Q&A: Goo Goo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznik Will Play for the Orange Bowl but Not for Art Snobs
After a string of hits in the mid-'90s, there were few people who had not been touched (or perhaps irritated) by the Goo Goo Dolls. For several years following their breakthrough, their raspy, dramatic pop songs seemed to appear during every sappy moment on TV and in the movies, as well as in yet-to-be-dramatic scenes like grocery stores and the car rides home from the grocery store. Lately, though, the world has been a little less Gooey. That is, until now.
After leaving dedicated Goobers (we think that's what their fans are called) waiting four long years for a record, the band has delivered some new Goo with 2010's Something for the Rest of Us. On the heels of the release, the band is set to play a big halftime show here in SoFla at the Discover Orange Bowl (we already formulated the perfect set list). County Grind was mighty curious about a few things, like who "the rest of us" is, how to write pop songs dramatic enough to bring tears to the eyes of jocks, and what the heck that person's name was from the song back in the '90s (Spoiler: He still won't tell us her/his name). So, we gave lead man Johnny Rzeznik a buzz for a little pre-Orange Bowl chat.
County Grind: So are you excited for the big halftime show?
Johnny Rzeznik: Yeah, I'm really excited. It's going to be a big, humongous party. I love playing at those big events, 'cause it's like everybody is so amped-up already. And you just kind of go out there and do your thing and have a good time.
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One of your early videos, "There You Are," was filmed in a football stadium, which was empty. At that point, did you envision your band playing in football stadiums with people in them someday?
Whether a musician admits it or not, that's always one of their secret dreams that they like to fantasize about. Who doesn't want to play in front of 80,000 people? It's a rush! It's amazing!
Do you consciously write epic songs?
No, I don't consciously do it, like, "Oh, I'm going to write an epic!" But, I don't know, I write the way I write. [laughs] Sometimes it works out that way; sometimes it doesn't. I like dynamics in music. I love big sweeping sections of music like a big bridge. I love a hook, you know? One of my favorite bands right now is the Hold Steady. They are the great American rock band. So good. They write humongous hooks on these rock songs. It's great.
During the writing process, do you wonder how a tune may do in an environment like the Orange Bowl?
I don't think like that when I'm writing. I think it's dangerous for me to do that. You always hope that it works in front of a big crowd of people, and I've been lucky enough to have that experience.
You experienced writer's block just before "Iris" and were reportedly on the verge of quitting music. How has your experience with writer's block been since then? Do you experience it differently? Has it ever been that intense again?
Look man, you know what, I gotta discuss my writer's block thing, OK?
I don't believe that writer's block actually exists. I believe that in the final analysis, what I was going through right then was just being a pussy. [laughs] I finally came to the conclusion that doing this can be a really frustrating process. And if you're going to do something, you just sit in the middle of your frustration and accept the fact that you're going to be frustrated and that most of what you write is not going to be great. Then you move through that, and once that fear is out of your head, then you start being productive again.
You kind of have to do your best and let go. That keeps your head clear. Don't get me wrong; I've thrown guitars up against walls and been like "Fuck this, I'm out," you know? But then you have to go back and pick up your guitar, and hopefully it's not broken. And you tune it back up and then you sit your ass down and get back to work.
If your guitar has just been smashed against a wall, that's a different obstacle to writing.
[laughs] Yeah, it's like, "Shit. I've gotta go get another one."
To the delight of your fans, you have come out with a new album, which is called Something for the Rest of Us. Who is included in "the rest of us"?
I would say the vast majority of people are included in "the rest of us." I don't write for rock critics. I don't write for art snobs. I don't write to be perceived as some sort of hipster. Also, we're not a hyperpolished, factory sort of pop band on Top 40 radio now. The definition of pop music has changed so much. I'm not demeaning that music, 'cause a lot of people enjoy it. So what? Let 'em like it. I don't particularly enjoy that. But I think there is a vast majority of people who just want to hear some good rock songs. And they want to hear some lyrics that they can relate to and dig into. Rather than just "baby, baby, baby" or some lofty, pretentious indie rock.
I wanted to ask you about some of the lyrics on the new album. The first single is a song called "Home." In the first verse, you talk about being in a room with empty people, and the deepest conversations are full of lies. Is that about being on the road and not being able to relate to anybody? And is it you who is telling lies in the deepest conversations?
That's more of a statement about living in Los Angeles, you know? [laughs] I'm from the East Coast. I've been living here ten years, and I still don't fit in. It's a very strange place, and I'm over it.
Not the ideal "Home"?
No. And the song too is me making a statement about wanting to go someplace where I belong.
One more lyrical question. In "Notbroken," which is mostly a pretty straightforward song lyrically, there was this one line toward the end that really jumped out at me: "Angels light the neon fires/That burn so cold through your desires/And all you are is all I need to know." What does that line mean to you in this moment?
Yeah... what that line means to me... [laughs] Wow. Umm, I don't know. [laughs] I really, honestly don't know. I mean, it obviously meant something when I wrote it, but I'm not quite sure. It's just this image of... you think you're protected, but you're really not. Because even though this is very bright and shiny, it's cold.
Would you say that part of your songwriting is more abstract and Dylanesque? Writing first and reflecting later?
Yeah, I mean there's a lot of times where you just write something that sounds cool and then you step away from it. I mean, obviously it comes out of your subconscious somewhere. Then you step away from it, and then sometimes it starts to make more sense to you. Once you have some distance from it, you can get some perspective. It's like that whole thing of not being able to see the forest 'cause of all the trees.
Fifteen years ago, you sang "I won't tell 'em your name." Have you held to that promise? Would you reveal the name now?
No, I don't think I ever would. Out of respect for them.
Goo Goo Dolls perform at half-time at the Discover Orange Bowl, Monday, January 3, at Sun LIfe Stadium, 2269 Dan Marino Blvd., Miami Gardens. Tickets cost $95 to $215. Click here.
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