The bassist sheds light on his career, indie label & talent-mining the bars of Buffalo.
[This interview originally appeared in a different form on Guitar.com]
Bassist Robby Takac of Goo Goo Dolls has had one amazingly adventurous ride. The band started out in the mid-'80s in the clubs of a waning steel town. While Buffalo, New York wasn't then exactly a hotbed of record company recruiting, it is within easy driving distance of Toronto, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and of course, New York City. So after playing every Podunk bar that would have them in Buffalo, Robby, guitarist Johnny Rzeznik, and then-drummer George Tutuska loaded up the station wagon they bought from Robby's dad and headed out on the road.
The DIY approach built them a loyal following, and eventually they caught the attention of Metal Blade Records (then-president Michael Faley was also from Buffalo.) The band signed with Metal Blade and hit the nationwide circuit behind their 1987 debut release, Goo Goo Dolls, but soon came face to face with the realities of an unfortunate record contract. Basically, after scoring a couple of big hits and selling millions of albums, the group had to wonder why they were still broke—and Metal Blade wasn't exactly sharing.
After a messy lawsuit, the group moved to Warner Bros. Records, and it's been nothing but hits and platinum wall decorations ever since. And while poster boy Rzeznik may get most of the attention—he is the one who sings most of the softer hit songs—hardcore Goo fans know that Robby Takac is the rocking consciousness of the band. He not only throws himself wildly around the stage in an unabashed nightly display of musical enthusiasm, but he sings many of the band’s harder-edged songs as well.
So, without further ado, we offer this telling conversation with Goo Goo Dolls founder, bassist, and sometimes lead vocalist, Robby Takac. During our phone chat he talked about his newly formed record label and the three young bands he's signed as well as his current stage and recording bass guitars.
Guitar.com: How's the weather in SoCal treating you?
Takac: Good, good, good! Let me try to explain to you what's going on in my life: I started this record label, called Good Charamel Records, and there's a band on my label called Last Conservative, and we've got a huge showcase tonight at a little practice space called Swing House in Hollywood. And I'm getting to play tour manager, soundman, gear rental company, travel agent, record company rep—I'm in over my head.
[Editor’s note: Since giving this interview, Good Charamel Records has morphed into an American indie-label outlet for J-Rock bands such as Shonen Knife.]
Guitar.com: So you are splitting your time between Buffalo and Los Angeles these days, right?
Takac: Yeah, I live in L.A. now, but I own a studio in Buffalo and I have a place there too. I spend a lot of my time between here and there. In my off time I try to be at the studio about half the time. Much to the dismay of my wife, who is from Tokyo. It's an acquired taste.
Guitar.com: So you're looking to take this band, Last Conservative, who have an album on your Good Charamel Records, and do a licensing deal with a bigger label?
Takac: I don't know what I'm looking to do, brother, but I've learned that the best way to deal with this kind of thing is to just let it happen. If you would have asked me 20 years ago as I was loading my bass cabinet into Maxwell's in Hoboken out of my father's old station wagon, which we bought from him, if I'd be doing what I'm doing now—I'd never tell you that we'd be doing it. So I can't tell you. So leaving the options open is key to me.
Guitar.com: How did you find these three bands you have signed to Good Charamel?
Takac: I opened the studio in Buffalo—it's called Chameleon West—and we had an up-ramp time, like any studio, of maybe six months to a year, where there's really nothing going we could do. And in the process of building it, we'd go out at night, and I had the opportunity to see a lot of groups. I actually saw the singer, TJ, from this group, Last Conservative, singing and playing by himself at an open mic. And I was just floored. How many kids 20 years old have 100 songs? And he just keeps writing new ones.
I saw him play and I just decided that I would mine a little deeper, because I knew that there was a lot of stuff going on around town (Buffalo, New York). So I set up with about 12 groups and—being in a band so long you realize that songs is only one brick. Attitude is another brick. The ability to make a record—that's another brick. The ability to realize there's a bigger picture out there… It takes all these bricks to make a band.
So as I was working with these 12 groups and actually engineering and making a track for each of them, for free at my brand new studio—which they all dug—I got to see how the bands really operated. I got to see the hierarchy of each band. And as much as the songs, it was as much an auditioning cycle to see what the vibe was, and who the band was.
But anyway, I ended up narrowing it down to these three groups who I thought were different enough from each other to where I felt that they wouldn't be competing with each other, but still enough alike to where they could share a stage together. (And I signed three bands) because one record doesn't make us a record label, you know what I mean? So I got all these groups together and went into the studio, and we got some great songs. And they're just great people. So here we go: Charge!
Guitar.com: And all these groups—Last Conservative, the Juliet Dagger, and Klear—they're all from Buffalo?
Guitar.com: Wow. Now does the Goo Goo Dolls label have anything to do with this? Do they have the right of first refusal?
Takac: No, but they are invited to the soiree this evening.
Guitar.com: So they're free to make you an offer, right?
Takac: Hey man (laughs), I'll take an offer for anything.
Guitar.com: Well good luck to you and to all the people in those three bands.
Takac: Thanks man.
Guitar.com: With the Dolls, where are you guys at right now? I know you just put out the Live DVD and CD, Live in Buffalo, July 4th, 2004.
Takac: Yeah, it's doing really well actually.
Guitar.com: I've been hearing the Supertramp cover, "Give A Little Bit," on the radio here in Chicago.
