In the mid-'90s, after nine years of unsuccessfully slogging through the indie rock scene, Goo Goo Dolls singer Johnny Rzeznik set a personal deadline.
If the Goo Goo Dolls still weren't making money by the time he turned 30, Rzeznik would go back to college and pursue a normal life. He cut it close: Rzeznik was 29 1/2 when his ballad "Name" lit up the charts in 1995 and became the elusive hit he'd been looking for all those years. Rzeznik was blind-sided.
"I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me,' especially with the song that broke us, which was a ballad," he said. "We had always put ballads on all of our albums. One of them finally hit."
A string of high-profile singles followed "Name," from the made-for-the-silver-screen "Iris" to the poignant "Black Balloon." In a whirlwind, the Goo Goo Dolls went from playing empty bars to college auditoriums, and, eventually, arenas. Tuesday, they'll be at Pier Six Pavilion.
The Goo Goo Dolls were still playing clubs when "Name" started climbing the charts. At first, they would play it in the beginning or middle of a set. Since most of the crowd only came to hear "Name," they would leave as soon as the band played it.
"Once they heard the song, they were out of there," Rzeznik said. "Man, we cleared so many rooms. We decided we had to play the song "Name" close to last so we could keep people in the room."
The Goo Goo Dolls' newer, more acoustic sound was an about-face from the band's gritty earlier material. Some fans didn't like the change, and Rzeznik said he got his share of angry letters, which hurt. But he had to follow his muse, he said, and it took him to new territory. Though the band is playing a couple of deep cuts on this tour, Rzeznik rarely looks back on the band's first four albums. Some of their older material might have appealed to critics, but these days, he just doesn't want to play songs such as "Livin' in a Hut," he said.
"Sometimes people now are like, 'Why don't you play the songs off your first couple records?" he said. "For the same reason I don't play with G.I. Joe dolls anymore. I'm a grown-up."
After scoring a hit with a cover of Supertramp's "Give a Little Bit," the Goo Goo Dolls released a greatest hits album in 2007. Rzeznik said it was like putting parentheses around a certain point in the band's career.
"That time is very special, but that time's over," he said. "Now we've got to move on to the next phase.'
New phase or not, the Goo Goo Dolls aren't going to stray too far from their signature sound. They're older now and are no longer chasing the elusive hit, Rzeznik said. He and the other band members are content to make most of their money on the road, and write albums they appreciate themselves.
"I just feel more comfortable in my own skin," he said. "I just have a lot less apprehension about what I say musically. I'm at the point where I'm like, 'Look, this is me, you either like it or you don't, and I'm not going to lose sleep over it.' "
"Something for the Rest of Us," which hits shelves next month, is the Goo Goo Dolls' latest album. It's been a long time coming. To make it, the band took years and went through four producers and five recording studios before it had a batch of songs it was proud of, Rzeznik said. He took to writing while playing the piano instead of the guitar, which brought him out of his comfort zone. Many of the songs on "Something For the Rest of Us" are topical, with Rzeznik drawing inspiration from the current political climate and the recession's impact on everyday people.
"I think people are fed up with being afraid of terrorists and prostate cancer and millions of gallons of oil leaking into the Gulf and these wars that don't seem to make any sense anymore," Rzeznik said.
"So what if America loses its empire? We never should have had one in the first place. We need to take care of our own for a while. We need to step back and get our own house in order before we start fixing the world."
If you go
The Goo Goo Dolls perform Tuesday at Pier Six Pavilion, 731 Eastern Ave. Switchfoot and the Spill Canvas will also play. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $30-$70. Call 410-244-1131 or go to piersixpavilion.com.