Growing up in Buffalo, the Goo Goo Dolls are almost Canadian

Goo Goo Dolls At The 26Th Annual American Music Awards At The Shrine Auditor

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 22, 1999

By Steve Newton

“Kick him in the throat!” isn’t quite the phrase you expect to hear from a guy who’s just exchanged wedding vows, but that’s what my brother-in-law Cam was yelling scant hours after tying the knot on a beach in Powell River last month. You see, his wedding took place on the same day as Game 6 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, so the hard-core hockey fans were sneaking away from the reception to catch a bit of the game at a bar across the street.

It was sudden-death overtime, and Dallas—the team almost everyone was cheering for—just couldn’t get the puck past Buffalo goalie Dominick Hasek. One of the bridesmaids was trying to drag Cam back to the union hall so he could throw the garter, but his best man kept pushing him to stay till the period was over. That’s when the normally peace-loving groom, torn between ceremonial obligations and male bonding, started calling for desperate measures—like a skate to the jugular—to be taken against Hasek.

Of course, no one sliced the Dominator, and the game carried on until the tip of the third overtime period, when the Golden Jet’s kid put his foot in the crease and the puck in the net, plunging the city of Buffalo into deep, dark despair. Goo Goo Dolls bassist-vocalist Robby Takac was one of the Buffalo natives perturbed by the game’s outcome. In fact, when he calls the Straight from L.A. before taping a performance on The Tonight Show, he’s still smarting from that controversial Cup winner.

“Oww, come on,” he reacts to my rubbing it in. “Thanks a lot for that, man, thanks a lot. Hey, I know you were cheerin’ for the Sabres, even though we mussed up y’all’s Maple Leafs and all. No big deal, right?”

Touché! Well, I gotta admit that the Leafs deserved to lose to Buffalo in their semifinal round; at least they didn’t get knocked out on a cheat goal. And it turns out that Takac isn’t one of those glowing puck–loving Yankee flag-wavers anyway. When I ask him if his favourite hockey star of all time is fleet-footed Sabre Gilbert Perrault, he informs me that, no, his childhood hero was actually the Leafs’ rough ’n’ tumble Tim Horton.

“We’re almost Canadians,” he points out proudly. “Growing up in Buffalo, we’re probably the closest things to being Canadians you’ll find in America. I mean, I could drive a golf ball to Canada from my house. So we grew up with all the Canadian television networks, and most of my summers were spent up in Fort Erie or Thunder Bay. And I’ve seen most of Canada, so it was nice to have that knowledge. I’ve gazed longingly at a moose in the Rockies, you know, the whole thing, man.”

While Takac may feel he’s tasted the true Canuck life, his group has also managed to live the American dream, hitting the big time in ’96 with a breakthrough CD, A Boy Named Goo, and smash single, “Name”. But with its latest album, Dizzy Up the Girl, the band makes a slight return to its harder-edged roots, as heard on albums like 1989’s Jed and ’91’s Hold Me Up. The Goo Goo Dolls started developing that sound after Takac met guitarist-vocalist John Rzeznik in 1985.

“He went to the state college and I went to a smaller college,” says Takac, “but my college didn’t have a pub and his did, so that’s where I met him. And at first I think we really needed each other around to complete our sentences, you know. John wasn’t singing at all, or writing any lyrics, but he was writing an awful lot of music. I would say that he probably wrote 80 percent of the music, and I wrote 80 percent of the lyrics, to begin with.”

Takac wrote the music and lyrics for four tracks on Dizzy, and sings lead on all of them, but you have to be a pretty keen follower of the band to pick out which ones are his. “I sang pretty much the whole first record,” he notes, “and all but a couple of songs on the second record, so my current stuff is probably a bit more like our earlier material. When John started writing, things took a very different turn, and we just started to discover there were so many different things we could do, so many different styles we could work with.”

It was Rzeznik who penned “Name”, as well as Dizzy Up the Girl’s “Iris”, which was a hit when it was released on the soundtrack for City of Angels. The wealth and fame the band accumulated through Rzeznik’s knack for poppy gems allowed them to take a different approach to recording Dizzy, which was produced by Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Alanis Morissette) and is the first album with current drummer Mike Malinin.

“The process for going in and working on the record was like, ‘Look, we have no boundaries now, we can do whatever we feel is within the realm of taste.’ We learned that you don’t necessarily have to use everything that you put down on tape, and that was somethin’ new for us. We never really had the money to go in and think about that; it was generally just go in and get finished as quickly as you can.

“But having that room for experimentation allowed us to try an awful lot of things that we wouldn’t really have thought of before. Like bringing in a B-3 [organ] player—in fact, bringing in probably the best B-3 player in the world, Benmont Tench, from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. We brought him in, had a couple of beers, and just played some music with him, and when it was done, there was B-3 on everything. And we did the same thing with a mandolin guy that we know named Tim Pierce, who’s also real notable. We just hung out with him one night and jammed for a while. And same thing with this guy Luis Conté, who’s a percussionist, or Jamie Muhoberac, piano player. One by one we’d bring them in and just kinda listen and see what sort of things were available for our songs.”

When the Goo Goo Dolls play GM Place on Saturday (July 24), backed up by Sugar Ray and Fastball, most of those in the crowd will likely know songs from Goo and Dizzy, but there’ll be some who didn’t even know the Goo Goo Dolls existed before their “Name” became widely known. Takac is aware of that, but claims it doesn’t really bother him.

“Music takes up a pretty big part of my day,” he says, “but for a lot of people music is that 18 minutes they spend in their car between work and home. It’s the only time they ever hear music—or if it’s on the soundtrack for Dawson’s Creek, and they happen to be watching TV. That’s where most people get their music. People have said to me before, ‘Are you guys bummed that most of the big hits you have are, like, ballads or quieter songs, not the heavier stuff that you do?’ and I’m like, ‘Well, it only makes sense that it would be that way, because those songs have the most mainstream appeal.’ So I can’t really hold it against someone for not seeking out our earlier records or whatever.”

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