with that music. I don’t know how long you’ve been out of high school, but 10 years down the road you hear that song and it brings that time back to you. That’s a powerful thing to provoke a memory like that or to be part of that special time. That’s something that critics don’t understand.

From the mid 70s to the mid 80s the band that marked my personal history like that was Cheap Trick, and you guys are kind of like Cheap Trick in that same way.
I love those guys. I remember my parents going away for the night, sitting in the living room blasting Budakon and drinking quarts of beer. And, playing kissy face with all the girls in the neighborhood. That was a great time. I still remember that when I hear Surrender.

(Laughing) You damn well know there a tons of kids out their that played Boy Named Goo or even Dizzy Up The Girl when they got laid and found out what you do when you get a boner.
Yeah right. That’s more important than how many stars I get in a magazine.
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