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Posted by John J. Moser at 01:30:00 AM on July 4, 2010

Goo Goo Dolls for 15 years have topped the charts with such hits as “Name,” “Iris” and “Slide,” songs that took looks at the emotional side of relationships.

But lately, America is a subject of increasing concern to Johnny Rzeznik, the Goo Goo Dolls’ principal songwriter. He says it pervades the group’s upcoming album, “Something for the Rest of Us.” Set for release Aug. 31, it will be the group’s 13th disc, but its first of new material in more than four years.

So it’s no surprise that Goo Goo Dolls were chosen to headline today’s annual Welcome America! concert on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway with The Roots and other bands. The free Fourth of July concert is billed as the nation’s largest.

Rzeznik spoke in a recent telephone interview about the event, the disc, and the evolving story of The Goo Goo Dolls.

Here’s a transcript of the interview:

Lehigh Valley Music: Where are you today? Where am I calling you?

Rzeznik: “I swear to god – let me look at the phone. Johnson, Arkansas.”

Were you involved at all in setting up the concert – the fact that you guys are going to play in downtown Philadelphia on the fourth of July?

“We got a call about who wanted to do it, and I was like, ‘Yes, of course.’ [Laugh] I mean, come on, man, that’s like one in a lifetime chance. You get to play in Philly in front of a huge crowd downtown – Fourth of July. I mean, that’s pretty damned American.

“I’m bringing my girlfriend and I’m making her run a video camera, ‘cause I really want to see what’s going to go down. I think it’s going to be amazing.”

I want to ask a bit about the new album. Let me give you a bit of a free rein to tell me what the new album is like, and tell me what you want to tell me about it.

“Um, the best way I can describe it is, most of the material on the album is kind of about the emotional side of the troubled times that we’re living in right now. We’re in a really bad economy and there’s two wars that nobody knows when they’re going to end – one of them is actually escalating. And people and families – individuals and families – are being hit really hard. And one of the things that really caught my attention was that nobody was really speaking about what the emotional impact of families being torn apart, either through economic circumstances or foreign conflict. And what are those people thinking? What are they feeling? And how do they hold onto their humanity in a time where automation and economics are sort of robbing people of their humanity.”

Are the messages overt? When you listen to the songs, is it going to be obvious what they’re about?

“I’m not the kind of guy who likes to beat people over the head and scream ‘Get out of Iraq! Get out of Iraq! You know? [Laughs] It’s more like I’m more I’m more concerned with the feelings with a wife or a kind back home, or the feelings that that guy has 8,000 miles from home, completely alone, and perhaps struggling between pride and fear. That’s really it.”

What brought you to the point of writing that type of song? As opposed to songs about relationships? Was there something in your life that turned it around? Do you think it was a sign of maturity?

“Yeah I think it’s a little bit of where my headspace is at. It’s just sort of – I’m a political junkie. And a lot of the veneer of that has really worn off – the shine of the whole thing has worn off for me. And I’m just, ‘Whoa!,’ you know? There’s a big difference between history and political science. History is fairy tales and indoctrination and political science is really sort of the truth – in a more unflinching kind of way.

“And I talk to people all the time, when we do shows and that. And people give me notes and letters and they tell me what’s going on. And I had some correspondence with a woman whose husband was wounded in Iraq about the struggles that he’s going through. And how he doesn’t feel that he’s whole anymore. And how he sort of has pulled away from his relationship because he doesn’t feel that he’s whole. And honestly – I tried to write him a love letter from her telling him that everything was OK and that it was all right for him to come home and start his life over again, and that he had somebody there who would always back him.

“The songs on the album, I feel, are emotional but not very sentimental.”

The title – “Something for the Rest of Us” – give me an explanation of that.

“I think that our society’s sort of turning into a two-class system, where we have most of the wealth – it’s always been that way, but it seems to be getting even worse – most of the wealth and privileges are being concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer people. And there’s the rest of us [Laughs]. You know? The rest of us that have to go out and work and struggle and live and die and try to find some happiness and contentment and security. And those are the people that I really want to speak to and about, you know?”

Now let me talk a little bit about the actual making of the album. I’ve read you guys basically had an album together and then actually went back into the studio because you actually wanted to make it better.

“Yeah.”

So tell me the story behind all that. How did that happen?

“Well we finished the album with the first producer and we sat down and listened to it, and it was – it’s really easy to fall in love with your own reflections, you know? Everyone thinks that their baby is the most beautiful, smartest one in the world. But we only had to sit and look at it and go, ‘We need to go deeper, man. We need to go deeper, it doesn’t sound the way I want it to sound, it doesn’t feel the way it sounds, there’s pieces missing from the material. So we went back in and kind of tore it down and rebuilt it and a guy named Paul David Hager remixed it and we sang a bunch of stuff and wrote a couple of new songs and brought it back, and I think it was much better. I was more satisfied; it was sort of more the vision of it that I had when I initially started.”

And the actual return to the studio happened in January?

“Yeah, I believe it was January, yeah.”

Up until that point, how long had you worked on the album?

“I think we started like two years ago. Started writing about two years ago. Then we had to take time off for this, that and the other thing. Still kinds of personal stuff going on. And then we were having trouble finding a producer that sort of shared our enthusiasm about what we wanted to do. And we decided that we wanted to take some risks. You know, the music business is so caught up in its own fear cycle that a lot of guys kind of shy away from taking risks now. They want to know that something they produce is going to get on the radio and get them more work and they’re going to make some points on the record, and da-da-da-da-da , you know? And all producers, the way the music business is, they’re all working on three albums at the same time. It’s like I don’t think if you’re a producer you can focus on more than one project at a time.”

