Johnny Rzeznik of The Goo Goo Dolls
Alternating between taking notes on his iPhone and scribbling on yellow legal pads with pencils, singer, songwriter, and guitarist John Rzeznik approaches songwriting with a workmanlike craftsmanship and analog sense of soul. Fronting The Goo Goo Dolls, he has imparted that energy and ethic into nearly three decades of music, penning cornerstones from the modern American songbook such as “Iris,” “Slide,” “Black Balloon,” and “Name”—among many others.
“Somebody once asked me, ‘What’s it like to write a song?’,” he recalls. “I answered, ‘It’s like getting dropped out of an airplane into the middle of a jungle and you’ve got to cut your way out.’ I like it that way, because I never had any formal training. For some reason, it works.”
It still “works” to this day. Moreover, his songs continue to influence subsequent generations. Everyone from Leona Lewis and Boyz II Men to Sleeping with Sirens and New Found Glory has covered the band, while Avril Lavigne, Echosmith’s Sydney Sierota, and Cash Cash jumped at the chance to duet with him. Recognizing the impact of his storytelling and songcraft, the Songwriters Hall of Fame bestowed the prestigious “Hal David Starlight Award” upon the frontman in 2008.
Since their 1986 formation in Buffalo, NY, The Goo Goo Dolls—Rzeznik and Robby Takac—have prolifically delivered a string of immortal anthems and albums, garnering four GRAMMY® Award nominations and selling over 10 million albums worldwide. After historically clinching #1 on the Hot 100 for 18 straight weeks, Billboard lauded “Iris” as #1 on the “Top 100 Pop Songs 1992-2012” chart, placing “Slide” at #9 and “Name” at 24. Grinding it out on the road for over a decade supporting four fan favorite albums, the group unveiled 1995’s seminal A Boy Named Goo. Propelled by “Name,” it eventually earned an RIAA double-platinum certification and elevated the band to rock’s vanguard. In 1998, Dizzy Up The Girl became a global phenomenon, moving 6 million copies, going quadruple-platinum, and boasting “Iris” and “Slide” on its divine tracklisting. Both Gutterflower  and Let Love In  achieved gold status as Something for the Rest of Us  and Magnetic  soared to the Top 10 of the Billboard Top 200. Most recently 2016’s Boxes received praise from People and Huffington Post as Noisey, Consequence of Sound, and more featured them.
Long before this success, the artist grew up surrounded by music. His parents were both casual musicians, while his four older sisters each boasted a diverse record collection. Inspired by everything from Cheap Trick’s Live At Budokan and The Ramones’ Rocket to Russia to Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, he wrote his first song at 13. By 1990’s Hold Me Up, he had tapped into raw energy by embracing signature alternate tunings in his writing.
“Using alternate tunings expanded the canvas I could work on to be able to come up with atypical sounds and chords,” he goes on. “By doing this, you fill the space more when there are only three musicians. There are were absolutely no rules involved. I could create anything I wanted. Songwriting constantly evolved. Around the time of A Boy Named Goo and Dizzy Up The Girl, it became time for me to really leap into my own space.”
It’s a space he proudly inhabits to this day. The 2017 EP, You Should Be Happy [Warner Bros. Records], sees him once again tread new lyrical territory, going from social commentary to examining his personal life over a rich sonic backdrop.
“Sometimes, I’ll sit down and think about an event, a person, or something I’ve read, and it’ll just spark an idea in my mind,” he explains of his process. “There are other times where I’ll be playing guitar and humming a melody. A phrase will come out and spark a memory. It causes a chain reaction of thoughts. A lot of the songs come out that way. As far as subject matter goes, some darkness is beautiful. For me, there’s always that little touch of remaining one step away from being connected. I’m there, I see it and feel it, but I’m always slightly removed from it.”
As You Should Be Happy arrives, he embarks on a high-profile headline summer shed tour with The Goo Goo Dolls and launches his very own SiriusXM show Chorus and Verse on the VOLUME Channel. The hour-long monthly program focuses on the nuances and magic of songwriting as Rzeznik interviews artists and musicians about the process inside and out.
“For every songwriter out there, I think it’s very important to gain the insight of other people’s processes, because it can only improve yours,” he says. “What is it about a song that provokes an emotion in a person? That’s what I want to learn most. I think songs are the snapshots of moments in our lives. They’re mile markers. I can’t wait to discuss these topics with guests that I respect. SiriusXM has given me an incredible platform.”
In the middle of everything, Rzeznik became a first-time father in 2017. “When I held my little girl for the first time in the delivery room, I said to myself, ‘You have to work a lot harder than you’ve ever worked in your life’,” he admits. “I have this desire to play and record more, because all I want to do is take care of her, make sure she’s okay, and give her the life I didn’t have as a kid.”
This year marks another new dawn for Rzeznik as a father, husband, radio show host, performer, and, of course, songwriter.
“I’m very proud that we’re still here,” he smiles. “This band is in my DNA. It’s my life. I’ve been doing it longer than I haven’t been. I feel more comfortable than ever in wearing The Goo Goo Dolls as my coat. I’m just a guy who wants to feel connected. It’s the one thing I’ve always craved. I lost my family when I was a teenager. That desire for connection has driven a lot of my lyrics. I can’t wait for my daughter to see me play. Hopefully, the songs mean something to her.”