By: Justin Beckner, LRJ Correspondent
A modern rock favorite, The Goo Goo Dolls have returned in full force with a new album due out in July. The Dolls have remained a staple of alternative rock since they first emerged from the streets of Buffalo, NY in 1986. In the following interview with bassist Robby Takac, we discuss the new album and explore what has made them so perseverant over the years.
LRJ: Tell me about this new album, “Something for the Rest of Us”.
Robby Takac: It’s certainly been a labor of love man, we’ve been working on it for what seems like 80 years. We did the basic tracking in a studio in Buffalo, NY which is were Johnny and I grew up. It was at a place called track master back when we were kids, we cut our first few records there. We went back this time and basically redesigned the whole studio and remodeled and put in some amazing gear. That took a couple months and then we did some writing and recording, then we went out to LA to finish the record.
We worked out there with a guy named Tim Palmer. Then we had a little bit of time to sit around and listen to the record because the release date for it got pushed back. So that was a luxury we never had before. Usually you turn your masters in and it goes right to the stores and you run around kicking yourself in the ass because you didn’t have time to change some things you want to change. But we had some time, so we went back in and fixed some things up before the record came out. And it turned out that we got a lot deeper than we thought we’d have to and we ended up doing some work with Butch Vig who actually worked with Soul Asylum for a little bit, and we ended up mixing it with our live sound guy who’s out on the road with us right now.
It was a lot different making this record. We used a lot of the folks who’ve been traveling with us in the past 4 years, so it’s pretty much our live band that you’re hearing on this record which is something we’ve never really done before. We usually just do a record and then get some friends or musicians by reference to learn the songs and go out on the road with us. We’re really proud of this record, it should be out in July.
LRJ: How did having those other musicians in the studio with you change the dynamics of your traditional writing process?
RT: Well, our guitar player Brad was there through the whole process, from the concession of the songs and through the whole process of pulling them all together. So if we wanted to try something in rehearsals, he was right there and could just play right along. It was a bit different of a process than what we were used to, in the past it was a lot of recording crap demos in hotel rooms or whatever and this time we had a grade A studio and a guitar player along with us. And Tim Palmer is different from other producers in that you don’t just hand your record off to him, he came down to the practice space and jumped in the stoop with us for a while and that, along with having our whole live band made it sound more true to what the band actually sounds like. It was a pretty organic process this time.
LRJ: I’m told that you are quite proficient in different recording methods; it must be a benefit to have that knowledge these days – just to be able to make a studio and record in your old hometown.
RT: I’ve actually taken over the studio in Buffalo now as a commercial enterprise. I’ve been in that field for a long time. But in this day and age you really have no choice but to at least learn Garage Band or something like Pro Tools. There are a lot of great recording platforms out there. But we are fortunate enough to afford to have people around who make sure stuff gets done right. With this record we made the mistake of walking into a recording studio with no songs thinking we were just going to go all Van Halen style and just jam out some songs. But it didn’t turn out that way; it took some time to write these songs. We had been living in LA prior 14 years, so coming to Buffalo was great for us and having our own studio made it to where we could just sit and listen to different microphones for hours without having to pay somebody.
LRJ: The industry is in a very strange state of flux right now it seems. How have you been getting along in this harsh economical climate?
RT: Well, I think we were pretty lucky to have slid in when we did. We still have an old school record deal which most bands now don’t have the benefit of having. So the process for us hasn’t changed as much as it has for a lot of bands. Were still on a major label with a recording budget and things like that. Some smaller labels can’t function like that because they don’t have Madonna catalogues to fall back on so they are less likely to take risks. The whole business model of coming up in the music industry has changed dramatically. I see a lot of newer bands trying to make it through the process and I don’t envy them. It’s a brave new world and that often leads to interesting things because bands are forced to experiment and forced to do things differently. It’s definitely an exciting time.
LRJ: It’s odd to think of music in business terms. On one side there’s the art that dares you to express yourself and be creative without limits and on the other side you’ve got this business where you need to conform to certain ideas in order to sell your product. Have you ever found yourself in a place where you’ve had to choose between being free and being creative?
RT: Well, I think those opportunities present themselves everyday. We’ve been very careful – were in our 24th year of being a band right now and I think one of the reasons we’ve been able to do that is because we’re able to look at what we are and see how far we can reach without losing everybody. And I’ve got a stack of reviews from 24 years saying that we put out the same record over and over again. But if you listen to us as a band in 1986 and then listen to us now, its obvious we’re not putting out the same record over and over again, were just trying to grow at our own pace without falling prey to experimenting with hip hop or having Lil Wayne on our records or whatever might be the trend of the moment – those things are just the obvious things to do at the moment. And that will look about like the leg warmers the metal bands in the 80s wore in a few years. You wanna stay away from that stuff.
Right now we’re in a situation where we have out first single together and its being released to pop radio as well as rock radio. And somebody came to us and told us that Kings of Leon did this thing where they put a high hat – kick drum beat under one of their rock songs and released it as a dance song for Top 40 Radio. We’re still thinking about whether that would be good for us and where we want to go musically. Those are the types of options that present themselves everyday. We just need to take those options and make sure we are making the right decisions.
LRJ: It seems that everyone has their own idea of what rock and roll is or what rock and roll should be. What does rock and roll mean to you?
RT: I think rock and roll is sort of a temporary term. To me, its always been about rebellion rather than sound. Bread is rock and roll, Metallica is rock and roll, NWA is rock and roll. It’s an ever shifting concept and some people lose track. Take the Allman Brothers for example, somewhere in the ’80s they just lost track and rock and roll is just what they did. I remember watching an interview with Greg Allman and he was talking about that and he said, “Man, I just don’t get it.” And that’s when you stop and when you look at the Allman Brothers now, they’re still awesome but they haven’t done much growing since 1972 or whatever. For us, we listen to new music and we try to keep growing and remain relevant. I think you’ve just got to keep your ear to the ground and understand whats out there and try to find that new version of rock and roll.