the guys have never looked back. Their 1996 soundtrack smash "Iris"
proved the band was no one-hit wonder. By the time they followed up
with a few smash hits off the 1998 album Dizzy Up the Girl, they
were one of the biggest bands on the scene. They have continued
recording through the new millennium, adding smash albums like
Gutterflower and Let Love In to their discography.
the band has slowed down the output somewhat. Their recently released
album Boxes was their first new album in five years. Happily, it
showed there was still a following for the guys, debuting near the top
of the charts and spawning their biggest radio hit in about a decade
with "So Alive."
Boxes now out, Goo Goo Dolls are hitting the road for a big summer
tour, which will stop in Philadelphia on August 19. Right before they
hit the road, we caught up with bassist Robby Takac to talk about the
band, the new album and the tour.
you were just breaking into the music biz in the mid-80s with local
bands like Monarch and the Beaumonts, did you even imagine that you
would still be working in music professionally over 30 years later?
wouldn’t have named my band Goo Goo Dolls if I thought I would [still]
be explaining it on national TV this morning. No, man, you’ve got no
idea. John was 19. I was 20. We were young kids in college, thinking
we were going to finish college, shake hands, go "Hey man, it was really
cool making that record with you" and then move on with our lives. Just
like everybody else did that we were hanging around with.
did you and John originally meet?
played in a band with my cousin. (laughs) Actually, I think he
might have sold me weed once, at one point. But, he was in a band with
my cousin when I was younger. A punk rock band. I had filled in with
them a few times, so John and I had played together a few times. After
we met, we hung out a bunch. (laughs again) We were dying our
hair in the bathtub together once – it’s not as weird as it sounds, we
had clothes on and stuff, we just didn’t want to get dye all over – and
we decided it was time to put a band together and do something for
real. A band that I had been playing with a little bit, we took the
drummer from that band. I was working at a recording studio at the
time. We all moved in together to save money. Then we went in and
recorded some demos. That became our first [self-titled] album, which
came out in ’86.
the early Metal Blade years, you were lead vocalist on many songs. At
what point did you guys decide to let Johnny take over on lead vocals?
Jay, I don’t think it was ever like a decision, really. John didn’t
like to sing at the beginning. We tried out about 20 singers and nobody
could keep up with what we were doing at the time. We were playing
super fast and doing something that nobody seemed to fit the bill for.
So, I just started singing. I never really considered myself a singer.
I had never sang for a band before, ever. We just started writing these
songs and then we were on tour and playing all over the country. Then
John was doing more and more backup [vocals]. On our second album, he
sang a couple of songs and started to decide that it was something that
he was comfortable doing. Then, his songwriting started to blossom.
You could see it happening. You could feel it happening. He was
coming in with these songs that were just like: Holy shit! Where did
that come from? That was even back in the Metal Blade days. He was
able to complete his own sentences for a little while, that he wasn’t
able to [before].
just came naturally?
let that happen, which I guess is the credo of this band and why we’re
able to be around now starting our fourth decade. We were always able
to take a step back and look at it and go: Okay, what’s going to make
this go better? How are we going to move forward? I remember having
these arguments when we were kids, after we finished our first album.
We can’t do that! Why can’t we do that? Well, because the 9,000
people that bought our first record aren’t going to like that.
(chuckles) I remember we’d talk about it and go: You know what?
Just fuck it. We’ve got to do this. Let’s do it. Who cares? We love
bands that do songs like this. So we tried and put a song like "James
Dean" on a record or something like that. (laughs) We were
always the wimpiest band on Metal Blade, but we were also way heavier
than... except for the punk bands and stuff... most of the alternative
rock bands. We were kind of out there, you know? Being led by REM and
that kind of stuff, we were a little bit more aggressive than them.
That’s why for the first few years we didn’t have a home, really. In a
weird way, still today we feel very separated from the music business.
