The New Wave of Johnny Rzeznik and the Goo Goo Dolls
In 1998 at a music festival in Bethel, New York, on the same grounds where Woodstock once occurred, Johnny Rzeznik, the
lead singer of the Goo Goo Dolls, urged a crowd of his fans not to live for the past. “Promise us that in 30 years you’re not going to get stupidly nostalgic and come back here in your BMW’s,” The New York Times reported him saying. “All we’ve got is now.”
Then, Rzeznik was the quintessential ’90s heartthrob with long, shaggy blond hair half shielding his eyes, a leather jacket, and the lyrics of a tortured romantic. The Goo Goo Dolls, which also includes Robby Takac and Mike Malinin, helped to define the sound of alternative-cum-mainstream rock in the ’90s, thanks to hits songs like “Iris,” “Slide,” and “Black Balloon.”
Magnetic, the Goo Goo Dolls’s 10th album (released this month), maintains the same sound and feel as past ones. Expect particularly peppy tracks and catchy, heartfelt lyrics about letting go and embracing love (the frontman is looking forward to his second wedding this July). We caught up with Rzeznik to talk about his inspiration, how he embraces life, and, of course, remembering the ’90s.
How is ‘Magnetic’ different from your previous albums?
I made a decision that I was going to write an album that was not full of ballads, that was not a down tempo, or a down album because Something For the Rest of Us was kind of a bummer of an album. I needed to make that record because of the way I was feeling [then], but I just wanted to have fun with this album. I got together with a couple friends of mine, wrote a bunch of songs, and just had a great time.
You’ve talked about how you came out of this darker place and are now on the other side. How did that transition come about for you?
Well, I stopped trying to drink a bottle of vodka every day [laughs]—that always helps. It always lightens the mood up when you ratchet back the drinking. I just decided I don’t want to live in this funk. Whether you are happy or miserable is completely a choice. I decided to live my life in a more positive way. I’m lucky I actually make a living making music. There was a part of me when I was doing Something For the Rest of Us that almost felt guilty about that—why me? Why am I so lucky? Why is this guy not as lucky as me? I really started to drive myself insane thinking about that stuff.
What inspires your music?
A song like “Come To Me,” obviously is inspired by the fact that I am getting married in July and the sentiment is very simple and something thing that everybody can relate to. I was really influenced by the people I was writing with. I decided that for my 10th album I really needed to learn more and collaborate with people and see how much I could be challenged and grow as a writer. I wrote a lot of the record in New York. Every time you walk out the door in Manhattan the amount of stimulus coming at you is just so incredible that I find myself being so inspired. And then I go back into the studio and ideas just start to flow.
How do you think this album fits into the modern landscape of music right now?
I don’t know if it does. Once I start singing, people know who we are, and I think people listen to what we have to say lyrically. I don’t know if listening to lyrics these days is “in,” if it is fashionable or not. When I write a song, I want to write something that is really catchy and says something that might actually touch somebody.
What modern artists do you like?
I really love Tegan and Sara’s new album and all of their albums, actually. I just wanted to be friends with them. Really, like I want to be like “Can I be pals with you guys?” Also, the bands Japandroids and Deerhunter are pretty good.
What other musicians have influenced you?
We were so heavily influenced by The Replacements and by a lot of hard core bands like Bad Brains, not that we sounded like them but we were trying to play as hard and fast as we could.
Songs like “Iris” made the Goo Goo Dolls icons of the ’90s. Do you look back on that time fondly?
The ’90s was my really coming of age [time] and when I saw music change—alternative became mainstream. Then the Internet came along and tore every wall down. It was a time that I romanticize a little bit, like how my parents romanticized the ’50s—it was when we were young and carefree and just every day we woke up inspired. We were fearless.
What’s it like playing with the same people for 20 years?
When you are that close with people, you learn how to push their buttons, and they know how to push yours [but on stage], it is freaky psychic. I will make the biggest mistake and those guys will follow me down the rabbit hole and we somehow we come out the other side together. You get to know each other on that kind of unspoken level.
This summer you are starting a national tour with Matchbox 20. Are you pumped?
I’ve met Rob [Thomas] a couple of times, and he’s a really nice guy. The hardest part about touring is just getting along with people, and they are a really good group of guys. Both bands came up at the same time. Everyone is asking if this is this a nostalgia tour, and yeah, there are a lot of hits from those times, but both of our bands have consistently been on the radio for the last 15 years. There is a deep history there, but there is also new current stuff going on.
How do you feel going into your second marriage?
The first time around it’s like, I was really capable of loving without having any second thoughts about it, no reservations, no apprehensions. But as you get older and the world does whatever it does to you, allowing yourself to be vulnerable again is a choice. It’s not a natural state of being. I had to say “Hey,” open myself up to it, and trust it. And that’s when it really started to get deep between us.
By Rebecca Moss for Elle.com