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A new album. A new (single) life. And Friday nights alone with the History Channel

"Everyone goes To L.A. to be noticed," says Johnny Rzeznik. "I went there to be completely invisible." The Goo Goo Dolls singer moved to Los Angeles more than a year ago, just after his band finished touring behind its multiplatinum album Dizzy Up the Girl. He had separated from his wife and was living on his own for the first time in his life, at age thirty-five. "My manager found me an apartment, and when I came home and walked into it, there was an echo," Rzeznik says. "I sat there for a couple of weeks just drinking Jack Daniel's and ginger ales and smoking cigarette and trying to figure out what I was going to do now that I was rotated back into the world." What he did was to start writing songs for the band's seventh studio album, Gutterflower. "I don't write a lot of fiction," he says. "I put my ass on the line, but that's good. That's what you're supposed to do."

You've always talked about having writer's block. Was that a problem with this record?
The producer [Rob Cavallo] had me do an interesting experiment. He said, "I want you to go home and write until you freak yourself out with what you're saying." And it was nice to be able to do that. You sit down, put your pen to paper, and you don't know where it's going. You have to really learn to love the uncertainty of that and just keep writing. I once had a conversation with Paul Westerberg where I said, "Hey, dude, how the hell do you write a song? I'm supposed to know how to do this." And he's like, "Nobody knows how to do it. You just do it."

What was the first concert you ever saw?
Van Halen, Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, 1979. First time I ever smelled pot, too. I was like, "What the hell is that?"

Did you smoke pot in high school?
I played with weed a little bit in high school, but I preferred speed. I hated high school. Speed sort of got my mind cranking so fast that I couldn't pay attention to the morons around me.

What type of moron are we talking about?
You know, meatheads. I went to a vocational high school, which is where they basically train you to go out and dig ditches. You gotta learn a trade. Well, why do you gotta learn a trade? Because you're not smart enough to go to college. That was the underlying gist of it.

What was your vocation going to be?
Plumbing. I'll tell you: I can still fix the hell out of a toilet.

Are you dating? I feel like your grandmother: Met any nice girls?
I know a lot of nice girls. But I miss being married. I miss my wife a lot sometimes. We're still really good friends. Everybody says that, but I'm telling you the truth. We talk to each other all the time.

Do you like living alone?
It's really liberating to live alone during the week, but on the weekend it's kind of like minimum-security prison. You stay home Friday night, and it's like, "Jesus Christ, how much History Channel can one human being watch?" I don't go out much.

Do you worry about getting recognized?
I rarely get recognized. It's not like I'm a TV star who's in everybody's face all the time.

C'mon, people must recognize the cleft chin.
Yeah, that stupid hole in my chin. You could drive a golf ball off that thing. Or you get, "Hey, you're that dude in that band." I'm like, "No, but I know the dude you're talking about."

So what's your pad like?
I bought a little teeny-tiny house that's about eighty years old. I spent six months completely gutting it and putting it back together. I had a contractor and a structural engineer....

But no plumber necessary!
I actually had the guy rough in all the new copper, because I didn't want to sweat pipe. But I went out and bought the fixtures, and I put my own damn toilet in! That's a really satisfying thing, when you put the wax seal on the bowl and then you screw down the bolts and connect the supply line and then turn it on and take it for the maiden voyage. I christened that toilet. That's a great feeling.

That must be some primal-man instinct.
We're sort of wired that way. "Me build fire. Me piss on fire. Why? Because I'm a man."

Do you ever get indignant about your punk-rock roots? Because nobody associates the Goo Goo Dolls with punk nowadays.
I still have my ten-inch vinyl copy of Black Market Clash. I've had my ass kicked for having a funny haircut. The thing about punk I loved so much was looking outside of the standard rock & roll excesses. As far as my music goes, it's not some lofty conceptual thing. But punk was all about being an individual, and then one day it was like, "I'm part of a big group – with a lot of rules." And I'm not a kid anymore; I'm not going to pretend to be. That's selling out.

There's something beautiful about being a pissed-off teenager.
We all felt like that. That's what I miss about being a teenager. Every second took a year, and everything you felt was on ten. Man, that was awesome!

Do you think you're cynical about the music industry?
No, no, no. I'm happy for what I've got. People say, "Where are you going to go from here? You're at the top – it's a long fall from here." And I say, "What makes you think that I can't climb down with some dignity and go on with my life when my time is up?" But I'm a lucky motherfucker. Every day I gotta remember that. Because I could be digging a ditch.
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