Robby Tackac of the Goo Goo Dolls on how the Internet has affected the music business
The music industry has changed in fundamental ways since bassist Robby Takac started the Goo Goo Dolls (due tonight at 1STBANK Center with Michelle Branch and Parachute) with guitarist and songwriter John Rzeznik in the late 1980s. In their more than two decades of existence, the band has tapped into major mainstream success with their marriage of pop balladry and straight-ahead rock.
They've also had to change with the times, acclimating to the transformation wrought by the rise of digital music. In advance of its show at 1STBANK Center, we spoke with Takac about the band's new approach to making music, their recent appearances as the headlining act for halftime shows at the Pro Bowl and the Rose Bowl and his favorite memories from Red Rocks.
Westword: What's the band's touring schedule been like since you released Something For the Rest of Us last year?
Robby Takac: It's been an interesting cycle for us, actually a lot different than any other time we've done a record. Generally, when we do the record, we finish the record, we have a little chunk of time, the record comes out, we start promoting the recording and then we go out on tour.
With this record, we finished the record, worked on it a little while longer than we thought we were going to initially. Our initial release date got screwed up, and our next release date was so far away that we just decided to go out and start touring in April of 2010, on a record that wasn't going to be out until August. We were out playing brand new songs that people had never heard before. We got a big taste of how the internet has really affected this business in a positive way - we had whole roomfuls of people singing along to songs that we had not released yet.
Getting back to your question, the byproduct of that is that we've been on tour for a really long time. [Laughs] It's been since April, 2010, pretty much straight. This leg of the tour with Michelle Branch and Parachute, we're probably a month in. It's been five to six shows a week. It's been really busy, man, but the more the band plays the tighter it gets.
Speaking of a the different dynamic as far as releasing new material and touring, the band also provided a single for the latest Transformers movie soundtrack. How has that changed up the promotional approach?
I think we still feel like we're on tour for the Something for the Rest of Us record. Obviously, any time you can connect your band's name to something that's as media-on-the-present as the Transformers franchise or anything like that - a big football game - it's a great thing for the band, especially since things are operating a lot differently than they used to.
One of your biggest successes, the song "Iris," also originated as a soundtrack single. I think there are so many things that are far beyond your control for something to get that unbelievably successful that you can't really use that as a gauge of reality. I think coming to terms with that made things a little easier for us as a band as we progressed. God, that was almost twelve years ago now.
Going back to the changing face of the business, what would you say has been the biggest transformation that you've noticed since you first started playing in the '80s?
When we were coming up, we had a circle of people we knew who traded records and traded cassettes and mix tapes. That was how you got into the underbelly, college radio. Then there was this other game, which was the major label game. You toyed with that a little bit.
I think the playing field has been leveled significantly. Just like people have their own designed apartments, people have their own production facilities, they have their own ability to get out there and get into the meat of humanity. The internet is everywhere now. That's how you reach out to folks. I think it's formed a really interesting dynamic.
It's sucked a lot of the money out of the industry, but I think your ability to get out there and get in front of people has become a huge thing. That's if you can rip them away from their computer long enough to come out to a show. People don't love music any less than they ever did. They're just consuming it in different ways.
How do you think the last album reflects your own evolution as a bass player?
It's hard to talk about something that I do in general. I think the talent of what I do is being able to fit into the band better, at least in a more comfortable way. I think it's hard to narrow it down to an individual basis.
But I think that this record, we had a lot of input. Some of that came after it was recorded. We went back into the studio and reworked a few songs for the better. I think we learned a lot about grabbing a record on our own and making it, as opposed to letting it go through the process. You can tell that this is a record that we made.
Are there any songs that especially reflect that organic process?
There's a song called "Hey Ya" where we kind of went in to do some guitar work. Before you knew it, we had a drum set up; before you knew it, we were recutting pretty much everything until we had it. It grew into something that was a little different of an animal. It was the exact opposite with "Home."
We were done with all the songs, and we thought we really needed another upbeat song on the record. We went in with John Fields and cut a track in two days. It sounds as fresh as the rest of the record to me. Some of those songs are a year and a half of kicking tracks around.
How has the chemistry in the band evolved since you first started playing?
It's a hard question to answer. Things never happen in one way. There's always such a variety in the way things end up coming about. I think John tends to keep finding those different varieties of ways. He meets people and he writes a song with them. He bashes it out in a dark room in the studio. It's its own adventure. I do think that the thing that ends up staying the same is, of course, John's songwriting and the way the band takes the music and interacts with it.
What was it like playing the halftime shows for big football games like the Pro Bowl and the Orange Bowl?
We've done a ton of those types of things last year. I think we did three football games. It was weird to come out the night before and do a sound check, and you end up recording the music for those the night before. They don't want to actually have to do the live music. The singer just sings over the track that you recorded the night before, they do that a lot.
You set all your stuff up, you play the song and you record it. There are some people running around in track suits on the field. Then you come out the day of the game and it's like you're in the middle of a Macy's Day Parade, you know. They rehearse all the parts separately from each other, and then they put them all together and you're like, "Oh my god, what's going on?"
There's six-hundred kids with bee costumes on. In Hawaii, they had fire dancers and drummers and girls in NFL hoochie mamma outfits running around. It's this huge blowout for this really short performance. But the exposure is priceless. If you're trying to get on Twitter, that's a huge boost to your stature at that particular moment.
Do you guys get a chance to work on new material when you're on the road?
John was doing a little of that on this tour. But it's been fairly grueling. We've been doing a lot of traveling and a lot of shows on the road. We definitely think that it's super important that you have stuff out continuously and that you're moving forward continuously now.
We were waiting four years between records, and that's based on a model that really doesn't function anymore. The web is getting so much stimulus so quickly and you have to keep yourself in that stream. Like the Transformers single, I see a lot more stuff like that on the horizon as we move forward to have enough songs to put another record together.
Are there any songs from the new record or farther back in the catalogue that are your favorites to play?
We always play "Slide" real early in the set. That's always a real fun one to play, because you know that everyone knows that one. That's the first song that we do that you know everybody knows, especially on this tour. We're opening with songs that aren't on any record. In this climate, it's a really cool thing to have out there.
Do people still freak out for "Iris"?
Yeah, they do, man. (Laughs). That song takes up a cool place in people's hearts. If you lose that connection that you make when you're a playing a song that people really love like that, I think you need to find another job. It's such a great moment. We've been playing it a long time, but the feeling is different every time you do it.
You're playing the 1STBANK Center on this stop in Colorado, but you've played Red Rocks multiple times. What's your fondest memory from that venue?
We've never played 1STBANK. We're looking forward to that. We've played Red Rocks a whole bunch of times - we shot a PBS special there one time. It airs all the time - it's one of the first HD offerings. When you're on the stage, the thing that stands out the most is how you can see everyone, you can see everyone's face. The way the lighting is, it lights everyone up. It's amazing - you can see everyone's reaction. I just remember walking out and going, 'Holy cow - look at all those faces.' You get that feeling every time you go out there.