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Goo Goo Dolls mark 25 years with July 4 concert in Philly; CD that probes country's struggles

Goo Goo Dolls singer Johnny Rzeznik says that when his band was approached with the idea of playing a free Fourth of July concert — billed as the nation's largest — on Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway, they jumped at it.

"I was like, 'Yes, of course!' " Rzeznik says, laughing, in a recent phone interview. "I mean, come on, man, that's like once-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."

So the Goo Goo Dolls, who for 15 years have topped the charts with such hits as "Name," "Iris" and "Slide," headline Philly's annual Welcome America! concert with The Roots and other bands.

America is a subject that has been of increasing concern to 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.

Rzeznik says the songs express concern over the struggle of people living in our country in difficult times.

It's "about the emotional side of the troubled times that we're living in right now," he says. "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 individuals and families are being hit really hard.

"One of the things that really caught my attention was that nobody was really speaking about 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?"

For instance, he says one song tells the true story of a wounded soldier who "doesn't feel that he's whole anymore."

"I had some correspondence with a woman whose husband was wounded in Iraq about the struggles that he's going through," Rzeznik says. "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."

Even the disc's title reflects Rzeznik's perception that "our society's sort of turning into a two-class system, where … most of the wealth and privileges are being concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer people. And there's 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."

If all that sounds a bit weighty for a band whose biggest songs, though often serious, are about relationships, Rzeznik says it's all part of a continuing journey.

The Goo Goo Dolls started as punk band in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1986. Bassist Robbie Takac was the lead singer before the band pushed Rzeznik out front and embraced a more mainstream sound with the 1995 album "A Boy Named Goo" and the single "Name."

"I think it's taking the next logical step. I mean, I'm not a kid anymore. 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," he says, laughing. "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."

Rzeznik says he's become a "political junkie" for whom "a lot of the veneer [of idealized life] has really worn off."

"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?" he says with a laugh. "I'm more concerned with the feelings of a wife or a kid back home, or the feelings that that guy has 8,000 miles from home, completely alone, and perhaps struggling between pride and fear."

In addition to the lyrics on "Something for the Rest of Us," Rzeznik said the Goo Goo Dolls took a fresh approach to the music. He wrote much of the material on the piano instead of the guitar, "And I don't play the piano," he says with a laugh. He says he would "chop out melodies out of this completely foreign thing, and then take it to somebody who actually could play the piano."

He says, "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."

In fact, Rzeznik says that after two years of work, the band had a finished album but in January went back into the studio.

"We sat down and listened to it, and it's really easy to fall in love with your own reflections, you know?" he says. "But we only had to sit and look at it and go, 'We need to go deeper, man. 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 the band remixed the album and added a couple of new songs. "I think it was much better," says Rzeznik. "I was more satisfied; it was sort of more the vision of it that I had when I initially started."

On the tour surrounding the new disc, the Goo Goo Dolls will observe its 25th year..

"Well, makes you feel old," Rzeznik, 44, says with a laugh. But he says the years have brought him the security to take chances such as the band did with the new disc.

"I'm one of those guys who always has that kind of underlying anxiety kind of always creeping around in the background," he says. "I'm like that all the time. I do that every day. 'Is this still working? Is this still relevant? Does this still mean anything?"

Source: http://www.mcall.com/entertainment/mc-goo-goo-dolls-20100703,0,6276707,full.story
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