My biggest rock star friend is John, you know?
enjoy all of your band’s music, but your music tends to be the harder
rock side of the group’s playbook, where Johnny has a real skill with
alt-pop and ballads. Do you feel this combination of skills and styles
makes the band more memorable?
that might be part of it. I think what you just said explains why John
has taken more of a front role in this, too. (laughs) I tend to
default to those places. It’s funny, when you hear the demos that I
bring in for these records, most of the time they sound like Ramones
songs. You can almost hear that when you listen to the songs. We’ve
been able to successfully take all of our ideas and make them all a
common statement. Even the different types of statements that John
makes within one record, sometimes that’s difficult to make them all
work. We’ve been able to pull it together and make it fairly cohesive
album after album. (laughs again)
first exposure to you guys was with your incredible cover of Prince’s
“Never Take the Place of Your Man.”
(laughs) Oh, yeah, Lance Diamond, man! You
know Lance passed away last year?
no, I didn’t hear that.
He did, man. Yeah. The dude was crazy, man, crazy. Crazy scene.
of course Prince just died, too. Why did you decide to cover his song,
and as a songwriter and performer what do you feel Prince brought to the
decided to cover it because Lance, the guy who sang the song... Lance
was about 20, 25 years older than me, and was a local lounge singer in
Buffalo. R&B singer. We became as close friends as friends can be.
Prince and Terence Trent D’Arby were the first things that we connected
on. We had already recorded a song with Lance. Lance did "Down on the
Corner" by Creedence Clearwater [Revival] off of our Jed album
[in 1989]. We wanted to do another song with him. We asked him what he
wanted to do. He picked that song and said, “Dude, this is the song
we’ve got to do. Every time I hear this, I hear you guys doing it.”
Actually, there is talk about waking that song up again this year. I
hope we do, because I really love what happened with that whole thing,
except for that creepy Bachman-Turner Overdrive thing that happens at
the end of that song. Isn’t that at the end of that song? I don’t know
what prompted us to do that. My 51-year-old self would tell my 25 year
old self that wasn’t a good idea. (laughs)
major label debut A Boy Named Goo
came out and suddenly the band was all over the radio and TV with the
hit single “Name.” After all the years of playing the tiny clubs and
stuff, how surreal was it to finally have a huge single and be in the
middle of the spotlight?
know, I’ll tell you what, we were so busy that there wasn’t even time to
really comprehend what was going on. I don’t even know if I can explain
it, if I explained it the right way. When A Boy Named Goo came
out, we as a band weren’t that big. That song got really big. We’d go
and play radio shows and paste secretaries against the back wall,
because they thought that the whole show was going to sound like
“Name.” We’d come out and we’d start with “Long Way Down” and they’d
be like, “What is going on here?” Because they had never heard any of
those songs. They had just heard the songs that they’d heard on the
radio, which was that one song. So this band had a pretty serious
identity crisis for that period of time. But, once again, it’s
blessings in disguise in this situation. It gave us the opportunity to
learn how to be in that situation without the pressure of Goo Goo Dolls
being so huge. Then Dizzy Up the Girl happened, which is like
lightning striking twice for a rock band. Because we got so ripped off
on Boy Named Goo, man. We didn’t even make a penny.
man. We sold millions of records and John and I are like, we are
moving. We were living in Buffalo, and we were like New York City, here
we come, man. We moved to New York City and our check and our statement
came and we still owed them like a million bucks. We had a ten year
career of borrowing money, so yeah, that was really a disappointment.
But it came again and it happened again once “Iris” happened. Then
people were like, “Oh, I get it.” Goo Goo Dolls.
you said, while “Name” was a huge hit, it was the only real radio hit on
the album. It was a couple of years before the “Iris” soundtrack single
and the Dizzy Up the Girl
album made the band explode. How important was that album to the band
to prove that you weren’t just one-hit wonders, and also to make some
money off of it?
is an interesting song, because when “Iris” was created, it was created
for a soundtrack. It wasn’t created for the album. For the movie
City of Angels. Our manager said, “Hey, they’re interested in
having you guys write a song for this movie.” John went off and met
with the producers. John put together a demo for them. They liked it.
