Frances Salter caught up with the Goo Goo Dolls ahead of their show at London’s Roundhouse to chat booze, sentiment, and rock ‘n’ roll welfare.
“What do I know? I write sappy love songs, for housewives.”
I’ve just asked Johnny Rzeznik for his secrets to lasting in the music business, which – sappy love songs or no – is something he knows a thing or two about. Since their mainstream breakthrough in the early nineties, Goo Goo Dolls’ record sales have exceeded 12 million albums worldwide, not to mention the four Grammy nominations. They’re now touring 2019’s Miracle Pill, wrapping up the UK leg at Roundhouse a couple of hours after we speak.
When pressed, he’s got some quite specific advice. “Don’t sell your publishing. Do all the drugs and drink – as much as you want – until you’re about twenty-six, and then knock it off. The myth is that booze and drugs make you more creative, but no: they lessen your inhibitions. After a while, instead of being an asset to your work, they become a liability.”
Miracle Pill is the latest step on a remarkable journey together for John and Robby, from their early punk-rock days in Buffalo, New York, through to commercial success that has seen their music covered by the likes of Taylor Swift. Nonetheless, they’re keen to emphasise that it was far from an overnight success.
“Everyone starts by mimicking other people’s voices,” says Johnny. “But the trick is to keep after it until one day your own unique voice comes out. Unfortunately, a lot of people just aren’t given the opportunity to become fully-formed artists anymore. Everything is disposable now, and very few artists are doing anything that will sound good in twenty years. When we were coming up, our record label let us ride along for three albums.”
Or, as Robby puts it, “We were on rock ‘n’ roll welfare.”
“I feel sorry for the new kids coming up because they don’t have that trajectory. Now you have to be ten different things: a DJ, a producer, a philanthropist, a marketing expert. No, no. Your job is to sit and perfect your craft. If ‘Stairway to Heaven’ came out today, it would probably be overlooked unless someone caught Robert Plant on a viral video, or if there was a famous rapper in the middle of it. It’s about the things surrounding the art you create, not the thing itself. But maybe I’m just saying that because I’m old.”
So, after so much time in the public eye, what do people not know about Goo Goo Dolls? “People have all kinds of assumptions of people that they see on stage. That they’re happy, that they’re rich, that their lives are better than other people’s. It’s not true.”
The new record, from which they’ll play a half-dozen songs that night alongside older material, is a reflection of the Dolls’ talent for – as Johnny terms it – ‘brutal sentiment.’ The titular ‘Miracle Pill’, the band have said, is a metaphor for the speedy gratification of the Instagram age, in which we can demand instant elation from chemicals and instant approval from the internet.
By contrast, it may take more than twenty years to build a body of work you can stand behind, but as the Roundhouse crowd will attest, it’s worth it.