Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #135. Subscribe to our print edition here!
On the booming and bubbly Miracle Pill, the Goo Goo Dolls are a far cry from the scuzzy rockers and lovelorn tragics that sang their pain out in "Iris".
Words by Sarah Comey.
Whenever a band makes it past ten records in their discography, you tend to see one of three things happen.
The first is, depressingly, the most common: the integrity suffers, the quality wanes, and the records continuously churn out every few years as an increasingly desperate attempt for the artist to stay relevant and squeeze whatever pittance they can from Spotifiers yearning for their glory days.
The second is similar, yet slightly more respectable: the quality of them fails to hit the highs of their first few, but the records come out every five or so years as the band continues to revel in moderate success, treating each new release as a passion project of sorts.
The third is largely subjective, but nevertheless riveting when it happens: the band just cannot stop coming up with great ideas, and simply must continue to vomit them out on disc until their seemingly neverending stream of creativity dries up (or, y’know, they die).
Whether or not the Goo Goo Dolls fall into that lattermost category is up for debate, but we’ll take to the grave our opinion that album #12 – the dense, dynamic and dancey Miracle Pill – is one of their strongest efforts yet. Without sacrificing an ounce of their artistic integrity, Miracle Pill forces the New Yorkers into the buoyant, pop-centric world of 2019; its synth-heavy, oftentimes eccentric alloy of groove and emotion slices through the mix and is sure to get stuck inside your head, each track more catchy than the last. It may not reinvent the wheel, but it gives theirs a whistle-worthy set of shiny new rims.
For lead singer and guitarist John Rzeznik, Miracle Pill was more than just another chance for Goo Goo Dolls to feed their creative hunger – it was a chance to push the duo’s craftsmanship to the next level; to make an album worthy of giving them a second chance to peak, two decades after they stunned us all the first time around with “Iris”.
Especially with the title track and songs like “Money, Fame & Fortune”, there’s the vibe that you’re using the guitar as an accoutrement to the song, rather than what drives it. Where did the inspiration to take that approach come from?
Mostly from collaborating with four different producers. We’d come into the studio with an idea for a song, and usually I’d play it on a guitar, but sometimes I’ll come up with a top line and just bang it out on a keyboard, and the producer – or co-writer, engineer, whatever – will go, “Well, what if we did it this in the song?” And a lot of times, that’s amazing because it completely takes me out of what I normally would’ve done. And that’s what I wanted – I wanted somebody to smash into what I do and go, “Let’s make something new out of this!” So a lot of that comes from the production of it; using the guitar as more of a flavour and to help set up the mood, rather than work as the base of a song like we’d do on a lot of our earlier albums.
Throughout the years, you’ve become known for your eccentric and distinctive guitar tunings. What were you excited to do with the instrument on this album?
We started referencing certain albums and bands and guitar players, and thinking, for example, “How did Pete Townshend make that sound with his guitar on that Who’s Next record?” And then we’d go looking online and start calling every engineer we knew, and go, “How did they do that?” And then we’d finally figure out how they did a certain thing – the miking techniques and all of that – and we’d try it for ourselves. Because I’m a massive gear nerd – I have piles of vintage recording equipment, and it was fun being able to mix all of this really old analogue gear and record with these vintage microphones, and then go in the complete opposite direction and use a lot of Universal Audio plugins to mangle sounds in the digital realm.
I’ll cut a guitar part, and then I’ll be like, “Okay, let me get in there,” and then I would just start playing with plugins and making these crazy, mangled sounds. using distortion pedals and delays and all of these effects that you’d never think to use with analogue equipment. It’s fun to use all the old stuff and all the new stuff, mix it all together and see what you can make out of it.
When we were preparing the tracks to get mixed, we had this reamp box that Radial makes, and we took our pedalboards and plugged them into the signal chain on the mixing desk, started mutilating the sounds with stompboxes, and then rerecorded them into the session. I thought that was a lot of fun! And y’know, I brought a bunch of old amps and microphones, some really cool guitars, and the 50,000 pedals that we have.
Any particular highlights from the avalanche of gear you would’ve gotten your hands on?
Yeah! The engineer, Celso Estrada, had a mono Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorder which was broken. Whatever we recorded through it would come out going “woa-woa-woa-woa-woa”, so when I was playing my guitar parts, we would run it through that machine and then either distort it or add a really heavy filter over it, and the end result just had so much flavour to it. We also know a lot of guys that build their own gear, so it was really fun to use some of their stuff. These guys just make it in their little workshops – you can’t find it commercially, but if you’re in the know, you’ll find some incredible stuff.
I’m acquainted with a guy named Greg Snow – he takes care of Tarbox Road Studios, which is where The Flaming Lips do all their work now – and he invented this compressor called a Banana Crusher. He built it out of these old four-channel Shure microphone PAs, and they’re unbelievable. It’s insane what they do – I’ve never heard anything like them in my life. And y’know, I’m using all of the old Altec gear – sometimes in an improper way, just to see what we can do with them. There’s this one Altec compressor where if you drive it to a certain point, it turns into a mic pre, or into a preamp if you play a bass through it, and it’s just crazy sounding.