By Jim Morrison
For a decade after they formed in Buffalo and before they became radio stars, The Goo Goo Dolls toured in a van, a trio sometimes headlining and sometimes opening for bands like The Gun Club or Motorhead. Their first album, recorded on a $750 budget featured originals, but also a speed metal version of “Sunshine of Your Love.”
“We were trying to figure out how to be the loudest, most raucous thing we could come up with. And that was it,” says founding member and bassist Robby Takac during a phone interview. “The only point we were trying to prove, you know, was that we could stand out.”
Takac describes that first effort as “such a mess,” but adds that it earned a legion of fans, most of them in the industry. “Now, it took 10 years for us to have a hit record, but I don’t think if it weren’t for those 10 years of us wrapping on people’s doors and giving them splitting headaches at daytime radio shows that we would have been in the position we were, you know, when it was time for stuff to actually happen.”
Stuff began to happen with “Name,” the third single off their fifth album, “A Boy Named Goo.” It was a stylistic turn, a ballad that showed up on the pop and adult contemporary charts and drove the album to double platinum.
“We kind of learned to play our guitars a little bit better. And we had always had a little bit of, you know, melody in our songs,” Takac says. “But we were toying around a little bit more with trying to find some other textures and stuff to play around with after we had released a couple of breakneck speed records. And that led to “Name,” which wasn’t actually our first ballad. We had some ballads on some earlier records as well. But this one really seemed to resonate with folks. That song took off. And from that point on, it was sort of a different journey for us.”
That journey went into orbit and heads started spinning with “Dizzy Up the Girl,” their 1998 smash featuring a handful of hits, notably “Iris,” “Slide,” and “Broadway.”
At the Grammy Awards, “Iris” received nominations for “Record of the Year” and “Pop Performance by a Duo or Group.” The song also garnered singer/songwriter John Rzeznik a “Song of the Year” nomination. Rolling Stone put it at 39 on the list of 100 greatest pop songs.
“John was kind of looking for different places to go, musically,” Takac says. “We always used to have this conversation about this record needs to be something different than the last one. That was always really important to us.”
Listening to their debut and their latest, 2022’s “Chaos and Bloom,” he adds, and it doesn’t seem like products from the same group. But listen to their discography over nearly three decades and “it makes absolute sense.”
“It was always how do we take what we’re doing right now, a little bit further, get a little bit more musical, take advantage of some of the technology, embrace some different musical styles,” he explains. “I think we also got pretty good at listening to other people a little bit more. It was always we were in such a bubble, wouldn’t listen to anybody. We just did what we thought was the right thing to do. And I think we started to be able to bring some people into the studio with us and realize how much larger ideas were just inside of us. And I think once that started to happen, the floodgates fell down.”
Is it true that Reznik considered quitting the band just before he wrote “Iris?”
Takac laughs. “It’s a common occurrence in our world,” he says. “We’re brothers, man. Neither of us has a brother. We both have sisters. And, you know, we’ve been doing this together our whole lives. We just had this conversation yesterday, man. It’s like you just figure out how to get to the next thing.”
How has their relationship changed over the years? “I guess the biggest difference is we’re not going to get into a fistfight over a chord change any more. That would happen when we were kids. We were pretty hot-tempered, pretty quick to get confrontational. I don’t feel like that’s the place I should be right now. So I think we’re able to make it happen and able to be a little bit more sensible about stuff.”
“When it boils right down to it, it’s the same relationship it’s always been, ” he adds. “We care about each other, but we want to give each other enough space so we can be our own people, too.”
The two grew up listening to AM radio so their pop success seems like it was lurking. “We love the pop song, but we also hung out with a bunch of punk rockers so I guess that’s The Ramones, right?” he says. “The same thing with The Replacements, that whole idea of trying to cause a little bit of chaos and disorder with some great melody and hooks.”
Takac wonders about the enduring effects of the pandemic not only on health but on culture. For the band, he says “we were forced to crawl into a little bit of a bubble because the vaccines hadn’t come out yet.”
They holed up in a Woodstock studio with their engineer and worked daily for about two months. The result is “Chaos and Bloom,” which easily could slip in the slot between “A Boy Named Goo” and “Dizzy Up the Girl.” “Maybe part of the reason that harkens back to some of the oldest stuff, like you mentioned, is this is really the first record in a long time that we just holed up as opposed to sort of being in and out and doing a few songs here, a few songs there.”
The band has endured as the music industry underwent seismic changes. The old revenue stream of touring to sell albums has flipped. Now, groups make albums to sell concert tickets.
“Obviously, the revenue streams have changed dramatically,” he says. “I’m not crying. I’m not whining. We’ve been able to figure it out. It just takes a little bit more creativity, you know, a little bit more access to the band, and the willingness to do what it takes, you know, to make it make sure it’s going to happen. People are always going to need music in their lives. It’s just a matter of how it’s going to be integrated.”
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Goo Goo Dolls
Atlantic Union Bank Pavilion, Portsmouth