Good Charlotte returned to us with ‘Youth Authority’ in 2016. It was an album about proving the band still had something to say. “It was us swinging the bat again, showing everyone that we can still hit the ball,” starts Joel Madden.
Already, their new album ‘Generation RX’ looks set to embrace the future; first single ‘Actual Pain’ sees the band stepping into the unknown. “Now, we want to grow,” promises Joel. “Now, let’s see what we can do.”
We’re sat backstage at Slam Dunk. It’s very warm, and the band’s makeshift air conditioning is whirring away in the corner. “We brought our biggest fan,” grins Benji Madden. It doesn’t matter how big Good Charlotte got; they were always those kids who made good on their dreams. None of that has been lost – goofy dad jokes, sincerity or making what they do count.
‘Generation RX’ “just happened”, he explains. “These days, we try and follow our feelings and not think about much else. Right after the holidays, we felt inspired. We felt like we had something to say,”
Taking to one of the studios at their MDDN offices, the band got creative to see if anything took shape.
“We didn’t want to do anything unless there was a point,” starts Joel, as Benji adds: “We didn’t make a record for the sake of making a record. We just started writing; maybe it’ll be three songs? We didn’t know.”
By March though, they were almost done with ‘Generation RX’.
“We love every song on the record. There’s no filler. Every song on the record matters. It felt like making our first couple of records,” Benji continues. “Before everyone has an expectation, and you were making records purely on feeling. We’ve been finding our way back to that place. It’s taken fifteen years to do it.”
“There were no expectations,” explains Joel. There was also no timeline, “because we had the freedom to do it like that. Away from the pressure of expectation and working to a plan, ‘Generation RX’ can just be.”
“We made a raw record that feels honest and pure,” offers Benji. “It just happened, and it felt good. It feels gratifying to have the first song come out. We love ‘Actual Pain’. It’s only been out a couple of days, and I’ve already had people come up to me, say they love it and quote a lyric. Already, I feel understood.
“We love the message behind it and the sound of it. There are pieces of every record in that song. There are pieces of ‘Good Morning Revival’, there are pieces of the earlier stuff we did, but I think it’s a song we couldn’t have done until this point in our career.”
“But the record goes so much deeper,” promises Joel. “’Actual Pain’ is a good introduction to the record but it goes so much deeper, and I’m excited for people to hear the songs because we opened up on it.”
‘Generation RX’ isn’t Good Charlotte making a record for the sake of making a record; there’s a purpose behind it. It looks at “what we’ve had a front-row seat to over the last eighteen years,” says Benji, before handing off to Joel.
“It’s a record all about pain. We see kids in so much pain, and we relate to it. This record is all about that pain. It’s about going in and asking what your pain is and how you deal with that pain. The Opiate crisis in America, it’s personally touched all of our lives, and our family’s lives in so many ways.”
They’ve always just talked about what they’ve known, their music a mirror for what surrounds them.
“It’s interesting to me that we’ve never said anything about it before, but I don’t think anyone realised it was happening until it was too late,” he continues. “This album is all about that inner struggle, and that experience that we’ve all gone through. These are just feelings that come out, and we just try and articulate them.
“It’s not an ad or a promo for some charity,” nor does the record have all the answers. “It’s more about the emotional experience we’re all going through that gets us to a place where we want to kill the pain that’s in all of us.”
While some people turn to drink or drugs, Good Charlotte turned to art. “That’s what music was supposed to be there for. That’s what it was for us as kids,” explains Benji.
“We do feel responsible. Life is painful, no matter who you are. Being human is painful, but every artist I know has a big heart. Artists have bleeding hearts, and we do feel responsible. We see kids in pain, and we think, ‘Man, that was me’. We remember those records that got us through the toughest days.”
Good Charlotte are trying to pass it on.
“For me, as a father, as an older brother, as an older guy in the music scene, I’ve been through it all,” promises Joel. “I’ve done it all. I’m not here to judge anyone or criticise anyone, but I would like to share some perspective. Hopefully, people can gain something from my experience, and get something positive from it.
