Robby Takac of The Goo Goo Dolls
What better way to ensure a summer blockbuster hit in the theaters? Well, throwing a Goo Goo Dolls song on the soundtrack never hurts! Currently touring in support of their latest release Let Love In, the band took a break to film the video for the new song they penned for The Transformers movie. The ballad, Before It’s Too Late, delivers the goods in true Goo Goo Dolls fashion. Chalk it up as just another song to add to their repertoire, a repertoire spanning twenty years that is.
It has really been over twenty years since the members of the band first met in Buffalo and started writing music together and maturing into the musicians they’ve become today. In an industry that is so self-implosive, the Goo Goo Dolls have figured out the secret of longevity and the ongoing magic of writing relevant music album after album. Modest bassist Robby Takac attributes their longevity to luck but there’s definitely a bit more to it than that.
From their early days of a punk inspired garage band to their latest radio ready hits, the band has alway had the ability to transform their raw, natural talent into beautifully arranged songs that translate to a vast array of people. Let Love In offers up inspiration and hope for the future through insightful lyrics and continues to show the evolution of the band. There seems to be no place like home for these guys to get their creative juices flowing. Their eighth studio album was written in their hometown of Buffalo in a Masonic Temple. Lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Johnny Rzeznik attributes this “back to their roots” approach for the outcome of the album.
Recently bassist Robby took time out of their hectic touring schedule to catch up with us on the band, their careers, his side projects, politics, and of course – his love for PEZ!
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette | August 2007
You recently wrote a song for The Transformers soundtrack called Before Its Too Late. Were you into Transformers when you were younger?
No I sort of missed that. I was in more of a tinker toy, lincoln log world. We made our own transformers I guess. Rubber bands, pencils, I guess I missed it by a little bit but I do have to say it’s pretty crazy. I haven’t actually seen the movie itself from start to finish but I’ve seen our video and from my understanding you can pretty much get the gist of the movie from the video. (you can watch the video here)
About that video – was the rooftop performance the bands idea?
Obviously it’s such an epic movie, we were just trying to figure a way to poke ourselves out and become at all relevant in this situation. It’s hard. We’ve done movie stuff in the past successfully and not so successfully so I think that we were really looking for something that was epic. That building is in our neighborhood, we see it every day, so the idea kind of came up as a bit of a joke. I don’t think anyone really thought it was going to happen because the building was a huge advertisement for the movie. As they tend to do in Hollywood, impress themselves on the way into work every day, for whatever reason, I don’t know, seems like a lot of money to spend for one town. It was funny, we got everything up there, the building isn’t even finished so as you can imagine we had to get the safety inspector and we’re out there doing and I’m thinking to myself, no ones going to believe we really did this..
Yeah we thought you were CGI’ed onto the top of the building..
Exactly. In the Iris video John’s like four feet from the ground and nobody knows. It was really pretty cool though and a lot of fun, we had helicopters flying around our heads, just a blast, one of those field trip days.
The Transformers Soundtrack
So, Let Love In, is it true that that’s the first album that you and John wrote together since Superstar Car Wash.
Well I wouldn’t say since Superstar but it was certainly the first record that we were in the same room for most of the writing process. We started out writing absolutely everything together because none of us really knew how to do it. As we progressed and learned how to do it more and more cohesively on our own, one thing led to another and before you knew it we were writing songs separately and bringing them into rehearsal. We’d basically play the songs in rehearsal and off we went. On this one a lot of the songs were born from sparks of ideas that we had while we were all in a room together so I think to us when we went in to record this record and we had some idea where we were going. We always sort of threw it up in the air and left it up to the producer to figure out what we were doing because were so close to it. I think having worked with Rob as we did for ten years we became a little bit reliant upon him, as you do, because of the situation. When we decided to part ways with Rob this year and go with a new producer I think we learned a lot more about us as a band making records as opposed to going in with the same team we had. I think what we learned is that a lot of what we were doing was us, we just weren’t confident enough to walk in and say “we can do this on our own”. I still don’t think we can go in and do it on our own and do a whole record…
But you did produce the song for the Transformers movie on your own didn’t you?
