By Jimmie Tramel
One billion seems like a lot.
The Goo Goo Dolls song “Iris” surpassed a billion streams on Spotify. It’s a monster of a song. Written for the “City of Angels” soundtrack, “Iris” spent 18 consecutive weeks atop Billboard’s hot 100 airplay chart in 1998.
The Goo Goo Dolls charted multiple songs before and after “Iris,” including “Name,” “Slide,” a cover of Supertramp’s “Give A Little Bit” and “Long Way Down.”
“Long Way Down” provides the formed-in-Buffalo, New York, band with a teensy Oklahoma connection since the song appeared on the “Twister” soundtrack. Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik has other heartstrings to Oklahoma — he once dated a girl whose uncle owned Goodyear repair shops around Norman, and he loves The Flaming Lips.
You won’t find those nuggets in the latest bio for the band, but you can find this quote: “I just want to keep making music that’s interesting to me,” Rzeznik said. “I’m a different person now than I was when ‘Iris’ came out, but you hope that the music can grow with you and change with you, and you hope your audience grows with you, too.”
Asked to elaborate prior to a Saturday, Nov. 12, tour stop at Hard Rock Live, Rzeznik said, “I just think I have been really lucky and well-blessed or whatever you want to call it that our audience has come with us.”
Of course, the population of that audience fluctuates over time.
“And if you are going to have a career in music, that is going to happen. You are going to have ebbs and flows in your popularity,” Rzeznik said.
“But we have been really, really lucky that our audience actually has responded really, really positively towards the new songs. You reach a certain point in your career, and a lot of times people are like ‘Play the old stuff. We don’t want to hear any new stuff.’ But our audience has been very, very good to us and very supportive of us.”
It could be said the Goo Goo Dolls are touring in support of a 14th studio album (“Chaos in Bloom”) — or is it the other way around? Rzeznik had something to say about that (keep reading), and he tends to say interesting things.
Wondering why music that gets airplay now seems so different from records that got spins back in the day? During a 2020 interview with Atwood Magazine, Rzeznik referenced how much music changed from 1940 to 1975. In 1940, Benny Goodman and his swing band were all the rage. “And, 1975, you got Led Zeppelin and disco,” Rzeznik told the magazine. “Who would’ve thought?”
Rzeznik was born in between the Benny and disco eras. He was a teen when this thing called MTV debuted. Impossible to not be influenced? He said he was influenced by certain things he saw on the music video channel.
“The thing I loved about MTV was that, at the very beginning, they just played whatever they could get their hands on,” he said, indicating that most artists didn’t start making videos until later.
“So you got to see bands like the Talking Heads and the Clash and Elvis Costello and all these others and you are like, ‘wow, this is really interesting.’ I was never into metal at all. The hair metal, I was never into that kind of thing. But it was an interesting way to get a musical education because the way it was presented was in a pretty informative kind of style, at the time. Martha Quinn would talk about a band and a song and they were going on tour and all that kind of stuff. It had this really sort of educational kind of quality to it.”
Rzeznick said hanging out at an indie record store in Buffalo also was part of his education. How so?
“Most of the music that I liked was considered very underground music,” he said. “I lived close enough within proximity of the transmitter of the 100-watt college radio station, and you would never, in the ‘80s, hear that kind of music on a commercial radio station in Buffalo, so college radio was a massive influence on me.
“Then you go into the indie record store and you go ‘You know, I heard this band called the Buzzcocks on WBNY. You got any records by them?’ And then the guys and the girls at the indie record shop would say ‘It’s right over here,’ and then you could hang around and listen to it with them. It would steer you in the direction. ‘This is my favorite album by them’ or whatever, and you would learn, you know? You would learn about music. They would be like ‘If you like these guys, you will dig these guys too.’”
Rzeznik supposes that modern day algorithms work that way too, but there’s something just kind of impersonal about that.
“The thing that I have so much hope in is live music — the live music experience for people — because it’s a raw, visceral, loud interaction between people,” he said.
“Everyone is stuffed in a room — 1,000 people or 5,000 people or 2,000 people or whatever it is — and they are stuffed in one room and, irrespective of anybody’s differences inside that room, they have one thing in common when they enter that room. I love the fact that, in this day and age, we can bring a few thousand people together, and they can set aside their differences and sing along with some songs that they know from us. That’s a good feeling because we don’t have enough common ground. I think that music is one of the last threads that keeps it together.”
Woodstock brought people together, right? The Goo Goo Dolls headed to the Woodstock area to craft their newest album.
“We kind of hung out in this old church in the woods and made a record,” Rzeznik said. “It was really a lot of fun. The band got to get together and sort of play live. It was a really interesting experience.”
Rzeznik produced the album because he had a clear idea of what he wanted, though he wound up needing help at the end and reached out for a lifeline.
“I was just looking to do something that was a little more raw and had a more unique kind of edge and sound to it,” he said. “I collect a lot of old recording equipment. I’m an equipment geek. I love recording equipment, and I love guitars and amps. I wanted to produce the record so I would have time to experiment with getting sounds and trying to find sounds that I really loved, because a lot of producers and engineers, they need to get in and out so quickly. They do what they do, and then your record ends up sounding like everyone else’s.”
The lead single is “Yeah, I Like You,” which Rzeznik called a piece of satire.
“I wanted to make up a story about someone my age who, when I started, there was no social media,” he said. “But then it was thrust upon us along with Napster and iTunes and the decline of record sales and everything else. As soon as the internet hit, the world changed — the pace of the world changed — and the technological revolution just sped out ahead of ahead the capacity for humans to digest technology.
“So I think the world is still tipping back and forth and trying to find its balance between what it means to be human and embracing technology. People become famous for doing nothing now. You really don’t need any talent to become famous anymore, and I thought it was kind of silly. But in the song, the guy — I guess our protagonist in the song — he is so taken by this woman and he has no idea why she is so famous and why she is flying around in private jets. He has no idea. But he likes her, and he gets sucked into her life.”
Continuing, Rzeznik said there was a “pretty clear path” when the Goo Goo Dolls began making music.
“You made your record. The record company worked the record to radio. Then you went out and you toured to support the album. But now it’s the other way around. You make an album. Nobody buys it. Hopefully people stream it and listen to it. There is no money to be made in it. And then you make an album to support your tour and then we go out and tour. Thankfully, we have a pretty strong catalog of songs, and that helps. Like I said, we have an awesome audience.”