We went in and recorded it. I remember sitting in the studio, I can’t
remember where. Maybe Capitol, I think it was. I can’t remember
exactly where it was, but I remember sitting in the studio and watching
this full orchestra playing. (laughs) They probably had 30-40
people or something like that playing this song that we had recorded. I
remember John and I sitting in front of the console. It was just the
two of us sitting up front. We were looking at each other like oh, my
God, man. The garage door has shut, man. Wow! What are we doing,
man? Is this right? We finished it, and we put it out, and it came out
on this record that had – I’m going to miss some of the big bands who
were on it – but it’s like Peter Gabriel and U2. That caliber of band.
I can’t even remember what the rest of them were.
think Eric Clapton, Sarah McLachlan and Alanis Morissette were on it,
can’t even remember. It was just crazy. We were just happy to even be
on this thing. Our names are next to all these bands, what are you
kidding me? That far and away became the runaway hit from that record.
[ed. note: McLachlan’s “Angel” and Morissette’s “Uninvited”
also became hits, but neither was as big as "Iris.”] I
remember we were working on the album Dizzy Up the Girl and we
were wondering whether or not we should put that song on the album. It
was something we had already released. The Stanley Cup finals were
going on as we were recording it. Everybody was in because whoever it
was had just won. I don’t follow sports really, but whoever it was won
that year. [ed. note: It was the Detroit Red Wings.]
They were skating around the ice with the Stanley Cup over their head
and people cheering and all of America watching this television program,
and then “Iris” came on in the background. We were like: Oh my God, are
we on Mars? Is this real? At that point, it dawned on us how big of a
song that was. It left the arena of hit record and entered the arena of
something different. Although it has cast an unbelievable shadow, it’s
nice to have a shadow that big to dodge in and out of and base your
career on, for sure.
is your first album in five years and I believe it has already done
better than Magnetic did five years ago and
“So Alive” is also getting better airplay than anything in years, but
with all of the changes in the music biz do you still think in terms of
hits, or are you recording more for the artistic enjoyment now?
little bit of both. Part of [it is] the enjoyment of this current
process that we have now, which is different than what we used to do.
The old process was we’d go in and we would demo 15 songs and then we’d
show up to a producer. Okay, let’s work on these 15 songs. We’d lock
ourselves in a recording studio and try to climb out from underneath
this huge pile of half-finished songs. Some batches felt that there was
never going to be an end to it. It makes it really hard to be excited
and to stay focused. The last record, Magnetic, was the first
record that we decided to work on in a different way. We used more
producers, so we weren’t burning one guy out. We were working on one,
two, three songs at a time, rather than recording all of these songs at
one time. Finishing our thoughts and then moving on. John was able to
go in and from zero come up with songs that were a bit more of a
collaboration. Experimenting with that for the first time on
Magnetic, we knew what to expect going into that process again. We
knew that our old process was no good for us anymore. It wasn’t good
for our health. It used to really mess us up. By the end of a record,
we were spent, and it was time to go on tour. This new process, we knew
what to expect this time. We were able to go in and hold our ground on
things that we thought were important, which was largely the
songwriting. We had relationships with some of these people already, so
they knew what to expect when we were coming in. To me, that approach
to record making was realized in a much more sincere manner this time.
Not that I think we missed it entirely on Magnetic, I just think
this one feels more comfortable. And, just as human beings, we’re in a
better place right now, too.
is the first Goo Goo Dolls album without drummer Mike Malinin since
A Boy Named Goo. He had a long run of about 20
years with the band, during most of your glory years. How did the
recording process change without him there?
Well, the modern
version of making records is much different, like I said. It wasn’t
just sitting in a room bashing out songs for two or three months.
It was a lot of working on music. Playing to clicks and loops.
Bringing in a drummer to play and then snipping out pieces of
stuff. Editing them together. Then, eventually we brought in a
drummer who played all the finished stuff. A few different
drummers, actually. Craig MacIntyre, who has been playing with us
for about two years now. He played on all the LA songs, so probably
half the record. Then we had a couple of New York City guys play
stuff that we did in New York. Shawn Pelton from the Saturday
Night Live band, being one of them. Yeah, the process, it
changed, so honestly it didn’t really feel all that uncomfortable.
