With a career spanning thirty-two years (and counting), The Goo Goo Dolls have, without a doubt, become one of the most definitive and successful bands in the American Alternative-Rock genre. Marking the 20th anniversary of their multi-million selling release ‘Dizzy Up the Girl’ the band have embarked on a world tour of sell-out shows and during their recent stop in London, UK Guitar Interactive Magazine editor, Jonathan Graham spoke with the band’s frontman John Rzeznik about his reflections on the classic album, thoughts on the music industry today, plus we take a closer look at Rzeznik’s live rig for the European leg of the tour.
Formed in 1986 in Buffalo, New York, the band has since achieved monumental success with over 12 million album sales and 19 top ten singles worldwide. The group (originally named Sex Maggot) first began as a product of the 80’s era wave of ‘hard and fast’ underground punk rock before transitioning into their more recognizable melodic alternative sound. Their first self-titled release was released under Mercenary Records in 1987, but was picked up the following year by the larger Celluloid Records.
The first few years consisted of relatively moderate success for the 3-piece punk trio, with significant activity on various underground music circuits and independent radio. However, the band’s 1995 release, A Boy Named Goo, was sonically a stark contrast from the band’s prior releases. Trading in ripping guitar riffs and shouty vocals for a sound more infectiously melodic, the band achieved commercial success with their acoustic ballad-esque single, “Name” in 1995.
This shift toward a more mainstream sound undoubtedly angered many of the band’s early followers. Frontman John Rzeznik once recalled receiving a rather hostile letter from a frustrated fan in response to this shift.
“It began, “’You suck,” Rzeznik said. “Name” sucks. You sold out, big-time. I used to like you, but now I hate you, and I’m getting rid of all your records. Signed, Indie Punk Rock Guy.’”
Despite the initial opposition from prior fans, it was this newfound sound and success that ultimately paved the way for beloved hits to come such as, “Iris,” “Slide,” “Sympathy,” and more.
“I’ve always played the acoustic guitar, but I finally got to a point where I felt the material I wrote on acoustic was good enough to bring to the band,” Rzeznik explained in a 1998 interview with Guitar World Acoustic. “I’m not as afraid of bringing new styles of music to them anymore, and I’m not trying so hard to be punk, or whatever we were…I’m not afraid of being criticised anymore,” he said.
This shift is perhaps indicative of Rzeznik’s and the band’s prolific growth in both musicianship and songwriting. (consider the lyrics of “Messed Up” – 1987 compared to “Name” – 1995, for example).
Messed up, yeah
Messed up, yeah
Messed up, yeah
Messed – up – messed (x4)
– “Messed Up” (1987)
And scars are souvenirs you never lose
The past is never far
Did you lose yourself somewhere out there?
Did you get to be a star?
And don’t it make you sad to know that life
Is more than who we are
– “Name” (1995)
“A lot of punk bands paint themselves into a corner with a set of hard-and-fast rules that they can’t stray away from,” Rzeznik said. “Only the Ramones can get away with making the same record seventeen times.”
According to Rzeznik, this shift carried with it the resolve to create more meaningful art from which he often drew from his past experiences when writing.
Rzeznik’s formative years were not void of strife by any means. He was born in 1965 as a product of working-class America, a strict Catholic upbringing and a blue-collar polish migrant family. Raised in Buffalo’s East Side Polish neighbourhood, his writing often reflects on the struggle he both experienced and witnessed growing up. Notably, “Broadway” from ‘Dizzy Up the Girl’ is a pretty good example of this. Furthermore, Rzeznik attributed a great deal of his motivation for success to his experiences during his blue-collar upbringing.
“When I was young, my dad used to take me down to the local bar, prop me up on the barstool, order a drink for himself and a soda and chips for me,” he said in a 1998 interview. “He’d give me a quarter for the pinball machine and sit there and drink. I’d look around and see all these kids who just turned 18, and they were hanging out there, sitting in the same chairs as their fathers. When they were old enough to drink with their dads, they took his place at the bar, carrying on the tradition.”
Rzeznik’s father passed away in 1981, and his mother passed away soon after the following year, leaving him to be raised by his four older sisters before moving to uptown.
“That got me away from the environment that killed my father,” he said. “He could never rise above it, never see beyond it. He got drunk every day.”
Today, Rzeznik still clings to his blue-collar past. In the band’s early years, he admitted that he ‘was always one step away from going back to the plumbing job he held in his teens.’ Now though, with no threat of returning to the working class, Rzeznik reflects on it creatively with the intent to inspire others with a very genuine sense of hope and encouragement.
The multi-platinum, four-time Grammy-nominated band’s latest release is a 10-track live album ‘The Audience is This Way,’ recorded on the band’s recent tours. Overseen by John Schimke, and produced and mixed by John Rzeznik, Chris Szczech and Brad Fernquist, the live release is filled with group’s timeless hits such as “Iris”, “So Alive” and “Slide” and boasts never-before-released live concert recordings of the ten tracks spanning the Goo Goo Doll’s full discography.
‘The Audience is This Way’ is out now via Warner Bros. Records for digital download and streaming. However, if you are looking to get your hands on a physical copy, it is only available as an exclusive limited edition (only 3,000 copies) black vinyl at indie-retail stores nationally as part of Record Store Day Crawl.
“I am incredibly excited to share this album in its entirety with our fans,” said Rzeznik.
Click the link to watch an interview and see a photo set – https://www.guitarinteractivemagazine.com/issues/issue-59/features/goo-goo-dolls-living-dolls/