So how much different will this album sound than the last couple of Goo Goo Doll albums?

“Wow. Well, we have our own musical style – I mean, I just sort of play the way play, but I tried to take as many left turns as possible when they felt appropriate. There’s just something a little more real about it. The production and mixing is sonically more impactful, I think. But there’s parts that are not as shiny. Not that it’s a raw-sounding album, ‘cause it’s not. But I wound up writing a lot of the material on the piano instead of the guitar, and I don’t play the piano. [Laughs] So it was really interesting to sort of try wrap my brain around this very different sort of instrument ad try to chop out melodies out of this completely foreign thing. And then take it to somebody who actually could play the piano.”

You read so often how Goo Goo Dolls started as sort of a post-punk band and then made a significant shift in the way your music sounded at some point. Are you at a point now where the course of your career takes you in a different path? Or a slightly different path?

“Um, I think it’s taking the next logical step. I mean, I’m not a kid anymore. And people always – there’s always those few people that are like, ‘Why don’t you play any of the material off your first two records?’ And I’m like, ‘For the same reason that I don’t play with G.I. Joe dolls anymore [Laughs]. It’s like, ‘I’m a grown-up.’ I wrote that music when I was a kid. It doesn’t feel appropriate to who I am or where I am right now.”

As I was doing research for this story, I saw that by the time the album comes out, it will be more than four years since your last album. But then I realized the last couple of album cycles have almost been like that for your guys.

“Yeah, ‘cause well, we tour like crazy. We go out on tour for two years on every album. I think that’s one of the reasons we got a pretty loyal fan base – a pretty loyal following. I wish I could write faster – I really do. But it just doesn’t work that way for me.”

I also realized that after this year, you’re heading into your 25th year as a band. How amazing is that to you?

“Yeah, well, makes you feel old. [Laughs] But it’s one of those things. I think the real history of the band kind of started around 1995 when we actually became ‘professional musicians,’ where it was like it became our jobs – where we were actually able to earn a living playing music. Which was nice ‘cause we always have to sort of return to our day jobs when we got home. Or most of the time I had to go find something else to do.”

I read that there was some interview where you said there was a period before “Let Love In” where you were questioning whether the band could continue or stay together. Is that accurate?

“Yeah, but I’m like that all the time. [Laughs] I do that every day. ‘Is this still working? Is this still relevant? Does this still mean anything? You know, I’m one of those guys who always has that kind of underlying anxiety [Laughs]. Kind of always creeping around in the background.”

Sort of the insecurity of a creative person, I guess.

“You know, yeah, creative people are intensely insecure. And we all have enormous friggin’ egos. It’s so schizophrenic, you know?”

The release is still end of August?

“Yeah. They moved it from the beginning of August to the end of August because they’re like ‘We need more time to set this up.’ I’m like, ‘OK, alright. At least they’re working on it.’ “

But the dates you’re going out to do – you’re going to be playing some of the new material?

“Yeah, we do now. We play like four new songs. But during the summer I think we’ll blow that up to like six – maybe like half the new record.”

The single “Home” is out already.

“It is. That’s really cool and the response at radio’s been really good. So I just keep my fingers crossed and keep playing as many shows as I possibly can.”

Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to see in my story?

“We work with a group called USA Harvest and they have volunteers in every city that we go to. And what they do is – I love the organization because it’s a truly direct-action, kind of grassroots group. And what I do basically is ask people, ’Can you please bring as much canned goods, non-perishable food items to the shows as you can?’ And then those volunteers take those items and they load them into a trick, and they go around in that city – a lot of times the same night – and distribute the food directly to the shelters instead of having to go through a food bank. You cut that bureaucracy out at the food bank and these shelters are getting the help that they need immediately and a lot of time people are eating that food that night.

“So they’re a really great organization, and we’ve been working with them for 10 years. And it’s paid huge dividends for a lot of folks. And it’s a way for you to help your neighbors, because everything stays local.”

How did you make the connection with that group?

“This gentleman named Stan Curtis started the organization, and he’d been working with Van Halen. And a friend of ours works for Van Halen and he came to us and asked if we’d like to go out, and that’s when we’d started drawing some people. And he asked us if we’d like to do this thing, and we said ‘Sure.’ And we’ve been with them for 10 years, and it’s just been a really great relationship.”

GOO GOO DOLLS, Headlining the Welcome America! Life, Liberty and You Concert, with The Roots, Chrisette Michele, Chuck Brown and Green River Ordinance; 8 p.m. Sunday, akins Oval, 20th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphi; Free. Info: www.welcomeamerica.com, 215-683-2200.

Also: With Switchfoot, 7 p.m. July 27, PNC Bank Center, Garden State Parkway, Holmdel, N.J.; $25 to $53.25. And 7:30 p.m. Aug. 7, Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain, 1 Mountain Blvd., Scranton; $25 to $50, www.livenation.com. On the Web: www.googoodolls.com, www.myspace.com/googoodolls

Source: http://blogs.mcall.com/lehighvalleymusic/2010/07/gabbing-with-goo-goo-dollss-johnny-rzeznik-new-disc-looks-at-america-for-the-rest-of-us.html
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