Robby Takac calls them “car-seat hostages.”
They are the kids that were first introduced to the music of the Goo Goo Dolls in their parents’ cars and minivans, helplessly strapped in while the band’s softer hits played on an endless loop on the radio.
“We were on the radio all the time, so they heard our songs constantly,” says Takac, the Goo Goo Dolls bassist who co-founded the band with singer-guitarist Johnny Rzeznik in the mid-1980s. “But the songs they heard were Slide and Broadway and Iris and Name. But a lot of kids now are starting to discover records that we put out in the early ’90s that were more representative of bands like Husker Du and Soul Asylum and the Replacements and the Damned and that kind of stuff; stuff we loved as kids. And kids love that kind of music now. But for some reason they don’t look back that far. If it’s not a popular skateboard-sticker band they don’t know it, because they have their own punk rock they are listening to. So it’s pretty amazing to talk to kids now who are discovering the kind of band we used to be.”
Of all the bands that emerged during the rise of so-called alternative music in the 1990s, few have endured the major identity crisis that befell The Goo Goo Dolls. Beginning life as a scrappy, post-punk garage band in Buffalo called The Sex Maggots, the Goo Goo’s early years saw them cribbing musical notes from those aforementioned post-punk icons such as The Replacements and Husker Du. Then came Name, the massively successful ballad from their 1995 breakthrough album A Boy Named Goo. Suddenly, the band became known more for AOR-styled, radio-friendly balladry than raucous punk.
For nearly 25 years, the band has attracted fans who were often blissfully unaware of their early, punk-rock leanings.
“I think we had a great physical representation of that every time we blew a bunch of female office workers against the back wall of some place during a lunchtime radio show,” says Takac. “The stations would have us come in, they’d give away 100 tickets to do some lunchtime thing. Name was on the radio and that’s pretty much it. At that time, that was one of three songs of 90 that we had that were acoustic. We’d come out and people would be like ‘What the hell is going on?’”
Which is not to say that Takac begrudges those famous songs. While the act has continued to release music, most recently the 2017 EP You Should Be Happy, they know that a good deal of fans come to shows to hear those hits. And there were plenty of them. Name, Iris, Slide and Broadway are among 15 or so songs that were inescapable on the radio and that fans expect to hear. Takac says he and Rzeznik will play at least 11 of those every show, including during the band’s performance at Shaw Millennium Park on July 11 as part of the Roundup Music Fest alongside Train, the Wallflowers and the Grapes of Wrath.
“If you can’t share that moment with a room full of people and still get something out of it, I’m not sure why you would do this every day,” he says. “If you can’t see how magical that is, I think you’ve missed the point of this whole thing.”
For better or for worse, bands that are adept at crafting memorable ballads tend to be remembered for said ballads, which are far likelier to embed themselves into the day-to-day lives of the average person than a punk-rock song.
“Lives have started with those songs, literally,” Takac says. “Lives have ended and been celebrated with a lot of those songs. Weddings, funerals, birthdays. There was a time when we were on the radio a whole lot. People were hearing us all the time. People connect those moments (to the songs), they become the soundtrack of those moments. That’s allowed us to keep moving on and doing what we do.”
As with any band that has been around for more than 30 years, things have changed. For one, only Takac and Rzeznik remain in the lineup. Founding drummer George Tutuska left over a royalty dispute in 1994. His replacement, Mike Malinin, left in 2013.
While Rzeznik is the main songwriter in the band, Takac has always contributed songs to albums. He still lives in Buffalo while Rzeznik lived in Los Angeles for years before a recent move to New Jersey. So, in many ways, the dynamic of writing and recording has inevitably changed.
“Thirty-some years ago, when we were kids and making records, we would get in a room and punk rock for awhile and have fun and that would end up being the record,” Takac says. “We’d go into the studio and bang it out real quick. But through the years, the process has changed. John and I wrote separately an awful lot. We started writing together a little bit more now, but the process has changed as stuff started being done on computer instead of sitting down with an acoustic guitar and making four-track demos.”
On the other hand, some things don’t change, he says.
“John and I have always had this thing where you know eventually you have to play it for the other guy,” he says. “I think there’s something to that, too. It’s funny, we guard our demos from each other a little bit until we feel it’s to a point where it’s far enough along where he’ll kind of get it. It’s always a kind of a nervous time.”
The Goo Goo Dolls play the Roundup Music Fest at Shaw Millennium Park on July 11. Visit roundupmusicfest.com.