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Interview: John Rzeznik

Rzeznik Discusses the Goo Goo Dolls Latest Song and Their Current Tour

This interview can also be found as a podcast at The Vinyl District

There are some musical groups and performers whose music is as ubiquitous as having the lights on in a dark room, or water streaming from a kitchen faucet. Some music is more than just songs, it’s as though the words, phrases and messages are ingrained into our psyche. This might not even have anything to do with whether we like the music, or not! It’s just always there: on the radio, of course, but also in echoing hotel lobbies, in the backseat of cramped taxi cabs, in sprawling, neverending mall hallways, and yes - even the occasional elevator ride. Wherever music is, certain songs can be found.

John Rzeznik and Robbie Takac from the Goo Goo Dolls

Since 1995, no matter where you’ve gone in the world, at some point, the music of the Goo Goo Dolls has followed you around. You know the choruses and those acoustic guitar riffs almost as intimately as some of their hardcore fans do! To-date, the band has sold over 15 million records worldwide, garnered four GRAMMY® Award nominations and they have produced nearly a dozen platinum & gold singles combined, and seized a page in the history books by achieving 16 number one and Top 10 hits. It doesn’t matter if it’s “Name”, “Long Way Down,” “Iris”, “Slide”, or “Black Balloon” those songs are our companions, and the lyrics of John Rzeznik are inspiring, especially in the right set of circumstances. The themes of resilience in the face of love, loss, and being lost strike a familiar chord with anyone who stops to listen and soak up the deeper notions that are inside of each song.

Rzeznik joins me on this episode to talk about the band’s new song, “Run All Night,” the band’s recent collaboration with O.A.R on Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down.” and the nationwide tour that they are currently on that will see them performing career-spanning sets at major amphitheaters across the country. So, maybe the next time you’re feeling a little low, a little bit lost, I’ll bet that - wherever you may find yourself -if you bend your ear in the right direction, you might hear John Rzeznik singing a song about staying brave and believing in yourself in the midst of life’s inevitable changes, and that’s a comfort that is much more than just listening to a good song.

Evan Toth: So you've got a new song out, it's called Run All Night, and your songwriting often delves into these themes of love, loss, resilience, and throughout your journey in the music industry, how have your experiences and personal growth influenced the evolution of the Goo Goo Dolls sound and the lyrics? What's the writing journey that leads you up from then until now?

John Rzeznik: Well, we started out, we were just kids and literally kids, and we were playing punk rock music because we didn't know how to play anything else. We weren't skilled enough at our instruments to play anything else. And as time went on and we got better at our instruments, some nights were better than others. But you just naturally grow and change as a human being and life has its effects on you. We've all been through a lot of-

ezt: All kinds of stuff, yeah.

jr:...but all kinds of stuff. But it's just trying to hang on to that little piece of hope or humanity, whatever you want to call it. And sometimes that's really not easy, especially when you decide to do this for a living and you chose it as a vocation. The temptation to compromise and to change or try to take an easier route or the idea of becoming famous, it is just these things just, you have to clear them out of your path and you have to keep going. And sometimes it's mostly super fun, but sometimes it's really difficult. Sometimes it's really difficult and sometimes it's tragic and sad when you lose people to the usual pitfalls of doing this kind of thing for a living. But I think that, I mean, I always have a wide berth. Robbie gives me a really wide berth as far as what I want to do creatively, and he's been really, really good to me in that respect. He's been a complete ... Well, no, I'm kidding (laughing)

ezt: Well, you guys have a long history together, I'm sure. I've been fortunate enough to speak with you and Robbie too. And you have a long history. You guys are old friends, and I'm sure, of course you've had ups and downs and that's part of what probably creates a little bit of a safe space when you're composing and writing stuff and your music is pretty intense. And the lyrics too. You sit down and read this stuff and there is an intensity to it. Do you ever inhabit a character when you write the songs or are they really just simply reflections on your own life and your experiences? Is it really those profound personal experiences that impact the songwriting? Do you ever just say, I'm going to get out of who I am for a minute and be like this guy from Wyoming or something?

jr: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I have done that and I get a lot of correspondence from people. People still write me letters, letters like on paper-

ezt: Which is cool.

jr: Which is very cool. And they tell me their stories. I get letters every day at shows and people tell me their stories and just some of them, it's impossible not to be moved by them. But assuming a character, yeah, that's kind of fun because it gives you a little bit of license, it's like, no, that's not how I feel. That's how the character in that song feels. The character in that song feels like he's completely alienated and wants to run away from the trap that he's in. And that seems to be one of the other themes that comes up. And Buffalo is an amazing place. It's become such an amazing place. And when Robbie and I were kids, it was amazing for completely different reasons.

