The building at the corner of North and Franklin streets is unimposing. It seems to fold back into the surrounding scenery, and is easy to pass without noticing.
Yet, inside the humble brick edifice is the tangible evidence of an idea some might have deemed nothing but a pipe dream. It's in this spot that the Goo Goo Dolls built what they now call GCR Audio, a top-tier, state-of-the-art recording facility handsomely outfitted with vintage and modern recording gear, an impressive, acoustically engineered main recording room, and enough musical equipment to tickle the fancy of even the most demanding musician.
And it's from here that the Goos' Robby Takac, John Rzeznik and Mike Malinin birthed the music that will comprise their forthcoming release.
The very one that, in many ways, is the most important album the band has yet released.
"The entire music industry has changed pretty radically since we released 'Let Love In' in 2006," says Takac, laughing at his own understatement. "I mean, things were bad then, in so many ways, and they're worse now. The traditional routes for promoting a record and getting your music heard -- radio, principally -- aren't there in the way they were before. So we're facing some real challenges this time around."
When the band does release its new album in mid-February, it will arrive as a litmus test for bands like the Goo Goo Dolls -- alternative acts that achieved mainstream crossover success in the latter '90s, and then increasingly concentrated on live work and ceaseless touring as the radio well began to run dry.
Of course, the Goos have scored some considerable radio success in this decade, racking up more Top 10 Hot Adult Contemporary hits than any other artist, with a total of 12, placing the group ahead of pop-friendly peers Matchbox Twenty and Sheryl Crow.
But increasingly, the Goo Goo Dolls, like most acts of their milieu, have had to find alternative means of reaching listeners, among them increased touring, unusual gigs like a recent NASCAR engagement, and television appearances. (The band has secured a significant one for this December, when it will appear as part of a major network television Christmas/Holiday variety show.)
Takac, however, "is cool with that, because that's the way it is, and we love playing live more than anything else, anyway." Which is not to suggest that the Goo Goo Dolls approached the recording of the follow-up to the successful "Let Love In" album with a flippant attitude. In fact, the Goos did something they had never done before -- they arrived at the recording studio with absolutely nothing prepared. Talk about walking willingly into a pressure-cooker.
"It looked like it was going to be a disaster of absolutely epic proportions," laughs Takac. "This was really the first time we showed up with absolutely nothing prepared, no songs ready, no sense of the shape of the album we wanted to record. But out of this whole mess, out of this feeling of terror at being less than prepared, out of all of that came more songs than we could've imagined.
"After 15 weeks of rehearsing and writing, we had something like 25 songs that were all well worth considering."
That the Goos owned the studio where all of this writing and rehearsing took place certainly helped, which is part of the reason that Takac and Rzeznik initially partnered to purchase, remodel and fully equip GCR. But clearly, there's more to it than that, for GCR Audio is now open and available to the public, and as his ongoing commitment to the Music Is Art Foundation and all its ancillary pieces has made plain, Takac is dead set on aiding and abetting the Buffalo music scene.
In fact, Takac is running GCR without Rzeznik now; the two amicably split as co-owners a few months back, citing the fact that Rzeznik found the pressure of writing songs, living in Los Angeles, and running a commercial recording studio to be "just way too hard, man," Takac said, "and we are both completely cool with that."
Vintage andERROR: state-of-the-art1
Walking through GCR, it's difficult to avoid feeling overwhelmed, particularly if you've spent any time in recording studios in the past.
Familiar with recording equipment? You'll be drooling over the abundant vintage gear and your ears will perk up when Takac gushes about the imminent arrival of a brand new SSL recording console -- the highest industry standard equipment today.
In love with guitars and amplifiers? Attempt to control yourself as you take in the stash of instruments and amps of both vintage and modern design, all available to musicians and bands interested in working at GCR on their own projects.
Which is the whole idea behind the venture, insists Takac.
"For $400, a Buffalo band can have this whole studio, and access to all the instruments, amps, all the recording equipment, the staff -- the whole deal -- for 10 hours. If you went to Toronto or Los Angeles or New York, that wouldn't even cover catering for a session! You'd be looking at at least two grand for that kind of time with this kind of equipment."
Takac continues to work and live in both Buffalo and Los Angeles, and his primary commitment is to the Goo Goo Dolls, so the rounding up of a trustworthy staff to run the day-to-day doings of GCR was of primary importance. Toward that end, Takac sought the services of many longtime colleagues who'd worked with him at his previous studio, Chameleon West, including engineer Marc Hunt.
He also hired Justin Rose as head engineer.
"That guy is one of the absolute best in the business," says Dan Dwyer of Rose. Dwyer is the manager of Irish alt-rock band Stand, which recently wrapped a few weeks of recording at GCR.
"This band has worked with a lot of top names, and Justin is hands-down the most impressive of the bunch," Dwyer said. "The guys were able to get an awful lot of work done very quickly and painlessly. The place is beautiful too, and it sounds amazing in there. It's one of the best experiences we've ever had, recording-wise. And Justin helped to make it so."
"I'm incredibly happy and lucky to have Justin here. He's absolutely top-notch."
Producer du jour1
For its highest-charting recordings -- 1998's triple-platinum "Dizzy Up the Girl" and 2002's million-selling "Gutterflower" -- the Goo Goo Dolls worked with producer Rob Cavallo. Since then, Cavallo has gone on to become one of the most sought-after producers in the business, working with the likes of Green Day, Avril Lavigne, the Dave Matthews Band, My Chemical Romance and Paramore, among many others.
For this new album, the Goos were looking for something a little bit different. Initially, the band consulted with legendary U2 producer Steve Lillywhite, "but the time we were going to take in order to write, rehearse and record this album was way too much for him to be able to commit to," says Takac.
Undaunted, the band struck up a relationship with Tim Palmer, whose resume reads like a dream-team roster from the past three decades of popular music. Beginning in the '80s, and continuing through this current decade, Palmer has worked with Robert Plant, the Mighty Lemon Drops, David Bowie's Tin Machine, Pearl Jam, James, the Catherine Wheel, the Cure, Porcupine Tree and U2, among others.
More important than his record of active duty, however, is Palmer's bedside manner in the studio.
"Tim sat at rehearsal in Buffalo with us for four months while we got the material together," says Takac admiringly. "He basically joined the band. The whole element of the excitement created by the chaos of us arriving with nothing ready to go -- instead of looking at that as a negative thing, Tim totally embraced it, and helped us to use that as an energy force.
"This record is completely different for us as a result of working with him. He didn't want us to turn it all over to him, you know? He wanted to be a part of it with us. So we had to become part of the process, the whole time. At no point have we turned this project over to anyone else. That's incredibly exciting for us."
Most likely, that news is incredibly exciting to Goos fans -- at least those fans who long for the band's "indie-rock" glory days, back when it was more punk than pop, when "Iris" and "Name" weren't yet a gleam in their creator's eye, and when raucous, beer-soaked sets at the Continental were more common than double-bill tours with more sedate acts like Counting Crows, or opening slots on Bon Jovi treks.
Takac doesn't take the bait on this topic.
"All I can say is, the making of this record has been more of a joint process than it ever has before. We feel like we're climbing the mountain all over again."