[28 November 2006]
The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
Goo Goo Dolls bassist and sometimes singer Robby Takac can hardly bring himself to say it.
But after struggling a bit, he utters what he calls “that horrible `m-word,’” but only after prefacing it with: “I guess after this many years you can use it without feeling too creepy.”
What has Takac tied up in knots is a question about how the Goo Goo Dolls have outlasted the late-‘80s post-punk bands the Buffalo, N.Y., group came up with as well as the alt-rock bands that became popular when the Goos did in late-‘90s.
“I think how we’ve managed to stay around is we’ve let our band grow up,” Takac offers over the phone from his hotel room in Calgary, Canada. “We’ve let ourselves - I’m going to use that horrible `m-word’ - we’ve matured - as people as much as we have as a band. And if you’re trying to keep it real - keep it old school, like they say - that’s going to happen if you’re staying true to yourself.”
Basically, the Goos have outlasted the competition by repeatedly tinkering with success. The band’s eighth album, “Let Love In” (Warner Bros.), which was released in April, sounds not only different from The Replacements-like rock of the Goos’ early days, but even the radio-friendly vibe of such hits as “Name,” “Slide,” “Black Balloon,” “Broadway” and “Iris” (which spent an unbelievable 18 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Airplay chart).
“Let Love In,” which made it into the Billboard Top 10 and is the second-highest-charting disc of the band’s career, shifts the Goos to a lighter, adult contemporary sound. The album’s four singles have all hit the chart, including the latest, which is the record’s title track.
The change started with the unlikely 2004 remake of Supertramp’s “Give a Little Bit” - the Goos’ biggest hit in six years - which Takac says was a fluke.
Frontman Johnny Rzeznik had sung it as part of a Gap store television commercial, and the band threw it into its set for the taping of the DVD “Live in Buffalo.”
“As we were putting the record together we had actually recorded another song that was going to go in its place, but actually (the remake) one seemed to fit much better,” Takac says.
At that point, Takac says, the Goo Goo Dolls were a bit disillusioned with the music business after two years of touring behind the album “Gutterflower,” which went platinum, but fell substantially short of 1998’s triple-platinum “Dizzy Up The Girl.”
“When we finished the tour, quite honestly, we were a little burned out,” Takac says. “We had gone out and sold a million records and had people look at us and go, `What happened?’ And we’re like, `What happened? We sold a million records. What do you mean, what happened?’
“I don’t know if you want to say (we were feeling) unappreciated,” he says, growing quiet. “I just think that we sort of felt like the vibe maybe went off a little bit with the record company.”
But he laughs heartily when asked about a VH1 story that the band considered breaking up. “No, we never, ever discussed it. But I certainly wouldn’t say to you that there wasn’t potential at least five, six times in the past 20 years,” he adds, laughing again.
Instead, the band took off for six months, during which Takac and Rzeznik produced records for other artists, then regrouped with drummer Mike Malinin in a California studio. “We had all our gear up but all we really did was sit around and talk about what went wrong on the last record. Was it us? Was it them? And we’d go back and we’d listen to the record again and we’d be like, `Man, we like this.’”
So the band decided to get out of Los Angeles, “away from the potential success or failure of our next record,” and ended up in a 100-year-old Masonic ballroom in Buffalo.
“When we sort of put ourselves into this isolation for a little while and were able to focus on the music, we started to hear what the record was going to sound like and we got really excited,” Takac says.
The next step on the road back, Takac says, was “Better Days.” The Christmas-themed tune was recorded for NBC-TV and was to be released through a retailer - “I think it was Target.” But it fell into the hands of CNN, which used it as its theme for coverage of hurricanes Rita and Katrina.
“We had heard that they were going to use it for something,” Takac says. “We really didn’t know that it was going to be on CNN every five minutes for two months.”
Not only did the song become a Top 40 hit, “it really fit into the whole vibe and feeling of the album at the same time,” Takac says.
It also led to an invitation to play at the September reopening of the storm-devastated New Orleans Superdome.
“At first I was a little freaked out when they asked us to do it because I had heard that there was an awful lot of unfinished business down there,” Takac says. “We actually rented a van and drove around in St. Bernard Parish and the Ninth Ward. Dude, you would not believe what’s going on. It’s a mess. There are piles of stuff higher than houses that they haven’t even gone through yet.”
Takac also says he was concerned the money could be used for a better purpose than a rock concert or football game. “But standing there and understanding what these people are going through every single day, and to see the joy that was in that area that we were in - it wasn’t even a proper venue, we were just playing in the mezzanine - it was just unbelievable.
“I had people crying and hugging me and going, `Man, thank you so much for being here. There’s been no joy here whatsoever.’ These folks don’t go hang around in the French Quarter - they don’t have the money to. And here we are, a free rock concert. There were at least 40,000 people there. It was crazy. And all I ask is, if you ever get the chance, please spread the word around a little bit, `cause it’s just a mess down there.”
Takac says he knows the Goo Goo Dolls have been criticized for changing styles - “Some people are running around in their Doc Martens and Ramones T-shirts, still pissed off at me from 17 years ago,” he says - but he expects the band’s (gulp!) maturation to continue, saying such shifts have worked for artists like Neil Young and Beck.
“That spares you the embarrassment of being one of 30 bands that I won’t mention still touring around with different lead singers, you know what I mean?” he says.
“You just never want to be that guy. You never want to turn around and think, `Oh, my God, how did I become that dude?’ Being a guy who loves to do what he does, I can never hold that against them, but I can also hold my band to not a better, but a different, set of standards.”