ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JUNE 27, 2002
By Steve Newton
It’s usually pretty easy to think of questions to ask famous rock stars, but sometimes they do things that make it a snap. Like when the Goo Goo Dolls decided to title their 2001 remix compilation What I Learned About Ego, Opinion, Art & Commerce (1987-2000). Now all I’ve gotta ask GGD singer-guitarist John Rzeznik, when he calls from a tour stop in New Orleans, is: “And what was that?” He’s only too happy to play along.
“Okay, let’s see,” ponders the blond rocker. “Ego: I learned that we all have one, and it’s a good thing to keep in check. And opinion: everybody’s got one, and I don’t give a shit about any of ’em. Art: that art is ridiculously overlooked when it comes to music; art always seems to take a back seat to commerce, which is a sad thing. I’m starting to really believe that old Oscar Wilde thing about artists saving humanity.”
I don’t know about saving humanity, but judging by the exhilarating power pop displayed on its new CD, Gutterflower, the Buffalo trio should be able to get a few folks riled up when it plays the Queen E on Friday (June 28). According to Rzeznik, Gutterflower was recorded with a lot of vintage equipment at the historic Capitol Records Studio in Hollywood. “I wasn’t trying to get retro on my record,” he relates, “but the art of engineering recording equipment is not what it used to be—it’s all about digital and high-tech and automation, and I felt that a lot of it lacked character. So we wanted to try to place a good microphone in front of a beautiful-sounding amp, and play a beautiful guitar through it.”
Rzeznik figures the back-to-basics approach made Gutterflower much more aggressive-sounding than the band’s previous studio album, 1998’s six-million–selling Dizzy Up the Girl. Extra oomph was also added by the group’s choice of mixer, Tom Lord-Alge, who’s probably the most in-demand knob-twiddler in America these days. “He is the man!” spouts Rzeznik. “I love him because he mixes a song a day, you know, but he doesn’t overdo it, he doesn’t overcompress and overeffect everything. He likes to throw his modern tricks in and stuff, but it still sounds like a song.”
Rzeznik composed eight of Gutterflower’s tracks, with bassist-vocalist Robby Takac penning the other four. The two songwriters—who are joined in the band by drummer Mike Malinin—find that writing tunes separately works best for them. “It allows you—and it forces you—to complete your own thought,” notes Rzeznik, who points out that the trio’s earlier records were much more collaborative efforts. He figures the group really started to come into its own with the 1993 release Superstar Car Wash, from which seven tracks were culled for last year’s compilation.
“That was the first album where we knew how to play,” he remarks with a chuckle. “But that was an example of the record company and the mixer screwing up the record. So we had it remixed and put it out there, ’cause we wanted people to know that there was a lot more going on with this band than just the songs that they had heard on the radio. In a lot of respects we were considered an overnight success; people didn’t realize that we had shown up in the van for years before we got a break.”
Now that they’ve earned membership in the platinum club, the Goo Goo Dolls have ditched the van and are able to score prestigious gigs, like performing before multitudes of TV viewers during the last Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. You may have caught them on the tube, scampering around an outdoor stage, trying their damnedest to keep warm. “It was fa-reezing!” recalls Rzeznik. “You know those little handwarmers? I stuffed my shoes with them, and I taped ’em to my feet and then put socks on over them. I wasn’t too hip to freezin’ my ass off, but it was exciting to be in front of people from all over the world all at once.”
Before signing off and leaving Rzeznik to the temptations of the Big Easy, I ask if, while he was at the Olympics, he managed to see Canada’s hockey team kick Yankee butt for the gold. Hey, if you can’t tease a rich rock star, who can you tease? “No, I did not get to see that,” he replies stoically, before quickly changing the subject. “But…you know, you guys had that ice-skating dispute, and I was like, ‘That’s it, Canada has an army, they’re gonna attack!’ What’s up with you guys? You’d never attack! Everybody in Canada is so nice, and really cool, but one of these days you guys are just gonna be like, ‘Okay, man—that’s it! We’re starting an amphibious assault across the Niagara into Buffalo and we’re takin’ over!’ ”
Note to self: If you ever talk to John Rzeznik again, be sure not to reveal just how minuscule the Canadian army actually is compared to American forces. You could ask him why the hell we’d want to take over Buffalo, though. When push comes to shove over that softwood-lumber dispute, I’m with Leonard Cohen: first we take Manhattan.
John Rzeznik sounds off on the things that enquiring minds want to know.
On the pressure to live up to the multiplatinum sales of the band’s previous album, Dizzy Up the Girl: “That record was phenomenally successful, but I don’t know if there was any pressure [to match its sales figures]. To throw that pressure in on top of just trying to write songs that you enjoy—I think that’s a pretty toxic mix.”
On why he publishes his songs under the title Corner of Clark and Kent Music: “I put it on there so every psychotic freak that wants to kill me… No, I grew up on Clark Street in Buffalo, and right at the end of Clark Street was Kent Street. They used to call it Superman Corner.”
On seeing former Buffalo Sabres goalie Dominek Hasek lead the Detroit Red Wings to the Stanley Cup: “I had mixed emotions about him, because he was with Buffalo for so long, so you kinda wanted to see him win his cup, finally. But when he left Buffalo he was going, ‘I wanna be on a team that’s gonna actually win.’ It’s like, ‘Why were you sayin’ things like that before you left?’ ”