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Conversations: John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls

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Conversations: John Rzeznik Of The Goo Goo Dolls

All photos courtesy of the artist
Photo credit: Mark Dellas

My dad introduced me to music. He loved The Beatles and Vietnam War protest songs. Something else he loved? The City of Angels soundtrack, specifically “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls. Having only heard “Iris” and “Name” (off their previous album ‘A Boy Named Goo’), I almost immediately fell in love with Goo Goo Dolls. My first copy of ‘Dizzy Up The Girl’, released in 1998, was played in my room, my parents’ cars, and everywhere I walked (thanks Walkman)!

Twenty years later, I can still sing along with every track. For me, returning to ‘Dizzy’ is like going home – with all the warmth and sadness I’ve come to associate with that. So imagine my reaction when I read the email that asked if I would like to interview John Rzeznik, lead singer and guitarist of Goo Goo Dolls. Hint: I cried. Like, a lot.

After taking a few days to compose myself, I was able to speak on the phone with Rzeznik about their “Dizzy Up The Girl 20th Anniversary Tour”, the importance of family in shaping our lives, and bands he thinks we need to be listening to.

I feel like the meaning of songs can change overtime. Something you may have connected to a personal memory back when you wrote it, might feel different to you now that you have extra perspective on it. Is there any song from the album that you feel differently about now?

Wow, that’s a good question. I think I kind of understand them from a different point of view, yeah. Sometimes when I’m writing a song, I have no idea what I’m writing about. But things are rolling around in my head, and sometimes things just sound really cool… and then the meaning will reveal itself at a later date. I think I really had a moment with “Acoustic #3” when I was playing it in the context of the album, where I realized I had written that song for my mother. I just had this weird feeling when I was playing it, sort of like it really captured her life in a certain moment. You know, she had a hard time and a lot of disappointment. Sometimes you use music like medicine.

Kind of like a written form of therapy?

Yeah, kind of.

You lost both of your parents at a pretty young age. Have any of your other songs from later albums come through to you in a moment of “Oh, this is about my parents?”

Definitely there were other things. The topic of my father’s alcoholism is sort of thinly veiled in a couple songs. I find myself writing now, lyrically, about what it’s like to be a human being in an incredibly confusing world that seems to be getting more unfair and confusing all the time. I worry about what kind of world my daughter’s going to be left in.

You have a two year old, right?

She’s almost two.

Almost two. What kind of music is she into?

I play Michael Jackson for her. And I like playing her 70’s soul and pop, like Gloria Gaynor. That kind of stuff, like disco music. She bobs her little butt up and down [with the music.]

That’s so cute!

She’s adorable.

You’re about to play 3 nights in Buffalo, your hometown. “Broadway” was originally written about how it was kind of a decaying town. Everyone was moving, the jobs were moving, and it was kind of a bleak picture. How do you feel about Buffalo now? Has it improved?

Buffalo is going through an enormous renaissance. When I wrote that song, it was pretty bleak there. But it’s reinvented itself; it’s prospering. It’s beautiful. It’s someplace where I would be perfectly content living for the rest of my life… but I live in New Jersey.

[Laughing] “I would like to live in Buffalo, but I don’t.”

[Laughs] I would love to live in Buffalo, but my wife’s mom lives with us and she does a lot of the heavy lifting with my daughter. I want my daughter to have that family.

Is your wife’s mom a Jersey girl?

She’s from Argentina, so she speaks Spanish to the baby. She doesn’t speak English to her, only Spanish. The baby just loves her. She’s an important person in our lives, and we love her very much.

I think it’s great to have multiple generations taking care of children.

I agree. My family lives in Buffalo; we’re always flying them down or flying up there so that my family gets represented pretty well in the situation too. I want Lily to know my sisters because they’re really smart, but they’re also like a tribe of women. I want her to have a big tribe of women to teach her everything. My sisters are very smart and they’re very, very funny. I think that they’re going to be a really good influence on her. [pauses] Or a really bad influence, but that’ll give her character.

So, Goo Goo Dolls has had music featured in numerous movies and TV shows, but obviously your most famous is… [dramatic pause] “I’m Awake Now” from Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.

That is not the most famous one. [laughs] Wow.

I know, I know, it’s “Iris.” But I was wondering, since it’s October – in the spirit on Halloween, what’s your favorite scary movie?

My favorite scary movie? I’ve gotta think… Well what I consider scary, I can’t watch slasher movies or Halloween-type movies. The kind of movies that scare me are like documentaries about the financial collapse. That’s my idea of a terrifying movie. Anything that affects the real world terrifies me.

That’s too scary for me to watch.

Yeah, see. See? Who’s scared now?

[laughs] So you like to force yourself to watch documentaries about how bleak everything is?

Anything that promotes a fit of anxiety and motivates me to work harder, I’m in. When Lily was born, I said two things to myself right there as they put her in my hands for the first time, “One, don’t fuck this person’s life up. And two, you better work way harder than you have been.” And those are my two rules.

I think those are great rules. I have daughters of my own, and that’s how I try approach it. I need to make this world better for them.

Like what they’re going to be dealing with… I don’t know. It certainly has forced me into the person I should have been all along. Where like I used to be slack about things… nope. Gotta make that bed in the morning, gotta shower!

In an interview with Billboard this summer, they asked what you were listening to. Personally, I love pretty much everything you listed: Atlas Genius, Fitz and the Tantrums, Arctic Monkeys. A lot of our readers are interested in finding new artists that haven’t been broken yet. So I wonder, what are some artists who you’re listening to that we may not have heard of yet?

There’s this really kind of hypnotic rock music [from] this band Small Black that I really like. And a band called Day Wave, which I think in the next couple years are going to do something really special. I love it; it’s got this very liquid sort of feel to it. Very like… swirling, and reverbs, and delays, and things. And the voice is very breathy. There’s also a guy and a girl called Oh Wonder.

Oh, I love Oh Wonder!

Yeah, I really love them. It’s sappy, but I love it. I love the purity of the recordings. It’s them; it’s just them. I dig it, but I’m a sap for a good love song.

So, you haven’t touched some of the songs on this album since the time it was released. You said you’re feeling more [emotions] about “Acoustic #3”, you’ve made that connection with your mom’s life. Is there a song that, as a band, you’ve all really had fun revisiting?

There’s a lot of songs. There’s a song called “All Eyes On Me” which is really like this rock epic. I wanted to write a rock epic and was like, “I’m doing it! I’m gonna write this in three parts. It’s gonna be a big deal.” And I did that, and it was cool.

I’m very excited to see it [live.] It’s almost like a concert in two parts, so you’re playing straight through the album and then you have special treats at the end of it like different singles. Do you have any new stuff that you’re working on that we’ll hear?

Nooo, no no no. No. Never bring a new song out that people haven’t heard before. It could be the greatest song you’ve ever written, but if people don’t know it they’ll go, “What the hell is that? Why are they playing that song? What is that?” So I learned the hard way not to play new material in front of people.

Well maybe I’m one of the few people that disagree. I’m excited when I hear something new.

[laughs] Well, you’re in the minority.

The Goo Goo Dolls are on the road for several more weeks in support of Dizzy Up the Girl’s 20th anniversary, catch them in your city! Full list of tour stops and tickets can be found here.