Many of the Goo Goo Dolls’ songs come with a message — but for frontman John Rzeznik, some of those messages are more personal than others.
In the band’s new music video for “You Are the Answer,” which PEOPLE is exclusively premiering, a woman goes on a healing journey into her past, which includes an abusive father, in order to embrace her present.
“The song is just about being true to yourself and trying to have faith in yourself and go where the love is,” Rzeznik, 56, tells PEOPLE. “I’ve been trying to do that for a while because somebody a long time ago said to me, ‘Just don’t deal with people that are bad for you. Just go where the love is.’ That’s one of the themes that seems to crop up in a lot of the music that I write.”
The powerful track comes off the Goo Goo Dolls’ 13th studio album Chaos in Bloom, which was released in August. Its moving video was the brainchild of filmmaker Keenan O’Reilly, who wrote a treatment based on his interpretation of the song’s lyrics, and presented it to the band.
“I saw it and was just like, ‘Ugh.’ It just destroyed me inside,” Rzeznik says. “It just moved me so much.”
To further show their support for victims of domestic violence, the Goo Goo Dolls concluded the video with a shout out to the organization Joe Torre Safe at Home, which helps children exposed to violence heal from trauma with programs in schools. The band also partnered with the organization on their most recent tour, selling signed guitars and donating the proceeds, and amplifying its mission.
“I grew up in a house where there was some domestic violence and alcoholism and when I found out about the Joe Torre Safe at Home organization, I just was instantly moved,” says Rzeznik. “I called my manager, I’m like, ‘We need to get involved with these people,’ because … you cannot live without hope, and there are so many kids out there who feel scared and alone.”
The organization was founded in 2002 by former MLB star and manager Joe Torre and his wife Ali. Like Rzeznik, Torre also witnessed domestic violence at home as a child.
“It’s like there’s still a shame involved there. I love my mom and dad. I’ve been without them a lot longer than I was with them, and you don’t want to embarrass your family,” says Rzeznik, who was mostly raised by his older sisters after his parents died when he was a teenager. “But the point is, the shame keeps the cycle of violence going. That’s the most insidious, most horrible part of it, is that what you carry around inside yourself, and how you start to perceive the world, is no fault of your own .”
Having learned to thrive in spite of their circumstances, both Torre and the “Iris” singer are now dedicated to providing resources that can allow other children to do the same. For Rzeznik, that includes Liliana, the 5-year-old daughter he shares with wife Melina Gallo.
“After my mother died, I went to see a therapist, and just hearing someone say, ‘You’re OK, you’re going to be fine and I’m going to be here for you’….That is so important to tell my kid that, every day,” he says. ” ‘Even though I’m not here, even though I’m not in the room with you and I have to travel to make money to take care of our family, I’m with you.’ I tell her I love her, and I tell her, ‘You’ve got greatness inside you, but you’ve got to do the work.’ She’s 5, she has no idea. But you know what, one day it’s going to click.”
Rzeznik’s songs have long championed the underdog, and hits like “Black Balloon,” “Slide” and “Acoustic #3” told women’s stories in ways rarely seen in mainstream music. Now the father of a young daughter, the musician says his perspective on songwriting has only become more inspired.
“Having a little daughter, it’s like, ‘I just want her to be strong and independent and be a whole person,'” he says. “‘Don’t worry, you don’t need anybody else to complete your picture. You are everything you need.'”
The rockers have had the chance to spread their message with a summer stadium tour, and recently extended the dates through the end of October. After being forced to lay low for a bit due to the pandemic, Rzeznik says playing new music for crowds is like “walking up from some kind of fever dream.”
While new tracks off Chaos in Bloom of course make the setlist, the star also makes a point to note that the band’s biggest hit, “Iris,” (which recently hit 1 billion streams on Spotify) will remain a staple of their shows.
“I’m just happy I wrote that song, that’s all,” he says. “I’m happy that people can still relate to it, and that it still means something to the next generation.”
He continues: “It’s like, how can you not be? I don’t know, that’s always kind of bugged me when I would hear an artist say, ‘Oh, I’m so sick of that song.’ That song is the reason why this person’s talking to you right now… It’s a privilege to get out there and do this. You have to be grateful for the songs that brought you success.”
If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.