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Robby Takac, bassist/vocalist and co-founder of The Goo Goo Dolls, talked from his Vancouver hotel July 24. The interview for The Reader was advance publicity for their Omaha show August 1. Takac is about as easy-going as it gets, a real pleasure to interview, with a great sense of humor and an easy laugh. He's quick with answers and has the same voice and delivery as the king of cynical comedians, Dennis Leary.

Takac opened by reminiscing about some early dates he played at Omaha's Ranch Bowl, a bowling alley/entertainment center that happens to be the home of Omaha's national touring indie music scene – everyone, from the Chili Peppers to Bob Mould to Pavement, have played there. None  are very happy about playing a bowling alley, but it's an experience they never forget.

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Takac: We used to love going to the Ranch Bowl, because when we didn't have any money, they let us bowl for free, they hooked us up, man. The first time I was in Omaha it was 11 degrees outside, it was freezing. The next time I was there, it was 111 degrees and cows were exploding, they were boiling inside and dying. Land of the exploding cows.

 

Where are you right now?

 

We're in Vancouver, it's pouring rain right now, and we're playing outside and I'm hoping it doesn't put a damper, if you will, excuse the pun.

 

And you played San Francisco Wednesday? And also drove up to Seattle and did a bunch of live radio performances.

 

How's the tour?

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It's been going great. Sugar Ray canceled San Francisco. Mark (McGrath)'s voice is messed up, but I guess they're back on tonight. I saw their buses. They're yo yo enough to bring that thing into it. We don't play with loops and things. They also have a hipness factors, and they're cool guys. We're having a good time.

 

The first time I heard you guys was way back in '92, watching 120 minutes on MTV, they played "There You Are," and didn't include the video info and I freaked out, trying to find out who you were…. That was the first video we had ever done. It was shot in a baseball stadium in Buffalo. It was weird, we were happy being a punk rock band back then. We were happy having our little victories all the time. It was about that time that Nirvana was starting to happen. Everything was starting to happen, but things weren't happening very quickly for us back then. It's not like it felt like we weren't progressing, but at a slow rate compared to a lot of bands who we would see zip by us on the way up and eventually past us again the other way. It was always sort of bizarre to us, because you finally reach this level where you get everything you want and you stop working, you don't want to do interviews anymore. A lot of people start shooting themselves in the foot at that point. That's the thing we saw the most.

 

Do you think you get jaded by the whole business? I don't know how you get jaded when good things are happening to you. It's like 'oh Jesus, I'm selling millions of records now and I'm doing sold out shows, this sucks' No, that don't suck. 'Suck' is trying to pull your record off for $15,000 and driving around in a van for six months, that's what sucks. It was always weird to me. You know when no one wants to talk to you, you're in trying to talk to everybody. The second everyone wants to talk to you, no one wants to talk to anyone anymore. We really try to sidestep that whole thing and sort of realize, especially in this day in age, that if you go away for a year they forget who you are and you have to come back in swinging with all the viciousness you did before.

 

Did you think when Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden all broke that this was gonna make more people pay attention to what you were doing? You always thought that. When guitar bands started to get signed there was maybe more of a chance. The odd thing that happened with us is, when all that stuff was getting unpopular was kind of when our career started to take off. And maybe that's because we're not just a loud guitar band.

 

On Hold Me Up, I heard the band's ballad potential with "Two Days in February." They say your sound has changed and now you're writing pop songs, but there's still plenty of high-powered stuff on this disc. I think our sound has changed as much as someone who is 28 years old changes when he turns 35. When I was 28, I was still listening to cro mag records. Now my brain requires more than that.

