After years of slogging it out in small clubs and bars, The Goo Goo Dolls finally make a "name" for themselves.
"Help yourself to some eggnog, boys!" It's the Christmas season, and the Goo Goo Dolls have just finished playing their hit single, "Name", on Late Night With David Letterman. The show's gap- toothed host gestures towards the massive bowl of eggnog he's been milking all night long. In unison, Goo Goo Dolls guitarist/singer John Rzeznik, and bassist Robby Takac drop their axes, race across the set and hurl themselves into the Jacuzzi-sized vat of off-white holiday cheer. "The bizarre thing is that it wasn't at all rehearsed or planned," the blond guitarist marvels afterwards. "Each of us just new what the other guy was going to do. Later I was thinking, 'How the hell did we know?' After spending as much time together as we have, you become almost telepathic. It bugs me at times. But I think it's good for our music." Nine years together is a long time. Especially when those years are spent slogging it out on the indie-rock club circuit. Formed in Buffalo, New York, in 1986, the Goo Goo Dolls haven't always had time on their side. They came out of the Northeast playing a swift, strong strain of classic American power pop at a time when the indie world was going gaga over the more metal- and riff- oriented grunge sound rushing out of North America's other end. The Goo Goos were relegated to respectable cult status -- valued by pop artisans but largely ignored by the mainstream of alterna-scenesters. By the time their fifth album, A Boy Named Goo, (Metal Blade), was released last year, the band members had reached that age when a man starts to wonder if it really is such a good idea to spend life going up and down America's highways in a bus with his old high school buddies. "The record company was starting to give us the old pep talk," says Robby. John recites from memory: " 'Well boys, you made a darn good album. No one can take that away from you. Now go and write another one. Maybe that'll be the one that breaks through.' " " When it's time to make the video for your second single and the label hands you the c-list of directors, you know you're in trouble," adds Robby. But fate intervened for the goo Goos -- in the form of the influential Los Angeles radio station KROQ, which picked up on "Name," an introspective ballad from A Boy Named Goo. The song hadn't originally been slated for release as a single, but when KROQ listeners went ape for it, the band and its label decided to roll with the flow. "It's a song that a lot of people relate to," notes Rzeznik, who wrote the tune. "There are little bits of that song in a lot of different people. It's kinda scary, too. I wonder how many senior proms are going to have that as their song this year." "It's been a weird, crazy year in general for us," he adds, alluding to the not-entirely- friendly exit of the Goo Goo Dolls' longtime drummer, George Tutuska, on the eve of the bands big break. "But if anything, George's departure had strengthened the bond between me and Robby," says the guitarist. "There was so much tension in the band for the last four years. Now that's all over. Robby and I have been able to go back over the old material and rebuild things. The band is sounding better than it ever did. We're stronger than ever." GUITAR WORLD: How old were you too when you first met? ROBBY TAKAC: John was 19 and I was 20. JOHN RZEZNIK: He's 31 now and I'm 30. It's funny how I met Robby, 'cause I was in a hardcore band with his cousin, who played bass as well. TAKAC: I was in a metal cover band from the suburbs. Then I got a job in radio -- the progressive rock station in Buffalo. RZEZNIK: When the Goo Goo Dolls first started, I didn't sing. I wouldn't sing. I was incredibly crippled by shyness when I was younger. I couldn't even talk to people without my hand in front of my face to hide behind. Robby really helped me to bring me out of my shell. He encouraged me to sing. He may have created a monster. GW: When did you start writing songs? RZEZNIK: I was writing songs all through high school. What I wanted to do -- and still want to do -- is get the sound of a big, huge, hard rock guitar, but play something really melodic, catchy and interesting with it. I was always really attracted to the power that metal and hard rock bands had in their guitar tone. But I hated what they did with it. I always hated heavy metal. Metal is vapid garbage. TAKAC: When the band started, other indie-pop bands were scared to death of Marshall amps. Nobody would play Marshalls. RZEZNIK: "Cause it wasn't cool. Joe Strummer [of the Clash] didn't play a Marshall. But then, in the mid Eighties, punk, metal, thrash, and hardcore all hopped into bed together. It blew the whole thing wide open. What I find interesting now about being a songwriter is that, no matter what you write, some asshole is going to say you sold out. No matter what. I could go back to writing 2/4 hardcore beats and singing about President Reagan -- I was in a band when Reagan was president -- and people say I've sold out! GW: It's strange how people are so concerned with authenticity these days. RZEZNIK: What's amazing about people who are obsessed with the authenticity and legitimacy of these bands is that a lot of them were in metal bands a couple years ago. And now, suddenly, they've fallen onto the assembly line of alternative rock bands. it's interesting how the modern rock radio stations are still testing out the waters now -- they're still feeling out who the core artists are going to become. It could be real interesting to see how it all shapes up, 'cause there are so many one hit wonders now. And where the Eighties was all about technique and machismo, the Nineties are really about passion and soul. GW: There was a clear-cut distinction in the Eighties between metal -- which was mainstream rock