No one ever expected the Goo Goo Dolls to last this long, including the band itself. After coming up with the band name during an impromptu jam session in their in their upstate New York garage, founding members John Rzeznik and Robby Takac thought they’d give it a few weeks before finding something more permanent, a more official title to match their ambitions.
“We figured it was going to last three months,” Rzeznik admitted to the Today show in 2016. But the name ended up being a perfect fit for the band, helping them bridge the gap between 1980s garage punk and the alt-rock explosion that would follow in the coming decade. After erupting onto the national stage with their 1995 album A Boy Named Goo and its hit single “Name,” the band released their landmark album Dizzy Up the Girl in 1998, making alt-rock history with one of one of the biggest albums of the 1990s. Songs such as “Iris,” “Black Balloon,” and “Slide” became inescapable radio hits of the decade.
In 2018, the band celebrated the 20th anniversary of the album with a sold-out North American tour. It brought back memories for fans and the bandmates alike, who stress how important it was for them to look back on the era, even as more recent music has taken them in vastly different directions.
“Some of those songs are forever going to be part of our lives, you know? Because it’s become such a part of what the band is,” Takac tells SPIN over the phone from Nashville, where the band recently performed with Train. “It was fun to revisit that time, but it definitely felt like a different time. Some of the songs felt a little weird playing them. But … it was really cool to put ourselves in that headspace for a couple of months and go out and share that with everybody.”
The band has since released a surprise single and announced their twelfth studio album, both titled Miracle Pill. The 11-track album, which arrives September 13, will also include “Money, Fame and Fortune,” a dazzling, synth-drenched single about the everyday pursuit of the good life.
“[The album] is sort of a comment about everyone needing an instant fix, an instant cure for everything,” Rzeznik says. “We’re living in this incredibly tumultuous time, and I think that people are starting to lose their hope. That was something that just started spilling out of me when I was writing.”
Those song titles and the track listing for Miracle Pill? The band is sharing them with SPIN first:
Money, Fame and Fortune
Step in Line
Life’s a Message
Think It Over
Like its song titles might suggest, the album finds Rzeznik and Takac reflecting on the chaos of social and political life in the 21st century, and how music can help bring people together in the face of national uncertainty.
“Live music right now is just so incredibly important to help unite people in the country,” Rzeznik says. “We’re living in a very divided, divisive society at this point in history. But music transcends all these warring factions. You can just lay it down, come out and take a break, and get back to the barricades afterwards.”
Whether they’re working out lyrics in the studio or posing for photos with fans on tour, the band stress the importance of making meaningful connections with their audience through their new songs. And what could be more powerful and necessary in the current moment than that?
(This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.-Spin)
So last year was the 20th anniversary of Dizzy Up the Girl, and that was obviously a big event for you guys. How was the anniversary tour? Were you excited to play those songs again after such a long time?
John Rzeznik: It was a lot of fun, I enjoyed playing the album from start to finish. It brought back a lot of memories of that time. But it also felt like we were closing the door in a good way. Sort of like saying, “OK, we acknowledge this and that’s great. Let’s move on and go forward.”
I started writing this record immediately after that tour. I just felt really inspired. Like, “OK, I paid my respects to that time and now I’m ready to move on.”
So when this new stuff started taking shape, where did you begin?
JR: I wanted to collaborate with different people and I had a bunch of ideas that were on my iPhone. I’d sort them, we’d sit down and start playing and try to form these basic musical ideas and melodic ideas. We’d meet up with someone like Sam Hollander and we’d just hang out.
Collaboration at its best is when someone changes your way of doing things and you’re enjoying it. So we had a good time. We traveled all over the place making the record. We did some in New York, some in New Jersey, some in Los Angeles.
You mentioned Sam Hollander. Did you come to him with ideas you wanted to flesh out? How did that collaboration begin?
JR: Yeah. Well first, we wrote a song called “Indestructible.” We just sat down cold together and just started riffing ideas back and forth. And then “Miracle Pill,” which was just this little riff I was playing on the guitar. I was scatting a melody over the top.
