Jim Ryan; FORBES
Since forming in 1986, and breaking through to the mainstream nine years later with the album A Boy Named Goo, Buffalo, New York alt pop outfit Goo Goo Dolls have tackled everything from live albums and vinyl reissues to greatest hits sets and more.
But for the first time in their nearly 35 years, 2020 marks the group’s foray into the world of Christmas music.
In a tumultuous year defined by quarantine amidst pandemic, the Christmas spirit may seem fleeting for some.
But the group’s latest album, It’s Christmas All Over, looks back for inspiration, conjuring up the Christmas classics of yore not only in terms of canon cuts revisited but aesthetically too, in everything from the album cover art to the stunning visuals that drive the augmented reality film which accompanies the new seasonal release.
“It was always the best time of year. It was always the time of year where my family would call a ceasefire with each other. We’d have relatives over. There was always a ton of gifts and good food. It was just amazing,” said Goo Goo Dolls singer and guitarist John Rzeznik, recalling what the Christmas holiday means to him. “I went back to the real old stuff - and some very obscure stuff. Louis Prima and Spike Jones and stuff like that. Trying to get some inspiration from stuff like that was a lot of fun.”
With their touring schedule wiped out by the onset of COVID-19, the Christmas album, now available via Warner Records with exclusive holiday-themed merch, quickly became a priority for co-founding Goo Goo Dolls Rzeznik and bassist Robby Takac.
Rzeznik co-produced the record with touring band members Jim McGorman and Brad Fernquist, who helped facilitate elaborate arrangements featuring a horn section and more, capturing the essence of the seasonal standards.
“We were in L.A. and it was kind of like this post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. It felt like there was no one in town but us,” said Rzeznik of recording sessions which took place during the early days of shelter-in-place orders. “We were in this really old recording studio - very hip, very cool. You walked in the door and it felt like it was 1968, you know? And it was just fun,” he continued, noting the impact of L.A. studio Palomino Sound and his continued exploration of recording techniques from a bygone era.
“It was such a learning process. I was putting my two cents in - but I don’t have a musical education. So I relied on two of the guys in my band: Jim McGorman, the keyboard player, and Brad Fernquist, who plays guitar - because they have these very, very deep musical educations. So they were able to take the ideas and run with them and we could work together,” said the singer. “It was challenging at times. But I have a really tight musical relationship with those two guys. So they understand, when I’m like humming something, what I’m looking for.”
Top notch session musicians contribute to the album, offering each of the album’s ten tracks an old school feel. Jon Button, of The Who, chips in with upright bass, while The Union Square 5 lend a jazz feel to the closing instrumental affair “The Christmas Party.” McGorman adds keyboard and mellotron while Fernquist adds additional guitar.
In addition to the group’s take on exemplary holiday cuts like “Let it Snow” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” It’s Christmas All Over also features a pair of original tracks. “It gets harder each year to believe in what’s real, I need Christmas,” sings Rzeznik in the new “This is Christmas.”
“Do as much as you can to help as many people as you can. That’s what that means,” he said of the new lyric. “And I really believe that if you put that challenge out to people, that they’ll accept it and they’ll rise to the occasion. I truly believe in that spirit - maybe not so much of Christmas, but of human beings. That if you ask them to help, they will. And they’ll do it gladly,” he continued. “The other original song on the album is ‘You Ain’t Getting Nothin’.’ That song is about a kid - who’s basically me - who winds up on Santa’s naughty list. We had a really interesting guy from Chile, Juan Urbina, animate a video for that song. And it’s very Chuck Jonesy - an homage to his animation and his slapstick style. It’s really awesome.”
Accompanying the new album is the augmented reality film It’s Christmas All Over, a musical movie set to premiere at 7PM ET on Saturday, December 12, 2020 via FanTracks.
Produced and directed by FanTracks president Barry Summers, the film take’s the album’s vintage tone even further through band interaction in settings like a 1940s speakeasy and even the iconic set of The Ed Sullivan Show.
Auctioning a signed guitar to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s “Music Gives to St. Jude Kids” program, Rzeznik is clear on what the holiday season should mean despite the obvious limitations brought on by COVID-19.
“More than ever, even though we physically can’t touch each other, there are so many deep ways that we can become better as a society,” Rzeznik said. “Being of service, especially in these times - raising money, collecting food - especially protein. Things like that. You’ve got to help your neighbors,” he continued. “Get out of your isolation and help. Socially distance and be safe - but contribute. Being of service completely cures isolation. And you can save your own life by helping someone else with theirs.”