In the wake of chiming, charming, chart-topping late-'90s power ballads like "Iris," "Name" and "Slide," it's easy to forget that the Goo Goo Dolls were once a high-decibel hard-rock band signed to Metal Blade Records. But unlike a lot of their peers, the Buffalo, New York, alt-rock trio has always been open to learning new lessons.
One early wake-up call, according to co-founder Robby Takac, was hearing The Replacements. "That was the turning point for us, for sure," he says. "We were like, 'Wow! Power doesn't always have to be derived from decibels or adolescent angst!' Like their song "Waitress in the Sky" — it's powerful, but spoken in very everyday terms."
During the sessions for their 1989 sophomore album Jed, Takac and vocalist/guitarist John Rzeznik were already having serious discussions about the group's future direction. By de-emphasizing the punchy power-chords and exploring more effete fare, was the group venturing into jangly places where fans didn't really want to go?
"Our mantra was always, 'Well, if we don't do this, we're going to be angry about it when it's all over. So let's make the changes we feel that we need to make with the band, and we'll just see where the chips land,'" says Takac. "That's pretty much been our philosophy since the beginning. From record to record, it's not an insane leap; but if you start 30 years ago and then listen to Boxes, there has definitely been a progression."
Boxes is the Goo Goo Dolls' latest and 11th outing. Released in May on Warner Bros. Records, the synth-heavy, string-laden, and frankly flowery album is the band's first without longtime drummer Mike Malinin.
For ballads like "Reverse," "Lucky One" and "Flood" (Rzeznik's duet with Echosmith's Sydney Sierota), the de facto duo welcomed collaborators, with over 20 musicians contributing to the mix.
"The technology that's out there right now really opened things up for us," says Takac, who penned and sang two Boxes tracks — "Free of Me" and "Prayer in My Pocket" — and also tried his hand at programming. "We switched to this newer process, which was basically just throwing everything possible at it. There's whistling on this album, and some big crazy fat-ass synth tones, things we never would have messed with in the past."
Takac is not a stranger to experimentation. More than a decade ago, at a point when he was feeling the most listless, he formed his own record label, Good Charamel. Initially he focused on other Buffalo bands, but soon expanded to Japan and — with the aid of his Tokyo-bred wife Miyoko — began signing girl-fronted groups like Shonen Knife and Pinky Doodle Poodle.
"The type of energy that I experience with Goo Goo Dolls is awesome," he says. "But there's just another kind of energy that happens in the indie-band realm of Shonen Knife, and that was something that I really needed to remember at that point."
And through it all, Takac remains one of the most animated bass players out there, always grinning exuberantly through every last riff.
"It's the completion of the cycle," he says, when asked what could possibly keep him so upbeat after three decades onstage? "When I'm scanning the audience, and there's a 9-year-old with their 50-year-old dad, singing a song you came up with in your kitchen, right back at you? Man, if that moment doesn't do it for you, you are in the wrong business."