But in terms of the album itself, I always wanted to work with some gospel singers and I finally had the chance to do that. We went to the Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles and recorded this massive pipe organ. Or “Autumn Leaves,” there’s just this massive, powerful organ as well. We got to play with amazing people, it was a really fun experiment.
“Miracle Pill” is the first single as well as the title of the album. How did that take shape sonically?
JR: Yeah, like I said, we got in a room with Sam. The song started on the guitar. It wound up being a sort of piano-based song. Sam added his “thing” to it. It was just really exciting to hear it from another writer’s perspective. Like, “Hey I’m gonna take this idea. Check out what I did with it.” We’d go back and forth; it was a lot of fun.
In the process of writing songs, I’ve gotten to a point in my career where I’m gonna work with people that I like, I’m gonna write stuff that I like. And out of a big pile of songs, I’m gonna pick the eight or nine songs that I like the best, and hopefully people like them too.
To me, I enjoy it because I learn from these people. I want to surround myself with people who are better than I am so I can keep learning. This is my 12th album. You really start to repeat yourself if you don’t collaborate.
Were there any moments on the album where you felt yourself pushed out of your comfort zone by Sam or other collaborators?
JR: Yeah, definitely. And I think we did that to each other in a certain way. You know, my roots are in the garage playing punk rock and Sam used to do hip-hop.
So “Money, Fame, and Fortune” is going to be the next single, and with that one there’s a lot of synths and just this really clean production. What was the process like in the studio there?
JR: I mean the songs were all written before we got into the studio. Derek [Fuhrmann] and I worked on the demos and sort of redid it in the studio so it’d sound better.
Robby Takac: It’s amazing how you get your ideas together working in ProTools. You put your initial ideas up in the studio and start to work in there. The process has really changed a lot. A lot of the little sketches play a pretty major role on what it actually ends up sounding like. With the digital format, there’s so much availability for programming and using cool textures and loops and stuff. A lot of that ends up on the record and the demos. That really helped to shape some of the production on the record too.
JR: I’m extremely into vintage recording equipment. I have a lot of vintage recording gear, a lot of crazy microphones and amps and stuff like that, and I love to mutilate sound. Like, I’ll go back and use a piece of studio gear from the 1940s and then use some digital technology to mutilate the sound of it. Then you layer that in to create textures.
Were there any songs that made it onto the record with that kind of mutilated, warped sound?
RT: I mean, most of them.
JR: Most of them. I go through every song and am just like, “Let’s run this guitar through this broken tape recorder.” It’s nothing that’s very obvious, but when you take it away, the song sounds a little flat.
RT: It makes it sound a little different than everybody else, you know? It just changes the texture a little bit.
JR: It was very much a spirit of experimenting. But it’s like the most important thing with production is the music and the lyrics—trying to connect with people. I felt very much like, “What is my mission here on this album?” And then I just need to write songs about connection. I’m at a point in my life where connections are the most important thing.
Yeah, you can really feel that on “Miracle Pill.”
JR: Right now I feel like the world is very polarized, scared, uncertain, in a state of flux, and I think that all of us are suffering from a kind of low-grade anxiety. I mean, if you look at the 21st century, from the beginning of it to right now, what have we gone through? We went through 9/11, we’ve had two endless wars, we’ve had the financial collapse, and then the rise of Trumpism.
I don’t talk about politics at all—I’m not making a comment about whether I’m for Trump or against Trump. All I’m saying is that he’s definitely whipped the country into some kind of frenzy. We’re living in this incredibly tumultuous time and I think that people are starting to lose their hope. That was something that just started spilling out of me when I was writing.
So I guess this image of the miracle pill is about the false promise of things like social media, mental health drugs, and that sort of stuff?
JR: Eh, not so much mental health drugs because I think that people get a lot of benefit from them. But we live in a world where it’s like every problem is just supposed to be solved by technology, science, and medicine. It’s just not going to work.
Yeah, I think this is something that a lot of musicians I talk to have issues with. Being a musician in the 21st century means you have to deal with this kind of fake intimacy sometimes with your audience on social media and be constantly promoting yourself on all these platforms where people want to be your friend and want to follow your music.
