5 minutes alone: Goo Goo Dolls' John Rzeznik

The frontman on gear, nightmare gigs and, of course, Iris

(Image: © RMV/REX/Shutterstock)

As the Goo Goo Dolls return with their 11th album, John Rzeznik talks punk heroes, dodgy tone and being more than a one-trick pony…

Got my first real six-string…

“The first guitar I ever owned was a Kay SG copy. That cost like $35. Man, that was a terrible guitar. That guitar went when I learned how to play a little bit and I got a Univox copy of a Les Paul. There was always a guitar hanging around the house when I was a kid. It was a much lower impact instrument than me playing the drums, which is what I really wanted to do. My mother put a stop to the drumming.”

This is just a punk-rock song…

If I could get my hands on one on a desert island, I would have a Fender High Powered Tweed amp

“Punk was key to the early part of me playing guitar. I was really into melodic punk-rock. I related to punk more than Lynyrd Skynyrd or Yes or Van Halen. I got into alternative rock in the early 80s, bands like Hüsker Dü and The Replacements. Bob Mould’s playing was a huge influence. It was very heavy with a lot of open tunings, which was great because I played in trios, so I used open tunings to get a fuller sound.”

Show me the way…

“I met a guy from Buffalo named Mark Freeland. He was the local, underground rock star guy. I asked him if he could teach me how to play guitar. He said yes and I asked him how much it would cost and he said to bring him a case of beer! I would go to his house and mostly just drink beer but he would show me some cool licks and tell me awesome rock ’n’ roll stories. His whole thing was learning enough guitar to look like a rock star.”

Just a castaway, an island lost at sea…

“If I could get my hands on one on a desert island, I would have a Fender High Powered Tweed amp - they made those for like two years. They made those in ’58 and ’59. I would use an Echoplex and a 335, that would be it. Boom. I love that you can wind up the 335 and it gets dirty and fat like a Les Paul but it still has clarity to it and it cleans up and just sparkles beautifully.”

If I could turn back time…

“I was 19 when I made my first record and we recorded all the guitars through a Rockman [headphone amp] because the engineer told us to! If I could go back and beg someone to borrow a Fender Princeton and a Tube Screamer from them, I would do that because that album has the worst sound ever.”

In too deep...

Opening for Korn was the worst. People were throwing bottles of piss at us and lighting chairs on fire

“We played a gig inside the dome of a dormant volcano in Italy. It started pouring with rain and the water was getting deeper and deeper. It started filling up like a swimming pool. But that wasn’t the worst gig I’ve played, that was a radio festival show in the States in a huge amphitheater opening for Korn. It was the worst. People were throwing bottles of piss at us and lighting chairs on fire.”

I just want you to know who I am…

“The biggest misconception about Goo Goo Dolls is that all we do is write ballads. I love that our new album has a lot of teeth and interesting things going on.”

Music is the gift…

“I love it when somebody covers Iris, that song is entering its second generation. That is so cool, that song is a gift. That song was on a soundtrack album with U2, Alanis Morissette, Peter Gabriel. They gave us a $20,000 advance for that, and we had no idea how big that song would be. That song gave us a career. It gave us the momentum to keep getting more songs on the radio. 

“It’s funny, I’ll be in airport and a really pretty 20-year-old girl will come ask me for a picture. My ego will get inflated, and then she’ll say, ‘My mom loves that song, Iris.’”

Goo Goo Dolls' new album Boxes is out now.

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