Good Charlotte are back, with their… third best album? Joel Madden ponders where the band sit in 2016.
In November 2015, Good Charlotte announced to the world that they were back after a four year hiatus. With a sixth studio album ‘Youth Authority’ on the way, vocalist Joel Madden reflects on what the break did for his band, and where they stand twenty-odd years later. “I’m excited to get [the album] out, we all feel good about the record, we had a good time making it and I feel like we took enough time off,” Joel explains. “When we got back together, we all felt really great as a band and it was great to be together making music. We played a few shows, so it’s been great. We’re in a different place now.”
Ready to get stuck into everything again after nearly half a decade off, the band acted as support for All Time Low on their UK arena tour back in February. “That was like the first tour we had done in a long time. Everything we’ve been doing so far, we’ve been taking our time and doing shit we feel good about. We’ve toured together before [with All Time Low] and we’ve always talked about touring more together, we get along really well with those guys, and they’re really good friends of ours. They were like, ‘If you guys wanna come and make your first show with us, we would be stoked’, and we were like that’s a great idea, that’s perfect and that’s gonna be so much fun, and it was, it was a really fun tour, a good way to shake the rust off. The UK is awesome, the shows are always really great there.”
"We’ve been taking our time and doing shit we feel good about."
Playing to a new generation of pop punk fans didn’t unsettle them. “It is kind of like riding a bike, we do what we do, that’s not really going to change too much. We’ve always worked on being good live and got back into rehearsal before that tour and it came right together, but it did feel different ‘cause we’re older and we have families. It’s not the same kind of tour we used to do. When we used to tour our intentions were different, we were trying to have a good time, but it was a cool experience to have.”
Family life is paramount to Joel, with leaving home being the toughest hurdle he’s face since being back, and one that he is not willing to compromise. “I don’t want do this if we don’t mean it, and I’m not going to do anything I don’t want to do. That was kind of the deal when we all sat down, I was like yeah I definitely want to make a record, it’s been a long time since I’ve had something to say [but] I don’t know if I wanna go on tour. We definitely want to play some shows, but we’re just taking it tour by tour. We’re only doing shit we feel is special to us, and that’s the rule now.”
Since the hiatus, there’s a new sense of maturity in the band, but one that has always been under the surface of their non-conformist, down to earth personalities, and one that explains the longevity of their formidable careers. “I don’t know if we feel compelled to win anyone over [now], I think in 2016, we’re all comfortable with who we are. I don’t know if we have a point to prove, we have a lot to say, I think it’s ‘cause we’re older. I don’t think we need to defend anything, we know we’re good live and the record’s good, but we aren’t necessarily out there selling it. We’re independent now, and that to us means we have a lot of freedom. We don’t need to take over the world, we want to play shows we want to play and have a good time.”
Good Charlotte are a band who knows what’s what, always taking a fearless outspoken, but not superior, perspective of the world around them, which resonates on the second single from the album ’40 oz Dream’, which is a satirical stance of the music scene in 2016. “’40 oz Dream’ isn’t a serious attack on anyone, it’s funny. We’ve been gone for a long time, and it’s like we wake up and we’re like… who am I in 2016? Where do I even fit in? It kind of makes fun of ourselves, kind of makes fun of everyone else. And it’s laughing at everything, going like yeah it’s kind of fucked up and different, but there is some good stuff, and some not so good stuff. It is what music always has been. We’ve always had a take on saying what we see in the world that’s kind of sarcastic, [but] it’s not that serious.”
Twenty years on, Good Charlotte are wiser than ever, the experience they have is unmatched. In a world where music is so accessible with streams and torrents, and more and more pop punk bands are trying to make it into the mainstream, it is easy to make a quick judgement and assume the ethos has gone from authentic unadulterated punk, to radio chart trash. “Some things never change, and some things do,” Joel offers on the topic of whether he thinks there’s a big difference in how pop punk bands were when his band rose to fame in the early 2000s, and how pop punk bands are now currently. “I love bands that are doing it today, because in some ways they’re up against more than I was, and in some ways it’s easier. It’s different for everyone.
“We’re in a time now where kids don’t necessarily just have one genre they listen to, they listen to everything. We grew up in a time where everyone categorised you and you were separated into your pile. We always pushed against that, we were one of the early bands in pop punk who really tried to push the boundaries of what you could do in a song and what you could say, so we had our challenges because it certainly was a punk world back then. I remember opening for Bad Religion and playing with bands like Rancid, it was a tough audience for us sometimes, but we believed we were doing something, and we were pushing our agenda, that we can be catchy and poppy, and we can be on [MTV series] TRL, and we can do what we thought no bands from our genre had done before.
“We were really trying to push the limit of what we could accomplish. Some people liked it, some people didn’t. I get it, it’s subjective, but at the time we were really on a mission. The pop punk genre wasn’t taken seriously, it wasn’t really looked at like real music. It was really kind of ignored by the music industry as a whole, there was no Grammy category. We always felt like we were trying to push the boundaries of what a pop punk band, a band from a garage, and a band that predominantly teenagers love, could accomplish. And some of it we did, some of it we didn’t, but we definitely tried, and so it was a developing time and it was a new thing when we did it. Now I think that it’s different today, and it’s just as challenging for them. It’s cool to see that they’re still trying to push the boundaries of what our music can accomplish and how serious people take it.”
"We don’t need to take over the world."
As always when a band who have been around for as long as these guys have, music critics and fans speculate as to whether or not the new album is a return back to the golden days, or an attempt to fit in with 2016 rock music. ‘Youth Authority’ is neither. “Some of the music on this record does seem like our old stuff, but there’s some new stuff there too. There wasn’t a master-plan, we were like let’s make a record that has energy. We want a record that we can listen to and that we can love, and so some of that is just us in our DNA. This is a very honest record, there was no vision to make a musical masterpiece. I don’t want to make a record that’s trying to make it to the radio, I don’t want anything that makes it feel like we have some kind of plan to have a Number 1 song, I hate that shit right now. I just want to make a record that I can feel like I can say some shit that I wanna say.”
