John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls Has Come a Long Way since Manning a Hot Dog Vending Cart

John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls Has Come a Long Way since Manning a Hot Dog Vending Cart
Chapman Baehler

Although the Goo Goo Dolls gained most of their fame via slick, syrupy ballads such as "Name" and "Iris," the band actually began life as a rather snotty punk/metal outfit way back in 1985. But after drummer Mike Malinin joined in 1995, the music of the Goo Goo Dolls became increasingly pop friendly and massively popular.

Speaking from a tour stop in Baltimore and in anticipation of Wednesday's show with Matchbox Twenty at Gexa Energy Pavilion, John Rzeznik spoke with DC9 about his band's longevity and why he doesn't understand bands that don't play the hits.

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The Goo Goo Dolls have sold over 10 million albums. What does that type of success mean to you?

That's pretty incredible achievement. That's something that I am really proud of, what we have been able to do over the past 20 years.

Haven't you guys been around almost 27 years now?

I actually only start when we finally became professionals. That was when Mike [Malinin] joined the band in 1995. That was we were able to quit our jobs and be a full time band.

What were some of the jobs you had?

I had a hot dog vending cart. I had a job roasting nuts in a factory. I had a job loading books into boxes for shipping. I was a jack hammer operator. That was great. I was a bartender. I was a day laborer, a cook, a dishwasher.

Being in a band is certainly better than most of those jobs.

Being in a band definitely pays better than any of those things, but being a bartender was actually a lot of fun.

From 2000 to 2010, the Goo Goo Dolls scored a record 14 Top 10 hits on the Billboard charts. Does that serve as validation for you as a songwriter?

It's pretty incredible to see that. It's incredible to find that out. A song like "Iris" has cast a huge shadow on our career. It's the biggest song we've ever had. It's a real blessing to have had that song in our lives. It's really helped us have a career.

Do you think your best songs are the softest?

Yes, we are known for writing these ballads. That is fine. Every day, I get a letter. I got a letter yesterday saying that my music really helped them through a difficult period in their lives. I have people come up to me at shows saying this. I got a letter yesterday from this girl saying that her brother had killed himself and that listening to our music helped her get through that. I am blown away. I feel weird about it. I think the music has always served a purpose.

The band did the soundtrack to the animated movie Treasure Planet. I think those songs are some gems that some fans may have missed.

That movie was something. I fell in love with that movie. I was really excited because I got involved in that project when it was nothing but pencil drawings. I thought that movie, for some reason, it didn't do very well. That was a shame, because it was a really fine movie. That was the last hand-drawn Disney film. They went all computer after that.

Seeing that he has Texas connections, does Mike Malinin ask for extra guest list spots when you play here?

Yes, he still has some friends in Texas. His old bandmates come out. Mike went to the University of North Texas. Texas is just one of those states where everybody likes rock music. They love to have a good time. In Texas, everybody works hard and plays hard. It's always fun to play shows there. I love Texas because it's almost like its own country. It's so real, especially compared to Los Angeles.  

When you make a set list, do you go back all the way back to 1990's Hold Me Up?

We've been doing songs from that album, but I don't like going back any farther than that. That would be just silly.

You've always made some interesting choices for cover songs. Why cover "Give a Little Bit" by Supertramp?

I just loved that song. And we rearranged it. If you listen to the original version, it's night and day. I always loved that song when I was a kid. It's one of those songs like "Born in the USA," you only know the chorus and not the rest of the lyrics. People always remember that song. People really relate to it and that is a good thing.

You're on this tour with Matchbox Twenty. Are they a kind of band that you would have made fun of back in the 80's?

No, not really. I don't think I would have. I respect Rob Thomas as a songwriter and I respect that band. They can really, really craft an amazing song. When you see them play, they are such a good band and they play so well together. Rob touches a real emotional chord with his lyrics. That's one of the things that I always respected about Paul Westerberg. He could always touch on an emotional subject. Four days ago, I was listening to the Replacements first album, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash. I thought, oh my God, I was a junior in high school when this record came out. It still sounded awesome. It was still amazing and fun to listen to.

The band's most recent album, Magnetic, had its release date pushed back.

I was done with the record five months ago, but the record company was looking for a better slot to put it out. Apparently, there was a lot of traffic coming out at that time. They asked for more time to set it up. It was really more of a record company thing than us.

Was your approach different in making Magnetic as opposed to your previous albums?

I had recorded a lot of one-off songs for this or that. I was working with a couple of other guys writing songs for other artists. I thought why don't I just apply these principals to what I am doing? I got together with four different producers. I wrote songs with four different people and did a lot of collaboration. I wanted to do it that way. We did a couple of songs in New York City and everybody was always on their best behavior. There was always this fresh energy in the room.

Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum says that his band has no choice but to play "Runaway Train." Do you think it is the same with you and "Iris"?

I don't know why anybody would get a gift as big as "Iris" and not be grateful to play it every night. I've never understood artists who get contentious about their biggest success. I don't understand that. It is a blessing. You are lucky to have that in your life. Why don't you just enjoy it? It's not about you. It's about the people who drive 50 miles to see you, who spend 50 dollars for a ticket. That is a lot of money. You feel that you owe it to them to give them what they want.

The Goo Goo Dolls perform with Matchbox Twenty on Wednesday, July 31, at Gexa Energy Pavilion.

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