After more than two decades as a band, with nine albums, a catalog of songs that have become ingrained in the pop consciousness and countless concerts for millions of fans, the Goo Goo Dolls are feeling particularly good about their new album: Magnetic.
More to the point, the Goo Goo Dolls are feeling particularly good. Period.
“This album was really upbeat and fun,” says John Rzeznik, the trio’s primary singer, songwriter and guitarist since it was founded in Buffalo in 1986. “I don’t think we’ve made a record like this in a while. Just had a great time doing it.”
It’s a great time overall for the musicians. Bassist Robby Takac, whose partnership with Rzeznik has been the band’s foundation since the start, and his wife have just had their first child. And Rzeznik is getting married this summer.
Not to mention that recently three of the band’s songs placed in Billboard’s Top 100 of 2002-2012, with “Iris” standing at No. 1. That song has also connected with a new generation, as Dolls fan Taylor Swift has been performing it in her concerts.
That joy is all there in the spirit of the 11 new songs on the album, for which Rzeznik, Takac and drummer Mike Malinin — the lineup steady since 1995 — recorded in New York, London and Los Angeles with Gregg Wattenberg (Train), Rob Cavallo (Green Day), John Shanks (Bon Jovi) and Greg Wells (Katy Perry). From the celebratory single “Rebel Beat” to the love-rediscovery ballad “Slow It Down,” from the blue-collar anthem “Keep the Car Running” to the meltingly romantic “Come to Me,” Magnetic is an album bursting with a spirit of renewal. And nowhere is it more explicit than in one of two Takac-penned songs: “Happiest of Days.”
“All the writing is an extension of ourselves,” Rzeznik says. “My life’s amazing. When I sit and think about my life, it really has been incredible.”
No argument from Takac.
“It’s pretty amazing to me,” he says. “All these years now we’ve been playing in this band together and we still somehow manage to grow. That allows us to keep making it happen. We never denied what the situation was at the moment. Right now we’re here and living this moment, and some cool things are happening in our lives.”
It’s a contrast from the poetically introspective tone of 2010’s Something For the Rest of Us, which reflected some personal turmoil.
“This album feels like this is where we came out the other side and are in the daylight again,” he says. “Got a little dark on the last record. But that was something I needed to do, where I was at. This is where I am now. Yeah, you know — I got myself up, brushed myself off and looked around, and things were fine. Why not celebrate?”
Even a dark-sounding title, such as “When The World Breaks Your Heart,” reveals a world of happiness.
“That’s a song about friendship,” he says. “Real friendship. About when you find out who the people are who really care about you and love you, like on moving day, or times of need.”
With that in mind, the making of the album represented a break from past methods too. Rzeznik first worked with those collaborators on writing and pre-production of the songs.
“I approached it a lot differently this time,” Rzeznik says. “Rather than writing a whole bunch of songs and then going into the studio and recording them and seeing if it worked, as we’d done before, I would write a song, make a demo, then Robby and Mike came in and we played it. Wound up being much quicker. And I did some co-writing with Gregg Wattenberg and John Shanks, tried to let go of the outcome.”
Inspiration came from many sources.
“A lot of it got cut in a recording studio that sits 12 floors above Times Square, full of windows,” he says. “You’re at the cultural epicenter of Western civilization. It was unbelievably stimulating. In a lot of ways this is a real New York record.”
Opening song “Rebel Beat,” co-written by Rzeznik with Wattenberg, sets that tone, growing out of a summer stroll the singer took in Lower Manhattan, coming across an Italian neighborhood street party.
“Everyone was having a great time, little kids, old people — and the smell of everything, and it was so hot. I just wanted to be part of it so bad!”
Such scenes are evoked throughout, the music carrying the spirit as much as the lyrics. For “More of You,” Shanks and Rzeznik experimented, subtly, with electronics, the anthemic sound portraying a resolute pursuit of love. The two painted the “complications” of relationships with equal flair with the elated-yet-tumultuous sound of “Caught in the Storm.” Takac brings another rock twist to “Bringing On the Light,” with piano and organ giving a feel that he says is in part inspired by the great English band Badfinger.
And for “Bulletproof Angel,” a soaring ballad co-written by Rzeznik and long-time friend Andy Stochansky, producer Greg Wells brought in orchestrator Joel McNeely for a full strings arrangement, the latter recorded at London’s legendary Abbey Road.
At the core throughout is the Goo Goo Dolls’ blue-collar Buffalo origins, the same energy that fueled the group when if first garnered buzz on the local, then regional and then national club scenes. Nowhere is it more explicit than on “Keep the Car Running,” a song about the disillusionment of youth, about wanting to escape, but also an earnest love-letter to home.
“Buffalo had its own unique sound,” Rzeznik says. “I think we definitely retain that. When I pick up an acoustic guitar and start singing, it’s me. We can’t be anybody else. I like what I sing. We like what we write. And if we don’t like it, we don’t play it.”