[Interview] Goo Goo Dolls Bassist Robby Takac: "Life's Good In The Bubble, Man"

 Robby Takac @ Beacon Theatre 10/15/2018. Photo credit: Angela Cranford/MSG Photos

Robby Takac @ Beacon Theatre 10/15/2018. Photo credit: Angela Cranford/MSG Photos

After speaking with Goo Goo Dolls bassist Robby Takac the Friday before their show at Beacon Theater as part of their 20th Anniversary Dizzy Up The Girl Tour, I can confirm that he is indeed Some Kind of Awesome. The music community, not just Goo Goo Dolls, are truly beyond blessed to have someone so passionate about music the way that he is. In addition to his rhythmic duties in a band whose career spans across more than three decades, he's also been running the music non-profit Music Is Art and the boutique record label Good Charamel Records for over 15 years in addition to owning the recording studio GCR Audio in his hometown of Buffalo, New York. "You know, owning a recording studio is very akin to owning a boat," Takac jokes over the phone last Friday, "You do it because you enjoy it. It's not necessarily a cash cow, that's for sure."

Some people would find keeping themselves so busy to be exhausting, especially given the extensive amount of touring that Goo Goo Dolls do (including the tour they’re currently on), but it actually has the opposite sort of effect on Takac. "All these things, Music Is Art included," he explains, "helps to exercise parts of my brain, my emotions, my creativity, that probably might have driven me crazy to not be able to exercise." 

He went on to detail the beginnings of the Goo Goo Dolls from a business standpoint, " We did everything, you know, Johnny [Rzeznik] and I did 30 years ago. Everything. We had this hilarious briefcase that we used to carry around with us like all our papers, and it was pretty much our whole world was in that briefcase." As the band became more popular obviously the briefcase became an inefficient form of handling the band's business."Little by little we let started letting go of parts," he recounted, "It took many many years, but since then we found people who did it better (...) and all these people took a little piece of what we did in the beginning and started doing a much better job of it, but that didn't mean that those things weren't still inside me, you know, clamoring to be exercised, and so I think that that's why I still keep up with all of this stuff. Because it allows me to be better at being in the Goo Goo Dolls if that makes sense at all."

Of his three side passions, Music Is Art is by far his biggest focus outside of the Goo Goo Dolls. The most admirable part about his approach to the non-profit is his acknowledgement for the need for art/music comes from personal experience. As he shared:

"(...) There are some people (and I was one of them) whose lives could not be shaped correctly if they weren't exposed to these things because that's just where your mind operates. Their minds don't operate in the classroom all that well. You know, they're not debate team folks. They're not gonna star on the college basketball team or even be able to dribble a ball for that matter, you know? BUT, you put a paint brush or a guitar in their hand and they realize that they can move on. So they have that. I think if you rob young people of that then you're really doing an unbelievable disservice to a huge amount of kids out there." 

"(...) There are some people (and I was one of them) whose lives could not be shaped correctly if they weren't exposed to these things because that's just where your mind operates. Their minds don't operate in the classroom all that well. You know, they're not debate team folks. They're not gonna star on the college basketball team or even be able to dribble a ball for that matter, you know? BUT, you put a paint brush or a guitar in their hand and they realize that they can move on. So they have that. I think if you rob young people of that then you're really doing an unbelievable disservice to a huge amount of kids out there." 

To be clear, Music Is Art does incredible things for the music community. In addition to its yearly cornerstone event, the Music Is Art festival, which boasted 20 stages this year, they also organize a variety of battles of the bands both in corporate and public settings. Most importantly, they've been doing instrument drives and to date have donated a half of a million dollars worth of both new and refurbished instruments to schools and communities in the Maryvale School District in Buffalo, New York. While the organization never has an issue with finding volunteers from both musicians and the general public, even with it's rockstar affiliation they share the same struggles that arts-centered not for profits have when it comes to funding. "The hard part is actually keeping it going, you know," he admitted, "and all the realities that you have to face when you go to a lawyer or an accountant. As the festival grows bigger it becomes more and more of a responsibility."

