June 8, 2016 Interview – Robby Takac of Goo Goo Dolls
Attaining success is never easy, and sustaining it is even more challenging. Hailing from the working class city of Buffalo, New York, the Goo Goo Dolls have traveled quite a long road to Rock-n-Roll stardom. Begun initially as a Garage Punk Rock band, their 1987 debut album, originally just named First Release, is a far cry from the radio friendly sounds of the mega-hit single “Name” that would come almost a decade later. With that said, the transformation did not happen over night, and like any band, progress is essential.
For the Goo Goo Dolls, the success of 1995’s A Boy Named Goo was just the first step that rocketed into super-stardom upon the release of 1998’s Dizzy Up the Girl. Established as bonafided Alternative Rock darlings, rather than fizzle out with the ’90s, the band continued to pump out one quality album after another, from 2002’s Gutterflower and beyond. Now almost three decades into the game, the Goo Goo Dolls continue to impress audiences upon the release of their highly energetic album, Boxes. Recently we caught up with founding member Robby Takac to talk about the long road traveled by the band, life in a Rock band, writing music, and more.
CrypticRock.com – Yourself and John began the Goo Goo Dolls about three decades ago, initially you were a Garage Punk band and you have since grown into one of Alternative Rock’s most successful acts. First tell us, what has this incredible ride been like?
Robby Takac – I guess the easiest answer is, my life. That’s what it’s been like. We wake up in the morning and we are the Goo Goo Dolls, that’s been pretty much my entire adult life. We started out playing clubs and spent 10 years just kind of getting our chops together and learning how to write songs, doing all that in public in front of little groups of people. “Name” was really a gearshift for the band, it sort of brought us down to our next phase of being a band. Then there was “Iris” and the Dizzy Up the Girl thing happened. That was sort of the same thing that happened with “Name.”
Then the last 15 years, it’s been a different kind of trip. We were an established band at that point. Our careers have really had 3 phases to it. That stinky driving-around-in-a-van bit, then discovering of how to be in a Rock band that’s all of a sudden selling millions of records and all the trappings that come with that. Now, figuring out how to keep ourselves relevant in some sort of way, and still bring it night after night. I would say that encapsulates the past few decades.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, that sums it up very well. You had mentioned how “Name” changed things for the band. Fans who have followed the band along this journey would say the sound of the Goo Goo Dolls really began to morph even early with the likes of 1993’s Superstar Car Wash. Would you say that record was a focal point as well?
Robby Takac – Yeah, we were learning how to write songs, we were letting people into our lives. I think, early on, it was just about having fun and making as much noise and being as obnoxious as we possibly could. Somewhere along the way, we met some folks here in Buffalo who had some knowledge about making records. We opened our minds to them and learned a little bit more about songwriting. We learned to trust our instincts a little bit. So yes, that was definitely a changing point for us.
We also started bringing some people from outside our little world here in Buffalo into the mix. We brought in a producer for the first time that wasn’t here locally. A guy named Gavin MacKillop, he came in and had a different style of record making than we were used to. Although we still recorded some of it here in Buffalo and Toronto, I think that’s definitely a time where John started to take on a little bit more of a lead in the band and started to find his own voice. The records started to be a little more listenable to folks who just weren’t into 3 chord Power Rock.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly, that is clearly a turning point in the band’s history. Speaking of your hometown, Buffalo is a working class city, and the Goo Goo Dolls pretty much mirror the image of a working class attitude. The band has always been a working class band, you can tell by the lyrics, you can tell by the songs. Would you say that Buffalo had a big influence on you growing up?
Robby Takac – Yeah, I think that no matter where you come up, you are bound to have some of it stick to you. Like you were saying, with John’s family, his dad was a mailman. There’s no harder working people than mailmen. I think it’s just in our DNA to work hard. I think as well, when you do these kind of things, when things start going well, you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. You are thinking, “Haha, this whole thing was just a dream,” or “Hey sorry man, your time is over.” You are waiting for that to happen. I think for us it was very important that we worked towards doing everything that we could to make sure that none of those things happened.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, you do not want to get too comfortable because when you come from that working class background, like you said, you are waiting for the other shoe to drop. You just want to keep yourself on your toes and make sure everything is still going in the right direction.
Robby Takac – Yeah, you know, a lot of bands get a bit of success and it starts to go to their head’s a little bit. I think they may not realize the importance of the collaborations and the things they are doing at the moment. A lot of bands don’t get a chance to live out the kind of band that they might have become some day. We have been lucky enough to realize those things.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, agreed. Speaking of progression, Goo Goo Dolls recently released their eleventh studio album Boxes on May 6th. This new album is also another expansion of the Goo Goo Dolls sound. What was the writing and recording process behind Boxes?
Robby Takac – There was a lot of collaborating on this record. We have been working with the producer Gregg Wattenberg for the last few years. He and his partner, a guy named Drew Pearson, were involved in the making of this record. I think the idea of the collaborations at this point in our career is pretty essential. We had been sitting in a room for years coming up with these ideas and you start to feel like you are dipping out of the same well over and over again. I think that interjecting some new kind of energies into the process for us was pretty essential to this record. We started with a bit more of it on the last record, 2013’s Magnetic. On that record John started kind of collaborating with some writers and producers. I’m not sure how he would react to this, cause I really never discussed this with him, but I think Boxes, to me, it feels like a comfortable version of that. The last record, in retrospect, to me, feels like we were sort of learning how to do that a little bit. I feel like this record with the collaborations our voice was able to come through very strongly. We are super happy with it.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, Boxes is a little bit of a different direction. Perhaps as you alluded to, the collaborations play a role in that. With that said, there are a lot of interesting tracks on the album. Ones that comes to mind are the really catchy “Flood,” the dance-like “Reverse,” among many others. The comfort is certainly reflected in the fabric of each track.
