Let the good times roll
Good Charlotte talk to Ailbhe Malone about reaching rock bottom, the tabloid in trusion from dating Paris and Nicole, and how their new album finally signifies past troubles overcome
In a luxury hotel room, looking out over the London skyline, Benji and Joel Madden -- the identical twin frontmen of multi-platinum-selling American rock band, Good Charlotte -- are sitting and yawning. It's the third day of European press -- and so far they've taken in Paris and Berlin. So then, one would presume that they must be tired of talking about their new album Cardiology?
"No, not at all," answers Benji. "It's nice to talk about the music -- it's nice when people want to talk about the music. We like that."
And there it is. Despite having been in a band for more than 10 years, the Madden brothers are probably better known for being satellites to the LA Socialite scene. Benji -- the elder, by five minutes -- was in a relationship with Paris Hilton for almost a year. Joel is currently engaged to Nicole Richie and is father to her two children, Harlow and Sparrow.
Such tabloid intrusion has caused lesser bands to crumble. Good Charlotte's contemporaries Fall Out Boy parted ways last year -- the reason given was the amount of press bassist Pete Wentz's life (he's married to Ashlee Simpson) garnered had taken away from the band's priorities.
That the twins' social life would influence their fans' opinions of the band is a legitimate concern, but not one which the brothers are bothered by. It's a sentiment reflected in their 2008 single I Just Wanna Live -- around the time when Paris met Benji, and Nicole met Joel.
Reluctantly, Joel opens: "It's definitely something you could think of -- that the tabloids covering our lives were overshadowing the band." Benji quickly interjects: "We live in the real world -- that's not the real world," before Joel finishes: "And for us, what does it say about me if I don't do something because I'm afraid of what people will think?
"There's a million reasons why you can criticise anything we've done, people we've dated, but what does that make us if we're walking around, and we don't do something because we're afraid of what people are going to think? It would contradict anything we've ever done anyways. We've always just been ourselves. Some people are either going to meet us, shake our hand, and give us a shot, or they're not. What can I do about that?"
While their celebrity connections may be sometimes uncomfortable, it's undeniable that they've given the band a boost like no other. In comparison to groups such as Green Day, Good Charlotte have been wholeheartedly accepted into Middle America -- unusual for a group of pierced, tattooed, guy-liner-wearing rockers. Benji and Joel even recently appeared on The Tyra Banks Show -- something that Billy Joe Armstrong wouldn't be caught dead doing.
The twins accept that they have been welcomed into Middle America's bosom, but put the fact down to hard work and derring-do, rather than famous girlfriends. And for the most part, they're right.
Joel shrugs. "I don't know how to explain why we've been assimilated into Middle America. One thing is that we don't take any of it seriously. It's easy for us to go on things and not criticise what we're doing. We're not too good to do anything. If someone wants to have us on their show and play our music, we're going to do it. We feel really lucky to have people ask us on The Tyra Banks Show or whatever. So, um, and it's weird how the way we look and the way we sound -- it's like two different things."
Since being signed 10 years ago, the group have hardly stopped working. Tour followed album, followed tour, followed album -- leading them to be on the road for almost nine years. For two boys from a small village in Baltimore, the change was staggering.
Joel agrees: "We got signed when we were 20 years old. We'd never been anywhere in the world, we'd never even been on a plane! And then we were off and running. For 10 years, we just hit it hard. We had to grow up in front of everyone, we had to find ourselves musically in front of everyone. When we put our first record and our second record, we were so naïve to think that the whole world would just like us as much as we liked us. We were so excited and green. We didn't know that to show excitement wasn't cool. We wanted to be the biggest band in the world -- we didn't know you weren't supposed to say that. We were from this little town, and we thought everyone would think it was neat. 'We got signed! Isn't that awesome!' We learned a lot about the world in the first five years. And the first five years affected the next three, where we had a bit of a dark time. It took a bit of a dark turn."
This "dark turn", is what Benji earlier described in a Kerrang! interview as "a tornado of darkness". Depression and self-doubt spiralled. What's more interesting though, is how the brothers found their way out of the dark. A quick glance at either Madden's tattoos (and there are many) show a deep spiritual bond -- Benji has the Last Supper etched from his left elbow to his hand, and a Sacred Heart on his voicebox (as well as a praying Mary on his neck). Joel, meanwhile, has both forearms covered with various images of Jesus.
And there's no denying that their faith helped them when they were at their lowest, explains Joel. "God keeps you grounded. Answering to God, he's the only one I answer to."
Benji nods in agreement. "And at the end of the day, if you don't know the answer to something, you can go, 'God, this one's for you. You take this one'."
It's a theme that they've only recently begun to explore in song, says Benji. "Right Where I Belong, on the new album, is about our relationship with God. It's a pretty spiritual song, about finding God again. That's kind of a rewarding song to write -- just for yourself -- because you get to share your feelings on something that I'd like to write more about in the future, but it's just got to come.
"I think it's something we probably wanted to share at the start, and we probably tried to do it at times, but we didn't know how to articulate because we were too young. 'What's the word for that? How do you say that?' And now the older you get you just know how to write things differently."
There's a sense of relief contained in the new album -- of troubles in the past overcome. The twins couldn't agree more, and nod vehemently.
In closing, Joel offers his own summation of the past decade: "We started 14 years ago in a garage, and we learned and earned everything one step at a time. Money can't buy the kind of humility and respect that you earn from weathering storms. I was talking to a friend last night about music, and he said, 'how do you know that you have a good boat'? And I answered, 'It makes it through a storm'. We're on a good ship."
Good Charlotte's new album 'Cardiology' is out today