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Q&A with Johnny Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls

Jennifer Pfaff

When alternative rock dominated the airwaves in the '90s, often found at the top of the charts was the Goo Goo Dolls. The band formed in 1986 but hit its stride roughly a decade later with 1995's "Name," followed by "Broadway," "Black Balloon," "Slide" and "Iris." Fast-foward to June 2013, and the Goo Goo Dolls released its tenth studio album, Magnetic.

   Lead singer and guitarist Johnny Rzeznik and bassist and vocalist Robby Takac remain the only two original members of the group (they'll celebrate 28 years as bandmates on Memorial Day). In anticipation of the Goo Goo Doll's May 2 performance at SunFest in West Palm Beach, Rzeznik shared with Palm Beach Illustrated behind-the-scenes stories from the band's career.

Robby Takac and Johnny Rzeznik

 

You and Robby remain the only original members of the band. What do you remember about the early days?

My favorite memories were definitely when Robby and I made a demo, and we decided we were going to go to New York City and get a record deal no matter what happened. [We] took a big box of cassettes to New York. We staked out where we knew people worked [laughs] and tried giving them our cassettes, because that’s the way we thought it worked. I mean, that’s the way it works on television.

   As strange as it sounds, we actually wounded up getting a small record deal—I think it was for $750. We made the record in like two days, and then we went out on tour.

   At that time, we were this pretty scrappy kind of garage band. As we went on, we sort of learned how to play our instruments, grew up a little bit and our tastes sort of changed.

 

Rumor has it you had writer’s block when you were writing Iris.

Yeah, before "Iris" … I had written "Name," which became a pretty big hit. Then I got really, really nervous about [writing], and I blocked myself up. I just stopped myself from writing because I was so afraid I wouldn’t have another hit. I had to sit down and say to myself, “It doesn’t matter. Just write what you feel.”

   Now, I’m at this point in my life where I don’t believe that writer’s block exists. I think it’s just some kind of fear that keeps you from writing. If you sit down and start writing—and keep writing—and allow yourself to write every piece of garbage that comes out of you, and then you move through that, you’ll get to the good stuff again.

 

Who are some of your favorite bands or artists at the moment?

Lately, I really like the Japandroids, The National and Sara Bareilles.

   I just did some work with these young guys called Cash Cash. It was really fun because they do electronic dance music. They told me, “We really love your songwriting,” and I thought: Well, that’s a really strange mix; you would never think these electronic music guys would dig what I do. They asked me if I wanted to get together and write a song, and I said sure [laughs].

   It’s interesting to watch a kid who’s 20 years younger than me make music—the way they create music is so intensely different than the way I did it at their age. I was completely blown away by it. It really excited me.

 

What’s different about it?

It’s all based on computers. The technology’s so different. I use all the same technology they’re using now, but they apply it in such a different way with electronic instruments. I didn’t realize how powerful it can be. We merged our two worlds together—the melody and lyrics I write with the music they write. It worked out really cool. Now, I’m starting to find a bit more of the electronic stuff that I like.

 

Is that collaboration available somewhere?

I don’t know what’s going to happen. But it was a lot of fun to do [laughs].

 

Whom else would you love to collaborate with—dead or alive?

I would love to write a song with Neil Young, Bob Mould or Lady Gaga—just because I think she’s incredible. She’s taken all these electronics to such a high level. I’m a guitar guy, so I always looked at that music like, “Yeah, right, whatever.” But when I actually sat down and listened to it with an open mind, I realized this is pretty incredible what she’s doing. She’s so talented. What I like about her is she can sit down at a piano, sing her ass off and play a song.

 

What else is the Goo Goo Dolls up to these days?

We’re doing an acoustic tour called the Otis Midnight Sessions. It’s sort of an abbreviated history of the band. This young group called Run River North is going to open the show for us and then play our songs with us. ... We’re basically going back as far as we can into our catalog and reinterpreting our songs with this amazing band. And we’re making a documentary out of it, which we’ve never done before.

 

Besides music, what’s another one of your hobbies?

I’m a huge fan of [watching] really old movies and classic films. There are outlets where you can find all different DVDs of old film noir and movies from the '30s, '40s and '50s. I especially enjoy the darker stuff.

 

What’s your life motto?

Trying to have as much fun as I can. With music, I was always very serious about everything—always driven and miserable, working 15 hours a day. Now, I’m trying to enjoy this before it’s gone. The older I get, the more I realize there’s no time to waste, especially being miserable. That’s fine when you’re 25. But now, it’s just more productive and healthier to have a good time, be positive and be around people you really enjoy being with. And then get paid for it? Forget it. [laughs]

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