 

But many songs on this one could have been on Hold Me Up Certainly a lot of stuff could have been on Hold Me Up, but I don’t' think we would have executed it the same way. We're much better players. Hold Me Up was a weird record, it was the first one where John really started singing a lot. And it was also the first record where we sat down and said to ourselves 'We're going to work on this album.' All the other records were like, 'Let's do four songs, and here's four more, let's try this, see if this works, then collect all the demos and recordings and make a record out of it.' Hold Me Up, we actually went in and said 'Okay, this album needs to work, from beginning to the end.' It's not just a collection of songs, it's a full thing.

And we started working working with Armand Petri, who co-produced and mixed Jed. He became quite an asset to the group. He was a classically trained musician and understood a lot of things we were doing, and we didn't know what we were doing. He took the time to say 'Here's why this is working. These notes don't match, but it sounds cool.' There was a lot of wrestling on that record over what was right and what sounded right. He came from the angle that 'Mathematically, this doesn’t' work,' and we're like 'Well, you're just gonna have to give us this one.' If I hold up a baseball bat, five plus three equals nine, you gonna argue with me? No, ya know? There's quite a growing process that went on with that record. When I listen back to that record, which I don't listen to that often really, when I listen to it now it's eerie, sort of. I feel everything that happened. It was very 'coming of age' for us, very intense.

 

You don't feel you've changed, but you certainly write more ballads than you did back then. That's one of the things that John realized he could do very well. I think you find something you can really express yourself in, when you find a certain matter of expressing yourself, it's a pretty powerful tool. I knew from Hold Me Up days, when he started bringing that stuff in. There's a song called "James Dean" on Jed that's as mellow as anything we've ever done. And that came out in 1989, 10 years ago. It was always there.

Back then, we were really terrified to turn our guitars down. Not so much because we thought people would say we were pussies. We just weren't confident enough in our playing or songwriting to actually think we could have an impact without a turn-it-up-to-11 mentality.

When we started this record, I sat down with Rob (Cavallo) and said 'I want to know why this Led Zeppelin record and this Black Sabbath record sound so huge even though they're the worst guitar songs I've ever heard in my life. The power lies in so many different places. A perfectly placed shaker sounds every bit as intense as a Marshall on 10 if it's done correctly. I think we decided we were gonna try our best to make a record that could be listened to in 15 years and still sound big. And Rob was really good at that, man. A few small amp tones instead of one huge one, one guitar down the middle instead of four at one time, because when the four come in, they sound even bigger.

 

In the clips, John talks about the band losing its indie cred… How important is having an indie cred to you, and how has that been impacted by having hits and putting out power ballads like "Name" and "Iris"? Having been someone who for years could say 'We've got indie cred,' the term basically meant that critics liked us but we weren't selling any records. That's indie cred, you don't sell records. A lot of people hide behind this… Look, no one doesn't want to sell 2 million records. Anyone who makes a demo in an 8-track studio wants to sell 2 million copies of it. And if you don't, you're an idiot. I don't know why you wouldn't. The more people who get to hear your music, the more people come to see you play, buy your records, know your songs. It just makes it more fun, more pleasurable.

We were never a band to stand there and go, 'OK, we're aiming this record directly at turtleneck-wearing Trent Reznor clones.' We never picked a group of people to like our records. And I think that's part of the appeal. When 'Name' started to get big, we started getting calls to be on fuckin' Dick Clark's New Year's Eve Show, or 90210 or Friday Night Videos. At first, we'd be like, 'oh gee, I don't know. What's everyone gonna think?' And it wasn't 20 seconds before John and I were looking at each other and saying, 'Who cares what they think?' Are we going to be so pretentious and lofty as to say our music is not for the main stream? Our music is for us; whatever happens, happens.

 

In the cases of some punk bands, there's a core group who are afraid that other people are going to discover 'their band.' A lot of that happens. That happened with U2. I remember when U2 began becoming successful and everybody was saying 'they suck,' And I would say 'No they don't. You telling me War sucks? Listen to that record man, that record does not suck. But I can remember kids who were hardcore U2 fans saying 'well, it's on the radio now.' Somehow, when your record gets played on the radio, that makes you less credible and I'm not quite sure why… There's an elitist mentality in every single occupation. There're welders with indie cred.

