Alter The Press!


Ten Years On: Good Charlotte - S/T

It's hard to believe that just over a decade ago, Good Charlotte had released their first ever record. The album may not of have been a success in terms of sales in comparison to their multi-platinum selling discography but it was a record that paved the way to where the band is today.

Alter The Press spoke to front man Joel Madden to take a retrospective look at the band's career from the release of their self-titled debut album, which started it all.

Alter The Press: It's been just over ten years since the release of the self-titled record. What comes to mind when you look back in retrospect?

Joel Madden: I just think about where we started from, where everything is today, what we've seen as a band and what we've lived through with so many different changes in the music industry and the scene. It's funny, we don't feel old but we're an older band compared to most. For a band for almost 16 years and looking back from high school where we started, I just look at the self-titled record and look at how young we were and how excited we were and how much we had to learn. It's crazy and has been a wild ride.

ATP: If you could go back now and change something about the album, what would you've of done differently and why?

Joel: I actually wouldn't change anything about that record. There are other things which I would change about other records, but that record... I feel like it was the most pure version of kids who had just gotten out of a basement and got to make a record and didn't know anything about anything. I have so much respect for it because it's so honest.

That record is the poppiest record we've ever done with some of the most throwaway, catchy, dumb lyrics I've ever heard in my life, but it was kind of perfect for what it was. We were young kids who didn't know anything, or what was what, or what was like punk or not, or this or that scene, because we weren't in any scene and nothing like we've ever experienced.

For me that record is the most honest record, because when people are being honest, they do cheesy shit. Maybe, somewhere along the way, we started to lie to ourselves because we wanted to fit into something, because we’d gotten beaten up so much once we went out into the real world and got into the scene that was supposed to be so real. It kind of fucked us up a little bit because we had so many different people's opinions we had to care about, and I think that album was before any of that.

We've somehow made it to where we are today and for the first time in my life, since the self-titled record, I don't give a fuck what anyone thinks about our band, records or anything. We aren't trying anymore to do anything other than make music we like and we're in the craziest place where we've ever been and now since that record, it's become like a full circle. Even past Cardiology (the band's latest album), we're in this really cool, weird place that we've never been before.

ATP: Do you regret signing with a major label from the start of your career?

Joel: No. We sent our record to every indie on the fucking planet and no one would ever talk to us. Another thing about Good Charlotte that's misunderstood is yes, we wanted to be a big band but the plan was to just put a record out and none of the indie labels would fuck with us.

We put out two EPs on our own before the record came out. There is probably a few thousand of each in existence. I actually bought a few on eBay myself because they are so hard to find and I fucking love them. Those EPs mean a lot to us because we sold them out of the back of the trunk of our car. I always go on eBay once in a while and search, and if I see one, I buy it, because they are so rare. The songs are really obscure, which fans always ask us to play, but we couldn't even play them if we tried, but hardcore fans know these random obscure songs like, "Gravity Girl," "Superman Can't Walk," "Can't Go On," but I'll tell you something, there about maybe like 50 decent Good Charlotte songs that we have never put out, but we will one day.

Anyway, as far as signing to a major, they were the only one who offered us a deal, so it wasn't that tough of a decision. We aren't going to sign with anyone unless they believe in us and that was always the way it was. We had a great run with Sony for ten years and it was a great place. We've always had great working relationships with everyone we've worked with.

ATP: "Little Things" was the first Good Charlotte single to be released. Looking back, what does that song mean to you now?

Joel: It was the first song that I ever heard of ours on the radio. We're now playing it every night because we're having such an overwhelming fan demand for it.

"Little Things" just seems so young to me but I meant it when I wrote it.

ATP: There was a long period of time where you weren't playing any songs from the first record, but recently you have been re-introducing them into your live set. Why was this?

Joel: I think for a while we were self-conscious about the first record. Like I said, when I listen to the record, it’s like looking at an old yearbook picture, but to you, it's not that cool. To me, when we made The Young And Hopeless (Good Charlotte's second album), that was was cooler. I was like, "This is the shit! This is the shit I wanted to write!", but at the time when we were making the first record, we didn't have the ability to write it. We weren't good enough, we hadn't toured and as a band, we hadn't been on a three-year touring cycle, but after three years of touring when you play as a band, you're so fucking tight and good, you know each other so well and you then go into a studio and everything flows.

We got fucking destroyed in the scene and just wouldn't play anything super poppy. I couldn't imagine ever playing "Screamer" (from the self-titled album) again, but that song means a lot to me. It means following your dreams and not listening to people. What we fell into was all that bullshit and that's what we're talking about on that record.

It's funny when you have a chance to be honest before you know it's not that cool to be honest. People in the world who think that people are crazy and have lost their mind really haven't. They are just being honest and it's never comfortable to see people being honest. If someone goes nuts, loses their mind and takes all their clothes off, it's fucking uncomfortable for the rest of us, but that guy is saying, "Look at me! This is how I really look!" That's what honesty is and the truth hurts for some reason. Even if it's a good truth.

