Bassist Robby Takac talks about keeping things fresh on the band’s 11th album Boxes, the slow progressions the Goo Goo Dolls have undergone over its now 30-year career, and never taking success for granted.
Did you do anything to celebrate the record coming out?
We actually had a private show yesterday, so we got to play, and I don’t know [laughs]. I spent the day hanging out with John and talking about what the plans for the summer were. That kind of stuff.
How does it feel to have record number 11 out now?
Yeah, it’s crazy, dude. It’s nuts. It’s exciting, you know? People have a pretty strong opinion, be it one way or another, about it. I think that’s pretty cool after all this time.
One thing looking back on your career is you’ve always consistently released a new album about every three to four years and have never really taken an extended hiatus or anything like that. That kind of longevity is easy to take for granted and go underappreciated by a lot of people. What do you think the key has been to sustaining that output and work ethic?
A lot of it is personalities, I guess. Like in any relationship, you got to do what you got to do to make it work. If you decide not to do that anymore, it doesn’t work. John and I since we were kids have had the ability through all different times and scenarios to see a future in what we were doing, musically and just with our lives in general. We just keep our eye on that and keep moving forward, man.
After all these years is it hard not to get burnt out and to always find a fresh inspiration?
We’ve been pretty good at interjecting something new into the process every time. Sometimes it’s super evident musically, sometimes it’s not that evident. If you’ve followed what we’ve done since we put our first record out in ’86, there’s been some kind of journey that’s gone on here that’s led us through some different places and let us arrive at where we are now. Allowing those changes to occur probably has something to do with keeping the whole thing together, too. You’re constantly doing something new and it feels new. When we put a record out, it feels like you want to go and play it for people. That’s an exciting feeling every time.
One of the things you threw into the mix more of this time was doing different collaborations. How did that process go and what did you take away from that?
We started around Let Love In to kind of work with the producers a little bit more on the songwriting. We started working with Gregg Wattenberg, who’s actually one of the producers on this record and Magnetic as well. We started letting them into the songwriting process a little bit more. That’s one of those things you were talking about, keeping things fresh. That was one of the things that helped us do that, getting some outside opinions after 20 years of doing it on our own. Getting some outside opinions into the mix made it interesting in a lot of ways.
With Magnetic, there was a lot of the co-writing going on. I sort of feel like in retrospect when I listen to it that we were getting comfortable with that concept a little bit on that record. I think this time we started to know a little bit more what we were going into. I think it was a lot easier for us to have our voices come through in the process a little bit more strongly, which I think maybe lacked on the last record.
Obviously, the one constant in Goo Goo Dolls has always been that dynamic between you and John. How has your relationship been able to evolve over the years, both personally and professionally?
We’re family. We’ve been in each other’s lives longer than we haven’t. Once again, with any relationship there’s ups and downs and stuff. You try to keep your eye on what’s special about it, musically and otherwise, and about how life works and stuff. Man, I don’t know.
I think we’ve been lucky to have this thing work this long. It’s awesome, man. Like I said, people still seem to be pretty excited about it, too. Sometimes bands think they can go on and make records forever, and that doesn’t happen. This is a unique opportunity for us. I don’t think we ever take that for granted.
I was reading how John said somewhere this week about how you’re usually the one who gives him that extra push or resolve when that’s needed, which I thought was pretty cool.
Yeah, we all do what we need to do, you know? [laughs]
So the record is called Boxes. Is there any significance behind that title and do you feel like you’ve been placed in boxes throughout your career?
The honest truth is we had finished the album pretty much and we were going through all the songs that were on it. Our manager always says the concept of keep it short and simple so people can remember it, although Dizzy Up the Girl and A Boy Named Goo aren’t necessarily short titles. Anyway, he said try to keep it short and find something people will remember.
We went through all the song titles, and once we came across the title “Boxes,” you know a box is empty. It can be full of anything you want [laughs]. To us, the imagery of that was pretty cool, and the idea that it can be whatever you want it to be, because boxes are just empty things you can put whatever you want into. We thought it was a cool concept.
One other change on this record for you was this was the first album you’ve done without Mike in 20 years or so. How much of a difference was that and did that play a role in anything?
The way the demos were all done for this record, with Pro Tools and such, the demos kind of become what you’re doing. We went in with Craig Macintyre, who’s been playing with us for the past year-and-a-half. He did most of the stuff that we did in Los Angeles. So Craig we already knew and our chops were already together with him. We had already done many, many shows with him, and an entire tour with him as well. It felt pretty natural in there doing that stuff with him.
In New York we used a couple of different drummers at Gregg Wattenberg’s studio. Craig didn’t play on the New York stuff, Sean Pelton from the Saturday Night Live band being one of them. We didn’t really know those guys and that was a little different. Once again, you were asking about keeping things fresh, and keeping things feeling new and different and exciting. That was kind of exciting, to be in that situation where you’re like, “Wow, I hope this dude gets it.” We ended up spending a little bit of time in a room with him and left with something we thought was cool.
The two songs that are yours on this record that you sing on are “Free of Me” and “Prayer in My Pocket.” What can you say about those two and how you came up with them?