John Rzeznik and Robbie Takac from the Goo Goo Dolls

It was an amazing place to incubate art and music because there was lots of cheap space. And I credit cheap space and cheap beer with a great music and art scene in a city if you're outside of New York. But now it's an amazing place. But to me, when I was a kid, the neighborhood in Buffalo that I grew up in and the people that were there and that, I just wanted to escape from them so badly. And the way I got to escape from them was pretty crazy. It's like my parents died and then I was just boom out into the world. I was 16, and it was pretty intense. I think all life experiences have an effect on you, but there's still, for some reason, I still want to write. I still want to write. I still feel like I have something to say, and when I don't, people will let me know.

ezt: Well, John, do you remember the moment where you saw music as the future? Can you think back to those years when you were 16 and just say this was how that idea sort of formulated in your head as being the way out or the way to your future out of Buffalo?

jr: Yeah. Well, I mean, you really dream about that. You dream about that happening and you fantasize about becoming a rock star or whatever. I always used music as a way to have friends. So I was always in bands and playing with people because I wanted friends, I wanted a community, I wanted people, and music was my way into that. So that was really the beginning of it. And then when I said, well, this is going to be my career, the first song we had that became a hit, because I was pushing 30 at that time, and so I was like 28, I think. And it was just sort of had to have the grownup talk with myself about I'm going to do this until blah, blah, blah, and then if I can't make a living at it by the time I'm 30 and then I got to go back to school, I got to get a life, all that kind of stuff. And then the song "Name" came along, and then it was like, oh, okay.

It was at that point where we were just like, okay, our manager, this is the best bit of advice he gave me was he's like, "Well, you got the ball." He's like, "Keep your head down and just keep running." And I'm still running,

ezt: Right. It reminds me of that, there's an old interview of Ringo Starr and they're interviewing him and they're very young, and they say, "Well, what are you going to do when this Beatles stuff is over?" And he says, "Well, I want to open a string of ladies hair salons." He really wanted to be ladies hair person. And that was as far as his vision could go at that time.

jr: Pretty amazing. Yeah, it's fun when you're starting out in this. It's like this is the escape from your lousy job or whatever, and then you can't, I still can't believe I get to do this for a living.

ezt: Right. You and O.A.R. Recently collaborated on a really fun cover of Tom Petty's, "I Won't Back Down." And the band is also, of course, on tour with you this summer, and collaborations can be really powerful in the music industry. And I know you're a Petty fan. You covered "Christmas All Over Again" on your holiday album, but what was you and their thought process and approach to doing that song in particular?

jr: Well, Mark and I occupy some of the same studio space in New York, and so we see each other a lot. And we have a very close mutual friend who's been both of our producers and his name's Gregg Wattenberg, and he's awesome, and he's a songwriter and a great producer and a good friend, and he's just really funny and fun to be around. So the three of us, we'll see each other at the studio, we'll just goof around. And then I think it was, I can't remember, but if I'm not mistaken, it was Gregg Wattenberg that said, "You guys should do this Petty song. This is awesome."

And we're also trying to think of a way, a duet with two guys, which is not an easy thing to do. You got to pick the right song or you got to write the right song, and that song is just so great and just says so much. This is one of the things I love about Tom Petty. He says so much with so little. It doesn't take him a lot of chords and a lot of words to just convey something that's just so powerful.

ezt: We lost a big one there when we lost Tom.

jr: Oh my God. I was really like, my heart sank when I heard about that. Because I've always been such a Petty fan my whole life. The first song I learned how to play on the guitar was "Even The Losers," off the Damn the Torpedoes Record.

ezt: Yeah. You can hear it, especially in that early Goo Goo Dolls stuff. You can hear it there, The Replacements, but you also hear that early Tom Petty sound coming in. You guys have been really busy the last few years, especially during The pandemic. I was reviewing my notes and I was surprised to see the Christmas album came out at the end of 2020. I was like, wow. Nobody was releasing anything at that time. So you guys have been busy with that and the live album and of course your studio album last year. As veteran musicians, how do you and Robbie really try to keep things fresh while staying true to that core musical identity that you've created?

Goo Goo Dolls Christmas All Over album on vinyl

jr: Well, he lives in Buffalo, and I live in New Jersey. Yes, it takes a little bit of distance. Robbie is a pretty understanding of my, whatever I do, I don't know (laughs). He gives me a lot of room to create stuff. He can talk me off the ledge. So that's pretty much it.

ezt: As I mentioned, you are beginning a new tour and it's called The Big Night Out Tour, and it's going to bring you to late September, it'll be on the road at least. And what can people coming to see you expect? The vets and the new people, anything new going on stage or what can people expect when they come to see you guys this summer?

jr: Well, I mean, the band is the same of course, but we're just switching songs out every night, trying to do a few different songs every night, which is harder than I thought it was going to be. But that, and it's just a big rock show, man. It just looks and feels like a big rock show. And it kind of goes, there's music from almost every album except for the first two. You can't play this kind of songs in front of people. They'd be like, what the hell is that? Nobody knew what those albums were.

