Last week I connected with Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik, who was on tour in Florida, to chat about his relationship with Robby Takac. (You can read my Takac profile here.)
The conversation with Rzeznik extended far beyond a few soundbites about his bandmate of 30 years, and I think it's worth sharing. Rzeznik and I discussed his soon-to-be fatherhood (Rzeznik's wife Melina is due in December), his battle with alcoholism (he's been sober for two years) and what's drawing him back to his hometown of Buffalo. (Rzeznik moved to Los Angeles in the late '90s but is moving to New Jersey and has been spending more time in Western New York, both personally and professionally.)
Here are some outtakes from our interview, edited for clarity, language and space:
Q: Most new dads' heads are flooded. What's on your mind?
A: For me, the two things I keep thinking about are “Don’t screw this up” and “I have to work a lot harder.” I know it’s not about money but I just want to make sure that we’re covered. I just want my daughter to be respectful and nice to people. I want her to understand the importance of being humble. I don’t want to raise someone who feels entitled.
Q: Have you talked to Robby about these things?
A: Yeah. The thing is, how do you discipline them? In my family, my earliest memory of you get out of line is — BAM! It was a lot of corporal punishment. But you can’t do that. I don’t want to do that. I figure there’s got to be a way to outsmart the kid. I always ask him, and just watching him is really interesting. Because we’re gone so much, he had a very interesting perspective on it. He has to defer to his wife a bit at times, because she’s in the mix of it every single day.
Q: Knowing you'll be on tour next spring and summer, do you plan to bring your daughter on the road?
A: Well, considering she’ll only by three months old when we start next summer’s tour, I don’t know if I can bring her. I’d love to. Robby got to bring Hana and she’s old enough now that she’s on the side of the stage listening to the music, and she dances and all that kind of stuff, and she really gets it. I would love for my daughter to be able to see me in that capacity at some point.
Q: What’s been the biggest challenge you and Robby have conquered in your relationship?
A: Boundaries, and both of us figuring out how to listen to each other. Respecting each others’ boundaries. After 30 years we know which buttons to push on each other to really, really piss each other off, but you just choose not to do that because it’s not effective. You know what I mean?
Robby and I worked really hard for those 30 years. That’s something people don’t understand. This band has always been me and Robby. And it’s always been me and Robby making the hard decisions and making the sacrifices that needed to be made.
I hate talking about it, but it’s relevant to what we’re talking about: Robby and I – our lines of communication – were pretty much cut until I got sober a couple years ago. I didn’t want to deal with him. He didn’t want to deal with me. It was incredibly frustrating for both of us to figure out a way to communicate with each other. Luckily, I was at a point where I just bottomed out and I couldn’t go on living like that anymore. I’m lucky I escaped. But the thing was, you know, he stuck around. He stuck around the whole time. He quit drinking about 10 years ago. Once I sobered up it was kind of interesting, because we actually started to communicate with each other again. It just made everything fun again. It reminded me of the way he and I were at the beginning of this, but without the booze getting in the way.
Q: What role did Robby play in trying to help you stop drinking?
A: Everybody tried, and here’s the deal: If you’re an addict, and you’re not ready to quit, all you’re going to do is tell everybody to go --- themselves. You’re going to do what you want, because that’s part of it ... It’s the thing I learned. Nobody knew which guy was walking in the room, so after a while, everybody just kind of went, "Whoa, OK, we don’t know which John is going to walk into the room, so we’re all going to kind of like keep a safe distance." And it sucks, because it just kind of perpetuates the isolation of it.
Yeah, (Robby) tried. I told him to go ---- himself, because I felt like, "Everybody is trying to control me." The scary part of alcoholism and addiction and that is until a person is ready to stop, they’re not gonna, and there’s nothing anyone can do. There’s nothing anyone can say or do. And the unfortunate part is sometimes people die because of that. That’s the only way. Luckily that didn’t happen to me, and he was there when I finally came out of the dark.
Q: What have you learned about Robby in those last couple of years?
A: As he’s gotten older, he’s gotten better at responding to situations instead of reacting to them. He’s got a lot of really good insight into human sort of matters. Look, I come from a pretty crazy family, you know? I love my sisters but we grew up in a really ---- insane home. Robby is from a really stable family. That’s something that’s always made me envious of him, but I also admired it, and it made me realize how important building a really solid family is.
Q: I saw an interview recently where you were asked what advice you'd give to your younger self. You said, in essence, 'put down the bottle and don't move out of Buffalo.' Expand on why you wish you hadn't left Buffalo.
A: When we first got some success, at that time it was really sort of necessary because you had to be in Los Angeles. It was 1998-99; Robby and I moved out to Los Angeles. At that time you had to be there because it wasn’t like it is now, with (technology to) make a record anywhere and shoot files all over. All that business was in Los Angeles.
It was kind of hard to have any real privacy in Buffalo. It got really difficult to have a private life in Buffalo, so we left. You know, it was a really fun adventure for a little while, but it’s just such an unhealthy place. For me it was an unhealthy place, because I uprooted myself and I didn’t have my core with me. Robby was out there for a long time, and my manager lived there, and I was dating girls from Los Angeles. It got really heady and fun for a while. I met my wife, who’s from New York, and she moved out there with me, and we’re moving back to (New Jersey) where her mom lives. It’s a 45-minute plane ride to Buffalo.
In retrospect I guess I had to leave Buffalo to go through whatever I had to do to get to where I am right now, which is amazing. It’s the best I ever felt in my life. But I miss my home. When I go back now and I see how that city has just risen, where that city for so many years – so many years – Robby and I would travel all over the world and that city was like the butt of a joke. It was always a punchline: You guys are from Buffalo, it’s just chicken wings and snow. It always insulted me. It always got under my skin when people would talk about where I’m from like that.
Now the entrepreneurship and the innovation and the fact that whoever is in charge is actually loosening up and letting amazing things happen to the renaissance. The catalyst to the renaissance in that city – whoever that is or whatever group of people that is – it’s phenomenal to me. That’s one of the most satisfying, fulfilling places to live now.
When I think of the quality of what’s going on there, and the rehabilitation of the architecture, all the new jobs coming in because of the medical corridor, and just the fact that mostly all the entrepreneurs in Buffalo are opening these incredible restaurants, these great bars, even though I don’t drink. One of the last times I got drunk, I got drunk in the Hotel Lafayette and I sat there for about 14 hours drinking the beer that they make there, and it was SO good! This city is amazing. I love the fact that people are (saying), “We’re Buffalo. We don’t care. We don’t have to impress you. We take care of our own.” That’s what impresses me the most. There are times when I go, "Goddammit, I wish I would’ve stayed here and seen this happen."
Q: It seems like you've been around more in the last couple of years, both for the Goo Goo Dolls and yourself. Why is that?
A: All my friends that I’ve known for 30 years, longer than 30 years, are there. That connectedness. That’s something that, although I have friends in Los Angeles, I have friends where I’m moving in New Jersey, it’s just a different level when it’s like, "Wow, I really know this person." People from Buffalo have a certain sort of vibe about themselves, and I relate to that. It’s just sort of like I don’t understand the Los Angeles mentality, every time you’re introduced to someone, they give you their resume, which is just like, “I don’t (care) what you do. I care who you are.” It’s annoying. But people in Buffalo kind of look out for each other and I hope that doesn’t change as the city expands and grows and becomes more cosmopolitan. I hope that mentality holds ... I think its roots are in the work ethic of that town.