It's not often that I get to speak with someone who has been in the business of music for as long as Takac has, so obviously the conversation drifted to technology. Like any music lover who was  actively collecting music pre-iPod, living in this new era of streaming services is the biggest change in music that has him buzzing with excitement. "(...)Coming from a guy who collected records when I was younger like that is MIND BLOWING man.(...)If you and I are talking about something I could play it for you right now just on my phone. That is MIND BLOWING. Seriously." 

He also had nice things to say about our friend The Algorithm™. He even shared that Discover Weekly had gotten him into The Heavy and Beach Slang recently. He raved, "(...) The ability for Spotify to build algorithms and like expose you to things that it's discovering that you might like, I think that's unbelievable." A kindred spirit, he too has mixed feelings about how algorithms like Discover Weekly are lessening the emotional connection that is made between people when they share music with each other. "(...)It's a little bit sad because I used to have those same experiences but I would have it with my friend Gary Sperrazza down at Apollo Records in Buffalo, or I would have it down at The Record Mine with my friend Dave, you know? It's sad that human interaction is taken from it, but I think the resources that are at hand with music is just unbelievable." 

Another big difference is obviously the way social media has shaken up the music landscape. To an extent Goo Goo Dolls were pioneers in the early age of fan interaction, dating back to the early America OnLine days. Now the band has amassed a massive online fan base, with over 3 million fans on Facebook at the time of print. When they started, fan engagement was primarily about promoting a single, album, or tour. These days Takac observed that having a digital presence has a different impact on musicians, specifically when it comes to access. "You know, we always laugh about guys like Jimmy Page, like you've got this image of Jimmy Page living in his castle somewhere, you know, like whatever," he observed, "Or this weird image of what Led Zepplin was like or all of these bands cause there was a mystique to them, but this current social atmosphere of immediacy, you can't really be that way anymore." He's also a realist when it comes to fans having their smartphones at concerts, as he noted, "It's all out there and it's all out there in unprofessional, unairbrushed, you know, like 'here's our pimples' kinda world. It's changed."

In Takac's mind the archetype for the modern day musician on social media is Kanye West. He further clarified: 

"Kanye makes some cool music but like it's not so much about that with him, you know? A little bit of it is, but it's more about everything else, you know it's about his social media. It's about his wife. It's about his wife's family. It's about their TV show. It's about his sneakers. It's about like all these things that the music is sort of in the background as something that he sort of does, you know? It's why he's such a big star, 'cause I don't think the music can make you that big of a star anymore... It's all this stuff, you know, that figures in now that, you know, didn't figure in when I was thinking about Jimmy Page in his castle. I never thought about any of that stuff with him. He was just that dude in Zepplin. That's what he did, you know? It's way more than that now."

I don't think the music can make you that big of a star anymore...

Things that are also very different than when Robby and Johnny started Goo Goo Dolls over thirty years ago: the two are both sober, with Robby over ten years sober and Johnny around four years sober. It's easy to assume that backstage while on tour is packed with opportunities to slip back into substance abuse, but Takac was quick to shut that fallacy down:

"It is what you make it," he said, "It's your bubble man. You're in a bubble when you're out here [on tour] but it's your bubble. Like we say 'life's good in the bubble, man'. You know, for a lot you get to choose what's there and what's not, you know? So we just kind of keep it sane back there, and there's not a lot of parties and that kind of stuff. Not that there's not but there's not a lot."

Like we say 'life's good in the bubble, man'.

While they've admittedly had a few decades to get heavy partying out of their system, it was refreshing to hear that there are legacy musicians that acknowledge their ability to be personally responsible for the toxicity level of their touring environment. These days Takac's number one tour essential is his teapot, which is his way to bring a piece of home with him while he's out on the extensive touring schedules with Goo Goo Dolls. "It's just you need those kinds of things to keep you warm, you know, keep you happy," he offered, "It's tough but you try to get a little bit out here." 

Make sure you catch Robby Takac with Goo Goo Dolls while they're still out on their 20th Anniversary Dizzy Up The Girl tour. I can attest that it is an energy packed night that you won't want to miss even if you're a casual fan. 

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

GooGooDolls_20thAnniversaryTour_TourPoster1a.jpg