Two years on from their 2016 comeback album 'Youth Authority', Good Charlotte have returned with the powerful, emotionally raw 'Generation RX'. With much of the album based on subjects as meaty as the Opioid crisis, the loss of musical icons and battles with ghosts from the past, it is a huge world away from the breezy pop-punks of old. Upset caught up with Benji and Joel Madden in L.A. to find out more.
You came back from your hiatus a couple of years ago with 'Youth Authority', what are your thoughts on that record now?
Benji: I love that record man, I really love it. We went through a period where my brother told me on a few different occasions that he was never doing Good Charlotte ever again. He felt that it was our baby, that it had gotten us out of poverty and rough situations and it was time to take it back. It's provided for our families, y'know? We came into the industry as little lambs… young, innocent, kind of green. We'd never even been on an aeroplane before our first record deal!
Joel: When you are young, you don't know that you have a choice. You don't give yourself permission to be in control. And I sometimes think young people don't give themselves the credit that their instincts are good, that they know more than they probably think.
Benji: We didn't have an education, no parents around us. We didn't have anyone older around blocking for us or being a bodyguard for us. But when we came of age, we turned from little lambs into fucking wolves; we stood up for ourselves. We said everyone can fuck off; this is ours. It wasn't about business any more. We took all the merch offline for five years, closed the website and took control back.
Joel: As an older guy, you understand that all of the ideas that tell you that you need to be anyone other than yourself are bullshit. Being yourself always wins. When you learn to be yourself, you can control your own experiences and feel ok about them.
Benji: At the end of 2010, we were like a football player that got injured, tore an ACL or something. We kinda limped off the field, on our own terms though, so our heads were held up high. And that was that. Even my kids and my wife would say, "He used to be in a band!" But then one day, Joel said to me, "Man, I need to take a fucking swing again." There's some stuff he can only say when he's in Good Charlotte. When we write, we write from this place that goes back to our pain, our youth, a place where it's all real. 'Youth Authority' felt like the moment Joel's ACL injury healed. But it was just us jogging back onto the field, warming up and trying to get that swing back.
Joel: I didn't even know what it meant to be in Good Charlotte when we put 'Youth...' out. I don't think we had any expectations; we just wanted to put the record out. It was kinda nice to ease back in, put it out and promote it. Touring it was limited to special shows, it all had almost a nice boutique feel to it. Because everything is now controlled by us, it's re-defined the band for me.
'Generation RX' is a really honest, emotionally raw album. It almost feels like a whole new band. Was the song-writing a cathartic period?
Benji: On this record, we just tapped into that real pain, that real fucking emotion where all of our lives were shaped.
Joel: We are hindered by this world being so cynical, a world where sometimes people want to grab a piece of your personal life and present it as something it's not. It forces you to put a persona out into the world to protect you from people getting to know who you are. You edit yourself to protect your family. When making the record, I had to remove that whole part of my life and create a safe space to just let it all come out.
Benji: When we went into the studio, the reason I wanted to produce it was because I felt that the only way I would get what I felt we needed from Joel was the safety of a private studio. Just me and Joel in there. Being as real as shit. We have this creative partnership that is beyond just writing songs. We care about each other, and we care about the fans. We are able to be vulnerable together. I don't want to be dramatic and say I wouldn't be alive today without Joel being there, but it's probably true. If I didn't have my brother, I'm not sure I would have survived my life to this point.
The music world has lost some true icons over recent years. Tracks like ‘Shadow Boxer' are reminiscent of Linkin Park, was that a conscious decision?
Joel: For me, yeah. Personally, there's been a lot of death and loss over the last couple of years. Some people everyone knows, and others are more personal. Chester passing away really affected me because you always wish you could have said something to someone, and you didn't get the chance to. That really stays with you. Lately, I just say everything to everyone now, I've learned that you may never get another chance. I was such a huge fan of Linkin Park, and I never expressed that [to him] because, sometimes, as artists or just as people, you play it cool or hold it back. I regret that. I found myself going back through all of their albums, and feeling inspired and wanting to get some of that feeling on this record. It's the only way I know how to pay someone a tribute.
It feels that an awareness of mental health and the need to speak has been really growing recently, lots of bands are now talking and singing about it.
Joel: Yeah, and I don't think that's just a trend. It's new territory for a lot of people, so they're exploring it, and it's all coming out. I think the more bands that do that and are fearless about being vulnerable, the better. But also the fans man, those who depend on music to help with their feelings, or escapism. This genre as a whole really tends to captivate people who struggle with their own self-esteem and self-worth.
