As they prepare to release their ninth studio album, “Something for the Rest of Us,” it would be understandable if multi-platinum crowd-pleasers the Goo Goo Dolls were feeling a little blas© about their music career. But even after 24 years, four Grammy nominations, 13 top 10 songs and more than 10 million albums sold, that’s not the case.
From the first notes of raucous album opener "Sweetest Lie," it’s clear that the band isn’t holding back on its latest effort.
Bassist and founding member Robby Takac recently chatted with Blast about the Goo Goo Dolls’ evolution after more than two decades of recording together, their perspective on the new record and approach as they move forward in a changing industry.
News of yet another new record might leave fans wondering how "Something for the Rest of Us" differs from the group’s previous efforts.
"I’ve had to answer that question a lot of times over the past 20 years," Takac said. "And I guess the only thing I can narrow it down to is, it’s made by a band that’s been together for four more years. â€¦ It never gets easier. Whenever you sincerely want to do a better job than you did the last time, you know it’s not going to be easy, because you have to go places and you have to reach plateaus that you haven’t been to before. â€¦ Musically and topically, we’re just looking around us to see what kind of things we can bring into this to keep it interesting and to keep it moving forward."
To that end, Takac explained, the record draws heavily from the newsworthy events of recent years.
"We try to stick to things that are relevant around us, because we come from a school that pretty much wears their hearts on their sleeves," he explained. "I think the political landscape is part of it. I think the social landscape is part of it. I think the technological landscape is part of it. Technology is moving a lot faster than people â€¦ can keep up with. â€¦ It’s interesting to just watch people try to assimilate those things into their life."
As far as the title (which came courtesy of singer Johnny Rzeznick), Takac said the band was trying to tap into a perceived sense of camaraderie among the proverbial "little guys."
"As we were writing this record, I think one of the things we were looking at is sort of (being able to channel) that frustration that people are feeling," he explained. "People look for something to grab onto, to kind of let them know that they’re not the only people feeling that way. â€¦ From my point of view, (it means) there’s an awful lot of people who make the decisions for the rest of us. And I think the tables have turned. I think there’s a hell of a lot more of the rest of us than there are of those who are controlling everything. And I think that group of people really needs to have their voice heard."
Though the album wasn’t released until August 31st (preceded by first single "Home," which began radio rotation in June), the band found itself in the difficult position of premiering new songs throughout shows over the summer, Takac said, and finding that fans already were familiar with the songs â€” clearly through less than legal means.
"I know those people didn’t pay for those songs, and it (bums) me out that a thing that we used to get paid for â€¦ is no longer for sale, is pretty much free now," he acknowledged. "We have to figure out, okay, how do we exist, then?"
Their record label’s solution was to intervene and have the bootlegs taken down, a tactic that Takac seems to view as less than forward-thinking.
"That is a fight that you don’t want to have," he said, laughing. "And they learned that really quickly, like within three or four days. You don’t want to have that fight, man. It’s like, this is the way it works now. And, if you’re going to dig your heels in the dirt and say, â€˜You’re stealing my music, therefore I’m not going to deal with you,’ then you’re not going to have any bands anymore. It’s just the way the world is."
"You have to morph with that," he added. "You have to figure out what your place is in that music industry. It’s not about changing anything. You’re not going to change what goes on. â€¦ For a band that’s been around for as long as we have, it’s just something that you’re going to need to understand and embrace. â€¦ Some of the companies are going to figure it out and they’re going to make it work, and some of them aren’t."
For a band that started in the 1980s, Takac (the only member of the trio who keeps an active personal Twitter account) said it’s been a bumpy road adjusting to the changing responsibilities bands face in the modern age.
"It used to be, a band would make their record, and the band’s job was to, A, write great songs; B, make a great record; C, go out there and perform those (songs) for people, and your job was pretty much done at that point. There’s a whole other component now that involves technology. And if your band, and if (the) people who surround you don’t understand the importance of that technology, you’re going to get left in the dust these days. "
"We’re a lucky band," he went on. "I mean, we’ve got 13 songs that have hit the top 10 that people come to see us play. So, we can go play shows. We know we can do that. So, how do we make up the rest of it? â€¦ How do we figure out how to maintain what we do, keep our band and still make you feel that (connection)? That’s a huge process."
While it’s undeniable that songs like "Black Balloon" and the ubiquitous "Iris" have propelled the Goo Goo Dolls to the megastar status that allows them such luxuries, one gets the sense that Takac thinks of it as a double-edged sword.
"With a band like us, there’s a (divide) between things that we’d like to try, things that we’d like to work into what we do, and things that are appropriate for what we do," Takac said. "And I guess that all (factors into) how your band â€¦ moves forward. I don’t think you’re ever going to hear a Goo Goo Dolls hip-hop CD, you know? But I do know that the fact that hip-hop has made its way into our lives over the years, you know, that there’s components of it that we’ve borrowed."
Fans will be hard-pressed to find any traces of hip-hop on "Something for the Rest of Us," which sticks to the tried and true Goo Goo Dolls formula of anthemic pop/rock. Rzeznick’s lyrics, which tend to be generic, are sung in such soaring hooks that it doesn’t really matter what he’s saying. The man has perfected the art of writing an arena-ready chorus.
On the technical side, the band enlisted help from people like Butch Vig (of Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins fame) for this record. In terms of production, Takac said, the band draws much of its inspiration from U2 albums ("There’s something about the way those records sound, it’s just crazy good," he gushed), although he was reluctant to name specific artists from whom the band draws musical influence.
"People are always a little surprised, I guess, when I talk about music I like," said Takac, who runs a small record label as a side project. "I’ve been signing Japanese girl rock bands, J-rock bands. So, the majority of my time right now is spent listening to Japanese girls screaming over indie rock music."
"I’m not going to drag you into that world right now," he added with a chuckle.
So, aside from running record labels, how do the band members spend their time between records?
"It’s usually a couple very, very short vacations, a couple of extended nervous breakdowns, a bunch of rehearsals, a good chunk of not speaking to each other," he said, laughing. "You know, all of the excitement and chaos that makes for a good miniseries. And then we pull our act together and realize that all the quibbling really doesn’t matter and we need to get this record out."
As what started out as a hobby has evolved into a career, it’s clear that Takac and his bandmates are poised to adapt in order to sustain their momentum within a changing industry.
"I think our mindset’s a lot different. When our band started, there wasn’t an awful lot to do. You know, we weren’t competing with the Internet and video games and all this other stuff that’s out there. We had â€¦ cable and record players. â€¦ There’s a lot of instant gratification that happens right now. If you’re on the Internet and you’re reading something you don’t like, you know, you can just (close the window). You can change a remote. You have 200 channels. You (have) satellite radio, or you’re listening to one of the 4,000 records you have stored on your telephone. It’s like, all these options are out there for you.
"If our band were to come around right now, I don’t think we would have necessarily the patience to do what we did," he added. "We didn’t know what was out there, so we weren’t that depressed that we didn’t have it. Because, you know, we had to learn everything out of the back of a van, you know, and on the end of a pay phone. â€¦ We weren’t really looking for that success. We were just looking to be as badass as we could possibly be. And that’s what motivated us."
Though no one would probably characterize the Goo Goo Dolls as "badass" these days, Takac, for his, seems relieved that the band has a bit of success to ride on, and doesn’t envy artists who are just getting their start in this new era.
"It’s always a crapshoot," Takac said. "You’ve just got to do what you love to do and make it happen. To be able to do it for a job is amazing. But if you don’t, the ultimate reward is just having done something well."