Q&A: Goo Goo Dolls’ John Rzeznik Talks New Music, Red Carpets And More

Goo Goo Dolls, an alt-rock band best known for their hit single “Iris,” will play the Louisville Palace next Wednesday, Nov. 9, at 8 p.m.. The band released their newest album, Chaos In Bloom, earlier this year, which marked frontman John Rzeznik’s first time producing a full album.

LEO spoke with Rzeznik about how the album came together, the red carpet experience, growing up around strong women and more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

LEO: Chaos in Bloom — obviously, it’s an apt title. For the last two years, there’s been plenty of chaos in bloom pretty much everywhere. Tell me about how you all navigated the pandemic.
John Rzeznik: Poorly. [laughs] It was really kind of scary. If you remember back to the beginning of it, we all had that first person in our life that got COVID early, and nobody knew what the hell was going on, and it was really scary, and people were dying. That was kind of anxiety-provoking. Then the politicization of the whole situation was crazy, and then, in the midst of all of this, there’s this enormous social justice movement that had to thrust itself into action. The style of discourse in this country has changed dramatically, and it just looks like a food fight all the time. I just pray that our society can move forward.

I’m not being political; I’m never being political. But I do observe what’s going on in my home, in my country. The whole system just seems broken. I just feel like our society is fractured into these tiny little groups, and we all go off to our own corner and sit there and agree with each other and don’t try to understand anyone else.

That sets up the stage for the album. I’m sitting around the house and I’m doing what I can, and I started to get very, very anxious, like, ‘Am I ever going to work again? Am I ever going to be able to get out there?’ 

When everybody was trying all these things — ‘Oh, we’re gonna do these online Zoom concerts, that’ll do it!’ — all these stupid ideas, we were really grasping for straws.

So I was like, ‘Well, how am I gonna get through this? Oh, I know exactly what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna sit down, and then start working my ass off.’ 

I can’t tour — okay, well, somebody asked me to write a Christmas song, so I decided to make a Christmas record. We made a whole album, we created our own bubble, tested everybody, stayed within that bubble. We put out “It’s Christmas All Over,” and then we did an EP, and then I went up to Buffalo and I started writing the songs for “Chaos in Bloom.” Buffalo is where I grew up, and I draw inspiration from my home. That’s where the songs started to take shape. 

Then I decided, I don’t want to deal with a producer, because I hear one thing in my head, and then it comes out completely different — which is not always a bad thing. But I decided I wanted to do it myself, because I wanted a straight line from my brain to the tape, and it was fun. I also wanted to record the album semi-live, at least get the drums and the bass, get the rhythm section down. There’s a human feel in our live performance that wasn’t captured, really, on previous albums, because the general way people make records now with computers is, they’re very regimented. Everything is sort of locked to a grid and a tempo, and it’s just like, ‘Nah, man, no. We need to play.’

The material on the album is very, very much — not all of it, but some of it — reflective of that time. “Going Crazy,” “Let the Sun” — that song is about inequality in this country, everywhere, in the whole world. “You Are the Answer” — that was a song that came out of trying to find some hope. 

This was your first time producing a full album. Can you tell me more about the difference between just writing and producing — how you approach the creative process differently, and the mentality that’s required to do production versus just writing?
Hopefully, most of your writing is done by the time you get to producing it. But, to me, producing, it’s like, how can I use all this machinery to capture a moment? Using the studio as an instrument, the same way you use a guitar or layering textures of sound, and experimenting with different combinations of things — that’s what the production, to me, is about. Also, a lot of arrangement goes into the production and instrumentation, finding the right mix of sounds, and I wanted to stretch it out. 

There’s a song on the album called “Yeah, I Like You,” which came from sitting around the house and dipping into social media a little too much or looking at celebrity culture. I’m just poking celebrity culture because it’s so annoying. 

To me, that particular song is a satirical sort of take on fame at this point in time, but I wanted to go back to something a little bit more raw. We recorded a lot of it analog, and then dumped it in the computer to do  whatever work needed to be done on it then.

You mentioned “Yeah, I Like You.” My first red carpet experience [as a photographer] was this year. When I was watching that video, I kept thinking, ‘Man, that would have actually made the experience a lot better if a fight had broken out and it had gone very viral.’ It definitely would have been a lot more fun than just standing there for three hours. I mean, I had fun doing it. But I can’t imagine it’s any easier on your side of things, having 100 cameras all flashing at you and people yelling at you. I can understand why that would be something you would want to spoof.
Those situations always make me uncomfortable, and they’re terrifying. It’s a no-win situation for someone like me, because half the photographers know who you are, and they’re yelling and screaming at you, and then the other half are like, ‘Get out of the way! Who are you?!” [laughs] 

It’s like, ‘Whatever. I think I should have stayed home.’ But I always shied away from that stuff.

