It’s been five years since Good Charlotte’s last album, Cardiology, but chief songwriters Benji and Joel Madden haven’t lost their workaholic tendencies. In between helping guide a little band called 5 Seconds Of Summer to two No. 1 albums, the twins (and co-founders of the Maryland-based pop-punk icons) obsessed and toiled over a ’70s-inspired quasi-double album, Greetings From California, which they released last year under the name the Madden Brothers. But now, as the band are set to enter their 20th year together, Good Charlotte are back with a brand-new song, the John Feldmann-produced “Makeshift Love;” the Maddens chatted with AP about why stepping away from Good Charlotte might have been the best thing for them as songwriters, how 5 Seconds Of Summer inadvertently inspired the band’s next era and why, even with enough platinum plaques to wallpaper a Los Angeles mansion, they’ve still got an important message to share to listeners.
Interview by: Evan Lucy
Why now? What makes this the right moment to fire up Good Charlotte again?
BENJI: We started a company last year, and it’s a management/artist development/publishing thing—what I think is now the future. We do a little bit of everything. We became self-managed almost three years ago, and in the midst of that we thought we could take on more if we hired a few people. It’s called MDDN—we couldn’t think of anything better. [Laughs.] Now we not only manage Good Charlotte and the Madden Brothers, but we manage Jessie J and a band called Waterparks on Equal Vision. We’re working with Equal Vision and Fueled By Ramen. We’re developing a band from Australia called Chase Atlantic who have some buzz there and we manage John Feldmann. It’s just been really transformative. It’s been awesome to see the next phase of this career. It’s all stuff we’ve been doing for years, but the 5 Seconds of Summer project—between Joel, John and myself—was a real verification moment, watching that grow. We made the 5 Seconds Of Summer record [Sounds Good Feels Good], and we were really feeling the pop-punk vibe again. It was like, “Should we call the guys up again? It’s been so long.” And everybody was like, “Fuck yeah, let’s do it.”
JOEL: We have a lot to say. It’s been a while since we’ve put the Good Charlotte hat on. We were kind of waiting for the moment when we had to say some stuff that we’d mean. We weren’t just trying to write songs. We actually have some shit to say, and I personally wasn’t interested in [doing Good Charlotte again] until I felt that. I think we started writing the 5 Seconds Of Summer record, which is a pop-punk record, and me and Benj had some things we wanted to say that you can’t really say on someone else’s record. You can’t say how you feel on someone else’s record, so it sparked a need in us.
BENJI: Even musically, there are things you can’t do on someone else’s record. We couldn’t do [“Makeshift Love”] on anyone else’s record. It’s 2000-2002 pop-punk.
JOEL: It’s Good Charlotte. It’s so specific to Good Charlotte.
Your fingerprints are all over the 5 Seconds Of Summer record, but even when you’re in the room with other writers on a project like that, there are external forces. Bringing it back into the Good Charlotte camp is a pure thing.
BENJI: The beauty of Good Charlotte now is we’re completely independent. We’re our own everything. We shut it down for five years; we took it back and made it special to us, and now it’s really genuine. It’s really us and really special. That was the whole point of Good Charlotte.
JOEL: We all love each other. We’ve been in this band for 20 years next year. It’s the same guys, and Dean [Butterworth, drummer] has been in the band for over 10 years now. I’m not doing this unless it’s special. Benj was like, “We’re only going to do the shit we really want to do; that’s going to be the MO: We’re not going to play a show unless we mean it. We’re not going to do an interview unless we mean it. We’re just going to do shit we care about.” He really convinced me to come in on that, and the rest of the guys felt the same way. Benj has been the architect of GC all along, and that’s the biggest thing. In my life right now, I’ve been finding a lot of happiness in doing things I care about. I obviously care a lot about Good Charlotte; my youth was spent in that band. I gave my entire youth to that band. Anything else we do has got to be as fulfilling as raising kids, you know? Good Charlotte is everything to us; it was our lives for so many years. People can count on us that we mean this and we’re genuine in our efforts.
BENJI: We’re saying no to a lot of stuff, but we feel good about the stuff we’re saying yes to. This is a boutique thing for us now; it’s our baby. Good Charlotte was the baby that we started in 1996, Joel and I in our bedroom, and then brought in the other guys. It took us around the world, it took us to great heights, and then we decided to take it back and give it a rest.
JOEL: In the beginning, we were the only ones who believed in it, and that’s kind of how we feel now. It’s a really good feeling to be in control of it.
You two did an album, Greetings From California, under the Madden Brothers name. What did recording that new music allow you to do that Good Charlotte didn’t?
BENJI: Greetings From California released us. We made that record just as an art project, just for ourselves. It was a passion project, and there was something that I don’t know if there was ever a point, from the first Good Charlotte record through The Young And The Hopeless, where there wasn’t a total desire to make everyone happy. That’s just our nature; we like to please people. Greetings From California was getting to step away from Good Charlotte and be artists, and it really gave us something to bring back. It was a really corrective experience for us as far as being artists.