Yeah but that was one song, managing to get through fourteen songs in a reasonable amount of time is a different story. We didn’t even know if it was a Goo Goo Dolls song when John was starting on it. He wrote a song and was going to record it for the movie and he just had a demo he was kicking around and then we all got together and decided to put our heads together and make a Goo Goo Dolls song as opposed to a song that John had written for the film which I don’t really know what the difference is but there seems to be one.
For the songs that you sing lead on, is that incorporated into the writing process or when is that decided?
As things have progressed John’s songs seem to set the tone for the record so we listen to what he’s got and then we pare through the 20-40 ideas that I bring in, just little chunks of ideas that I have and see which ones seem to fit the process at the moment the best and then we work from there.
So if it’s a song that you brought in then you would sing it?
Listen ended up being a song that John brought in actually. We put a piece of my music from another song I had brought in and combined them. So there’s really no set process for this record, which I think is a better way of answering the question that you asked me. I think that the writing process was a lot more open this time than it ever was. In the process of shopping for producers we had met some people and John had worked on songs with them, so I think the process just in general was a lot more open and it was good for us.
Rumor has it there is a plan for two greatest hits albums this fall? Can you tell us about those and why there will be two?
Yes. There will be the one with all the songs that were on the radio. I think we’re going to call it Volume 1 – The Singles, that kind of thing. The second one will just be Volume Two and that will be a couple of discs with songs we really think should be on there, not just the songs that made it to the radio.
There’s so much more to you guys than just the radio singles..
Yeah, that shows one portion of the band that was successful. We thought it was a good idea to do it this way so the people that enjoy the radio portion of The Goo Goo Dolls will have one and the other discs will have three brand new songs.
You guys have been rocking it now for over 20 years. Not a lot of bands survive that long especially in todays day and age where bands are here today and gone before you can finish listening to their first album. What do you think was different about The Goo Goo Dolls and how you were able to stand the test of time and still write great music?
I totally get what you’re saying and I don’t know, all I can say to you is that I think we’re super lucky. There’s a lot of bands who are still out there doing it. I have tons of friends in bands who are still out there playing and still making records. I don’t know what the answer to that is aside from the fact that we’re lucky.
So you don’t know the secret?
I don’t know what it is. I think part of it is that we sort of kept our heads down and just did our thing. A lot of the time where a trend was going one way or the other, we just kept our heads down and kept doing what we were doing. I think there’s something to be said for longevity, people start to endear themselves to what you do and you start to endear yourself to those people at the same time. The internet really has been a help for us, even though it’s absolutely destroyed the record industry. There’s nothing we can do about that, it’s just what it is. All I can think to do now is look at the positive attributes that we’ve got out of the web and that’s the fact that at any given moment, in fact, if you wanted me to tell them something right now, I can reach two hundred and fifty thousand people who care. I couldn’t do something like that a few years ago, it was impossible because you just couldn’t reach that many people who actually cared and now we can and for as long as the web is around we’ll be able to reach them. It’s a pretty beneficial thing for a band like us..
..a band that has already established themselves..
Yes, there’s a point where the record industry gives up on you, and you see it band after band. We had the unfortunate coincidence of releasing a record the month that Time Magazine said on their cover “hey, never pay for music again” in so many words, and that was right after our biggest record. No one really knew the consequences of burning music. I don’t even know that it was the downloading that was the problem, I think it was the tens of thousands of cartons of blank media that all of these places are still making money off of as they sell. I think that’s the biggest problem, and the fact that there’s a billion other things to do besides buy records these days.
You know what it’s crazy, when I was a kid you had a few choices – NBC, ABC, CBS, the radio or go outside. That was it. I always picked the radio and that’s what led me to being a huge music fan, that’s why I still to this day go out and buy five or six records a week, because I can’t stop. I just love it. Now I just lose track of them though. I put them in my itunes and then I never see them again.
