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
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
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
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
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
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?
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.
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.