Goo Goo Dolls bring a fresh, new sound to Tivoli Theatre.

‘ So Alive’ is per­sonal an­them for front­man Rzeznik

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - FRONT PAGE - STAFF WRITER Con­tact Barry Courter at bcourter@times­free press.com or 423-757-6354. BY BARRY COURTER

Early in his ca­reer, Goo Goo Dolls front­man/gui­tarist John Rzeznik used drugs and al­co­hol, like a lot of artists who are just start­ing out.

“At the be­gin­ning of all of our ca­reers, we are very self- con­scious and we don’t have an aware­ness of where the real stuff comes from, so you smoke a lit­tle, take a few pills or drink a lit­tle to ease the self-con­scious­ness about be­ing laughed at,” he says. “And it works. Then it’s not you tak­ing the drugs; it’s the drugs tak­ing you.”

As he got deeper into his ad­dic­tion, he would “hit the panic but­ton” and turn to drink or drugs when things weren’t go­ing his way. That seemed to hap­pen a lot, he says, and the fre­quency in­creased. So he was of­ten ei­ther drunk or hung over and, ei­ther way, he says he was not fun to be around. Even he didn’t like be­ing around him­self.

“I would get surly. Never vi­o­lent, but I had a very, very dark side, even when I was sober. The al­co­hol and ev­ery­thing was color­ing my world so darkly.”

He says he knew it and even wrote about it in many of his songs, though it maybe wasn’t al­ways so ob­vi­ous.

“A song like ‘Sym­pa­thy,’ every­one thinks it’s this pretty lit­tle song, but it’s amaz­ing be­cause no one’s re­ally lis­tened to the lyrics of that song,” he says. “Ad­dic­tion and co-de­pen­dency have been big top­ics in a lot of my songs, but I be­came very adept at hid­ing the mes­sage in a happy lit­tle melody.”

“Stranger than your sym­pa­thy And this is my apol­ogy I’m killing my­self from the in­side out

And all my fears have pushed you out”

The drugs and al­co­hol con­tin­ued for 15 years un­til he found him­self in a New York ho­tel room two years ago and de­cided it had to end. He didn’t like what he was do­ing to him­self, to his fam­ily, to his friends or to the peo­ple he worked with, es­pe­cially Robby Takac, with whom he co-founded the band in 1995 in Buf­falo, N.Y.

So Rzeznik went sober and to his ut­ter amaze­ment, he says, he soon re­al­ized the peo­ple around him did care. In many ways, learn­ing that both elated him and hurt him deeply, know­ing what he’d put them through.

On the day we spoke, he had been sober two years and one day, and the more he talked about the sup­port he found, the more the weight of it could be heard in his voice.

“It broke my heart open … the sup­port and the love I got from peo­ple around me. Not just my wife and fam­ily.

“It broke my heart open, be­cause when I was loaded I was pos­i­tive every­one hated me and found me dis­taste­ful. I was an ob­nox­ious drunk. I was an a———. But just to see Robby and to have him with­out me re­mind­ing him, con­grat­u­lat­ing me and telling me how happy he is for me was huge. To save that friend­ship of 30 years and to have my wife say, ‘You haven’t made me cry in two years’ … that was just huge. So what, to catch a buzz af­ter hear­ing that … it’s not worth it.”

Rzeznik and Takac are back on the road, tour­ing in sup­port of a new al­bum, “Boxes,” which con­tains the sin­gle “So Alive” — a song that once again deals with his ad­dic­tion but from the other side.

“That’s straight-up ‘Hey, man, this is what it’s like to get sober.’”

And he says he likes per­form­ing that way a lot bet­ter than the other way.

“It’s awe­some. I’m present. I’m in the mo­ment. I don’t have a hang­over. I’m not act­ing like an a——— be­cause I’m hung over. It’s fun. I feel good.

“Lis­ten, I’m still scared, but I have some tools that help me deal with it.”

One of those tools, ob­vi­ously, is writ­ing and per­form­ing. Rzeznik says he wanted to take a cue from artists like David Bowie who rein­vented him­self with each record. For “Boxes,” he wanted to col­lab­o­rate with some of the peo­ple he re­spects, and he worked with peo­ple like Syd­ney Sierota of Echo­smith and pro­duc­ers Gregg Wat­ten­berg, Derek Fuhrmann and Drew Pear­son to help on the new record.

The re­sult is an al­bum that sounds new and fresh but also very much a Goo Goo Dolls record.

“I wasn’t try­ing to im­i­tate any­thing that is cur­rently out there, but I did work with a lot of peo­ple that are younger than me,” he says. “I needed to do what I felt like was go­ing back to school. To find the right peo­ple and to trust them to help me see some­thing new.”

“I needed to do what I felt like was go­ing back to school. To find the right peo­ple and to trust them to help me see some­thing new.” —JOHN RZEZNIK

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO BY BOB MUS­SEL

Robby Takac, left, and John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls will per­form Satur­day night, Nov. 26, at the Tivoli Theatre.

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