Takac: Yeah, it's doing well at AC (Adult Contemporary radio). The concert was amazing. I don't know if you've seen it, but halfway through it turned into a deluge. It's pretty tripped out. It is unbelievable. So we released the DVD and we actually just set up shop in an old Mason's hall in Buffalo. We put a rig in there, an HD rig, with a Neve console, and it's basically this huge old swing ballroom in this Mason's hall, built in 1901. We're getting amazing drum sounds. And so we're doing a little bit of work and getting our songs together, and depending on how the room sounds, we may actually end up cutting a record there.
Guitar.com: Oh, cool. So you're looking at a new album for a spring or summer release?
Takac: We're hoping to be out selling T-shirts this summer. That's what we're hoping for. I've said this a million times, and it sounds cliché, but it applies: It's an emotional commitment for us to make one of these records. So we're sort of tearing it out of ourselves right now, and once we get it torn out, off we go.
Guitar.com: Do Johnny and Mike live in L.A. as well?
Takac: Yeah. We all have places here and in Buffalo.
Guitar.com: So why do the record in Buffalo?
Takac: You know, quite honestly, because we've been really submerged in this California culture out here, and we're East Coast people. We always have been. That's where we're from, that's where our vibe was derived. So to me and to John, when it came down to writing—we have 13 songs and could whip out a record at this moment. But when it came time to say, "OK, well, what are we going to do right now? And how are we gonna do it?" We said, "We should get out of here for a minute, and make sure we're making the right decisions."
In L.A., people are going to tell you what you wanna hear, as long as they're making their money. But you know what they say about Buffalo—it's the city of no illusions. You grew up there, you know it's true. I really do love living there too.
Getting back to that DVD we shot on the Fourth of July, there were 25,000 people standing out there in the worst rain storm that had happened in like 20 years, more rain fell in that one hour that we were playing than it had in like 20 years. And we had 19 high definition cameras rolling. There was a point where there were only two of them working, and we were actually cutting in Handycam footage from my parents, just to get our video together. And I'm really glad it came down that way. I think it's quite a statement as far as the tenacity of the people of the city of Buffalo. The whole thing is just really romantic. But anyway, I love it.
Guitar.com: Let's talk a little about your equipment. I spoke to you a few years ago when I was editor of Fender Frontline magazine, and you were an endorsee then, I believe.
Takac: Yeah, absolutely I was.
Guitar.com: But now you're with Yamaha?
Takac: Yeah, but I love Fender basses too. I have a romance with them. I still use them. I love Yamaha basses as well. I use both of them to record with; I use both of them live. I actually play a Zon bass as well. You know, it's amazing: I have a bass that I'm in love with, I've been in love with it my whole life. It's a Fender I've had since our gear got stolen about 18 years ago. It's had like five different necks, it's been in a pool. It's got probably an inch of wood worn off the front of it from my guitar pick. But I can't take it on the road with me because I can't be accountable for what happens to it every night. So it sits in my house.
I went through a period with Fender basses when I had numerous Fender basses I was using, but I never had the romance with any of them that I had with this one. In fact, I'm looking at it hanging on my wall right now. When I need that guitar to record with, that's the one I'll walk in with, without a doubt.
Takac: It's a P-Bass. It's a '82 body, and it's got Bartolini's in it, and a Bad *** Bridge, and a D-Tuner, and a metal nut.
Guitar.com: Where did you get it?
Takac: I bought it at a music store in Buffalo when I was a kid. My band was playing with a band called Scatterbrain from NYC at NYU and we went up to have a meeting with Metal Blade, which was our record label at the time. And while we were up there, somebody stole our van with all our gear. That just sucks when you're a kid, and that's all we had, unfortunately. But actually Billy Sheehan was nice enough to give me a bass that I used for a long time—he being from Buffalo.
Guitar.com: A Yamaha?
Takac: Uh, no. It was a Benedict, actually. A semi-hollow body, which wasn't quite my style, but I was very gracious to have received it from him, of course. And then after I stopped carrying my bass around with me—the one on my wall here—I moved on to (newer) Fender basses and started playing those for awhile. And then I moved on from Fender and started playing Yamaha. And I've been playing Yamaha's now for about four years.
Actually, I went to a drag race with Michael Anthony of Van Halen one day, we have some mutual friends and we went to see the top fuel races out at Pomona, and he said, 'Man, you should check out this bass that I play.' And I asked him about it, and it was a one piece neck and body, and I like bolt-ons. But we talked about it a little, and a few days later, two of them showed up at my door. It's his model, and they sent one with the bolt-on and one with the neck through body. So I started using them and I fell in love with them.
Guitar.com: So what model is it? The BB1000 or something like that?
Takac: Yeah. The BB1000MA. I use the bolt-on.
Guitar.com: You know, I just don't understand why companies bother with alpha-numeric names for their instruments. They're too hard to remember which is which.
Takac: Yeah. They should call it the Bad *** Mother****er Bass. I've got a drop D tuner on it. And I take the tone knobs off, I have just a volume knob. If I didn't, all I'd do would be knock the tone down and suddenly wonder why I sounded like s**t. So I basically take the tone knobs off. Sometimes they'll cap them for me—put a little cap in the hole. They do what they need to do. My tech's name is Andy Hindman, and he probably knows how to run my rig like 10,000 times better than I do. He's a really cool dude. He's been with me about six years. We've got a lot of people that have been with us for a long time.