ezt: But your hardcore fans would freak out. They'd be like, ahhhh.

jr: They would, all three of them in the audience would be like, oh, I can't believe you're playing this. And everybody else would go running for the parking lot.

ezt: Over the years, you've performed on so many various stages and toured around the world. And is there anything, specific concert, again, especially as you sort of embark on this new tour, is there any memory that you have that's a really strong one, a really amazing live moment that you, and again, our audience should check out that the live album that you put out a few years ago, the sort of music that you unearthed that that was, which Robby explained to me was some of it was even a surprise to you guys when you were hearing it as I understand, oh, we forgot about this or, but is there a moment that you really remember live that was like, wow, this is the big one?

jr: I think the first time we got to play at Rock in Rio, I'd never seen that many people in my life, in one place. I stepped out onto the stage and then we were playing, and then we turned the lights into the audience and it was like an endless sea of people. And I had never ever seen anything like that in my life, and it really took me back for a second. I was like, whoa. And I was like, Whoa, Rzeznik, don't screw this up.

ezt: Right. Bad time to forget the words.

jr: Oh my God. Yeah. Yeah. But that was amazing. It was amazing. It was just like you felt this little bit of anxiety, but then relaxed into it and was just grateful for it. And it was a great show. That was something that was something special for me, something I can share with my kid later.

ezt: It's funny. You mentioned getting letters from your fans and you do have a really dedicated following of fans, and do you have a story about a fan or anything that understanding or learning anything where your music or you've made a positive impact on someone's life or had a really good connection? And I'm sure having been in the industry so long, you now see, I'm sure, so many people that are familiar to you in different towns and different places, and what's your relationship with the fans and is there anything you could highlight?

jr: Our audience is incredibly loyal to us and they're wonderful to us. And we have people that come to 2030 shows during the summer, and I'm just so happy to see them. And to the point, I mean, this girl, this woman, she came to every show on our last tour. And first of all, I was like, she's got to be married to a rich guy. Or she hit the lotto, or she developed some sort of app or a social media platform, and she's retired and living her dream. But she's just normal. Very cool. And I had to say to her, look, if you want, the band will pick up the cost of the ticket a few times. It's like you've been to so many shows, it's just like, let us treat you to one at some point.

Those kind of people, they're amazing to me and I'm grateful for them. I mean, there's always one or two people who have no boundaries and you got to kind of avoid them. But other than that, generally the thing that people want most, I find, they just want to say, "hi." They just want to tell you that they appreciate what you do. And sometimes, a lot of times, they want to share their personal stories of what role the music played in their lives. And that's gratifying. Sometimes it's heartbreaking.

I was just over in the UK and a young couple came up to me and they both had the words to a song called "Boxes" tattooed on themselves. And I was like, wow, that's interesting. And then they both started crying and they were saying, we had twin babies, and they both died. And I was like, oh my God. And then they said they just kept listening to this song and it helped us through this time. And I was just like, whoa. That was really heavy. But at the same time, I would rather make music that's like medicine to people than just candy. That meant a lot. And I was very humbled by it.

ezt: So you've got a new song, you guys are on tour, and what's the plan? What's even further off in the horizon, even though you've got your hands full already, but ...

jr: Tour, go home, take a really long hot bath, scrub all the road off me, sleep for a couple of days, and then get back to work, like writing for the next album. And I don't think we're touring a lot next year, so will be able to spend a lot of time with my daughter and my wife and just keep going. Tour, rinse, repeat.

ezt: Well, John, I thank you so much for the time you spent with me today, and I wish you luck on the new tune and of course, have a safe and successful tour.

jr: Thank you.

ezt: And come on up for barbecue one of these days in Jersey.

jr: What are you way up north?

ezt: Yeah, I'm about 12 miles from New York City, it's Bergen County, Bergen County.

jr: Bergen. God, it's very, very nice up there. Very nice.

ezt: Yeah, it's cool.

jr: And I have to say, you have the most impressive vinyl collection I've ever seen in my life.

ezt: Well, thanks so much. Yeah, that's my stuff back there. Someone asked me how many I had the other day and I said 5,000 and I checked and I was wrong. I'm closer to like 7,000 now.

jr: Oh my God. Yeah, I know. It's addictive. It's addictive. But you should really snap a photo of that to show your audience, man. That's impressive.

ezt: Absolutely. Yeah. Are you into records nowadays or where are you with vinyl?

jr: I'm nowhere with vinyl because everything is all packed up in a box because my daughter will figure out some way to make something out of it. So I'm trying to preserve whatever I've got. So I mean, we decided that, well, we learned once we had a kid, you can't have anything nice. You just got to put all the nice stuff away until they're in high school.

ezt: I got it. I have three kids, so we're on the same page. Well, cool. John, thanks so much.

jr: Oh as always, thank you so much.


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