By Ariel Parrella-Aureli
Despite more than two decades of playing shows and touring the world, the Goo Goo Dolls screwed up during its first show of its tour. But singer and guitarist John Rzeznik said if he makes a mistake, he cops to it.
“I think our audience appreciates that,” he said on the first day of the band’s Long Way Home Summer Tour, which started July 14. The tour is in support of the band’s May 12 EP, You Should Be Happy
The New York-based band is no stranger to the touring life. With more than 13 albums and compilations released since its 1985 formation, the band has been touring since the early ‘90s. Rzeznik and bassist Robby Takac have been in the group since the beginning, while the drummer’s seat has rotated three times. After the single “Rebel Beat” in 2013 from its album Magnetic, former drummer Mike Malinin moved on from the band. But with 2016’s Boxes, came a new steady beat for the Goo Goo Dolls: Craig Macintyre, who co-wrote one of the album’s singles “Over and Over.”
The band has sold platinum records and topped single charts with songs “Iris,” “Name” and “Rebel Beat,” among others. Before the group’s July 24 Chicago show at Huntington Bank Pavilion, 1300 S. Lynn White Drive, The Chronicle spoke to Rzeznik about the band’s upcoming EP, his growth as a songwriter and the rewarding vulnerability that comes with releasing songs so “close to the bone.”
THE CHRONICLE: After all the albums you’ve released, why did you decide to do just an EP for You Should Be Happy?
JOHN RZEZNIK: After we got done with the last tour, my wife was pregnant, and as soon as my daughter was born, I wasn’t sleeping a lot, so I started writing. I got some collaboration with a couple of guys. I thought the songs were really good, and I wanted to put it out. We are living in a different time where people don’t want to wait three years to listen to an entire album. When you get a couple of good songs, you might as well put them out.
How is the EP a reflection of where your sound is now?
It’s one of those situations now where I am at a point in my career where I don’t have to have all this pressure. There were times 10 years ago where it was like, “You need a hit, you need a hit!”
Why it is easier now?
I am getting older and the world of “pop music” is the obsession with the latest, greatest, shiniest, youngest thing they can get their hands on. The music is constantly changing and I keep changing—my music keeps changing, but it keeps changing the way I want it to change, not what popular music would dictate.
What’s the most thrilling thing about starting tour and playing that first show tonight?
We are doing a lot of different songs [on this tour]; we are going a little bit deeper into the catalogue. We have a couple of new songs, which is always terrifying to play new songs. People don’t know if they are supposed to like them yet or not. We reworked some of the arrangements in some of the songs so they are a little bit different, and then it’s really exciting when you play all the songs people are familiar with and you can watch them have a really good time. That’s what it’s about—making that connection with the audience and being there for them. I am kind of in the service industry; I am here to make sure you have a good time.
How does it feel to play old material?
It makes me remember things. It definitely brings you back to a time and place. There are songs where I have no idea what I was writing about and years later—this happened to me—I’d be up on stage like, “Oh wow, that is what I meant when I was saying that.” You realize something about yourself later.
How did you feel when first releasing those?
I had a producer a long time ago tell me, “You need to write music until it freaks you out and what is on the paper scares the s–t out of you. That is where you are going to get to the real stuff and important work.” There were times when I wasn’t sure to put [songs] out there. [It] might be a little too personal but you do it.
The other thing I learned was once it’s out there, I have no control over it. Sometimes it’s a hit and it takes on a very public life, and sometimes it’s not a hit and that’s okay, too. What people think and say about it is none of my business after that. When somebody comes up to me—and it happens almost every day—and they tell me a story about how a piece of music, that I wrote, helped them that is the best thing. You hang onto stuff people write. That is an amazing feeling.
After playing your songs so often, are there any you still get emotional about or ones you could still learn and take advice from?
I think the song “Sympathy” has a lot to say. A song like “Better Days” has a lot to say to people, and to myself. A lot of these songs are really just messages to myself. Like, “Oh, by the way, stop drinking until you blackout everyday.” The song “Use Me” off the new album—I wrote that about a friend of mine who is in a very peculiar relationship with a guy and she doesn’t understand how much power she has in that relationship. Eventually she will discover that; I hope she does.
When you watch or listen to other musicians, what do you pick up on, given your experience?
When you get through the music and peak behind the curtain at someone else’s psyche or their life—as long- as there is a certain amount of sincerity in it, that’s what I love. I also love the imperfections in music because those are the things that make it special. I know lots of guys who can play a really nice guitar solo, but I want to see someone who can make me cry playing the guitar, and it has absolutely nothing to do with technical ability.