"You really question how you feel when you're a teen-ager, and how intense every single move you make is," says Johnny Rzeznik. "And then there's the feeling you get when you're 28, going, 'My God, life is so different, I'm such a different person now than I was when I was 15.'
"Almost everyone I know has to get up and do something that they'd rather not be doing every day. I really feel for them."
Rzeznik's ability to snag that feeling and distill it into an aching, folk-tinged ballad called "Name" has transformed his band, the Goo Goo Dolls, from a long-term almost-there into a new rock contender.
"Name" recently moved into the Top 10 on the national singles chart, helping the group's fifth album, "A Boy Named Goo," reach the gold-record sales plateau of 500,000.
That's chump change for Michael Bolton, but for the Buffalo-based Goo Goo Dolls--singer-guitarist Rzeznik and singer-bassist Robby Takac, along with new drummer Mike Malinin--it's a major reversal of fortune after a hard-touring decade of bubbling under.
"It was never really discouraging," Rzeznik (pronounced Reznik) says. "I guess if one of your goals is to be a millionaire and to be incredibly huge, I guess it could get frustrating. But we were always happy just playing music.
"It's a cool job. Me and Robby try to be as grateful as possible for everything we've been given. At any given time you could be [saying], 'Would you like a hot apple pie with your order today, sir?' "
While "Name" has turned things around for the Dolls (who will perform at the KROQ "Almost Acoustic Christmas" concert Dec. 18 at the Universal Amphitheatre), the song's tender tone is atypical of the trio's blend of pop-flavored punk and anthemic rock. It's music in a tradition spawned by such pioneering groups as the Replacements and Bob Mould's Husker Du.
"All those bands really laid the groundwork," says Rzeznik, 29. "That kind of music was really not accepted. Then a second generation comes along, like the Gin Blossoms, Soul Asylum and us, and bridged the gap and blew the whole thing wide open, made the format of alternative radio really a viable thing."
Now, though, Rzeznik sees that outlet stalling, rather than encouraging, a vital rock scene.
"It seems that a lot of radio isn't band-driven anymore, it's song-driven, so there's not a loyalty to bands. I hope that the guys at radio can start to stick by bands more and let careers develop.
"I think that bands have to really think about being bands a lot more too. There's a lot of people that just want to write a song, get a hit and then retire."
What does it mean to be a band?
Says Rzeznik: "It means being willing to have one day off in six months and then have somebody call you and say, 'I need you to do this for me,' and doing it. And it's being willing not to make a penny when everybody around you is making money and all your friends are finishing grad school and stuff, and you're out in a van."
If that sounds a little hard-bitten coming from a musician whose band is notable for its buoyant exuberance, it helps explain the strain of melancholy lacing the Goo Goo Dolls' music.
"I'm incredibly pessimistic, but at the same time I keep hoping for the best," Rzeznik says. "Everything's a little bittersweet. Every time you get something going your way, there's always a price to pay. I'm so happy that we're able to go out and play for nine months to mostly sold-out shows. But the downside of that is that I've got to be away from my wife.
"There's always that little twinge of sadness in every accomplishment. But that's life."
* The Goo Goo Dolls is one of 10 acts scheduled for the second night of KROQ's "Almost Acoustic Christmas" concerts, Dec. 18, 6 p.m., at the Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, (818) 980-9421. Tickets are on sale today at $25.