 

You'll be playing some punk stuff with the ballads, and there will be some people coming to the shows expecting two hours of "Iris." Well, that would be boring, wouldn't it? It's funny, this whole selling out issue. We've been on a major label for half of our career. I will tell you, I have been fucked worse by indie labels then I've ever been by a major label. The problem is, with the whole indie world right now, it's become a status thing. I'm not quite sure why… I could mention some band names and it would make this all make more sense, but I won't…. There's a lot of Southern California pop punk bands out there now who are selling lots of records and getting millions and millions of dollars from major labels and are still trying to tote themselves around as some sort of poster children for indie punk rock. I want to tell them, 'For God's sake, take off that $700 shirt if you're gonna do that, and give all your money to start a label and make other little bands marginally successful. But don't sit back in your mansion on the side of the hill and say "Man, we are still so punk." Whatever… just make your records, man, and stop it.'

 

How do these bands manage to keep that vibe going? I'll tell how they do it: They find a very simple recipe and stick to it. The problem is, they're not gonna be around in 15 years. People are going to expect the same thing every time they put out a record, and eventually are going to get sick of it. And then they're stuck having a 6-year career, putting out the same record three times.

 

The state of today's music scene, bands come and go very quickly, they're on top of the heap for one album and fade instantly… Six months ago, everyone was talking about Marilyn Manson, before that, it was Spice Girls. Today it's Ricky Martin, and so on . You've been around more than a decade and seem to be at the top of your game now. Do you worry about falling out of favor or are you immune to that because of how you write music? I think that it's inevitable that that's gonna happen. I can't see us as the Goo Goo Dolls being an influential band for another 20 years. I think that would be foolish and we'd look foolish, being 55 in a band called the Goo Goo Dolls, you know? Do I think as people, that John and I can be relevant still? Probably, but it will have to move beyond this. Although 15 years ago I would have never thought I'd be here doing a Goo Goo Doll interview. I though I'd have a job somewhere, figuring out where my life's gonna be.

We'll know when it's time. We'll look at each other and go 'Man, this record's not gonna be good.' If that happens, you realize you've lost the gas, man, you're balloon has deflated and it's time to stop making records.

 

Well, could you ever be satisfied being in a band that tours for three weeks at a time in a van again? I feel too old to do that. I feel that was a great thing to do when I was 18, 19, 20 years old. Or 25, or however old I was. I did those things because I had to. It's like asking a sergeant major if he would mind going back to bootcamp for eight weeks and starting all over again. Or being near a top of a mountain, being a mountain climber, and going 'hey, listen, you don't mind if we drop you down at the bottom again and you start over?' It would be like, 'waitaminit, that's no good.'

Our biggest fear is looking as retarded as Foreigner does now, or Journey, traveling around with Steve Augeri on lead vocals.

 

You could be like Brian Adams, who's quietly continued to work, doing soundtracks and having hits, and not caring if people think he's cool or not. I think that's cool that he's able to do that. But one point is he's one person. No matter what he does as that person, that's his next thing. It's not like it's 'Bryan Adams and Red Ryder'… Tom Cochran comes out solo after Red Ryder and now he can put out records for the rest of his life. Would you be waiting for the next Red Ryder record? I don't know… Who knows what the future is at this point? All I know is the present is really good. When this tour is done in March, we'll take a month or two off, pull our shit together and collect the tragedies of the past three years and write another record.

 

It's gotta be a blast right now. Yeah, it's a blast, but It's pretty fucked up, really. Since last August, I've done my own laundry once, I haven't made a bed, haven't taken out the trash, I haven't driven myself but three or four times in a car. All the things that happen in your life peripherally you have to put out of the way, so you can go out and do what you do.