JOEL: As writers, producers—everything—that record was a huge step for us creatively. Forget about commercial success; I think that record was very special and allowed us to really grow. We couldn’t put a value on it, the experience as writers and producers and guys in music. It was a challenge. We put ourselves to a task, and I’m really proud of that music.
Are you able to bring some of that expanded musical worldview back to Good Charlotte, or are the two projects too disparate?
JOEL: I think the two definitely go hand in hand, because it’s all us. They definitely influence each other. There’s no question our musicality has grown, but there’s no question [we’re still Good Charlotte]. It’s like anyone: If you can lift more weight, you can lift more weight. When you go and hit the gym, you see the results. That Madden Brothers record was artistically challenging. It definitely made [this next era of Good Charlotte] sharper. We’ve always had the hunger, and I don’t know if that will ever really die. You can never really get rid of those expanded horizons.
Joel, you said you didn’t want to come back until you had something to say. What do you have to say now that you haven’t for the previous few years?
BENJI: It’s almost like you’re speaking from a different side of your brain in Good Charlotte, Joel. To me, Good Charlotte the brand represents a mindset of trying to kick down doors and do things that were positive and lead the way for some people. We still have that same spirit. [We’re coming back] in a time when I think everyone’s afraid to go to a certain point. Everyone’s afraid to lose radio, especially when bands are having a hard time surviving. You’ve got bands out there who have the biggest platforms available to them, and they’re afraid to make certain records. We feel the freedom to lead the way and have people go, “Oh, fuck. I have the freedom to not have to chase this or that.” We have this feeling of freedom now that we want to share with other bands. We want other bands to be empowered to have the same freedom, to make a record that’s genuinely what they want to make. There’s so much fear in the business, but the voice we’re using now is telling people to take more chances.
JOEL: We want to share all our experiences with younger bands. That fact that we’re doing this independently is very inspiring to us, and we’re just really happy with where we’re at. We still believe in music and creativity.
That’s what so commendable about the new 5 Seconds Of Summer album, songs like “Broken Home” and “Hey Everybody!” that are empowerment anthems. It reminds me a lot of the messages of your early music.
BENJI: Yeah, man, and that was something we shared with 5 Seconds Of Summer. They were a big part of us and the inception of this [new era of] Good Charlotte. Those guys are such an inspiration. They gave us the freedom “Broken Home” was the biggest win on that entire record because it had that message. That’s why pop-punk bands are making records. Pop-punk bands need to make records for the handful of fans out there that need that one song. We can do a few things: We can give people an escape just through the pure energy of the music. We can give kids music to turn up really loud as a way to hit back at society—it’s a positive place for kids to go. Music can be such a combatant to all the negative things in the world, and that’s what pop punk is. But then we can go and do songs like “Broken Home” and connect with kids that feel like there’s no one else who understands them. 5 Seconds Of Summer invited us into their circle and let us bring that message, which they delivered to the world. We thought that message was so important. “Broken Home” is one of the most important songs we’ve done in years, since “Hold On.” It’s a message that some kid out there needs—that’s what pop punk is, and that’s what Good Charlotte has always been about.
JOEL: With Good Charlotte and a song like “Hold On,” we said that even if it stopped one kid from doing something they couldn’t change, it was worth it. The movement of the idea is that every single person matters—this thing that gets lost when people get caught up in sales and charts—and the idea that 5 Seconds Of Summer are no different than Good Charlotte and care about every single one of those kids listening. “Broken Home” was a little uncomfortable territory for them because their families are still together, but they knew that if even one kid out there was going through a hard time, it’s worth it to put it on the record.
BENJI: You see the power of it when the record comes out and “Broken Home” is trending online. You see the power of the positive message. People need it, and it’s our job to look a little deeper every time we make a record. As artists, we need to look deeper about what kind of message we can give the world. That’s something we’ve been able to figure out with Good Charlotte.
So, after all these moves and changes, how does it feel to also be playing a comeback show?
BENJI: It feels good to be back, making music with some of our oldest friends and in love with GC all over again. It's really going to great to be onstage with the boys again.
What about being at the Troubadour specifically?
BENJI: While promoting our self-titled (2000) we played the Troubadour and Eric Valentine came out to see us in front of our fans. That night, we decided we would go into the studio together and make the next record, which would become [The Young and the Hopeless].
Any nerves at all?
BENJI: No nerves, but we will definitely hit a few rehearsals to shake the rust off! We’re looking forward to seeing some old and new faces.
What would make the next era of Good Charlotte a success?
JOEL: To be honest, I’d love for [this new era] to be what it’s always been: a place for kids to put on their headphones and get away from the world for 45 minutes or an hour.
BENJI: For us, it was all about making it special again. It’s already a success; it’s already a win.