That’s the thing I hate about itunes, it’s taken away that tangible thing and the excitement of buying a new album on Tuesdays. Now it’s just like, download it and forget about it..
Even worse, I buy them and lose them. I literally buy the hard copies because I feel the same way you do and I feel like if I’m going to spend the money I want to have it and then of course I just can’t keep track of them. But I’m never home..so that’s my excuse.
A lot of people forget or never knew that you guys started off as sort of a punk-ish kind of band on Metal Blade records and you were the lead singer…looking back on that, what do you miss most about those early days?
I guess just the feeling of having nothing to lose and the camaraderie was a lot of fun. The irreverence, consuming lots of very very cheap alcohol, girls, and the whole thing was a blast but that’s the life of a twenty year old. I was living that life whether I was on tour or not because that’s the life I loved. At the same time, we all lived in the same apartment and at the end of the month we were calling our friends for rent. Back then there was a romantic notion, that all for one sort of thing that tends to fade when you grow up. It’s not about the band really, you just grow up and your views of how the earth rotates change. That’s probably one of the reasons why we’re still together, I try to be realistic enough about the way things are and the opportunities that are out there and not get too bent out of shape looking over the fence into the neighbors yard. I’m thankful when I wake up every morning that I’m able to be in this position that I’m in right now and that makes the day a little easier.
I definitely have to say that your personality as far as having that kind of glass half full mentality shines through. I’ve read your blogs and your personality comes through loud and clear, as a fan it’s always nice to see that.
Yeah, you know it’s just cool. This tour is going to be over in October and we’ll be starting a new record. I was sitting in the back lounge the other day talking to Brad telling him that I don’t even know what I’m going to do. It will be eighteen months straight that we’ve been driving around doing shows five days a week, I love it, but I also love the idea of being in one place for a little while. I think my wife and cats and I are moving back to Buffalo for a year. We’re opening up a studio there.
Yeah I read that, now is that a studio that will be open to the public to rent out?
Yeah, I guess if we like you. This is all part of that master plan that I was getting into before. The record company, although it’s still important, it’s become less of a control issue because we use to have to go through our publicist to talk to people, we don’t anymore. Things have come that far. If you’re interested, you can find out what the bass player in the Goo Goo Dolls is doing every day. I know, interesting, right? I am by no means an A-list celebrity but the thing is I get out and I let people know what I’m doing. And the great thing about it is, that information is only out there if you want it. That’s the awesome thing about the web.
You’re not forcing yourself on anyone..
Right, and like I said, internally I think that helps after all these years. Human beings question themselves, that’s just our nature. Everybody needs some sort of validation, but to know that those people are actually still out there and not taking the word of corporate America, it really helps things. Then we go out and do our tours and they’re still there. It’s awesome.
Speaking of, you started a record company in 2003. Can you tell us what the inspiration was for that and how things have been going?
Yeah, at probably the worst time in history to start one. John was writing and doing some stuff and I opened a little studio in Buffalo with some friends of mine and I was just spending some time there and started recorded with some bands. I didn’t want to take the time or go through the frustration of trying to shop the bands out to people so I just decided to release them on my own. A lot of it was a labor of love. Once again it’s very difficult.
Care to promote any of your artists?
Last Conservative is writing another record right now. The Juliet Dagger was just in Japan recording, we’re working on a tour in the States for them. I’ve got a record coming out by a little side project I do called Amungus which is a dance kind of thing. It’s pretty cool, something completely different. The main reason I like doing all of this stuff is I get to hang out back home and it gives me a reason to be there. I was there, and I found out there was a vacancy in one of the places that we did our first record in and so now we’re building a studio in the place where we recorded our first three records.
That also has to contribute to the fact that you guys are able to get along so well after so long, having those other outside interests must help right?
I think it helps for me. It helps me appreciate what I’ve got. It’s a huge reality check for me and I love that. I love being able to walk out on the stage and feel like I’m fortunate and not feel like this is just another show on a huge tour and depressed to be out there.
