Propelled by the massive success of the singles “Name,” “Iris” and “Slide,” the Goo Goo Dolls shot to music stardom in the mid-’90s, and the Buffalo band has sold more than 9 million albums in the U.S. alone.
With their devoted fan base still intact, the band is in the midst of a summer tour – including a stop at St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field on Aug. 6 – in support of their newest album “Something for the Rest of Us.”
The Oracle talked to bassist and vocalist Robby Takac about playing live, the recording process and the volatile music business.
The Oracle: “Something for the Rest of Us” was recorded in the studio that you guys built in Buffalo. Was the process more personal and special because the space was completely yours?
Robby Takac: Yeah, we did all the writing for our last record in Buffalo. The stimulus in Buffalo is so different from L.A. and New York. I think if you’re looking to address some issues that the normal person can deal with, the things that surround you in a place like Buffalo versus the things that surround you in a place like Hollywood, are much more real.
There is something that being in that atmosphere does. Part of it is stirring ideas and concepts that are in your lifetime-mind, as opposed to your mind in a phase of your life that exists in New York or Los Angeles.
So, we rebuilt the old studio that we did all of our super-old records in back in the ’80s. We brought out some producers from L.A. and put them up in Buffalo for a while so they could get a taste of what we were talking about. I think it worked out really well.
O: Your earlier records like “A Boy Named Goo,” “Dizzy Up the Girl,” and even “Let Love In” were released in the age of the CD. Now everything is very digital, and downloading is really popular. People don’t just pop in a CD anymore and have that tangible experience. When you make a record, do you think of how people will be listening to it?
RT:I think how people get the sound to come out of their speakers is less important than what they’re hearing. You can’t lose sight of that. I’m sure there are some pretty amazing albums that you will never hear because people have been unbelievably frustrated by the music business. That’s a sad thing, but at the same time, people need to make music and people need to hear music. There is an inherent need in some people to make that happen. I don’t think people like music any less, I just think they way they consume it is different.
The advantages and disadvantages are enormous. The advantage is that I could record something on my laptop right now and have it up on iTunes by the end of the day. That’s huge. But at the same time, you used to make a CD, and people would hear a song on the radio and become a fan of the band. That’s the hardest part.
I use Pandora and Sirius XM, and I have become less of a fan of artists and more a fan of the song and the genre. It changes the playing field dramatically, but you have to roll with it. The face of things change, but the bottom line is the same – you have to make great songs.
O:The songs on Something for the Rest of Us sound like they fit who you guys are as a live band really well. At this point in your career, are you conscious of that while you are making the record, because you know you are going to be touring and playing the songs live?
RT:For the first time, we actually did a record with the band we play live with. Usually, we bring in a few extra musicians or the producer’s friends, but on this record we had our gang there. As we were decoding the songs after they were done, we knew what the parts were, because everyone was there working on them. This music definitely replicates itself very, very well. We didn’t have to go through and figure out how we were going to play it. We already knew. We have a really solid band right now.
O: Since you and John (Rzeznik) have been in this band together for so long, do you think the writing and recording process has become easier?
RT:Nah, I don’t – the process is constantly changing. The world is constantly changing, and it is volatile business. Even though we’ve been around for an awfully long time, there’ve been a lot of moments through those times when I’ve had to ask myself if I’m supposed to be doing this. Ultimately, that question gets answered, but you have to ask it every time you are about to move forward.
Mike (Malinin) joined the band 10 years after we started and has been in it for over 16 years. There is a lot of water under the bridge, and a lot of water over the bridge, and the bridge has been washed out four or five times, but we tend to keep rebuilding it. If it stops being an adventure, it loses part of its vitalness.
Perhaps that’s why we’ve been able to be successful for this long. We can operate on two levels. We can be the band that has a prom song every five years, but we can be out there making some relevant statements at the same time. If you can work both sides of that fence, you have a chance of being around for a little while.
O: Do you have an initial memory of when you fell in love with music and knew it was what you wanted to do?
RT:I was a Kiss kid. I wanted to be in Kiss. Actually, I wanted to be Gene Simmons, that’s what I wanted.
I can remember sitting on a hill in a park at a family reunion in 1974 when I was about 10, and Todd Rundgren was playing at the bottom of a hill in Buffalo during the summer. I remember taking the whole thing in and being like, ‘Wow. This is what I’ve gotta do somehow.’ When I close my eyes and picture a rock concert, that’s the one I see still. It had such a huge effect on me. A whole other world opened up in front of me. The people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had since then have been a byproduct of that. I feel really lucky.
O: Is your festival, the Music is Art Festival, refreshing for you because you get to escape the mainstream music scene and revisit these local musicians who are just starting out?
RT:I have a recording studio in Buffalo, and after we finished the record, I kept it open as a commercial space. I do the festival every year, which is chaos. I have a small record label with my wife, and we co-manage this band from Tokyo called Shonen Knife. I work on records with them and release them. If there is a definition of a cult band, they are it. They have been around for 30 years, and they come over here every couple of years and tour. They are doing it for all the right reasons.
For me, being involved in this business for so many years now, you tend to think that things just sort of happen. Like, you put out a record and it gets on the radio and people buy it. That’s not how it works. Everyone in the world doesn’t have a chauffeured bus with beds and microwaves in them. Reality is a much different world when you are trying to do this. For me personally, to be involved in that struggle does an unbelievable amount of good for my interpretation of this business I’m involved in. I most definitely realize how fortunate we are. No one deserves anything. You get what you work for and what you put together.
O: A few months back, I read that you had just bought the new MIA record. Is there anything you’ve been listening to lately that you’re really into?
RT:The new Ryksopp single is cool. I listen to a lot of electronic music now. You know, it’s funny, I don’t listen to a lot of rock. I figure, I’ve got a rock band – this is what I do. I have custom-made rock music in my life.