It’s just after 1 PM on a Thursday afternoon in November and my phone rings. Goo Goo Dolls co-founder and bassist Robby Takac is calling me from the West Coast where it’s 10 AM. When I answer I’m greeted warmly by a familiar, friendly voice. “Olivia, it’s Robby,” he announces in his distinctively raspy voice, sounding rarely relaxed as he asks how I’m doing. Takac was actually my first official interview for this paper back in 2005, soon after graduating high school. So right now it’s a mix of business and pleasure; I get to interview a friend of 11 years. He, frontman and fellow co-founder John Rzeznik, current drummer Craig MacIntyre and backing members Korel Tunador and Brad Fernquist are currently in Los Angeles, headed to Las Vegas, Nevada, to do a corporate event and then Salt Lake City, Utah, for a show the next day on their fall tour with SafetySuit, who Takac describes as “current, energetic, rock.” The Goo Goo Dolls are still getting to know their new tour mates as they play a mixture of small theaters, casino showrooms and schools alike. “Falls are always interesting. It’s always like this kinda… grab bag of shows, you know?” Takac asks rhetorically. “It’s always cool, man. It’s like, we bring out this huge show during the summer, and this one’s a little bit more scaled back. The venues are a little smaller, the markets are a little smaller. We’re playin’ Boise [Idaho] and San Pedro [California], you know? But it’s been great, man, and the fans are awesome. We actually see a lot of familiar faces throughout the tour.”
In mid-August I briefly saw Takac and Rzeznik in Wantagh, New York, before one of their “huge shows” at Nikon at Jones Beach Amphitheater for the first time in a few years. “Jones Beach is always insane, man. It’s just so crazy,” Takac comments with a laugh. “I love playin’ there, though. It’s so fun.” It also happens to be one of their favorite venues. For this past summer tour they added Collective Soul to their repertoire of tour mates which include Matchbox Twenty, No Doubt, Daughtry, The Rocket Summer and now SafetySuit, among many others. The Atlanta, Georgia, gentlemen of Collective Soul impressed Takac, so he genuinely enjoyed their time on the road together. “I’m surprised it took so long for us to do something with Collective Soul, quite honestly,” he admits. “We really got to know those guys and kinda hang around a lot over the summer, so it was a lot of fun, man. It couldn’t have gone better.”
Agreed. I found Collective Soul in 1994 when I was only seven years old, obsessed with their hit “December.” The Goo Goo Dolls and Collective Soul may have different sounds that are distinctly their own, but they also have a lot in common. They share a love of their fans, people in general, touring and playing live shows well. In addition, they’re supreme songwriters with a catalogue of hits. To see them share a tour was a beautiful thing. My favorite part of the summer tour? The setlist. “It’s funny that you say that! It usually takes like three weeks for us to kind of settle into a setlist [on tour],” Takac comments. “This one, we started, we made one little change and we haven’t changed it. We didn’t change it all summer. And then we went over to the UK and we were like, ‘Man, that set works so well, we should play it over there.’ You know? So we played it over there. We came back, we were doing rehearsals for this fall tour and we were like, ‘Okay, here we go, let’s rearrange the set.’ And we sat down with our manager and our manager was like, ‘Guys, that set is so good.’” The Goo Goo Dolls have been around for three decades and have so many hits, plus newer material that also stands up to its predecessors. At times certain songs will weave in and out and then they’ve got the meat of their set. “Every once in a while it comes together.” Knowing it like the back of their hands doesn’t hurt either, because some nights they just don’t feel as well as others, which isn’t surprising considering they play five or six shows per week. “You can just close your eyes and go, ‘Okay man, take me there.’”
As far as SafetySuit, I only know what I’ve listened to thus far and I’m looking forward to catching them live during the fall tour. These somewhat intimate shows are my favorite, especially because they come to the heart of New York City. This time around they’re hitting the Beacon Theatre on November 21 for the first time ever. “John had mentioned that he’d always wanted to play there,” Takac tells me. “He actually just said, ‘Hey, can we see if we can play a gig at the Beacon?’ And it just happened to work out.”
It’s been 30 years already since the Goo Goo Dolls formed in 1986. Word on the streets of Buffalo, New York, at the time was that Rzeznik was selling the weed that Takac was in need of. One thing led to another and Takac knocked on Rzeznik’s door. “So I took care of him, and then, uh, he had to ‘medicate’ as they say now,” he explained using air quotes onstage at Jones Beach. While Takac was “medicating” and Rzeznik was sitting there, they discussed forming a band, because obviously they had “the two most essential elements.” Rzeznik had weed and Takac had a car.
