Goo Goo Dolls: As I Am

“I wanted to really focus on: What are these people feeling? What are they thinking? What’s going on in their lives? How does it make a man or a woman feel when they can no longer support their family, and they’ve sort of lost their way and their purpose all because a few incredibly wealthy people are in a race to the bottom and don’t care if they destroy our way of life?” John Rzeznik describes sincerely in his distinct voice that is just as melodic when speaking as when singing. “I did think a lot about how the decline of our way of life is effecting a lot of people, and how it’s heartbreaking, and how it touches all of us.”

Rzeznik is an extremely unassuming and intelligent man. Often viewed as shy and awkward, in reality he is confident; observing avidly, listening intently, and always responding with his opinion or just a slight “mmhmm” to let you know he’s still with you, and in agreement. Although “and uh,” “um,” and rhetorical “you knows” run rapid throughout his speech, which often wavers in volume, they relate to careful pauses before releasing a thought, as to not to let anything superfluous escape his lips while ardently discussing music, art and the world around us.

All bull aside, what most songwriters may need 50 words to say, Rzeznik can say in 10, very much like John Lennon once did. What Rzeznik also shares with Lennon—in addition to succinct expression, honesty and wit—is an innate ability to transpose his mind with one of an everyday person, and write a song about what they’re feeling, through his own soul and words. Having been raised by his four older sisters, he also has a unique view of and respect toward women, giving him extra advantages. What’s happening across the globe to people of every sex, race, class and creed is not lost on him. In fact, the Goo Goo Dolls ninth studio album, Something For The Rest Of Us, due out Aug. 31, is a consolation prize for everyone, including Rzeznik himself.

It’s some time after seven o’clock in the evening, and he and I reside backstage in what has been dubbed the “Quiet Room.” The rest of his band mates and crew are either next door in the band’s dressing room or wondering around the Borgata, pending show-time. Rzeznik rests comfortably in a plush black chair amongst a gang of pillows, adjacent to the matching couch where I do the same. “I’m glad to be working again,” he says, referring to being back on the road this weekend (Atlantic City tonight, Philadelphia the following night) to celebrate Fourth Of July weekend before heading back home to film the video for their single “Home” (home for “Home!”), production rehearsals in Dayton, and beginning their Summer tour with Switchfoot later in the month. “A little tired right now, though.” The tattooed and recognizably dressed frontman from Buffalo, New York is playing with his khaki pant hem, his skate sneaker shoelaces, and other articles of his clothing, fidgeting with his very common but possibly misunderstood boyish charm that can often be filled with mystique to those who do not know him. His unmistakably blue eyes glisten, while pieces of his shaggy blonde hair (think a young Rod Stewart) occasionally cover them, ergo the slight head flick to remove the visual obstruction.

Though the Goo Goo Dolls have technically been together for 24 years, they were not known worldwide for the first nine while they were crafting albums and touring for a couple of months at a time before going back to their day jobs. Rzeznik gave himself a deadline, and if music didn’t pay the bills by then, he would go back to school and earn his degree in Sociology and Political Science. Just as fate saw it, 1995 rolled around and a radio station got hold of A Boy Name Goo‘s “Name.”

The airwaves ran with it, and Rzeznik realized that he had to hold on to “the ball” and keep running, too. Interestingly enough, he missed his deadline by just a few months, and 15 years later, with Dizzy Up The Girl‘s “Iris” having remained on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay charts for a stunning 18 weeks-straight, and four Grammy nominations, among much else, the Goo Goo Dolls are still creating music, from album to album, trying never to repeat something twice. The imagery, which coincides, isn’t flashy or gimmicky, just straight to the point. The music itself is straight to the heart, with room for personal interpretation. “Every song has its own special meaning for everyone, you know?” Rzeznik asks rhetorically. “But I can’t make this grand, blatant, political or social statement.”

The band has been made up of Rzeznik, bassist and founder Robby Takac, and drummer Mike Malinin as of ’95, and in 2006 they were blessed with the addition of Korel Tunador (uncanny harmonies, keys, guitar, saxaphone, etc.) and Brad Fernquist (lead guitar, mandolin, etc.), who replaced previous backing members. “I knew that we had stumbled upon something special, and that they were going to become part of our band,” Rzeznik explains. “Technically they’re really, really far above me musically, and I always go to them for their advice. Or I’ll peck something out on a piano, and I’ll take it to Korel and say ‘Can you make this into real chords?’”