Robby Takac – There is a thing we do, and when that thing is applied to some different ideas, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities. That’s what I feel like this record did. I feel like it led us down different paths and it was a lot of fun to make too, which I think you can hear.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, you can definitely hear that throughout Boxes. The previous records are all very good, but from the start of Boxes, it seems to hit you in the face like a breath of fresh air, meaning there is a sense of rejuvenation.
Robby Takac – Yeah for sure, I think through the 2010 Something for the Rest of Us album, things were getting dark. I don’t know why, that’s just sort of the direction we were going. I think for Magnetic, that was a lot of the idea, we wanted to try to bring some new energy into the situation. Like I said, this time I think we got it, I think we really got it right this time.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed, it will be exciting to see how fans react as more discover the new tunes. Yourself and John have been the foundation of the Goo Goo Dolls since the beginning. What do you think has been the key to the chemistry that you two share as musicians as well as friends?
Robby Takac – I think we are like brothers; I don’t have a brother, he doesn’t have any brothers, I think we met each other at a pretty early age in high school and this is what we do. That’s what it feels like, it’s a question of how are we going to keep doing it and what the methods are going to be. We have been pretty lucky to be able to find some people that were understanding of what our situation was through the years. We have also been very lucky to have a creative team of people around us; we have been with our management for over 20 years. That’s rare these days. We’ve been with our record label a lot longer than most of the people that have been with their record label. I think we got a good foundation around us. Just like in any relationship, I think that foundation dictates how that relationship goes, and we’ve been lucky.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, the band has really been fortunate to have that stability. Nowadays, an act staying with a label as long as Goo Goo Dolls have is almost unheard of. That is a positive thing. So much has changed in the record industry that bands are not given the chance to stick with a label very long anymore.
Robby Takac – I think the labels tend to move on sometimes. I think, especially in this day and age, the finances are so tight, people stopped buying records like they used to as well. If something doesn’t work, they are pretty quick to drop it and move on to the next thing. They are looking for the next trend or find some DJ to make a Rockstar out of, I don’t know. It’s just changed dramatically, and once again, we have been lucky to hang on.
CrypticRock.com – That is very true. The Goo Goo Dolls are actually going to be hitting the road with Collective Soul and Tribe Society this summer. The tour begins in early July and runs through mid September. How excited are you for this upcoming tour?
Robby Takac – I think it’s going to be great man. The summers are what we look forward to. We bring out the big guns; a lot of lights and video, the extra big PA, the whole thing. Between ourselves and Collective Soul, there’s an awful lot of hit records there. I think people are going to have a great time, the summer is a great time for the tour and the shows. The majority of the shows are outside and it is just a good vibe all around. We are super excited. Tribe Society are an awesome band which we just became familiar with over the last year. We heard their record, and asked them to come out with us. I think it’s going to be great.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it should be great, and as you have said, the summer has always been a signature touring time for Goo Goo Dolls. One venue which you have been played religiously almost every summer season is Nikon Theater at Jones Beach in Wantagh, New York. This is a venue you have played over two decades now. Tell us about Jones Beach, is that a special place for the Goo Goo Dolls?
Robby Takac – Yeah, those are our first huge shows that we could do, New York really embraced us. We took a pretty serious ass-whooping on Howard Stern once (laughs). From that point on, New York has been in our pocket and we have been in theirs. It’s always been great to us. The awesome thing about Jones Beach is we are not a stadium act, but that’s like a little slice of a stadium. When you are up on the stage playing, you are looking out there thinking, “Wow man, all these people are here to share these songs with us and this is amazing.”
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it is a great setting placed on the bay, it is perhaps one of the best outdoor venues in America. It will be exciting to see you back there once again this summer. My last question for you is pertaining to film. CrypticRock.com covers both music and movies, particularly Horror and Sci-fi. If you are a fan of either genre, do you have any favorites?
Robby Takac – My friend just did the music for a movie called Killer Rack (2015), which is about a killer pair of breasts that go around killing people. I am looking forward to see that. I have a little record label called Good Charamel Records that produces Japanese music, and one of my bands on the label just did a cameo in a film I want to say is Dick Johnson and Tommygun vs the Cannibal Cop or something like that. I didn’t know much about the Horror genre at all but they got involved with this and some friends of mine started showing me some films. They are pretty campy and pretty awesome actually. Quite honestly, I really wasn’t that familiar.
CrypticRock.com – The campy Horror films are usually the most fun; that is what hooked a generation into Horror back in the ’80s. The cheesiness is the fun part about it.
Robby Takac – I think so. To me, with CGI and all that stuff now, it has become so realistic it’s kind of like watching a cartoon. When I see these kind of like low budget films, it reminds me of listening to bands that just don’t have the money to make an amazing record but they have awesome songs. It makes me feel like they are doing everything they can to make this movie happen. There is something charming about that.