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The Goo Goo Dolls’ Robby Takac talks music, Maine & ‘Miracle Pill’

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The Goo Goo Dolls’ Robby Takac talks music, Maine & ‘Miracle Pill’ (photo by Mark Dellas)

“If we were living today like we did at 20, we would positively, undoubtedly be dead by now,” Robby Takac said when I asked the bassist and co-founding member of the Goo Goo Dolls about some of the changes he and band mate Johnny Rzeznik have experienced after more than three decades together.

Takac’s matter-of-fact response was a refreshingly honest reaction to a question about some of the myths and realities of life in 2019 for the mega-successful rockers, as their July 30 concert at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor with co-headiners Train and soul-singing opener Allen Stone draws near.

I got a lot of that honesty from Takac, as he explained why the Goo Goo Dolls today are - in some ways - the same band they were in the ‘80s, when they were cranking out punk records in Buffalo and opening shows for bands like Motorhead, Bad Brains and The Dead Milkmen.

Takac and Rzeznik’s partnership has seen the Goo Goo Dolls through a series of personal and professional transitions – sobriety and superstardom among them. 

Alternative and college radio adopted the Goo Goo Dolls in the early ‘90s with albums “Hold Me Up” (1990) and “Superstar Car Wash” (1993).

The band’s commercial breakthrough - 1995’s “A Boy Named Goo” (featuring the hit single “Name”) – upped the Goo’s game considerably, but their biggest success was still to come.

1998’s four-million-selling “Dizzy Up The Girl” (featuring “Iris,” “Slide,” and “Black Balloon”) coincided with the appearance of “Iris” on the soundtrack to the Nicholas Cage/Meg Ryan movie “City of Angels.”

It was a situation where the movie soundtrack was far more successful than the film that spawned it, thanks in large part to the Goo’s hit, written expressly for the flick by Johnny Rzeznik.

In October 2012, Billboard ranked “Iris” as the top song on their “Top 100 Pop Songs 1992-2012” list of the first 20 years of the Mainstream Top 40/Pop Songs chart.

The Rzeznik/Takac partnership has also weathered the music industry sea change resulting from the internet’s dominance. Some of the Goo’s contemporaries saw record contracts cancelled due to diminishing returns while the Goo Goo Dolls recognized the net’s potential and harnessed it in a variety of creative ways for their benefit.

In another honest aside, Takac admitted that he still struggles with the idea of art as business – a feeling shared at various times by a variety of Takac’s peers and forebears, including Kurt Cobain, Evan Dando, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Trey Anastasio and Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green.

As excited as he is about the September 13 release of the Goo Goo Dolls’ 12th studio LP “Miracle Pill,” Takac explains why putting a new record together is like “performing dental surgery on yourself.”

A few hours after this interview occurred, Takac was onstage with Rzeznik and tourmates Train and Allen Stone in Charlotte, North Carolina. The trek continues through August 17 when the Goo Goo Dolls will take a breather before embarking on a South American tour in September.

The Maine Edge: A co-headlining tour with Train is such a good idea, I wonder why it’s never happened before this year? Both bands have had a ton of hits and each draws a considerable audience, while also bringing in fans of both bands. How has it been for you so far?

Takac: It’s been amazing, man. For a long time, we thought this would be a really good idea. We approached them to talk about it and they came to us a couple of times, but we could never seem to work out a schedule timing-wise. This year, the timing lined up. Train had a greatest hits record coming out and we had already planned to release a new single this summer (“Miracle Pill” – out now). Honestly, this tour has worked out even better than we had imagined.

We knew it was going to be fun. The two bands are just different enough from each other - and we have Allen Stone opening the shows for us.

The Maine Edge: I wasn’t familiar with Allen’s music before this tour, but I’ve listened to a lot of it over the last few weeks. What an incredible vocalist. People who love classic soul and R&B will love Allen Stone. He’s the real deal.

