Getting in the Ring
An Interview with Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls
By Myshele Goldberg - edited for downhillbattle.org

At first glance, you wouldn’t expect Top 40 radio darlings the Goo Goo Dolls to be critical of the music industry or politically conscious. But in seventeen years of evolution from garage punks into mainstream rockers, John Rzeznik, Robby Takac, and Mike Malinin (replacing original drummer George Tutuska in 1995) have learned that NOT questioning authority can get you in trouble. After their wildly successful fifth album, A Boy Named Goo, the band was still deep in debt to label Metal Blade, as a result of a grossly unfair contract which they’d signed without much question in 1989. They filed a lawsuit and toured endlessly to pay their legal bills, and have since signed on with Warner Bros. Records. But they’re not afraid to speak out, and have encouraged fans on their website to “question the things that seem odd to you.”

If the Goos are in a good position to critique the music industry bosses, they’re also in a good position to critique the practice of internet downloading, since their latest album, Gutterflower, logged over a million downloads in its first week, while record sales have remained modest. Hits from their 1998 album, Dizzy Up the Girl, have also been top downloads.

I was recently able to talk with Robby Takac about these issues, plus his political views and the opening of his studio, Chameleonwest, in his hometown of Buffalo, NY. In June 2003, Chameleonwest hosted a Music Is Art festival to coincide with the popular Allentown Art Festival, giving over 30 local bands exposure to hundreds of thousands of visitors. A CD/DVD produced during the festival became the first release on Good Charamel Records, which plans to give continued support to Buffalo bands.

Can you start off with some background information on the Music Is Art festival? How did it get started?

Sure….. We did a two-day festival here in town and had about thirty bands play. At the end of it had six video shoots and decided to do a benefit for a local cancer institute. And that became the first release on what is now Good Charamel Records. I guess the reason I decided to get into that is because the music industry is kind of in a weird place right now, it seems. I think anyone has the chance of coming up with the way things are gonna work next, ya know? So I decided to get in the ring.

How would you like things to work?

I would like them to work well for me! I’d like things to work out well! No, how would I like them to work? I would like to see people buying music again, excited about buying music again. I think it’s not that difficult to get yourself in a situation where you can get people excited about stuff, if your bands are good enough. So this first release that’s coming is sort of a test run for us. It was all done live, everybody had one chance. I think it came out pretty well, all things considered. And the next record that’s coming out is by a band called The Last Conservative. Which is a kid named TJ and his band. He’s a passionate kid who plays the guitar and sings his guts out, right up my alley. So I’ve been spending some time with him, and his record’s gonna come out in November.

It’s only been a couple of months since the festival happened, but have you seen any visible effects in the Buffalo music scene since the festival, or do you expect it to be more from the DVD?

I think it’s the whole thing. I think it’s just a matter of people knowing there’s a place for people to show up and make their records and get involved in a scene, ya know? I guess that’s what we’re kinda trying to put together, some sort of scene here. And hopefully catch the interest of some people locally and nationally, internationally as well.

Do you think that sort of scene is unique to Buffalo, or could other cities pull it off?

Well, I think what we did here was a little bit ballsy because we were sort of challenging an institution that had been around for an awfully long time. The weekend of our festival there was an art festival that goes here in the neighborhood that our studio is in, so we opened the same days, which they didn’t really dig too much, oh well. I just felt there were half a million people in my neighborhood, so it seemed like a good day to have a show for me. To me, it seemed pretty obvious.

Do you have any advice for people trying to revitalize the music scene in their own city?

Um, I think you gotta remember that in order to revitalize your scene at home, you gotta leave. It’s amazing how people locally look at a band that goes elsewhere and does well, they take on a bit of a different luster when they come back. People know that they’ve spread their thing around. In terms of Buffalo there’s definitely a vibe here that’s pretty apparent in a lot of the stuff that we decided to work with here. I mean, this has always been a working class town full of some pretty intense folks, I think it’s gonna be really cool to hopefully have the rest of the country and hopefully elsewhere get a taste of what happens here.

Do you think that networks of independent music scenes in different cities could grow into some kind of alternative to the current system that we have?