This was a fan submitted question from Germany – how do you feel about private concert recordings which are publish on pages like Youtube?
I think it’s great, honestly. The way they come down now, I think it’s amazing. Obviously at some point you can see it evolving into a problem. When people can start sharing full feature films the day they come out that’s going to be a huge problem. I think YouTube and things like that is all promotion right now. And the thing about YouTube is you really have to go through a process to post your videos there. It’s another tool for the fans.
I have to let my inner dork come out for a minute here because you and I share a passion for collecting PEZ. I don’t get to say that too often to musicians so I’m pretty excited.
Well wait until you hear this – you’re not even going to believe this. I was friends with the old CEO and I just got to meet the new president when I was in Connecticut. I had written this cartoon for PEZ a couple of years ago and I brought it in to show them and it kind of went in one ear and out the other because they weren’t very interested in expanding back in the early days, so…I got to talking to him about the cartoon again and he invited me out for a tour of the factory. I’m walking through this room and there’s this huge machine sitting there that’s from 1950..maybe 53 or 54, and it’s a PEZ candy making machine from Austria that had been put out of commission maybe five years ago…and he gave it to me.
NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Are you kidding me? You have your own PEZ making machine?
How cool is that! Well, I don’t think it can work anymore because it has to be hooked up to compressors. It weighs about 900 pounds, I have to figure out some way to get it from CT to my home in L.A. but can you believe it? That machine has made billions of PEZ! I couldn’t believe it, my jaw hit the ground. It’s like the holy grail.
That is absolutely insane. I’m jealous. So what about the PEZ cartoon, did you get anywhere with that?
Not that particular one but I did voice a cartoon for PEZ. There are two fifteen minute cartoon segments that are coming out direct to DVD this year, for Christmas actually, and I did the voice of Peter PEZ and the voice of Santa Claus and I wrote the theme song for it and Juliet Dagger recorded it actually…AND I just got a 1970s Dopey.
*gasp* You DID?
I know, How cool is that!
So what are the highlights of your collection and not just the ones that are worth the most but your personal favorites?
I have a die-cut Casper that I love, I have a die-cut Mickey that I love. Remember the alien, the space alien that kind of looks like the astronaut, I have him. My father and a bunch of friends had the guys from Celebrity Deathmatch make PEZ dispensers of my wife and I for our wedding present. Then there were the ones that were on my wedding cake, I’ve got all sorts of favorites.
I know you have some strong political views, do you have a head start on who you think you’ll be voting for in our next election?
I think that whoever’s coming in next has a horrible job in front of them, whether they are Republican or Democrat. I think that the smartest thing that this country can do right now would be to start impeachment proceedings against the vice-president, because he’s a criminal. I think if we did that then it would trickle up, which is unusual, but it would show that there was a misguided policy in our country for the last eight years and it would give us some platform to start to speak to the international community as a reasonable super power, because we are unreasonable at the moment. I think that’s about our only hope to fix this whole thing. Unfortunately I don’t see it happening so now we’re down to that 50/50 rhetoric that we’ve had for the last two years again, where its going to boil down to gay marriage and abortion vs. us. It’s just going to be a mess again unfortunately. I see it being Hilary and Obama on the Democratic front. If I were to pick out of any of them, I’d probably say that I like Richardson the best. I think that he’s smart and he understands foreign policy. Unfortunately he’s not the best speaker and that really causes a problem.
I think it’s great that you speak out on these things, I think a lot of people in America don’t take the time to educate themselves so I think if a fan can look up to someone that does speak out, it will inspire them to be a little more educated and seek out their own truths.
We as a band try to choose the applicable times so we’re not blowing our horns all of the time.
Well exactly, I don’t want to go to a concert and pay to listen to someone preach their political beliefs to me, at the same time I respect that you have other outlets that you bring it to where I can tune in or tune out.
We’ve been out with Michael Moore and MoveOn.org, we’re not afraid to do it but we try to save our ammo for when we need it.