Takac: He is unbelievable, man. It’s like a singalong all day. His crew is great too. All of the guys in Train and in Allen’s band are all really nice. Everyone gets along and that’s what we want. I’ve been on a couple of these tours where - after a couple of days you’re like “Oh my God, how long is this thing?” (laughs) but this one has been great.

The Maine Edge: Have the Goo Goo Dolls and Train made appearances in each other’s sets?

Takac: John (Rzeznik) sings a song with Train every once in a while, as does Allen Stone. We’re doing something with them on Sirius/XM satellite radio in Nashville, so there’s a bit of interaction.

The Maine Edge: This is a great shot for Allen Stone’s career. Who were some of the artists that you and John opened for in the early days of Goo Goo Dolls when you were trying to break through like he is now? 

Takac: You’re going to laugh when you hear. Bad Brains, Motorhead - and a little later - The Replacements and The Ramones - and later - Soul Asylum and Bon Jovi - we really run the gamut on that kind of thing. 

The Maine Edge: The Goo Goo Dolls and Train have both had so many hit songs, are you able to play them all at every show?

Takac: You try to fit everything into one show but it’s almost impossible. It’s the same with Train. It’s amazing when you sit there and go over them to put a setlist together. There’s an incredible amount of hit songs that get played in these shows, but we still have five top-20 songs that we’re not even playing on this tour (laughs). It’s an interesting beast.

The Maine Edge: How do you make the call on what to include and what to leave out?

Takac: We put together what we feel is the 2019 “superset” mix tape (laughs). We shortened a couple of things, so we could fit some more songs in. Since we have a new single out (‘Miracle Pill’), we’re playing that, and I always sing a couple of songs. By the time we’re done with that whole thing, there isn’t much room left.

The Maine Edge: What can you tell me about the “Miracle Pill” LP coming out this fall?

Takac: This one came together really easily. We did a summer tour last year that went to Europe and the U.K. for the 20th anniversary of “Dizzy Up the Girl.” Whenever there was a moment where we weren’t preoccupied with that, John and I were writing for this album.

When it was time to put a record together, we had recorded 17 or 18 songs – way more than we needed. We aren’t the type of band that usually has extra songs. For the first time ever, we were able to think about what the record was going to sound like based on the songs that we had. I think it turned out to be a pretty cool way of doing things. We had never really done that before. We would always just record what we knew we needed and put that record out.

Maybe after all these years, we figured out a way to do it a little less painfully. Putting a record together is quite often like performing dental surgery on yourself but this one came together pretty smoothly.

The Maine Edge: Do melodies and lyrics pop into your head out of the blue or are you and John more like song-craftsmen that can write to order when it’s time for a new record?

Takac: We tend to write when it’s time but mainly because we’re so busy. We’re constantly on tour. I have a backup band and a whole bunch of hungry roadies I need to support, so we play constantly. When the tour is finished, we’re still playing and that’s when we tend to write. We sort of know what the cycle is now. We know the good times to tour and we try to find little holes and that’s usually when we record. 

The Maine Edge: I recently listened to your early albums and had almost forgotten how punky they were. It’s quite different from the Goo Goo Dolls today but there’s some very cool stuff on there, including covers of Cream, The Rolling Stones and Blue Oyster Cult.

Takac: The interesting thing about us – at least I find it interesting (laughs) – is that we are that band. We just grew up and learned to play our instruments a little better, learned to write songs a little better and we learned how to reach in and touch that uncomfortable place in people a little bit better. We’re still that band. I think that’s the big difference between us and a lot of the bands that are out there in the same arenas we’re in right now.

We grew up playing CBGB’s and Maxwell’s in Hoboken. That’s where the soul of this band came from. John and I have stayed friends and partners for almost 33 years now, and a lot of people don’t get to see what happens to that little nugget of a good idea after 33 years.

No one is the same person at 55 that they were at 18. That band they put together and played in when they were 18, and then left for 20 years – when they come back and play with that band again, it maybe feels a little silly.