But it isn’t the opposite either, thankfully. “It’s not a nostalgia record, it doesn’t feel nostalgic but it is true to our roots. We’re at that place where we don’t feel like we need to keep up with anyone, we don’t feel like we need to be particularly relevant in the sense of the Drakes of the world, the bands of the world, or the people that rule music now. We don’t wanna rule music, we just wanna do our thing.”
Why then, the comparison to where Good Charlotte first started off? “The biggest thing that we returned to was the spirit. If you put it next to the first album [2000’s self-titled], it sounds nothing like it. I think people have the idea of our first album because of an energy and a spirit there. If you break it down sonically, they’re nothing alike. You’re really feeling the intention, and the spirit of the record is not so self-conscious, it’s really truly honest. We just wrote the songs, we didn’t over-think the pre-chorus, we didn’t think how we could make the bridge bigger, we wrote the songs until they were done. It’s more raw; the hope, the vibe and the spirit of that hopefulness has returned to the music. I think that’s really what Good Charlotte had in the early days, it was really survival music for us. We needed to make it [because] we had nothing.”
The spirit of the record may lean more towards punk than the bonafide pop of their later work, but can fans expect ‘Youth Authority’ to be a rock or pop record? “‘40 oz Dream’ is kind of an exception because it’s a very pop song, and always my least favourite songs on [our] records are the ones that become singles. ‘Life Changes’ is probably my favourite song on the record, it’s truly special to me and I think there’s a couple of songs fans will love if they like ‘Life Changes’, there’s a lot of that on the record. I think this is probably a rock leaning record. As Good Charlotte goes, we’re just always fucking melodic, everything we write is super catchy, we can’t get away from wanting to be catchy. Every time we get to the chorus, every idea we have is I want it to be catchy. I think ‘Youth Authority’ is a Top 3 record. I think that ‘Young and Hopeless’ is our second best record, and I think ‘Good Morning Revival’ is our first. I think with ‘Good Morning Revival’, people don’t give it the credit it needs, as a record and for where we were at for our age. I think we really put together a body of work that was cohesive.”
This cohesive nature resonates on ‘Youth Authority’, especially on the band’s collaboration choices of Sleeping With Sirens’ Kellin Quinn and Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil. Though two artists with noticeably different fanbases, this didn’t phase Joel. “If you look at all of our collabs, they’re kind of strange. It always starts as friends, and when it comes to friends you don’t really do genres. We’d be working on a record and we’d be hanging out, and we’re like oh you should jump on a song or we should write a song, it always happens naturally. Kellin is a really good friend of ours, we worked on his record [2015’s ‘Madness’], and we love that guy and that band. He’s a good songwriter and we don’t really do focus songwriting sessions, with Good Charlotte it’s really just friends and family, and if we’re making a record friends come by and are like can we work on the record too, and we’re always like of course. So Kellin was in and he had this riff or whatever, and we just made a song really fast actually, and we finished it like in a day. I didn’t even really think about it, I went back and listened to it a week later, and I was like fuck, this song is really good man, it’s different, it’s tons of attitude. I lived with it for like a week or two, I wasn’t sure of it at first and then I listened to it, and I was like fuck this is one of my favourite songs on the record, I love his voice, the bridge is my favourite part of the song, he fucking killed the bridge. And I called him and I was like can we put that song on our record, and he was like fuck yeah, that’s awesome.
“It was a natural progression, there was no master plan to get a bunch of co-writers and features or anything, Simon was the same thing, I was a big fan, and it was a nice opportunity to meet him and he was in LA writing songs. He is the fucking nicest guy I’ve ever fucking met, the nicest rock star on the fucking planet. He’s humble and he’s a really good songwriter, and he’s an interesting artist, and I’ve been a fan for a long time of Biffy Clyro. We met and we had a really nice talk, we never met before, so we hung out for an hour or two, and we were like talking shoot the shit and he was like well I’m here writing if you wanna write, I was like are you kidding me I’d love to write. We went in and we wrote, and the song came out and we finished it in like a day, and again I went back and listened to it and I was like fuck this might be one of my favourite Good Charlotte songs we’ve ever done, and I got to do it with Simon, and being that he’s such a great guy, those songs were organic and they just happened. These [collaboration] songs are slightly different as they have new energy.”
Twenty years on, Joel Madden and his band are wiser than ever. Though they are associated with that youthful spirit of true 00s pop punk, he and Good Charlotte couldn’t be more mature. From being loud mouthed twenty-somethings singing about the lifestyles of the rich and famous, to being nearly forty and actually rich and famous, it’s easy to make the sweeping assumption that they’re past their sell by date and comfortable with where they’re at now. ‘Youth Authority’ isn’t a fuck you, or an attempt to win back the die-hard fans of ‘The Young and The Hopeless’, but instead a true and authentic documentation of a band who have seen and survived it all, and who couldn’t be more grateful and humble of the success that they’ve had. “Being in a pop punk band for me in 2016, means still believing that you can do it yourself. That you don’t have to change or be something to make it, you can build it yourself, you can believe in yourself, and you can bet on yourself. If you write good songs and you believe in yourself, and you do the right thing, you can make it. There will be people who believe in you, and you can have and live the life you wanna live if you don’t let anyone talk you out of what you’re doing, and you don’t change. Don’t change to make it. Make it to change.”
Taken from the July issue of Upset, out now - order your copy here. Good Charlotte’s new album ‘Youth Authority’ is out 15th July.