Both Tunador and Fernquist appear on the new album, which was written mostly at home in Buffalo, where Rzeznik was able to reach a headspace that suited his feelings. David Palmer, (no relation to the album’s producer Tim Palmer) Rzeznik points out, is “a really, really talented musician,” joined in on keys when Tunador was on the road with Katy Perry, and singers Ricky and Ran Jackson, who Rzeznik met for the first time the day they stopped by the studio to lay down tracks, “came in and they did an awesome job!” The collection of characters and songs cause an almost indescribable vibe that you feel instantaneously. “There’s a lot of emotion on this album,” he confirms.

“I think you’ve heard the album?” he checks, making sure I’m on the same page. When asked about which songs he has the strongest kinship with, there are a few that come to mind, from “Notbroken,” to the eerily emotional “Soldier,” “One Night” and “Sweetest Lie.” Rzeznik is nothing but proud of these songs. He reassures himself that he can’t control what happens and he’s ready to release the album, despite the fact that any attack will feel personal, whether or not he has thick skin, which is: “Sort of a bizarre contradiction of doing what you do, because you have to be very, very intimate with what you’re thinking and what you’re feeling and what you’re writing about. And then you have to release it and you have to slam the door shut on it once you put it out there and you can’t care what happens because it will send you into an alcoholic or drug tailspin!” he laughs. “You will wind up in rehab, and you’ll see a therapist!” Or in his case, verbally attack a few writers and tell them to “Play the fuckin’ guitar!” or “Write a fuckin’ song!” in an attempt to wake them up from their ignorant judgment.

“I think he may regret that he had ever said ‘Go on, get up there and you sing it!’” Rzeznik says of wise words from Takac, with a smile. During the beginning stages of their career, Takac was the band’s bassist and lead singer as they thumped out songs that often had a punk rock flare. Gradually and fluidly they and their music grew alongside of each other while Rzeznik hesitantly grabbed the torch from his best friend and band mate. Soon he found his confidence and his voice, becoming the band’s frontman. “I started to be able to complete my sentences and sort of complete my thoughts, and you know, I’m always grateful to him for that,” says the emotional vocalist, who is always full of conviction.

Rzeznik’s words don’t resonate with millions of people around the world solely because they are wise and universal. When he delivers them, whether on record or onstage, the emotions radiate straight to your core. It’s the reason, when you look around at a Goo Goo Dolls show, you see everything from smiling and laughter to tears of those who finally feel understood.

He may not find himself a technically good singer with a great range, but he admits to always being in the moment and putting forth the emotion that he feels. “I’m trying to mean what I say and I feel it in my gut when I’m doing it,” he admits confidently.

It’s also very important to him that his voice always work, that it stays with him, and to help the cause he’s cut himself down to three or four cigarettes per day, to which I say “It’s a good thing to let go of,” and he quotes me in agreement.

Rzeznik and I have only had brief encounters over the past five years, from passing each other in backstage hallways on his way to decompress after a show, or somewhat humorous near-collisions in dimly lit dressing rooms while frantically looking for a Sharpie before a pre-show meet and greet. Such things are not uncommon. Despite my relationship with the rest of his band-mates, this has been our first true sit-down and time to get to know one another. It has nothing to do with an antisocial or rude nature on his part, just the need and appreciation for space, whatever the reason, and believing that the gift he leaves onstage means more than a disingenuous conversation. The result is a clear head and a never unwanted encounter, even if they are truly fleeting or few and far between. “It’s such an adrenaline rush, you know?” he says of a live show. “It’s kind of a head trip.”

“Ready to meet your public?” the band’s tour manager inquires during his third and final trip to this room. “Oh! Oh my god! My public is waiting!” Rzeznik exaggerates in jest, laughing as we exit the Quiet Room and enter the real world, greeted in the hallway by hugs and hellos from Takac and Malinin as they all head to their usual pre-show meet and greet before changing and preparing for the quickly approaching show.

Normally laid back and somewhat quiet, the stage is where Rzeznik breaks free, fully enjoying the hard work of entertaining an audience, playing with song arrangements and “hopefully giving people a good night.” This evening he’s in great form, simultaneously sending chills down the spines of every person in the Event Center while effortlessly making them laugh with his filterless thoughts and observations. This weekend those thoughts have to do with the impending holiday. “Don’t blow yourselves up!” he begins. “There’s always that story about the kid that was throwin’ the cherry bomb out the window of the car, but the window was closed,” he continues, motioning his hand as if he were throwing something. “And the cherry bomb lands right back in his lap and blows his nuts off.” He attributes such candor to his sisters’ truthfulness, as well as having nothing to prove and nobody to impress anymore at his age. Plus: “Sometimes there are very interesting people in the audience,” he explained before the show.

“Don’t be a stranger,” he says to the Atlantic City crowd as he saunters offstage. And he means it.

Goo Goo Dolls ninth studio album, Something For The Rest Of Us, is due out Aug. 31