We certainly don’t play “Don’t Beat My Ass (With a Baseball Bat)” anymore, but we are that same band – we’ve just moved on a little bit. That stuff is still in our spirit and I think that sets us apart a little bit.

The Maine Edge: A partnership like the one you and John have doesn’t happen by accident. What does it take to keep a band going successfully for as long as you have?

Takac: John says it’s because we’re like two old married people and we’re afraid no one else will have us, but I’m not sure it’s quite that dismal. I don’t know – it’s just what we do. We wake up in the morning, have breakfast and talk about how we’re going to conquer that day. (Laughs), I sound like an alcoholic, don’t I?

You know, it’s just one day at a time. There will be a challenge, but you face it. We have a lot of great people around us that nobody sees. We’ve had the same manager for 25 years, the same booking agent for 25 years, the same business manager for 25 years. My guitar tech has been handing me my guitars for decades. There’s a strong support system in there for us too.

John and I have gone through our lives making the same human mistakes that a lot of people make but we’ve been there for each other and other people have been there for us. Without that, we might not have made it through. We’ve been lucky that way. It takes a village, right?

The Maine Edge: Some fans at your show probably imagine that the scene backstage is one of pure hedonism and rock and roll bacchanalia. Maybe 25 years ago that was accurate, but I’m guessing the backstage scene is a little calmer these days. 

Takac:  It’s like an insane asylum full of midgets. It’s all kids running around, it’s just nuts (laughs). No, actually, it’s great. John and I don’t drink anymore. Barely anybody in our organization throws down anymore because we’ve been doing it for so long.

If we were living today like we did at 20, we would positively, undoubtedly be dead by now. You can’t do that your whole life, and that’s one of the things we learned along the way - in installments (laughs). You can’t go out there and give it your all every night if you’re falling apart. As the years go by, you need to up your game in a lot of ways.

The Maine Edge: I love the fact that you have a degree in communications with an emphasis on radio broadcasting.

(Robby shifts gears to sound like a classic top 40 DJ)

Takac: Why yes! Yes I do (laughing).

The Maine Edge: That’s something we have in common. If the Goo Goo Dolls hadn’t taken off, do you think you might have pursued a career in radio? 

Takac: I still keep my hand in that kind of thing. I do voiceovers and character work sometimes. I’ve done radio shows on and off and it’s something I’ve always been interested in. I think this feeds a different part of you.

The radio that I loved and grew up in was progressive rock radio and album rock. Those were the days when the DJ was a little more of a maestro, if you will. Radio has morphed into a much different business over the years. The business end of it is really hard for me and it’s the same being in a band. The business part of what we do is hard for me.

The amazing thing about being in a band versus being in radio is that when you’re in radio, you have to go sit in the program director’s office and deal directly with them. I have a manager, so I’m very well insulated in this job. I think I prefer this, but I really do love radio. I love the idea of communicating on that level and the relationship that you develop with the listener. You’re out there, man.

The Maine Edge: You probably have much better job security as a Goo Goo Doll.

Takac: Maybe, but in radio, people only have to move every few years. I have to move every day (laughs).

The Maine Edge: It’s been a while since the Goo Goo Dolls last performed in Bangor. Besides lobster, what comes to mind when you think about doing shows in Maine, or Maine audiences in general?

Takac: I think the vibe in Maine is just great. Coming from the northeast, we sort of feel that vibe, but in Maine it’s pretty hardcore. I feel like there’s a little Canada in Maine. It feels like a little bit of Canada has made its way into your world. It’s the same for us. We grew up watching “The Hilarious House of Frightenstein” and “Mr. Dressup” (both popular Canadian syndicated children’s television series).

Canada is a really magical place, man. I think some of that wears off on the border cities and towns and I feel that a lot up in Maine. It makes the shows a lot of fun for me.    

(The Goo Goo Dolls, with Train and special guest Allen Stone, are scheduled to appear at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor on Tuesday, July 30.)

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