When the world hands you a pandemic, make your way into the woods. Once the world slowly began reopening, the Goo Goo Dolls remotely regrouped inside a 19th-century church-turned-studio in Woodstock, New York. Armed with a library of vintage gear and instruments, the band, along with co-writer and collaborator, producer Gregg Wattenberg, began fleshing out songs, and frontman John Rzeznik and bassist Robby Takac started writing during the pandemic for their 13th album Chaos in Bloom.
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Recorded analog-to-tape along with vintage pedals, amps, and other instruments and Dreamland Studio, Chaos in Bloom is the first album produced for Goo Goo Dolls by Rzeznik and was initially conceptualized in isolation during the pandemic.
“It was a very crazy time in the world, and like everyone else I was affected by it,” Rzeznik shares with American Songwriter. “I couldn’t go out and play shows—the only thing I was ever good at—and that felt like it was being threatened. Thinking ‘I may never get to do this again’ was pretty anxiety-provoking. Then I thought ‘well, write about it.’”
Revealing more social than political messages crossing mental health, equality, and communication breakdowns, Chaos in Bloom punches some of the superficial surfaces of living in a social media-driven world on the opening “Yeah, I Like You,” with Rzeznik condescendingly singing I met the queen of generation fame/ I said ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know your name/ And she stared at me/ And she said/ ‘Hey man, could you tell me your name’/ I said, ‘You wouldn’t know it anyway. Throughout, Chaos in Bloom reveals real life and its continuing extremities, bursting through self-explanatory stories on “War” and trying to fix the mental setbacks on more pulled back “Save Me From Myself” and more social inequalities on the acoustic-led “Let the Sun.”
On “Loving Life,” co-written and sung by Takac, who also penned the reflective Chaos rocker “Past Mistakes,” the track explores the “bigger picture” of happiness—I’ve seen the sunbeam shines of light with / All the shadows gone from sight … Reaching deep with steady nerves for sure / In a quiet way we’ll shake the world—before the mellowed out closers “You Are The Answer” and piano-driven “Superstar.”
On “Going Crazy,” a straightforward look at the one’s locked down state, Rzeznik wanted the music to jolt. “The music is very angular and jagged, kind of chaotic, and that was the field that I wanted, for it to sound emotionally jarring,” said Rzeznik. “It’s talking about the anxiety of living through a pandemic and the political division and the chaos. If I really sit down and start thinking about all that stuff I get, I get very anxious.”
As the album was winding down, also Rzeznik suffered another setback when he strained his vocal cord and couldn’t speak, then injured his elbow and couldn’t play guitar. “I couldn’t sing,” he said. “I couldn’t play guitar. I felt like ‘my God, everything is being taken away from me.’ This sense of separation anxiety seems to be running through the album,” said Rzeznik. “I think we all went through that. There was this loss of purpose in a lot of ways.”
Working without a set perimeter and deadline prompted Rzeznik to produce the album, opening up the window to experimentation in instrumentation. “I was able to have time to experiment thoroughly with using the studios and other instruments,” said Rzeznik. “I never quite understood what that meant until I got in there and just started experimenting. The way the music business is now, most albums are completed very rapidly, in a very factory-like manner because people don’t have budgets to make albums. I wanted to be able to get the whole band together, get out in the woods, in a cool place and just play.”
He added, “I wanted to try to capture at the very least, just the basic guitar, bass, drums, piano, and then do the overdubs later, and just get the feel of a band playing live.”
Digging through everything from Gang of Four and Elton John during recording, Rzeznik also started connecting to the earlier Oasis albums. “When you listen to those records, you’re like, ‘what the hell is going on here?” he said. “They’re so chaotic, intense. Those albums had this quality, being so brash and just jumping out at in an aggressive manner, and that was one of the things I liked about it.”
Rzeznik added, “Because I was producing, I was allowed to take time with things, listening to the music and thinking ‘how do you think they got that sound’ then experimenting and playing with things to capture an interesting sound. It’s a beautiful thing, and it’s a rare thing these days because a lot of people don’t have the opportunity.”
For Chaos in Bloom, Rzeznik didn’t want to pull from older songs and wanted the album to be its own piece of work with most of the songs written within a blocked period of time. In producing, and working with Wattenberg, conceptually, the album already started taking shape early. Wattenberg also assisted Rzeznik in producing himself. “When it came time to do the vocals, I threw up a white flag,” says Rzeznik. “I can’t produce my own vocals, because I would still be in the studio now, so it was great to bring Greg in because he knows how to get a good performance out of me. We all have our limitations, so it was nice to get somebody else’s perspective on it, then realize ‘wow, you just made that song better.’ That’s the power of collaboration. You can’t underestimate that.”
He also practiced the art of letting go with Chaos in Bloom, joking that this album is unlikely to get any radio play. “I felt like perhaps it wasn’t as radio-friendly as some of the stuff that I’ve done in the past,” he says. “I really try to relinquish control after it’s out of my hands, and I’m a total control freak, so that was kind of difficult. I’m never going to fully let go of it.” He added, “I’m at a point in my life in my career, where I can kind of take some chances if I want.”
At one point the band was in the studio on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles Rzeznik remembers walking right in the middle of a massive protest, which he said was a powerful experience, one rooted in Chaos in Bloom. “It was truly amazing that I was seeing this many people having something in common and coming together,” shared Rzeznik. “The one thing that we have in common is the music. I don’t mean to sound cliché or hokey, but I think right now in this country everybody needs to leave differences at the doorstep, come inside, and do something that we all have in common.”
Raising a 5-year-old daughter, Rzeznik said he can’t help worrying about her consumption of social media and the effects the internet has on children, and the more uncertain future.
“There’s hope that things will move in a positive space,” said Rzeznik. “Sometimes my fear is that this division is only going to deepen. I wonder if we’re living in a time where we’re going to see the dissolution of the union of our country, and the end of democracy. There is something better. It’s going to come, but I think the path to getting there is going to be kind of messy and scary.”
Photo by Claire Marie Vogel / BB Gun Press