music -- and underground rock music. RZEZNIK: Yeah, and I came from the latter side. I was always heavily influenced by the Replacements and the Clash -- and the Who, the Sex Pistols and the Damned. I worshipped Elvis Costello. He's probably one of the five best songwriters of the past 20 years. And I loved Depeche Mode, believe it or not. They were awesome -- great, great songwriters. And I thought some PIL singles were good. New Order had some great stuff. And of course Husker Du and Soul Asylum were a huge influence. TAKAC: In the early days, we'd listen to Husker Du, the replacements, the Hoodoo Gurus and the Lime Spiders all the time. GW: Did you have a particular overall sound in mind for A Boy Named Goo? RZEZNIK: Yeah, I didn't want it to sound as produced as our last album, Superstar Car Wash -- although I think it was a great record, too. This time I wanted the album to have a bit more urgency, which I think we achieved. TAKAC: We did a lot of it at Bear Tracks in Suffern, New York. RZEZNIK: Which was weird, 'cause it's kind of a jazz studio -- a very pristine environment. I'm afraid we totally blew the karma of that place. [sheepishly] I broke the windshield of the owner's car. GW: What ,deliberately? RZEZNIK: Oh, no, no. TAKAC: See, the owner had this dog that fetched rocks... RZEZNIK: I picked up this rock and it had dog spit all over it. Yuck! So I threw it to get it away from me. And it was like one of those slow motion things...The windshield shattered. TAKAC: We just tacked it onto the studio bill. GW: Was "Name" written about anyone in particular? RZEZNIK: No. I don't know what half the shit I write is about. Sometimes, years later, I might hear an old song of mine and realize, "Oh, that's what that's about." But at the time of writing it, I'm too deeply involved to have that kind of perspective. As far as I can tell, though, "Name" is about having the inevitable regrets that come with growing up. With every decision you make in your life, you're going to have some regrets about which way it goes. You just have to choose which set of regrets you can live with the best, and try to minimize the amount of regrets you have. GW: Is "Name" played with an open tuning on acoustic guitar? RZEZNIK: Yes: [from low to high] D A E A E E [see transcription in the Feb. '96 GW] Both the top strings are high E strings. Whenever I tried tuning a regular B string up to E, it would pop. it was really tough on the tension. I've seen guys play "Name" with regular tuning. it doesn't sound right. I even saw a transcription of "Name" in regular tuning. There's no fucking way that would sound right. GW: How did you come up with that tuning? RZEZNIK: I was sitting on the couch one night, trying to find something interesting to play. GW: Do you do that a lot? RZEZNIK: I use all different kinds of tunings on guitar. We're a three-piece, so I'm always looking for ways to fill up the sound live. A lot of times I'll play with the E tuned up to F#, sometimes I play with my B tuned down to C, and there's some stuff with the E tuned down to D. But I don't do that too much--it's too "metal." I tend to write with open tunings as well. And in the studio I use a lot of E-Bow. I used it for things like vocal reinforcement on Superstar Carwash, like "Close Your Eyes" and "On the Lie." I also did a thing where I plugged the guitar into a Leslie and played notes with an E-Bow. Then I went back and did another track and played the second note of a cord. I built cords that way, and punched components of each cord in and out. It sounded a lot like an organ. I love the sound of Leslies, but it's hard to use that shit live. I use Marshalls live. I just spent $2,000 getting my Marshall modified, and it exploded one night. I rented one to do the next two shows, and right out of the box it sounded awesome. That's what amazes me about Marshalls. Each one has it's own personality. As far as I'm concerned, the best Marshalls are the Mark II Lead 100-watt heads, the first ones with master volume, which they made from '75 to '81. Those are the best--with the 6550 power tubes. And there are some little mods you can do to a marshal where you double the output of the first preamp tube, and it opens up the sound beautifully. GW: Is that what you used to record A Boy Named Goo? RZEZNIK: Yeah. I had two different Marshalls heads and two different bottoms. One had a little more low end than the other. I used an ESP Strat with an EMG in the bridge position for most of the tracks, and a Gibson Les Paul with an EMG in it for the extra beefy stuff. From the guitar, the signal was split between the Marshall and a Roland JC-120, which possibly has the most horrible-sounding distortion of all time. We just used it for a clean signal, which we mixed underneath the Marshall to give some clarity to the real low-end stuff. Sometimes when you're doubling up guitar tracks they tend to get a little muddy. Those JC-120 tracks actually came in handy when we did a remix of "Naked," 'cause we lifted a clean guitar out of the middle of the song and built an intro in the computer with it. TAKAC: What was that cheesy guitar you used? RZEZNIK: That was a Vantage: it was literally picked out of the garbage. Someone put a P-90 in it for me. I would use P-90's all the time if they didn't buzz so much. GW: What did you use on the record, Robby? TAKAC: I mainly played Fender P-basses, through Pearce amps. Those Pearce amps are really cool. They're made in Buffalo! I use my wireless in the studio. It gives a little extra gain. GW: What if A Boy Named Goo hadn't' made it big? TAKAC: Even if it sold only half as much, I'd have still been happy. RZEZNIK: But if had sold as much as our other records--which is about 50,000--I would have been looking for a new career. I would have been forced to put music in perspective and say, "Okay, I tried to make a living at this for nine