It is funny, though — in the video, the fight breaks out on the red carpet. But there were some times in the photo section when I thought a fight was gonna break out, because there was actually a photographer next to me who kept stealing all my shots, and, quite frankly, he was being a gigantic asshole about it.
I’ve seen the photographers; I’ve seen a couple of elbows get thrown. That’s a rough job. I don’t envy you doing that.

Well, another aspect of it is, I am a 5’2 woman and most of the other press photographers were six-foot-tall dudes. When you’re in an environment like that, you literally have to call your own shots, and you have to do what you have to do. It’s survival of the fittest.
It kind of is, and I applaud you for that, for keeping up with them. That’s awesome. Does it ever strike you that, because you’re a woman, you have to work twice as hard — do you ever get that feeling?

Oh, yeah.
That always amazes me. I mean, I grew up in a house full of women — a house full of very strong-willed women with endless opinions about everything! [laughs] And I was the only boy. So my perspective on women is like, ‘Well, yeah, it should all be equal.’ But I just find it odd that that’s even a question now.

I was talking to my sister the other day, and we were talking about, when we were kids, the Equal Rights Amendment was a thing. It’s still sitting out there somewhere, and it never got ratified. It just blows my mind that in 2022, something like that is even considered, and we’re living in a time now where it looks like there’s an effort to back up progress for women.

It’s kind of weird to grow up in a house where I just assumed it was always equal, and to learn, when you’re out of that environment, that it’s still a tough situation.

It’s just reminded me of my lawyer, who I was really fond of, who, if she was five feet tall, she was having a good day. The way she used to deal with these men was unbelievable — she was smarter and quicker and funnier and meaner than any of them. [laughs] I always really admired her for that.

Let’s talk about “Iris.” This year, “Iris” hit 1 billion streams on Spotify. How did you find out about that, and how did that feel?
How did I find out about it? I got a check for three bucks. [laughs] 

I’m kidding, I’m kidding… sort of. But that is a pretty crazy milestone. And it’s something that I just kind of looked at and went, “Oh!” And then you see the list of people who have that, and it’s like, “Wow!”

It was a good feeling, and I’m grateful for it. I wish I had another one. [laughs] But hey, one’s good enough.

Speaking of getting a lot of public traction: your songs have had a lot of appearances in TV and movies. If there were a song from this album that you would want on a show or movie, what song would it be, and what show or movie, and why?
Oh, geez. I don’t really watch TV, I gotta be honest with you. I don’t know what the hell is on TV, y’know? I don’t even know what’s out there, so I couldn’t even say.

Fair. What about a TV show [episode] or movie that has already come out?
I’m just so disconnected from all of it. I mean, I watch a lot of old movies, try to read. That’s where I’m at right now in my head, in my life. But I know that there’s a lot of great TV. “Better Call Saul” — great show. But I don’t really, like, make an appointment to watch anything. I’m kind of a news junkie, for whatever that’s worth, and I try to stay off social media because it just makes me angry, y’know? [laughs]

Speaking of anger: the timing of your Louisville show is interesting because, obviously, it comes after a very significant day around the country, but also certainly in Louisville. We have a mayoral race; we have a very contentious Senate race; we have a million other, smaller elections going on. Obviously, people on both sides are gonna be a bit tense. Can you talk about what it’s like to navigate a popular cultural landscape when there is a lot of polarization, especially, given the timing of this in particular?
Well, I gotta be honest with you: I think twice before I open my mouth. I just believe that there’s certain portions of society who have been radicalized — on both sides. I’m this guy who’s sitting in the middle, going, ‘Well, I have friends who are Republicans and I have friends who are Democrats. I have friends who are Buddhists and friends who are atheists.’ Everybody gets along. 

This is something that I’ve truly noticed at our shows: people come into the theater, and they leave their differences at the door, because we all have something in common. We’re all there for a common purpose: we all dig the music, and we’re all having a good time with each other. And for a little while, we’re just immersed in this experience. 

And then you can take your shit outside the theater and go fight with each other again. But when everybody comes into the theater, everybody’s having a good time singing along with each other.

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