Ilikeyouroldstuff.com Interview: Goo Goo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznik

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“Iris” hitmakers the Goo Goo Dolls are survivors – quite literally. As well as walking away from an Italian plane crash in 1999, the Buffalo, New York group also survived a number of perilous van smashes in the band’s early days. Frontman Johnny Rzeznik admits jack-knifed wrecks aren’t the only perils facing your average rock star: unhinged fans practising witchcraft are just as dangerous.

“We’ve had a few run-ins with mentally unstable fans and it’s a little bit scary,” Rzeznik explains. “I had to get a restraining order after someone broke into my house. They broke in through the gate and did some crazy ritualistic shit in my backyard. I found these candles burning and this weird little altar and a box of strange objects. I was like, ‘Okay, this is not going to happen’ and I had to get lawyers involved.”

Did you have to move?

“No, I didn’t have to move… but I did!” Rzeznik laughs. “There are a lot of sick people in the world and a few of them happen to gravitate towards me. That’s part of the deal though: I decided I was going to be a musician out in public and say things, so sometimes you have to deal with unfortunate circumstances. Thankfully it all worked out.”

Some 21 years since “Iris” topped the Australian singles chart and parent album Dizzy Up The Girl went platinum, the Goo Goo Dolls’ new album Miracle Pill is an expertly executed wolf in sheep’s clothing. While the catchy melodies and pop production give the songs a joyous spirit, Rzeznik’s lyrics are a dark assessment of modern times. Behind the big choruses lurk communiques on prescription medication, the emptiness of the social media sphere and the vicious political climate.

“Politics in America is just shit,” Rzeznik sighs. “Politicians would contact us to raise money for them, but I got to the point during the last election where I was just like, ‘Nah, it’s not going to happen’, because the entire system is broken on both sides. The Democrats are as bad off as the Republicans. We are living in really scary, tenuous times. In America now, discussing your political opinion can actually be really dangerous, which is bizarre. I’m a bleeding-heart liberal and I’ll always be pro-union because I grew up in a blue collar family and that’s what we were. That hasn’t changed about me, but if you mention, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could go and see a doctor?’ suddenly you’re branded a socialist who’s ruining the country. Forget it, I don’t need that shit.

“I think everyone in our country is just fatigued and slightly shocked,” Rzeznik laughs wearily. “There’s an epidemic of gun violence and it’s sad. We have the potential to be so great, yet we shit all over each other.”

Rzeznik identifies the September 11 terrorist attacks as the point when the United States descended into a bleak phase of history. Eighteen years ago this week, the Goo Goo Dolls frontman joined Limp Bizkit on stage for a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” at the America: A Tribute To Heroes charity event in the wake of the Pentagon and World Trade Center attacks. He recalls going into the recording of the one-off collaboration in a state of numbness.

“Oh, I just felt this whole empty feeling,” he says. “I was saying to myself, nothing is ever going to be the same. I truly felt that. I felt we were about to head into a very crazy time that we’d never experienced. That was the real push for the surveillance state. I realise we need to be safe, but we’ve given up a lot of our rights and civil liberties in the name of security. It breaks my heart, because since 9/11 Americans have been sort of traumatised. It culminates in the last election and people are going, ‘What the fuck is going on?’. It’s better to just lay back and do what I’m good at, which is play music and be part of people’s lives, if only in a small way.”

Taylor Swift is one of the Goo Goo Dolls’ many fans who have been inspired by the band’s music. Introducing Rzeznik in front of her sold-out Madison Square Garden audience in 2011, Swift stated, “In my opinion one of the greatest songs ever written is a song called “Iris””.

“Well I don’t know if she was inspired by it, but all I know is that I got to play with her at Madison Square Garden and she was very smart and very nice to me,” Rzeznik humbly notes. “I don’t know if she’s a fan as I can’t speak for her, but I know she loves “Iris”. That song is still really, really special. It amazes me, the fact that it has lasted so long. I’m grateful that song came into my life.”

Kicking off with the line, ‘And I’d give up forever to touch you’, “Iris” feels like listeners are joining the song partway through a dialogue between lovers. It joins Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime”, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs Robinson” as hit songs with ‘And’ as the unlikely opening word.

“There weren’t any other lyrics before that line, I just have a bad habit of putting ‘and’ at the front of sentences!” Rzeznik explains. “It’s just some stupid quirk in my writing and I have been reprimanded for it many times, but fuck you, I’m writing it how I want to write it! I’ve done it in a bunch of songs other than “Iris”, but it just felt right.”

More than 30 years since the Goo Goo Dolls released their debut album, Rzeznik holds hope music has the power to bring people together, no matter how dark the times.

“I think it can be a start, just like bowling could be a start or a football match could be a start,” Rzeznik says. “I was out on stage the other night and there was about 12,000 people at the show. The whole audience was singing a song with me and I thought, theoretically, in a vacuum, half this audience voted for [Donald] Trump and half voted for [Hillary] Clinton, but everyone in the room is singing in a room together. We don’t appreciate the similarities we have, so maybe that’s the place to start.”