years." TAKAC: We barely scrapped by. RZEZNIK: I would have gotten a job and played music on the side. GW: Had you set yourselves a deadline? Like, "If we don't make it big by such a time we're gonna pack it in?" RZEZNIK: Yes. I didn't want to be a 35-year old guy playing bars. It's so sad to see these guys in their late thirties who are still trying to make it. They still believe they're going to get the big record deal--the castle, the girls and all this shit. That's really sad. GW: How did you end up on Metal Blade? TAKAC: Nobody else would sign us. RZEZNIK: Back in '86, '87, alternative bands--or what would come to be known as alternative bands, didn't get big record deals. And we were to heavy to be on Twin/Tone [the Minneapolis indie that launched Soul Asylum and the Replacements in the mid-eighties]. TAKAC: And we were to hard to be a college band. RZEZNIK: And we weren't heavy enough to be on Megaforce. TAKAC: We were in that gray zone--too rock to be alternative, too alternative to be rock. RZEZNIK: Which, as it turns out, is now becoming the mainstream of music. So I suppose it turned out okay. People got tired of all the useless pop metal drivel that was shoved down everybody's throat--those guys were prettier than your girlfriend. Who could relate to People now want something they can relate to. TAKAC: Also, people want to live vicariously through someone like Trent Reznor. People are pretty scared to do anything these days. RZEZNIK: Well, it's a big, scary world. TAKAC: So they get their dangerous rock stars--Trent Reznor and Courtney Love--and they live vicariously through them. RZEZNIK: But people have always lived vicariously through their rock stars. The problem is there's no real life icons being generated now. My favorite new band--this week--is Oasis. Noel Gallagher and his brother Liam are the biggest assholes I ever met in my life. But they write fookin' great songs. GW: What were the biggest obstacles you faced during those nine years of slogging it out? RZEZNIK: Ourselves. We shot ourselves in the foot so many times. TAKAC: During the first three or four years of the band, we were so reckless and self-destructive. RZEZNIK: We went through all the booze and drug experimentation, all that nonsense. People came to our shows just to see if one of us was gonna die on stage. Robby was still kind of metal, and I had this big blond fucking coif--like a blond Robert Smith! We'd get up on stage and play so fuckin' hard. We didn't know what we were playing half the time. TAKAC: We'd make up songs on stage. Just write some chords on a piece of paper and go out and play them. RZEZNIK: We'd drink a couple cases of beer on-stage and break everything. GW: When did you decide to stop all of that? RZEZNIK: In 1990. I decide I wanted to see my 25th birthday. The girl who would up being my wife was a big help and inspiration to me. At that same time, I started getting more serious about songwriting. Where Robby and I wrote together in the past, I started doing more on my own. it became a real challenge to me to try and complete my own thoughts, as far as songwriting goes. There are things I wanted to write about that I don't think anybody else could have helped me with--things going on in my head that nobody else could know about. GW: What are the two most important things a band should know about being on the road? RZEZNIK: Get enough sleep, and learn to ignore each other when you have to . That's what I would say. [to Robby] Do you agree? TAKAC: Yeah, and don't sit on any toilet seat! Just stay out there, man. That's the only way you're gonna do it. People aren't going to come to you. You gotta go to them. GW: After struggling for nine years, how do you feel when you see bands disdainful of success? Or who act like success is killing them? That's become a fashionable pose recently. RZEZNIK: This past week, I've been pretty disdainful of success. I suppose I gotta toughen up. But it just gets really tiresome having people invade your personal space. People pull my hair out. they want to steal the buttons off my jacket. Someone stole my hat. I mean, you're nobody for so long, and then all of a sudden someone thinks you're somebody. Just because you have a song on the radio that everybody knows. That's hard to understand. I'm the same person I was six months ago, when the song wasn't on the radio. I love to go out and meet people and talk to them. But occasionally you get people who are really belligerent. They want to pull the earring out of your ear. That's a rough thing to deal with. Then the next thing you know, they write on the internet that you're the biggest asshole they ever met in their life. Then you feel bad. I'm so grateful for what I have. We worked so long and hard for it. We did 260 shows last year, and we're going to do another 250 before this tour is over. That's a lot of work. And sometimes you gotta put on your happy face when you're really feeling tired, pissed off, or just plain shitty. That's the part I find very hard--putting on the happy face when I've just got in a fight with my wife on the phone about paying the rent on time. You can feel so powerless when you're 3,000 miles away. TAKAC: Yeah, you gotta watch calling AT&T before the show, man. It's better to stay off long distance until you're done playing. Then you can go and have your arguments. RZEZNIK: A lot is expected of you when you become successful. But we're just enjoying it, you know? It's so fleeting. it's always so sad to see bands get big on their first album then their second record comes out and bombs. And they're going, "Why? Why?" They can't handle it. We've already had a career. this is our fifth record. So we can maybe see it in a clearer perspective. Success is fleeting, so don't get used to it., 'cause it's gonna go away. If you realize that, then you enjoy it all the more when you do have it. ~end~