Benji: As kids, on our first few records, we were just so unconscious, we weren't even aware of ourselves or what we were writing. We were just going and rhyming words, and thinking "I don't know why, but it feels good to get this shit out". And we didn't even stop to make sense of it. But if I go back to songs on our first album, they're about depression. Songs on our second album, they're about alienation and inner struggles. I was just puking out this pain, this angst. And I found a way to do it sarcastically, or comically. I'd add a little sarcasm y'know, but the thing I knew always resonated, the thing that always came through, was that we always had this desire to remain, through all of it, hopeful. Not to feel completely hopeless.
Joel: That always tends to have been a theme with Good Charlotte. I think that we're just becoming a little bit more fearless in expressing it, and instead of us saying to fans that they're going to be ok, we're saying that we are just like you. We're all struggling with this stuff.
Are songs like ‘Leech' going to be hard to perform live?
Joel: That's a good question, I think there's a big difference in being alone in a vocal booth and then being in front of thousands of people laying bare your innermost fears and insecurities.
Benji: I had no idea what I was writing about when I wrote that song but when I stepped back, it's about my childhood. It's about my relationship with my parents. It's about some traumas and neglect and different things that we dealt with. It's about poverty. And it just started coming out of me.
Joel: Every night we do meet-and-greets with fans, and they will share with you why they relate to a specific lyric or song. It really affects me. It gives me a certain confidence, and I will think about that person or the situation when we play the song later. When you hear everyone else singing along, you just feel like you're in one big group.
You got Sam Carter to sing on that song, how did that come about?
Joel: That was my dream come true, he's just the best. I kind of revere Architects as a band. Joey Simmrin at MDDN is their manager, and we were just shooting the shit one night as ‘Leech' wasn't finished. We didn't know what to do at the bridge; it was the very last bit on the record. Joey knew that we wouldn't ask Sam, but he sent it to him, and he jumped on it.
Benji: When I first played ‘Leech' for people, my face was red because that shit is so real. But I'm getting more comfortable with it, and I think I'm getting ok with it because, y'know, Sam Carter felt it and loved it. That gave me a little more confidence with it.
Joel: He cut his vocal in Brighton, and sent it over. It's a little too short for me; I wished he had sung over the rest of the song because I love his voice. I believe that Architects are blazing trails, one of the most important bands in this business. They are doing it for a higher purpose than just trying to be successful.
Is there anyone you haven't worked with that you would love to?
Joel: I love Oli [Sykes] from BMTH, I would love to put him on a record. I love Chase Atlantic, artistically how they work is really interesting to me. Frank Carter is one of my favourites. I just love him, Frank and Sam Carter are two of the greatest frontmen in rock music today.
'Generation RX' is the second time you've worked with producer Zakk Cervini. How was that?
Joel: It was great, that combination of Benj and Zakk works so well. Benj had never really taken the reigns before, but he sat down with Zakk and said: "This is what I want to accomplish." They were the two masterminds driving the album.
Benji: The studio is just down the hall from my office in Burbank. So, every night after work we would work on the record for two to three hours. Just me, Joel and Zakk. I said to Joel one night before we started: "This record, if we're not gonna do it for real, we shouldn't even fucking do it. It's got to be real." And Joel felt the same way, so I said why don't we try to not even have a subject matter or an angle or a direction. We just pick up a guitar like we did when we were kids. And if it sounds cool, and sounds fun, and sounds interesting to us, then let's just see what comes out. The same with lyrics and melodies.
Joel: Zakk has a very modern approach to making music, and Benj is really old-school. The two together are a perfect combination. When we started making music, it was all analogue. So Zakk brings a fresh new approach to the band. Some things you can't fake, and Benj would make sure we got the take. If you asked me "Do you wanna make another record?", I would say yes. If you asked who with, I would say Benj and Zakk.
Benji: If there was another producer or an A&R guy, or a manager, or some other guy in the room, they'd have said "You can't do a song like this", but we did it, and it felt so good to get it out.
2019 brings a huge tour, including an Ally Pally show…
Benji: We are so stoked. One of the big things for us now is to listen to our own instincts, and do what we like. For us, production is a huge deal, and we are doing all the things that we kinda wished that we had done when we were young.
Joel: I'm excited and a bit nervous. These are probably the biggest shows that we've ever done in Europe on our own. We're using this record as a cornerstone to build a whole show on, bringing in all of the old songs that everyone loves. Finding a way to make all the old and new work together is a great challenge.
Benji: Ally Pally is gonna be exciting. We're gonna bring a show there that we've never brought anywhere before. It's more about making the night special than anything else.
Joel: We don't tour a lot these days, so when we do we wanna make it special. It's about creating something special that makes people say "Man, I'm glad I spent my money on that show".
Taken from the October issue of Upset. Good Charlotte's album 'Generation RX' is out 5th October.
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