It probably would have if we would have done it in the old manner,
but it’s been a long time since we’ve done that, so it didn’t feel
all that strange.
music business has changed so much since you got started, with low
sales, streaming, piracy, YouTube, etc. If Goo Goo Dolls were coming
up now, do you think you would have been able to find an audience and
actually make a career out of the band?
with there being no internet back then, it’s hard to say. Everything we
did was through fanzines, mailing mix tapes to people, doing a lot of
the same stuff people are doing now. The mix tape is not something
new. Hip-hop guys did not invent that. We used to do it all the time.
You’d put your seven favorite bands on a tape and then mix your songs in
with them and send them to your friends. Guess what, they’re going to
put them on at parties. We did that stuff when we were kids. It’s just
in a different place now. I don’t know man, you know there’s sooo
much out there now that doesn’t involve music at all. Then let’s get
into music. There’s so much music that does not call for you to listen
to it. It’s just there for other reasons. Some of it I really like,
but it’s still there for other reasons. Like EDM – I equate EDM, and
people hate this, to the Grateful Dead. I realize the Grateful Dead are
great musicians. I realize that. But it’s a scene, man. That’s why
you can play a song for 55 minutes and people are just seeing out, man.
Hanging out, rocking out, meeting chicks, scoring weed. These kids are
doing the exact same thing, except for they are taking MDA and hanging
out, sweating, having fun. Although my friends who own bars are telling
me that stuff has done horrible things for liquor sales. (laughs)
People don’t like to drink when they are on that stuff.
it’s largely the same. There is so much out there now that it’s really
difficult for people to focus. I do think you could get to the segments
of people pretty directly who are into what you’re doing. I’ve got
direct contact to 3,000,000 of them right now. I could tell them
anything you wanted me to. That would have cost me $100,000 twenty
years ago. So the assets that are there, I don’t know, man, you can
weigh it all out. The thing that hasn’t changed is that 98% of bands
aren’t making any money. That was the same 25 years ago. They’re doing
it because they love it. That’s why they should be doing it. They are
going to do that, no matter what. That’s what keeps things floating.
Beyond your work with the band, you’ve also been playing a part in the
business side of music in the last decade, forming Good Charamel Records
which is Shonen Knife’s current label as well as the annual Music is Art
Festival in your native Buffalo. Since you have done so well as a
musician yourself, do you enjoy working with lesser-known bands and
helping to get them exposure?
My wife is from Japan. She is from Tokyo. I really fell in love with
the culture there. I had always been a Shonen Knife fan. We got to be
friends with them. I was actually about to close my record label when I
met them. That was probably seven years ago. I had ran it for about
three years, recording just Buffalo bands, and I decided I didn’t want
to do that anymore. Just because it was causing me grief. (laughs)
I didn’t need the grief. Naoko from Shonen Knife did a duet with one of
my bands, The Juliet Dagger, from Buffalo. We got to meet them and
struck up a relationship. Brought them here to do some touring. It
turned out that it was a good relationship, so I started signing more
Japanese bands. Probably we’ve released maybe six or seven Japanese
bands now over the past ten years. I love it, man.
it remind you of the old days?
out and do van tours occasionally with Shonen Knife. The first tour I
did with them was seven years ago. We hired a tour manager to take them
around. The first night of the tour, we didn’t vet him well enough and
it turns out the dude was smoking crack. I just happened, through a
series of events, actually an emergency within [Goo Goo Dolls], to have
a month off. I flew out, fired him, and I drove the band around in a
van for six weeks. Dude, I got home and I can’t tell you what that did
for my psyche. To crawl back in that bus again, because we were right
back on tour again. To crawl back on that bus and go, okay, dude,
reality check here. I just drove a band that’s been together as long as
I have, longer than my band has, and killing it night after night.
Sometimes to 500 people, sometimes to 50. Killing it, though. Night
after night. Driving endless hours in a van. I got back in that bus,
dude, and walked out on the stage in front of a packed amphitheater and
I’m just like, okay dude, this is good. This allows me to do all that
other stuff. I guess that’s just part of the reason that we’re still
here. It allows John and I to have cool things in our lives. Exciting
things to do. Good times.