JR: Yeah, I think it’s become a kind of necessary adjunct to trying to write music. What bothers me is that sometimes it feels like the social media presence and the peripherals of what you’re doing become almost more important than listening to the music. So I avoid a lot of social media. I have to do some stuff, so I try to do something creative. We do these little things called 10-second tour, where we’ll just, like, show the bus. Something like that.
And we have awesome fans. A lot of them have been with us for awhile and now we’re sort of on our second generation of them. I think mostly people just want to be acknowledged and that’s OK.
RT: We got involved very peripherally in the online culture because we as a band really weren’t that deeply involved in it. I mean, we understood it existed, but I think our fans really kind of found each other there. As we were coming up, the internet was kind of growing and becoming more and more popular as we were. I think the people were pretty intimate with this group. Like, a lot of them share a lot of benefit from meeting each other online and have made lifelong friends. That’s the other side of the double-edged sword that is technology. That’s just the way things happen. But at the same time, there’s going to be people who take advantage of it and use it for weird things.
How did that play into the songwriting? I know “Miracle Pill” obviously, but is it fair to say that this theme runs through the album in a broader sense?
JR: Yeah, I mean when you’re in it, you’re in it. And I like the song, I like that it’s leading. It gets to a certain point where it takes on its own life and I have to follow it and keep up with it and keep writing. Like I said, I think most of the songs are about connections and trying to have some sort of a genuine connection with people. I think that that’s something that’s really lacking in the world, you know?
I think the song “Lost” kind of stood out to me in that way.
JR: I was listening to it after we finished it and I was like, “Wow, that’s like something I could say to my daughter.” The chorus is like, “Sail away to the sun / I hope you find a little truth in a world full of pretty lies.” It’s like all the lies that we’re fed every day that are so enticing and so trapping.
The line that’s like, “Wide away in a world full of lullabies,” and it’s like once again, it’s all this cheap, empty stuff that’s attempting to lure you into it at all times—just to be aware of the bullshit. That’s basically the message of that song. And I’ll be there for you. That’s really my mission in life. I need to be here for people.
I think that this is something that music in the 21st century is particularly suited to do. In light of all the bullshit, music can really cut through the noise and bring people connection.
JR: Absolutely. I agree with that. Live music right now is just so incredibly important to help unite people in the country. We’re living in a very divided, divisive society at this point in history. But music transcends all these warring factions. You can just lay it down, come out, and take a break, and get back to the barricades afterwards.
Do you guys prefer that live music aspect? Does it feel good to get back in the studio or do you prefer life on the road touring?
RT: I just think personally it’s a different experience entirely. In the studio, it’s a very introspective thing. Then you’re out in public doing this and it’s exactly the opposite: You’re sharing this with a huge group of people. I like ‘em both, man. They’re equally as exciting.
JR: Yeah, because when you’re in the studio, you’re sort of cocooned in complete isolation and safety. I enjoy that. Because you’re absolutely free to create and no one can judge you.
RT: Because no one has to hear it. [laughs] You can just erase it and move on to the next thing. When you’re in front of people onstage, everyone stares.
JR: And then you sort of flip the coin and you’re out, you’re in front of thousands of people every night and you’re just like, “Well I just gotta bring it. I really gotta connect with these people here.” And I enjoy that too. I’m proud of everything we’ve done.
RT: Nobody had camera phones back then. [laughs]
JR: I just enjoy that. I love when we meet people. Everybody’s got a story about their connection to us. And I love listening to those.
One of the songs that really stood out to me was “Autumn Leaves.” How did that one come together?
JR: We were just sitting in a writing session. I was working with Drew Pearson and he was showing me this instrument that he has called the una corda. It’s a crazy-sounding thing. It’s like a piano, but every note has one string instead of three, so it sounds very weird. And it’s sort of this melancholy goodbye to someone.
It feels like one that would translate well to a big arena on tour.
JR: I hope so!
Miracle Pill arrives September 13 via Warner Records. Check out the Goo Goo Dolls’ new single, “Money, Fame, and Fortune,” and pre-order their upcoming album here. The band is also currently on tour, with dates available on their website.