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Interview: John Rzeznik talks 'Boxes,' Buffalo

by jmaloni
Thu, Aug 4th 2016 10:25 am
The Goo Goo Dolls (Photo by Bob Mussell)
The Goo Goo Dolls (Photo by Bob Mussell)

Goo Goo dolls release new album, return to WNY for Darien Lake show

By Joshua Maloni

Managing Editor

As you enter the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, inside the Hard Rock Cafe, Niagara Falls USA, there is a large sign with scores of inductee names. It's an impressive roster of rock royalty, with talented singers, songwriters and musicians from the past 100 years included.

Countless bands have been birthed in Buffalo, and countless bands have been told "You can't make it in Buffalo." Among those listed in the BMHOF, many found fame and fortune outside of the Queen City. Some, I'm sure, would be hesitant to call Buffalo home, or eager to downplay their roots.

But the most successful group in the BMHOF, a band that has ruled the Billboard and radio airplay charts over the past 20 years, has no qualms saying "Made in Buffalo."

"It's my home, man, and I'm so proud of it," Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik said. "Every time I go there, there's something new."

It was in Buffalo that Rzeznik and Robby Takac would forge the sound and style that led to "Name," "Slide" and 14 consecutive top 10 radio hits - a record for "hot" adult contemporary. The band's song "Iris" was cemented into the Billboard airplay chart for almost a year (spending more than four straight months at No. 1). The Goo Goo Dolls have performed for three different "Tonight Show" hosts while racking up 10 million record sales, four Grammy nominations and a Songwriters Hall of Fame Hal David Starlight Award for Rzeznik.

In between national TV appearances this spring, the band returned to Buffalo for a private gig at (716) and a college show, while Rzeznik performed alongside Daryl Hall at Seneca Niagara Casino.

The band was recently in town to film a music video for "So Alive," an addictively good single from the Goo's new album, "Boxes."

Ahead of an Aug. 20 Darien Lake concert, Rzeznik spoke to NFP about Buffalo, and how his hometown has kept his band together - and flourishing - as he and Takac mark 30 years together.

JM: There are so many big things happening in Western New York right now. What do you think of the resurgence in Buffalo?

John Rzeznik: You know what, it's funny; I was talking to Robby about this. I regret, so much, not being involved more in it - like from 10 years ago. We built the studio (GCR Audio Recording Studios), it was like eight years ago we built the studio, and that's going really well for Robby. But I got out of that business. I'm so proud of everybody.

And we just did a video with all local people from Western New York - all Western New York natives - and it's probably the best video we've ever done. Because the storyline was really, really great. It was shot beautifully. And everybody pulled together and made this great thing, and it really, it really, really is, head and shoulders above what we've done before.

JM: The fact that you guys are from here (and so supportive) has always been such a point of pride for all of us (30-something-aged fans). I'm curious about your new WNY fans. I'm wondering if some of them are more familiar with the band for its fame and its hit songs than for your ties to Buffalo.

John Rzeznik: I don't really know. I mean, wherever I go, there's always somebody from Buffalo there, you know? And, I mean, are we ... God. That's hard to answer. I don't know. I think, a lot of times, the only thing that's held this band together has been the fact that people have been really proud of us. And, like, when things get really $hitty (laughs), at times, you know, we always seem to wind up doing something in Buffalo, and then it sort of brings me back to, like, "Oh, yeah. Now I know what this is about." And it reminds me of when we were young. And how we struggled a lot. But always had a lot of love and support from the people around us - and even people we didn't know. People who came to see us. People who paid five bucks to come and see us play.

Robby Takac and John Rzeznik (Photo by Bob Mussel) 

Robby Takac and John Rzeznik (Photo by Bob Mussell)

JM: There's been a lot of activity recently with the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. There have been national band contests and whatnot. Like you said, Robby is probably more in touch with the local music scene right now but, to the extent that you're familiar with Buffalo bands, will we see another Goo Goo Dolls any time soon?

John Rzeznik: I mean, I think that there may be - maybe; I hope there'll be somebody who's maybe been influenced by us a little bit. But I'm sure that the young kids, if there's somebody out there, some younger guys out there making music, that they'll twist it into their own thing, and it will be the next logical extension of what we did.

It's such a different perspective. I worked with a lot of guys in their 20s on this album, and their perspective on music and life and the world is so different. And it's fascinating to me. It's just fascinating to me.

JM: You guys have been here quite a few times this year, which is cool. I want to ask you about one of your performances. You were in Niagara Falls performing with Daryl Hall on his "Live From Daryl's House" (March 25). How was that experience for you? How did it come about and what did you like about that? It's kind of a unique opportunity.

John Rzeznik: OK, he asked me to do this show, "Live From Daryl's House," and I'm like, "Of course I'm going to do it. He's Daryl Hall. He's a legend. He's an icon." So then, I drove up to his house. I was living in New York at the time. I drove up to his house and we did the show. And we really hit it off.

And so, he decided he was going to take (the show) out on the road. And he asked me if I would do a couple of shows with him. And I was like, "Hell, yeah, I'm going to do a couple shows with you." It's like how many times does a guy like me get to stand next to a legend - and get to sing with him - get to sing his songs with him?

It was intimidating. I was so intimidated by doing it, that I had to do it just to prove that I could.