“Maybe it’ll help them reflect on their own experience, and if anything positive comes out of even having the conversation, then I feel like we’re contributing in a positive way. It’s important we do our part to try and help people, encourage people and maybe inspire people to love themselves. Hopefully, something positive comes out of it.”
Last year, Good Charlotte returned to Brixton Academy. It was a show of sincerity, sentiment and connection. It was about the journey the whole room had gone on together, but it was also a reminder of life changes. The one-two of ‘Riot Girl’ and ‘Girls And Boys’ came with a speech about how important it is that women are allowed to stand up, speak their minds and express themselves.
“I got a little girl at home, and I want her to grow up in a world with no sexism, no racism, no hate,” explained Joel Madden. “And it starts with us. It starts with how we treat each other and the respect we give each other.”
“It’s very important to us that people understand that, when I was younger, I didn’t know anything. When I originally wrote those songs, that was just my perspective and how I felt about myself. When you listen back to some of those records, we were just making commentary about what we were seeing in the world around us. Now, I have a much greater understanding,” Joel says.
“If you break down those lyrics, those songs were social commentary,” adds Benji. “They were pushing for people to look on the inside and not the outside.”
“I don’t even know if I understood that at the time though,” adds Joel. “We’ve always been a band that wants to empower. We want everyone to feel empowered, but especially our female audience. Right now, it’s a very important time. I think about it because I have a ten-year-old daughter. What kind of world do I want my ten-year-old daughter to grow up in? Am I contributing to that world or am I not?”
The band want to make sure there’s no doubt about what side they stand for. If you’ve seen Good Charlotte recently, you know they’re thankful: grateful they’re still here, and that they were given a chance in the first place.
“We feel indebted,” starts Joel. “There are kids who just got into Good Charlotte last year, and we’re seeing them at our shows. Then, there are people who have been listening to us for eighteen years. They’re all important to us. The legacy of the band is in their hands. This is a legacy for my children. It’s important to us, and it’s solely in the hands of the people that listen to our music. We feel really grateful.
“We want to connect with the people that are listening to our music. We want them to know how much we appreciate it and the only way we can show it is up there on stage. The Brixton show was special. This crowd in the UK stuck with us at times when no one else gave a shit about our band, and now people have caught up. We’re doing Ally Pally, and we’re going to do stuff that we’ve never done before.
“We’re going to bring a show we’ve never given anywhere else because we do feel indebted.”
It’s easy to forget that Good Charlotte scratched their way to the top, and fought for everything they got.
“I don’t know if people could get a real picture into where we were at when we were younger, and before we got a chance to do music,” starts Benji, before Joel adds: “And how much this changed our lives.
“It changed the trajectory of our family for generations. When you listen to the new record, there’s still that sense of us trying to reach out to the underdog and to the kids that we were. Kids that were a little left out.
“We didn’t have the same chances as some kids, but what we’ve realised growing up is that every kid has a tough time. It doesn’t matter what household they’ve come from; there’s a lot of different forms of poverty.
“I hope people that people who listen to our music, but especially the ‘Generation RX’ record get something positive from it. I really, truly hope they look within themselves, and they find what’s special about them. They love themselves, they believe in themselves, and they’re not afraid to be idealistic.
“I think it sounds very idealistic sometimes, and it may sound naive, and I know we live in a cynical world, but what I see around me is not enough people loving each other. There are not enough people celebrating each other’s differences.
“At this moment in time, it feels very combative. People are all fighting, I just look at everyone, and I hope they aren’t looking outward at other people for their answers. Let’s build each other up. Hopefully, people listen to this record, and people feel understood,” smiles Joel.
“One of the biggest things we need as human beings is to feel understood,” adds Benji. “I hope when people hear this record, they feel understood. I hope they feel felt.
Taken from the July issue of Upset. Order a copy here. Good Charlotte’s album ‘Generation RX’ is out 14th September.