Sometimes you've got to go home to find yourself.
That's what the Goo Goo Dolls discovered when they began writing songs for Let Love In, the band's eighth album.
Since forming in 1986, the Goo Goo Dolls have evolved from a scrappy punk-influenced trio into the platinum-selling, chart-topping act behind such radio staples as "Name," "Iris," "Slide," and "Here is Gone." Along the way, founding members John Rzeznik and Robby Takac left Buffalo, N.Y. for Los Angeles, but Rzeznik soon found that L.A. isn't everything it's cracked up to be.
The quest to rekindle his muse led Rzeznik to pack his recording gear and guitars in a U-Haul truck and drive across country to his hometown. He met his band-mates Robby Takac and drummer Mike Malinin, and set up shop in a 100-year-old Masonic Ballroom.
After the incredible success of "Iris," the landmark power ballad recorded for the City of Angels soundtrack, and the Goo Goo Dolls' 1998 blockbuster Dizzy Up the Girl, Rzeznik became a Los Angeles resident. But he soon found that the commercial success that the band strove for and obtained came with a price.
Those feelings of isolation and the search for inspiration led him back home to Buffalo where the Dolls spent a long cold winter working 12 hours a day, writing and recording material for Let Love In.
Once in Buffalo, Rzeznik was able to tap into his roots. "It just reminded me -- this is who you are. This is where you're from. It's never anything to be ashamed of, and it actually gave me strength to have a sense of my own history," he says. "It's so easy to come out to L.A. as an outsider and plant your head so far up your own ass you can disappear."
He inherited his lifelong love of music from his mother, a schoolteacher, and father, a postal worker, who were both musicians. During those formative years, he endured the wrath of overly strict nuns at school and his eccentric father at home. "I think the phrase 'going postal' originated with him," Rzeznik quips.
It was in a copy of the Rolling Stones' Hot Rocks, a seminal double-vinyl "best of" set, that Rzeznik found refuge, listening to Jagger-Richards classics while starring at the gatefold sleeve and dreaming rock star dreams.
Those dreams turned to a nightmare when Rzeznik lost both of his parents within a year of each other when he was just was just 16. Shaken but not beaten, Rzeznik was left to his own devices.
"I went off on this amazing adventure, moving into the college "ghetto", got my own little place and started playing in bands. I was introduced to a lot of interesting things and people. I was like this wild kid on my own. I didn’t have to answer to anybody or anything," he recalls. "I could just be myself."
It was while he was attending college that Rzeznik met Takac. "I was playing in a hardcore band. I just wanted to have someone to play with," Rzeznik remembers. "He was sort of like this hippy metal guy and I was very influenced by the whole punk thing. We just got together and enjoyed hanging out so we started playing together."
Recalls Takac, "When John and I met each other, I really didn't know how to write a song and he really didn't know how to keep a band together. We started learning from each other, and as we moved forward, it became easier for us to complete our own sentences with the help from each other."
The bassist and original voice of the Goo Goo Dolls worked days at a local recording studio, giving the aspiring band a place to hone its craft and record demos at night. Armed with the demos and a photo, the pair drove to New York intent on scoring a record deal and ended up signing with Celluloid Records, which issued the band's first album in 1987.
The Goo Goo Dolls also have put in plenty of work and not only survived but also thrived over two decades, a milestone that hasn't gone unnoticed by the band. "One of the things that we’ve managed to do -- as simply put as possible – is stay together," Takac says. "That's awfully difficult for a lot of bands."
For Let Love In, Rzeznik and Takac renewed their writing partnership. "John and I wrote together on this record," Takac says. "We had done some stuff lyrically together, but the last time we actually wrote completely together on SuperstarCarWash."
Writing the songs for Let Love In, Rzeznik found similar inspiration in his hometown. "When you drive down the street and you see the park and the bleachers where you first a kissed a girl, you drive past the house you grew up in and you remember them taking your mother out in an ambulance, you see the post office where your father worked, you drive through a neighborhood that used to be all factories and now it's just leveled, or you drive by a street and see a beautiful little shop that just opened and how people are really thriving there," he says. "It gives you a lot of hope and perspective."
That feeling, hope, and perspective informs Let Love In. "That whole experience kind of opened up my heart," Rzeznik says of the Buffalo sessions. "It was good to feel again. I don’t need to feel good all the time. I just want to be able to feel."
Listening to Let Love In -- recorded with acclaimed producer Glen Ballard -- it's apparent that Rzeznik isn’t only sharing his own feelings, he's tapped into consciousness to such an extent that some of the Goo Goo Dolls' songs have become anthems. Take “Better Days” for example, a song from Let Love In with such power and empathy it was adopted by CNN as an anthem of sorts for the recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina.
"I was just looking at the situation in the world," Rzeznik says of the song. "Fear makes people do frightening things. Fear is a catalyst for selfishness and war. Sometimes I fear that we're losing our ability to reason. I needed some hope to hang onto. That's why I wrote 'Better Days'".
With that hope, the Goo Goo Dolls have offered Let Love In, a rare work of naked honesty and emotion in songs that will stick in your head for the weeks, months, and years to come.