By Daniel Durchholz
When the Goo Goo Dolls played St. Louis last October, the show was part of a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of the band’s biggest-selling album, “Dizzy Up the Girl” (1998).
“That album was definitely the biggest turning point,” guitarist/vocalist and Goo Goo Dolls co-founder Johnny Rzeznik says by phone from a tour stop in Richmond, Virginia.
Hits like “Iris,” “Slide” and “Black Balloon” followed in the melodic, radio-ready style of “Name” from several years before and turned the onetime punk/thrash band (original name: the Sex Maggots) into a perennial adult-alternative success.
“We made our first record (1987’s ‘Goo Goo Dolls’) in three days,” Rzeznik says. “We thought it was a joke. We never thought anything would come of it.”
But as he and bassist/vocalist Robby Takac continued to develop and mature as artists, Rzeznik says he drew inspiration from the wide variety of artists on his playlist.
“I was listening to Suzanne Vega and the Descendents,” he says. “I loved Husker Du and the Cocteau Twins. I started to want to do something, like, maybe more legitimate and serious.”
“A Boy Named Goo” (which contained “Name”) and “Dizzy Up the Girl” were the results, and the Goos have kept up a steady stream of hits since then.
“Miracle Pill,” which was released in September, is the band’s 12th studio album and finds Rzeznik and Takac experimenting a bit — working with a variety of producers and developing a more textured, keyboard-driven sound.
“If I like it, I’m going to write it,” Rzeznik says. “If it’s got a tuba and a harmonica on it, that’s OK.”
As for the number of the producers on the album, Rzeznik says he tends to wear them out.
“I destroy producers,” he says. “I want to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and nobody can do that. I probably shouldn’t expect that from people, but I do.”
Still, he speaks admiringly of those who did take the plunge, especially Sam Hollander, who produced and co-wrote several songs. “He’s just from another planet,” Rzeznik says. “He’s somebody who has a completely different perspective on music.”
In addition to Hollander, notables such as drummer Josh Freese (Nine Inch Nails, Sting) and background vocalist Tata Vega (“20 Feet From Stardom”) appear on the album.
“I just want to be around people who are so much better than me,” Rzeznik says — “who had done things that are so different than I did, and then somehow wrap all that up into the package. And in that respect, I think it worked.
“Whether it will be commercially successful or not, I don’t know. I would love it if it was, but I can’t care about that anymore.”
The title track is a metaphor for what Rzeznik sees as a major societal problem right now: the need for instant gratification.
“I want my headache to go away immediately, you know?” he says by way of explanation.
But the real problem people are facing today, he says, is loneliness. “People are lonely and more disconnected than they’ve ever been, at least in my lifetime. And this is while we’re allegedly connected to each other through the internet.
“So if I’m lonely, I’m going to make 5,000 friends on Facebook. There are all these cheap, imitation versions of intimacy and friendship and camaraderie. And I don’t think it’s healthy.”
Music, Rzeznik says, is something that can help.
“(Concerts) are one of the few things where big groups of people can get together and have a real, visceral human experience where we’re all in a room together and we’re all listening to music or dancing or whatever. I think it’s just so important.”
What Goo Goo Dolls • When 8 p.m. Sunday • Where Fox Sports Midwest Live!, Ballpark Village, 601 Clark Street • How much $35-$60 • More info 314-797-7530; eventbrite.comhttps://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/music/first-album-was-a-joke-but-goo-goo-dolls-have/article_cd230372-059e-5bc1-b6a6-63aef71450be.html