Well, that’s the way it worked for us when we were comin’ up in the 80s and stuff. It was all about going out and meeting a band in Providence and going out to open for them and doing what you could to make the next step to the next city. It’s always one of those things where the next gig was only a van ride and a couple phone calls away if you made the right friends. So for us, that’s what we spent an awful lot of time doing, developing that network of people which eventually ended up being a legitimate record deal – and kept us going. It was nice to be in a band that only sold 8,000 records and be able to draw a thousand people in Providence, Rhode Island. That was fun!

What are your thoughts on the current state of the music industry?

I think there’s way too few people involved in it. I guess that’s my overview statement of the whole thing. My overview synopsis of it is that there are too few people making all the decisions in radio, too few people making all the decisions in record companies at the distributorship level, at the publicity level. And I think right now, things have gotten to the point with the Internet, with technology and public opinion going the way it seems to be going, that the little guy seems to be having more and more of a chance, as far as the music industry goes. The only thing that stands between the guys who are sitting in front of computers at Sony trying to figure out how to make this new way of distributing music work, the only difference between themselves and myself is the fact that they have to wear a suit to work everyday. We have the same computers, the same software, now let’s figure this fuckin’ thing out, ya know what I mean? Excuse my French, but ya know what I mean? It’s like, people have spent so much time bitching and litigating, it’s like, Jesus, you can’t litigate people into obeying an unenforceable law. But you can ask people, well, what’s gonna make this different? It’s like, we’re gonna offer full downloads of our CDs and PDF file graphics. What’s the advantage? You don’t have to rename all the songs. They all pop up on your hard drive and you get all the album graphics if you want to burn yourself a CD, you can. There’s things you can try to do. We’re gonna have every song on the record, you can preview it. After thirty seconds, it’ll turn over into a pay site and you can pay 75 cents and you just download the song, however it’s gonna work. We’re just trying new things, seeing how people react. And if they do, we’re confident our signings are gonna be good enough. It’s just a question of getting people to pay attention and buy records now.

Shifting gears a bit, you’ve said before that you feel a responsibility to share your opinions –

Well, only because people ask me. I think it’s important. If somebody asks me, yes, I’ll absolutely 100% give my opinion.

Do you think talking about the issues is important, and do you think ordinary people have any influence on world affairs?

Yeah – en masse. I think ordinary people can influence world affairs, it’s like anything else, when public opinion sways, and they actually go out and vote, things change. It’s a proven fact, you know? My opinion is that there’s a lot of injustices going on right now in our government. I feel like if I don’t raise my voice that I feel things are that way, that maybe people who aren’t as comfortable expressing their views won’t either. Once again, if people ask me, I will give my opinion. But I don’t want to start fights.

Are you guys going to be getting involved in the election process like you did in 2000?

Absolutely, 100%.

Anything your fans can do to help with that effort?

Yeah, you know what they can do? Register. Number one, that’s what they can do. Register, because otherwise it doesn’t matter. You’ve got no right to argue unless you vote.

Don’t vote, can’t complain.

That’s it.

Your wife is Japanese. Has her international perspective made you see America in a different light at all?

Yeah, absolutely. Sharing our lives together, I get a lot of Japanese news and stuff like that. We just read a thing from the Mayor of Hiroshima that would make your hair stand up on end, dude. It’s begging people to reconsider – America is trying right now to develop what they call “practical nuclear weapons.” You should talk to some Japanese folks about those things, see how practical they are. Touring all over the world, I feel like apologizing to people sometimes for the mess the world’s in right now. I’m incredibly proud to be an American because I think America is a great, great country. But I also feel that our government’s making some horrific decisions as far as national interests and international policies go. I know I’m not standing on popular ground saying these things, but once again, you asked me, that’s the way I feel.

Absolutely. What are some positive things you see happening in the world right now? To end on a positive note…

I see people taking a look at what’s going on right now and going, “what the hell’s going on? Why is unemployment high? Why do we owe all this money? Why does the rest of the world hate us?” I think people are starting to realize, after all that stuff that came down in 2001, I think people look at things in a different manner now. I don’t think there’s a doomsday prophecy right now, I don’t think people want that. I think people want to see things to get better.

For more information on Chameleonwest Studios or Good Charamel Records, visit chameleonwest.com.