Goo Goo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznik talks music memoirs, great American rock bands and the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame
You could win a lot of bar bets with this one: The Goo Goo Dolls have been together for nearly 25 years.
Seriously. They were a band before Nirvana was a band. They were a band before Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were even born.
If you find that hard to swallow, it could be because the Buffalo, N.Y. group didn’t hit the peak of their fame until the late ’90s. That’s when albums like A Boy Named Goo and Dizzy Up The Girl spawned a run of radio hits like Name, Slide and the smash single Iris, written by heartthrob singer Johnny Rzeznik after months of aggravating writer’s block.
More than a decade later, creative output is no longer a problem for Rzeznik. In 2010, the Dolls released their ninth album, Something For the Rest of Us, and Rzeznik has become a prolific writer of songs for movies, including the first and third Transformers film and the Disney flick Treasure Planet. He even writes songs for other artists, such as David Cook and Ryan Cabrera.
On Saturday, the Goo Goo Dolls will perform a free concert at Tropicana Field following the Rays’ game against the Oakland Athletics. Recently, Rzeznik called from a tour tune-up in Muskegon, Mich., to talk baseball, Facebook and his band’s chances at the Rock 'n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
I guess I have to ask: Will you be playing Don’t Beat My Ass (With A Baseball Bat)?
(laughs) I don’t think that one’s in the setlist anymore. Boy, I tell you what, that’s one of those songs you look back on, and you just want to bang your head on a table and go, “What the hell were we thinking?”
Do you still play any other songs from the first album?
No, no. A lot of those albums were pretty silly, and we were just sort of goofing around.
I know you have a pretty killer version of Take Me Out To The Ballgame. Any chance we’ll hear that?
We were just discussing whether we’re going to pull that out of the mothballs or not. I’m not sure. We’re going to try to rehearse it today at the soundcheck. That was a lot of fun, doing that. We’ve done stuff with Major League Baseball before, and it’s always been really, really fun.
You’ve told the story many times of how you wrote Iris after a long bout of writer’s block. Does that still happen to you?
Not really, because it’s not like you’re physically incapable of writing. It’s like you’re emotionally incapable of appreciating anything that you write. You have to sit down and sort through all the songs that aren’t very good, and then get to the good ones. And a lot of times, that’s sitting down and just accepting the fact that you’re frustrated at the moment, and you just have to keep working your way through it.
Do you have any tips on what to do when you’re just banging your head against the wall on a project and you just can’t crack it?
Yeah. Stop banging your head against the wall. Get up, go for a walk around the block, two or three times if you have to, and then sit down with your guitar and just keep going. Eventually, it’ll give.
How many songs are you tinkering with at any given moment? Like right now?
I think I’ve got about four or five in the process of being done right now. I’m working on a film project, and I’m writing material for the new album. And I’m writing some material for some other artists. I’m starting to learn, the longer I do this, if you sit in the process really often, like on a daily basis, it loses a lot of its scary qualities.
You’ve done a lot of film work, since way back in the day. Does the process of writing music for a film differ from writing music for a Goo Goo Dolls album?
Yeah, I enjoy it, because it’s like your characters and your storyline are right there in front of you, and you’re playing a supporting role in what’s going on in the film. I just have to take the parts that are already laid out in front of me, and distill them down into a piece of music.
Do you get a copy of the script, or a screener? What do you do for inspiration?
Sometimes they’ll give you a script, if they’re nice. Sometimes, if they’re being very protective, they’ll let you come to the studio and watch the film once, and you can take notes. Sometimes, which is the most challenging thing, is they’ll just show you the scene of the movie that they want you to write for. They’re all interesting challenges.
For the new Transformers movie, did you talk to Michael Bay at all? What was that process like?
Not on this one. But the first Transformers movie, we spoke a lot about it — what we wanted the song to be. He was cool, man. Drives a car that looks like a Transformer. He’s an interesting cat.
He drives Optimus Prime to work every day?
Basically, yeah. And then it turns into a briefcase.
I find this pretty astonishing, but the Goo Goo Dolls will be eligible for the Rock 'n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. Have you processed that yet?
No. I don’t even think about it, because we’ll never get in there. Never.
Because isn’t that Jann Wenner and the Rolling Stone-type people? Don’t they kind of decide who gets in there? So no, that ain’t gonna happen.
It would be weird for you on at least one level, because the Replacements never made it, and obviously you look up a great deal to Paul Westerberg.
There are a lot of people who aren’t in the Rock 'n’ Roll Hall of Fame because a small group of people don’t deem them worthy. It’s like, whatever, dude. It is what it is. I don’t write songs and play gigs so I can win awards and things like that. I do it because it’s what I do, you know?
Have you ever been to the Rock 'n’ Roll Hall of Fame?
I did a little walk-through and a small gig there one time. It’s cool.
Do you own any cool rock 'n’ roll memorabilia that’s not related to your own band?
