Pop Punk

Good Charlotte's Benji Madden Describes What Inspired The Band's Comeback Album

Good Charlotte began its career with a bang and went on to rule the roost as one of pop-punk’s most successful bands among fans, with more than 10 million album sales. This happened despite harsh criticisms from rock critics as being too boy-bandish and heavy on the teen angst themes of young love and heartbreak.

" I force myself to listen to new music. I’m never gonna be the old guy that says, "That’s not this, or that’s not that." I don’t want to be a dinosaur."

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Yet after six albums, the twin brain-trust and originators of the band, Joel and Benji Madden, felt they were losing their musical identity. The creative spark present during the records the band made as young up-and-comers wasn't there. So in 2011, the band went on hiatus.

But the Maddens didn't just stop making music. The following October, the two released a mixtape, Before – Volume One, under the "Madden Brothers" moniker, followed by a 2014 release, Greetings from California, on Capitol Records.

Jump ahead to this past July, and Good Charlotte's sixth album, Youth Authority, marked an end to their sabbatical and its long-awaited return, harking back to what got them on the map with guitar-driven rock, harmonizing Madden Bros. vocals, and dashboard confessionals.

The album harks back to the band’s humble beginnings and pays homage to the old days. Sentimental anthems abound here, like on “Life Can’t Get Much Better,” and “Keep Swingin'," which features Kellin Quinn of Sleeping with Sirens.

The band is hoping the break in the action and subsequent back-to-basics and hearts-on-their sleeve songwriting so key to its platinum albums — 2002’s The Young and the Hopeless, 2004’s The Chronicles of Life and Death, and 2007’s Good Morning Revival  — will drive them forward for years to come.

New Times spoke with Benji Madden just ahead of the Youth Authority tour stop in Phoenix on Saturday, Oct. 22, at the 93.3 ALT AZ Zombie Prom. It is GC’s first local show since 2011, and the band will headline the ghoulish gig with openers the Struts, k. flay, THE HUNNA, and Barns Courtney at the Phoenix Event Complex. Madden spoke on the hiatus/comeback, new album, the inspiration of the current wave of pop-punk bands, the energy of the Arizona desert, and how family is his religion.
New Times: What was the breaking point of the band needing the hiatus, and how did the Madden Brothers’ project play a role or create a departure?

Benji Madden: The Madden Brothers was a function of needing to step away from Good Charlotte and musically not have any rules, any boundaries. What happened was, we started our band in 1996 in high school as kids from a really small town that really didn’t know anything. Went out in the world and managed to hustle and get ourselves a record deal, and managed to make it.

I think one lucky thing for us was [that] for whatever reason, Joel and I have always had the instinct to grow. We always want to better ourselves, we always want to learn, more become stronger, smarter, better versions of ourselves. That’s always been our drive.

Was there a sense the band was becoming too predictable or safe?
I felt like our band had gotten a bit watered down from the industry, if that makes any sense. We had been working with some people that didn’t care as much about the integrity of the band as we did. They were constantly trying to tell us to do things, whether it was for the money, or for whatever reason. It didn’t line up with where we started the whole thing. We were trying to make people happy, and we made decisions that weren’t in line with the soul of our band.

What lesson was the most valuable lesson learned from the Good Charlotte break?
What I learned through the hiatus was we were able to tell everyone else to fuck off, and we learned to trust in ourselves. We learned to trust in our own vision, our own dreams, kind of what got us here in the first place before we were worth a bunch of money to people who wanted to give us their opinions and tell us what we should be doing.

We went old school and decided to write a song a day like we did on the first couple of records. We write a song, sell it to the band, rehearse it, and record it, and that was it, and not over-think it ... just let it be raw and let it be real, don’t think about it, just let it be a stream of consciousness ... We’re not worried if it’s getting played on the radio; we’re just expressing ourselves.

The pop-punk scene has continued to grow even during your hiatus. How inspirational were those groups and which ones most inspired you?
State Champs, Knuckle Puck, Modern Baseball, All-Time Low, 5 Seconds of Summer — I love 'em all. I love new music; I force myself to listen to new music. I’m never gonna be the old guy that says, "That’s not this, or that’s not that." I don’t want to be a dinosaur. 

The age-old problem with young, hungry bands is that as once you find success and move into adulthood, those songs are not as relevant. It’s hard to sing about teen angst when you are an adult. How do you deal with this?
Your perspective constantly changes. What’s interesting is that there’s always going to be adversity in your life. When you are making a lot of money, there are people passing judgment on you. There are people that are looking at you differently than they were when you were younger.

Some national acts stay away from the dry heat of Arizona, and yet there a great number of bands who share the affinity for Arizona that its population loves. What draws GC to the Valley?
Arizona is a really special place. The energy of the desert is cool. One of my favorite artists of all time is Daniel Martin Diaz [who did artwork on the Cardiology album]. Arizona has always had its own vibe more than any other state in the country. There’s a new metal band from there called Ded. I think this is band that is going to be hugely successful.

Much has been written about the relationships you have with your wives [Cameron Diaz is Benji’s wife and Nicole Ritchie is Joel’s wife) and your mom, who raised you on her own pretty much. Can you put into words what family means to you?

Our wives are our anchors. They’re both incredible women, our best friends, and we wouldn’t be going into the next chapter of our lives as grown men [without them]. It’s like they say, when you have a great woman behind you, anything is possible. They make you feel like you can do anything.

To me, we have made it. When we were little kids, there was police at our house, all this drama, we said we’re going to stick together and we’re going to have good families. That’s the most important thing to us. It’s our religion. My mom is good; she’s very proud of us.

Is GC good to go now that you have your own label and are in control of the band more than ever before?
Good Charlotte is here to stay. We’re going to run it more like a boutique company than we did in the past if that makes sense. So, less will be more. So we’re here to stay, but we’re not necessarily trying to take over the world.

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Mark C. Horn
Contact: Mark C. Horn