It’s been 20 years since the Goo Goo Dolls released Dizzy Up the Girl, an album that cemented them in the mainstream. Founders Johnny Rzeznik and Robby Takac remain active with touring and recording, but this fall, they’ve decided to play the songs from that album across the country.
Rzeznik says it’s hard to remember when and where the band played during the original tour for the album. Considering how much upheaval had happened in the band prior to their commercial breakthrough in the mid-’90s (including their original drummer leaving the band), they weren’t sure where they were going.
“It’s a bit of a blur,” Rzeznik says via phone. “We were sort of enjoying what we considered was going to be a very temporary situation.”
The band had been known in the underground with a sound frequently associated with Hüsker Dü and the Replacements. Their fourth album, Superstar Car Wash, received attention from college radio stations and Sunday night specialty shows. The follow-up, A Boy Named Goo, had a big hit with the somber acoustic-driven tune “Name.”
Going into recording the next album was daunting, as Rzeznik battled writer’s block. He wrote all the time, but he thought what he had was crap. The block went away when he finished a song called “Iris,” which became an enormous crossover hit on radio and MTV and was in a then-hit movie called City of Angels.
But making the album wasn’t easy. With new drummer Mike Malinin, along with studio musicians like keyboardist Benmont Tench (an original member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), percussionist Luis Conte and Tommy Keene (a huge influence on Rzeznik’s songwriting) contributing to the recording, the album sessions were a much bigger deal for Rzeznik and Takac.
“It took a village to make that record,” Rzeznik says with a laugh.
Before the album came out, Rzeznik himself said the songs contained some of the darkest material they had ever done. With lines about parental abandonment and a young man waiting in a bar for his time to die, the tunes attached to them were catchy as hell. And the songs “Slide,” “Broadway” and “Black Balloon” were all hits.
The appeal of the band was so widespread during this time that they reworked “Slide” as “Pride” and performed it with Elmo on Sesame Street.
“I can’t wait to show that to my daughter,” Rzeznik says. “My daughter’s going to be 3 years old in December. I’ll wait until she’s just old enough to go, ‘That’s you?’”
Rzeznik’s present and future are much clearer compared with 20 years ago. He still writes from the perspective of what he wants to say, not what a producer or a record mogul thinks he should say.
“When I start thinking about what the single’s going to be, then, I don’t know, I get weird feelings about it,” he says. “I kinda go, ‘Put that away for now.’ You really have to be selfish when you’re writing.”
The story of the band is about how, when things seemed like they were about to fall apart, something kept the band going. That was true in November 2014, when Rzeznik considered walking away from the band for good. They had parted ways with Malinin earlier in the year, and Rzeznik went to rehab for three months.
“I was terrified of my shadow and everything else in the in world because I needed acceptance and validation from the outside,” he says. “How was I going to keep these people happy? What was I going to do to keep making these people happy? I wasn’t being honest with myself. So that’s where the theory of being kind of selfish when you’re writing songs came from.”
He’s come to accept what he was when he was younger, and what he had to do.
“We were encouraged to behave badly,” Rzeznik says. “You gotta grow up and stuff.”
The band looks forward to their next album, but are happy to do this anniversary tour.
“I’m a busy boy, and I like it that way,” Rzeznik says. “I’m already writing the music for another album that will be out next year.”