JM: I saw him at Artpark and I really was surprised at how well he and John sound these days, and how well the band has held up over the years. But the same could be said for you guys. You've not only withstood the test of time as far as your onstage performance, but also as far as your songwriting and album creation - much more so than many of your contemporaries. Why do you suppose that is?

John Rzeznik: You know what, honest to God, I don't want to sound like I'm kissing everyone's @ss in Buffalo, but I think a lot of it, truly, sincerely, is rooted in that Buffalo work ethic. And that not giving up. You know? And I was brought up a hardcore Catholic, and I think that's part of the reason that Robby and I are still together, is you just don't - you just never leave. When you're a Catholic, you don't leave. (Laughs) You stay until the bitter end.

He and I, Robby and I, see eye to eye more now than we have in 20 years.

My favorite moment of this year was when he and I were sitting in my studio in Hollywood and we were listening to the mixes of "Boxes." And we looked at each other, and I said to him, "Dude, we won. We won!" It doesn't matter if we sell 30 copies of this record. We won, because we did it. How many guys did we come up with, you know, that can't do it now. And we still get to do it. What a fu**ing blessing. That is insane.

To call it anything less than a blessing is insufficient. It's what it is. It's like I can't believe it. Like, some mornings I wake up and I'm just like, "Holy $hit. I can't believe I do this for a living. And I can pay my mortgage! (Laughs)

JM: "Boxes" is another really solid effort, and, obviously, you guys have had way more hits than misses, but, as far as "Boxes," what makes it special?

John Rzeznik: Because I made a conscious effort to let go of control, and I brought people in who I really admired and respected to work on the record. And I also decided not to work with anybody that wasn't fun. (Laughs) I know that sounds crazy, but I decided, I'm like, "You know what: I ain't working with anybody who's a pain in the @ss. If they're a bigger pain in the @ss than me, I'm not dealing with them."

So, you know, we did a lot of work with a guy named Drew Pearson (Phillip Phillips, OneRepublic), who's just friggin' - he's just like this big ball of joy, you know? And he's so talented, and it's so much fun to sit and work with this guy, and the music just pours out of you when you're in a room with that guy. It's brilliant.

And my old-time writing partner Greg Wattenberg (the Goo Goo Dolls' 2013 release "Magnetic") and Derek Fuhrmann, his guy. It's just like, it's just fun. We sit; we laugh; we hang out; and then we write a song. And that's what it was all about.

A lot of the lyrical matter on the album is pretty serious, you know? But it feels mostly, I think, lyrically, the song kind of deals with the alienation of being a human, and always feeling like. ... I tend to write a lot about my desire to belong. Which, I never felt like I belonged anywhere. So, I always felt like I was on the outside, even in my own family. I was the only boy. I felt like an outsider. I was the only punk in my high school. I was an outsider there. Robby and I started playing this crazy mishmash of alternative rock mixed with metal and glam. We were outsiders. And then we were lucky to evolve beyond our influences.

Although I do believe, in retrospect, that Paul Westerberg got way too much credit for being an influence on us. I think that, you know, bands like Cheap Trick and Hüsker Dü - you know, as far as my guitar playing goes. Bob Mould was always a much bigger influence on me, because of the fact that we were always a trio. And that's how I got started playing.

John Rzeznik (Photo by Bob Mussel) 

John Rzeznik (Photo by Bob Mussell)

JM: You gave up control on "Boxes." You are an acclaimed songwriter. And your band is very successful. I would imagine it would be kind of challenging to give up control at this point in your career, wouldn't it?

John Rzeznik: No, it was actually liberating when I could take my fu**ing ego and leave it at the door, and, like, be teachable. You know what I'm saying? Like, I learned as much as I taught. Which was incredible. And I'm a better songwriter today than I was a year ago, because of the people that I chose to work with.

JM: What can you tell me about your live show, and (with 11 records and heaps of hits) how in the world do you guys come up with a setlist?

John Rzeznik: You know what, we have a core list of 13 or 14 songs that, like, "Look, you have to play these songs. These songs are all the songs that people know, and that's what they're paying money to see. And then, you know, we'll play our favorite songs off the new album. Obviously the new single. And then we're able to play a little bit longer now, so we're going to throw some deeper cuts into the set, because there's a lot of really hardcore fans that want to hear the seventh track from "Gutterflower" - which I don't even know what it is, but I'll find out!

So, we get to do a lot of that, and it's gratifying.

•••••

At the end of our interview - a time when, traditionally, artists throw in another project plug or shout-out the fans - Rzeznik left me with these words of wisdom: "I just want to say that the Chophouse in Buffalo - we go out for steaks all over the world, because that's sort of the thing on days off - the Chophouse in Buffalo, I swear to God, it is the best steakhouse. In the world. That I've been to."

Now that's Buffalove.

Watch the video for "So Alive" below:


Download 'Boxes' here:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/boxes/id1094892099

Stream 'Boxes' via Spotify here:
https://open.spotify.com/album/5FavjcaDyf8naLuVcP2nR5

Buffalo's own, the Goo Goo Dolls, will return to WNY Saturday, Aug. 20, for a headline performance at the Darien Lake PAC. The band is touring in support of its latest release, "Boxes." Collective Soul is supporting. Click HERE for ticket information. Find the Goo Goo Dolls online at www.googoodolls.com.

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