By Ed Condran
After writing and recording the aptly titled “Chaos in Bloom,” an album inspired by the pandemic, the Goo Goo Dolls was recently set back by the unrelenting coronavirus.
“I’m convinced COVID is trying to sabotage this tour,” singer-songwriter John Rzeznik said by phone from a California studio. “I just had COVID for the second time and (bassist) Robbie (Takac) just got COVID for the second time. There goes five days of rehearsals. COVID has had such an impact on us.”
After a spin of the band’s 14th album, which drops next month, it’s evident what moved Rzeznik and Takac. Isolation and anxiety are all over the new tracks.
“Yes, this album is a pandemic record,” Rzeznik said. “It definitely reflects where we were and where we are. The pandemic caused a lock down but it’s more than that. We’re more divided than I can ever remember. Why are we at each other’s throats? There’s a lot of bad that’s come out of this period but there’s also some good.”
Rzeznik, 56, was inspired by the social justice movement, and particularly by an experience just after George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. “I remember walking out of a recording studio in Los Angeles and I stepped right into this protest” he said. “It was so powerful. I was literally in the middle of it and I just watched what was going on. It was so moving. There is so much going on in this country. There are so many people that are having a hard time just getting by.”
A generation ago Rzeznik and Takac were among those struggling. Broken down vans, bad record deals and a lack of progress marked the first decade of The Goo Goo Dolls. Much went wrong before everything changed a year after the band’s breakthrough album, “A Boy Named Goo” was released in 1995.
“A lot of bad things happened,” Rzeznik said. “But we just persevered.”
What kept the Goo Goo Dolls together is Rzeznik and Takac’s relationship.
“We have a bond,” Rzeznik said. “Even though Robbie and I don’t get along sometimes, we still have that bond and it goes back to those days when we were barely getting by.”
There were times that the tandem thought about giving it up but Rzeznik and Takac continued. “I think part of it was due to the fact that we had no idea what we would do if we didn’t make music,” Rzeznik said. “If you cut my fingers off I wouldn’t be qualified to do anything. I have no marketable skills.”
But Rzeznik didn’t have to worry about a back up plan. The punk band from Buffalo crossed over to the pop realm. The poignant acoustic ballad “Name” reached the top 5 of the Billboard pop chart in 1995. The Goo Goo Dolls reached another echelon thanks to another ballad, “Iris,” which was included in the “City of Angels” soundtrack. “Iris” spent nearly a year on Billboard’s airplay charts, including a mind-bending 18 weeks at number one, and was nominated for three Grammy Awards.
“Slide,” “Broadway” and “Black Balloon,” which was nominated for a Grammy, were also part of the hit parade. The Goo Goo Dolls, who will perform Friday at Northern Quest Resort & Casino, have 19 singles that reached the top 10 and have sold more than 15 million albums.
“We’ve had a lot of failure but we’ve had a lot of success too,” Rzeznik said. “Then we had a little bit of failure followed by some success. You just have to keep on working at it.”
Rzeznik knows on occasion that he wrote a quality song but often has no idea if a freshly penned tune is up to snuff. “It’s a strange thing when you write these songs about what’s good and what isn’t,” Rzeznik said. “I just get a feeling. Sometimes the hair will stand up on my arm after I wrote something. When I wrote “Broadway” I thought that was a good song since it’s a good story and I thought it was something people could relate to. And then there’s “Iris.” I wasn’t sure about “Iris.” It’s odd since it’s the biggest song we have.”
The band enjoys performing in Washington but Rzeznik admits that he used to get wound up when performing in the Evergreen state.
“During the early years I got intimidated whenever I would come to Washington,” Rzeznik said. “It’s the whole state. There’s the whole musical legacy of the Pacific Northwest. The last great movement in rock music happened in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a special place. I like how it is out there.”
Part of what appeals to the Buffalo native is the feeling of community in cities like Spokane. Rzeznik left Los Angeles in 2017 for Westfield, New Jersey, a small town with a neighborhood that is akin to the South Hill. “I love where I live since I can walk to places and just hang out and be part of what is going on,” Rzeznik said. “When my wife and I found out that we were having a baby five years ago, we decided that we had to get out of Los Angeles. It’s not a healthy culture for a kid to live in a city where when you meet people you get their résumé immediately. I’m in a good place, where I live and how I feel. I’m still inspired to write songs. I just wish COVID would just leave us alone. I hope something else inspires me when it comes time to write songs for the next album.”