 

So you miss taking out the trash and washing your clothes? Yeah, or having discussions with your loved ones about what's fucked up in your life or whatever. You don't want to bring yourself down out here, it's easy enough. I've been home maybe a total of two weeks since last August, you've got to try to keep your stiff upper lip out here.

 

Are you married or have kids? I was married, no kids. My ex-girlfriend had a couple kids, and that was even tough talking to them on the phone and stuff.

 

So time kind of stands still on the road? Yeah, totally, you come home and it's as if time stood still. I've been to Japan twice this year, Europe three times, Australia twice, to New Zealand, across the entire United States three times and Canada once. We've done an awful lot. And then you come home and the same asses are planted in the same barstools. Like they never left. 'What the fuck are you people thinking? Get up, do something. At least go to another bar. At least find two bars you can hang out at.'

The weird thing is you go home then and it's like 'okay, I'm not on the road anymore, so I have some time to sit and think.' And you start to think. The last record, John and I moved to New York after the tour for about nine months and we were basket cases. I was dealing with a divorce, dealing with the fact that we sold 2 million records and still owed the record company money, that kind of stuff.

 

So many bands don't understand any of that stuff… No, they don't get it. And once again, I'm not going to name any bands, but there are a lot of bands who go out and make a demo at 18, get signed, go out and sell 4 million records, and then don't know enough to bring themselves back down to earth. You've gotta bring yourself down, because dude, at 19, that is not your life. Someone gave you that life for a little while. You're 19 years old and you're gonna be spit out so fast because you're not royalty, you're just some schmuck. Your job is as important as the guy taking the tickets in front of the building, when it comes right down to it, it's all just a part of the process.

When you're finished, and can step back and look at it that way -- mind you I make more money than the ticket guy -- it's all just part of the process. Someone can always be plugged into that spot. I'm not James Brown. It's not a guarantee, not even for REM anymore.

 

What about the Stones? That's human oddities. Like the guy with the 2-foot prick, not the norm. We just opened six shows for them. It was crazy man, if any band is ever an asshole again as an opener, I have no tolerance for it at all. Mick Jaggar came in and sat in our dressing room and hung out with us and gave us a sound check. There's certain other English bands we've played with over the years who were very difficult. Try opening for Oasis some day, dude.

Mick Jaggar's standing there, we all snap to attention like a fucking drill team. He walked in the room, it was like, inspection. "Mr. Jaggar Sir," you know. He was totally cool, man. Why wouldn't he be, I guess, right? They rented a box and watched our show the first night. Came up the second night and had comments about the show and stuff, so we knew they actually watched. It was really cool. A band like that, them going out now, it works for a couple bands. It worked for the Stones and for Fleetwood Mac, but count how many tours went out that way that didn't work. Like Motley Crue, how was that one? Or the big Berlin/Missing Persons package.

 

It's kind of sad when you see Styx/Kansas on tour... I know, dude. This venue in Buffalo, called Darien Lake, it's like Six Flags, they did 13 shows this year. Of all the shows guess what the biggest seller was: Foreigner/Journey. The biggest seller. The only thing that's really crankin' in a lot of the markets is the reunion tours and the boy groups.

 

But that's all the radio stations are geared to these days. Alternative radio seems to be faltering a bit. The term 'modern rock' itself is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You've put a shelf-date on the format. I mean, what's Sheryl Crow? Alternative? I guess alternative to bad music.

There's a lot of shit I don't get these days. I don't want to sound like Greg Allman talking about rap music, but I swear there's just six bands on the radio. There's the Southern California punk bands, there's the ska bands, which are becoming few and far between, there were a few swing bands in there, and then you've got your borderline gothic fashion rock, and ...

 

And then Ricky Martin… Yeah, Ricky Martin and that's about it, you know. I was driving around L.A. with a friend of mine the other day, listening to KROQ, and we were laughing every time another band came on. We were naming the five bands that were on every three minutes.

 

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Copyright 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

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