Not all bands have their endurance, but the ones that do tend to go through a variety of evolutions over the years. For the Goo Goo Dolls, it’s included new albums, band members, differences of opinion, marriages and children; not necessarily in that order. Perhaps the largest and most arduous part of any band’s evolution is getting over a collective hump. In this case it was going through the process of crafting their 10th album, Magnetic, in 2013 before the departure of their drummer, Mike Malinin, who’d been with them for over 20 years. So when it came time to record their 11th, Boxes, released this year—with lead guitarist Fernquist and current drummer Craig MacIntyre in Los Angeles and studio veterans Gunnar Olsen and Shawn Pelton in New York City—the process started to gain a sense of normalcy and things came to a head. “I feel like the last record… there was the weirdness within the band, with Mike and such,” Takac begins to explain. “Things started to get kinda weird with Magnetic and John had started kinda writing with producers, instead of just kind of going in and having songs and then working with producers. So, there were a lot of things that were very different about that process, and I think a lot of the things that happened during that process, happened again when we made this record. But I think we were kind of ready for it this time. Not that I think Magnetic was a bad record, I just think that we weren’t quite knowledgeable of how you go in and make a record like that. You know? So this time, when we went in to make Boxes, I think we were a little bit more comfortable with goin’ in and sharing the process with people. I think it turned out really cool.”
Boxes is most definitely a different approach to an album than any of their others, and as Takac put it, a progression from Magnetic. Being a very seasoned live band, I can see why there was a learning curve for this particular recording process. The Goo Goo Dolls are the type of band who want to try something at least once, especially until they feel they’ve mastered the art of it.
The rest of their evolution came from changes of a more personal nature when it came to Takac and Rzeznik, alone and together. “My daughter’s gonna be five in January. It’s so insane!” Takac says excitedly of fatherhood. “Dudes in rock bands have girls, that’s what happens,” he continues with a laugh. Fatherhood has admittedly changed his life (he’s even played with The Wiggles). “It’s funny, with the band you’re with the guys all the time,” he tells me. “With a kid, it’s like… every time you see ‘em, you’re like, holy shit! How did this happen so quickly?!” As for Rzeznik, he is now happily married, sober and has officially quit smoking. In 2010 he personally told me that he was in the midst of quitting, currently at three cigarettes per day. When I mention that, Takac laughs and confirms that Rzeznik has indeed followed through. The combination of these positive acts has caused a noticeable difference in Rzeznik’s personality and stage presence. He takes charge, is more confident than ever, has a fearless and strong voice with guitar playing that’s better than ever. Even though the band has been made up of Rzeznik, Takac, former drummer Malinin (George Tutuska before him) and two backing members (now lead guitarist Brad Fernquist and in-demand multi-instrumentalist Korel Tunador), Takac and Rzeznik have always been the core. Now, that fact is straight up front and center. Throughout their 30 years of friendship and being band mates, as with any other band, they’ve dealt with good times and bad, ups and downs. What everyone seems to be in agreement with now, is that they’re in the midst of a magical up. Those who have seen the Goo Goo Dolls live recently have no doubt noticed and felt it as they watch the two of them enjoy a very tight onstage relationship. They run in sync, laugh, tell stories of their past and present and undoubtedly keep each other in check. It’s magical to watch. “Exactly what you’re saying, there’s just a thing there now that has sort of been reignited,” he explains. “And I just think we’re both in a good place.” When they ran over to the UK for a few shows, they were received as if they were a new band. “People are like, ‘Oh my God, these guys are on fire.’”
Not only have Takac and Rzeznik dealt with changes within their own lives and careers, they also remain a part of the bigger picture. “Right now we’ve been working with St. Jude,” Takac tells me. “The Children’s Research Hospital. We’ve been doing auctions and selling guitars at gigs; we raised over $20,000 this summer just auctioning off guitars.” During the fall tour they’re doing similar things. If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed about the Goo Goo Dolls, they always jump in when someone or somewhere is in need and they have never stopped lending a hand when they come across a just cause. “It takes very little effort on our actual parts,” Takac says modestly. “To go, ‘Hey, we should do this.’” That may be so, but I remind him that they actually go out there and do something. It may feel easy for them, but surrounded by the insanity that this world is currently offering up, it would be even easier for them to look the other way. On top of it all, Takac tips his cap to those they work with, who also choose to lend a hand. “There are some good people who put organizations together, who make sure this stuff actually happens. I think that’s key.”
Wise words from a wise man in a band who has been out there changing, creating and doing amazing things for 30 years and counting. It’s time we tip our caps to the Goo Goo Dolls and follow their lead, no matter what evolution our lives may be in the middle of.
You can catch the Goo Goo Dolls at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center in Bethlehem, PA on Nov. 17, the Tropicana Casino & Resort in Atlantic City, NJ on Nov. 19, and the Beacon Theatre in New York, NY on Nov. 21. For more details, go to googoodolls.com.