The only thing I have is a print of a photograph of the Rolling Stones from around the time that they made Some Girls, and it’s autographed. That’s the only thing I have, really.
Have you ever been to the Baseball Hall of Fame? Buffalo’s not that far from Cooperstown.
No, I’ve never gotten a chance to go there. But I think that would be really, really cool. I am a big fan of the movie Cobb.
Really? I’ve never heard anyone say they love that movie.
I love that movie!
It’s an out-of-nowhere choice for a favorite baseball movie.
It’s amazing. I just love that character. What an utter asshole!
Who do you think is the greatest American rock band?
Wow. The greatest American rock band? (pauses) Gosh, man. That’s really, really hard to say. I mean, you’ve got your Bruce Springsteens, of course, and the Foo Fighters are a great rock band. But I still default back to the Replacements and Husker Du. They were truly great American rock bands. It’s hard to pin it down to one, you know? There were so many. Like Creedence Clearwater Revival — I was listening to a greatest hits of CCR, and I was just like, “I can’t believe how many hits this guy wrote.” I don’t know if they’re revered as one of the great American rock bands, but they sure wrote a lot of great tunes.
I think people are starting to come around to John Fogerty as a great songwriter.
He is a great songwriter. I’ve covered a few of his songs, and there’s just something about it — there’s a certain economy of words and music in his songs. They’re so straightforward, and they get to the point, and they say something.
That’s a very good point, and something that I think gets lost when writers try to do something overly ambitious. The three- or four-minute pop song is going to be around forever. Do you work in those parameters? Do you find yourself aiming for a certain length when you’re writing?
No. The only thing I think about is, first of all, Do I like this? Do I think it’s good? Sometimes when I’m working with a producer, they have to come in and give my song a chop here and a chop there, and remind me not to try and get too lofty. And then the next consideration is, Am I feeling this? Do you think anyone would relate to this? You go from there. The most important thing is speaking your mind as honestly as you can, and not being too precious about what you’re creating, and not falling in love with some bizarre leftfield idea that you come up with. You have to really be critical of your own work.
You quit Twitter last fall, but you picked it back up again in March. Why?
Because I didn’t think that my life was all that interesting enough to talk about every day. “Having a sandwich. Thought I’d let you know.” (laughs) Now I only use it when I have something to say. I try to start conversations. Once in a while, I’ll do the thing where I’ll be like, “I’ll be on at 10 o’clock; let’s talk then.” It’s a back-and-forth kind of thing for about an hour, and then I just shut it off. I don’t understand people that check in all day long, you know? Nobody’s life is that interesting.
You’re pretty open and confessional. You talk about sobriety and songwriting struggles.
I’m not ashamed of any of it. If somebody gets something out of what I’ve been through, and what I have to say, then more power to ’em. I don’t want to have any secrets, you know? There’s parts of my life that are completely off-limits. But it’s no secret that I like to get my drink on a little too hard sometimes, and sometimes I struggle with my songwriting, and sometimes the world absolutely frustrates me.
Would you ever write a memoir?
I don’t think so. I just don’t know if it’d be all that interesting. There’s been a real rash of rock 'n’ roll memoirs. The Nikki Sixx one, the Scott Weiland one, the Steven Tyler one. And the Keith Richards one is unbelievably good.
It seems like after he put that out, it’d be hard for any rocker to top it. Not that you’d try to top anything that Keith Richards has done. But it’s such a daunting tome that you’re like, “Why even bother?”
Yeah. And the Nikki Sixx one, I just kind of skimmed through it, and that was pretty interesting too, but the other stuff, I was like, eh, whatever. Bob Mould just put out a book. I’d really love to read that one.
You tweeted a couple of times that you don’t have a Facebook page, never have, never will. What do you have against Facebook?
I think it just opens you up to a lot of very bizarre things and people. Plus, my girlfriend would probably not be very happy about me having a Facebook page. (laughs). It’s funny — I know so many people who are getting friended by all these girls, and then they get busted trying to hook up with people. I’m not down for the temptation or the hassle of the whole thing. I think there is a certain boundary that needs to be kept between you and your audience, you know? And Twitter’s one thing, because you’re in, you’re out, and that’s the end of it. But Facebook, you can get real deep in there, and that’s something that I don’t feel is right.
Last thing: How’s the economy treating folks in Buffalo?
Buffalo is sort of reinventing itself. There’s been a lot of really great entrepreneurial spirit, and there’s certain parts of town that are really falling apart and horrible, And then other parts of town are thriving again, and small businessmen are taking over. People know how to pick themselves up by the bootstraps there, and there’s a lot of creative energy there, and there’s some forward-thinking people who are actually getting a chance to do something. So I think in the long run, Buffalo’s gonna be fine. The economy hit everybody so hard, but Buffalo’s been in a recession for 30 years.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo: AP.