I often write songs that sound a little bit more traditionally like Goo Goo Dolls songs from the old days with my stuff. There’s a little bit more guitar and drums and bass playing. I record those here in Buffalo, and then I bring those sessions into the studio with Gregg. We completely deconstruct the songs and try to find cool and different ways to approach those ideas.
Once again, on the last record it was a new process for us and for me. We had never really done it that way before. This time I knew what to expect, so I went into it a different way. I feel like we were able to make a record that really reflected the band very well with this new situation of working with collaborators and producers and things.
You’ve always typically had two or three songs on a record and I assume you write more than that. How hard is it to whittle that down and pick your best two when it comes time to record and all that stuff?
I write a bunch of songs. I probably wrote six songs that I brought into the mix on this record. It’s funny because if I write six songs, I’ll know pretty much right away which two I’m going to do. I start to hear what John’s doing. Little by little, I’ll hear his songs. I’ll start to get the vibe of his demos, and it starts to be a little bit more obvious the songs I’m going to use. Even though I wrote six here, I might bring three into the rehearsal, and then from those three it’s always pretty obvious which two are going to end up on the record.
You look back at some of your older material and there’s definitely a lot of that sad/happy back and forth, and I think a lot of it might be more melancholy than people remember it by. Then it really seemed to turn a corner around Let Love In, where it started to get a little brighter and more optimistic, and that definitely holds true for this record as well. What has that journey been like to go through?
It’s funny that you say that. That era of time started to become a very desperate era. I think we felt like hearing something positive to say was something good to do. It felt like a shot of positive energy was good. I’m not going to say Something for the Rest of Us was a very bright record. That’s probably our darkest record of all. There was definitely a need for that type of thing, and we felt like talking about those things was probably a little more productive at that point.
Looking back on your catalogue, do you feel like there is a song or an album that has gotten overlooked by most people and maybe never got the attention you thought it deserved or were fond of that didn’t catch on?
Yeah, I think the album I just mentioned, Something for the Rest of Us. I think that record never got a fair shake for some reason. Part of it might have been because like I said that was a pretty dark record for us. John was going through some shit and it got dark. I listened to it just the other day, because we’re putting some set lists together for the summer now, and I think that’s a really good record. There’s some really, really great songs on that record and I think it’s worth another listen.
Last year you celebrated the 20th anniversary of A Boy Named Goo, including a rerelease of that record, and it was that record which really catapulted you to another level of success with “Name” taking off and all that. What do you remember about that time the most and sticks out in your mind?
We had already been a band for 10 years by that point. I remember “Name” becoming popular. We had pretty much the same following, but on a much smaller level, and people thought of us as this acoustic act. We were 11 years into being a really fucking loud rock band. We would go into places and blow the room full of secretaries that heard us from work against the back wall.
People were discovering who we were, so I guess the thing I remember the most about that time was people started showing up to the shows a little bit more. Not dramatically, but more for sure. I remember the confusion of people trying to separate us from that song. The song got really big, but people didn’t really get the band. I think it took a little while for that to happen. Lucky for us lightening struck a couple times, and we ended up having “Iris” and all the rest of the songs after that for people to discover a little bit more of what we did.
It’s funny you mentioned that acoustic thing because as you said you very much started out as this loud rock band with A Boy Named Goo, Superstar Car Wash and all that stuff, and then over time have transitioned more into that acoustic sound. What’s that stylistically been like for you to change genres a little bit?
We’ve been together for so long, everything happens really progressively, slowly. We never made a left turn and were like, “Hey, we’re going to be this kind of band,” or anything like that. We just moved from record to record in what I never felt like was a jarring way. Regardless of what one thinks of Magnetic, this is not really a jarring departure from Magnetic so much. It’s just sort of a progression from what we did between Something for the Rest of Us and Boxes. It’s a progression from there to here.
I think that it’s the same thing from Jed to Superstar Car Wash. There was something that happened between those records during Hold Me Up, but it didn’t seem jarring at all. To answer your question, I don’t think there was a moment where it felt like that, like there was a dramatic change. I think it just felt like we were going into work with a newer set of tools and ideas that we had discovered since the last time we did it.
2016 is the 30th year that Goo Goo Dolls have been in existence, and as you said is something you’ve been doing the majority of your life now. Then on the flipside, you have people like me who have grown up listening to you since elementary school or junior high at the same time you grew up being in the band. What’s that experience been like, to see both within yourself and within your fan base at the same time?
You get to 30 years and that’s when you start using one candle for each decade so you don’t start a fire in your house [laughs]. I don’t know, man. Like I said, we never take for granted the fact that we can still go out and do this. From our first record, when we sold six thousand copies or something, we thought we were a successful band and thought we were doing well. In varying degrees, we still feel the same way today.
There’s been some rough spots, but Johnny and I are a family. It’s a family operation. This is what we do. Johnny writes great songs and we’ve managed to put some pretty relevant records out for the past 30 years. I don’t for a minute forget how lucky we are that it still happens.
Originally appeared on Chorus.fm