For a while we rejected ourselves, but now it's like full-circle. Fuck it man, we've learnt that people who criticized us have either gone or we learnt that they don't really fucking matter. They aren't paying our rent, or putting the food on our table for our kids, or there with us every day as people or friends. We had to go through that. It was a ten year experience. It was a good one.

ATP: When was the last time you listened to the first album?

Joel: Probably about six months ago. It felt good. I pulled it out because I wanted to know what the fuck I was thinking back then. It almost took me back to the vocal booth when I was listening to it. I could see the vocal booth and remember the sounds, the smells and the first tours, like with New Found Glory, MXPX, all those feelings and the clothes I used to wear, how it felt to get dressed before a show and all the feelings which now feel so old to me.

ATP: What is your favorite Good Charlotte album and why?

Joel: My favorite Good Charlotte record is Good Morning Revival, because it was the most ahead of it's time. No one fucking got that record, now every record sounds like that record. From the first demo we made, we got hated on by everyone from the label to our management. We stood our ground on that record and I will never regret it, because that was the pivotal record in our career. If we had remade Young And Hopeless or Chronicles Of Life And Death, we would not be together still.

The album ended up being great and we had the biggest song of our career, charts-wise, which was "Dance Floor Anthem". That was a song where everyone said, "What the fuck is this song? It's too poppy and dancey!" If you listen to that four-on-the-floor (a rhythm pattern used in disco and electronic dance music) that was before Lady Gaga and all that shit. It was a song that everyone said wasn't cool but I said, "We fucking love this song. It feels good to me. I'm tired of making this kind of music for this scene that hates us." That was our attitude at the time. Why were we making music for a scene that rejects us? We wanted to make a record that felt good and we made it and stood that ground.

Looking back at a time where downloads were already taking over, everyone said that record was a failure, but worldwide that album sold about a million copies. For us, that's a success. It was a special record for me and a turning point in our career. We took a stand on something and we stood by it.

ATP: If you weren't in Good Charlotte, what would you be doing?

Joel: I would probably be in jail. I don't know why I say that! (laughs).

Honestly, I feel like I would be doing something. I feel the need to succeed. I don't know what I would be doing, but I thank God for music because it gave me a whole career and made me legit.

It's funny when a musician gets successful, everyone is all serious about them and gives them so much props, but they fucking hate music. It's not brain surgery. I don't care who you are and how great you are as a musician. People lose it over musicians, but for some reason we got lucky and made songs that some people like, but it's not that fucking special. We're not saving lives. We're giving people entertainment, but at the end of the day we were all a bunch of nerds in our bedroom wanting to be cool. I don't know one musician that was cool before they were a musician. In order to be a musician, you need to be rejected by people and wanted to be cool. That's why we started Good Charlotte. We saw people like The Beastie Boys and we were like, "They get chicks man! Their music is cool! They are so cool! That's what I want to do!" Not one fucking musician was always cool.

I'll probably get hated on for saying it but musicians take themselves too seriously. They think they’re the shit and we’re all the same. We’re all a bunch of kids who came from bedrooms and basements and backyards who wanted to be accepted and get girls. It's pretty simple. You were not accepted growing up, not accepting growing up, not that cool, wanted to get the chick and make money or whatever and music provided it. Thank God for some fucking reason we wrote these songs that people liked, but what would I be doing? Doing some bullshit job, whether it's legal or not, trying to make ends meet, but people chose us. That's the thing as well, people choose the musicians who make it. You should have musicians thanking you for coming to interview them and putting them on your website.

I'm honestly so over all entertainers and musicians. People always say to me, "How can you sing "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"?" I mean that song more than ever now. I'm so over self-righteous, self-loved, self-centered entertainers. They’re all not like that. Tons of them are. I have tons of friends who are entertainers and they’re all cool, but for some reason bands feel themselves too hard.

ATP: When you started Good Charlotte, was there a goal you set out to accomplish and do you think you've achieved it?

Joel: If I'm being really honest, the goal was to get big, make it and have a better life. Before we got signed, me and Benji (Madden, guitar) worked for Good Charlotte five years straight. Literally for the day we were sitting at Paul's (Thomas, bassist) kitchen table, when we were saying, "We're going to get signed and get a record deal. We're going to get money and make a dream come true" and from that day, from the very first practice, we worked every single day, spent every fucking dollar on Good Charlotte, worked every night and every minute and we were obsessed with Good Charlotte. Nothing else mattered.

Our family had nothing. We literally had zero dollars and worked jobs to help our mom pay the bills and buy band equipment. I don't even think the guys in the band even thought it would happen. The only goal was to get signed and make a better life. I don't even think that far ahead. I was a teenager doing adult shit. I was working 40 hours a week. High school was never normal for me. I never had a girlfriend, I didn't get to go to parties. I was working helping my mom. Me and Benj were doing that trying to make it with our band. Kids always would make fun of us, calling our house pretending to be record labels, shit like that. I will never forget that shit because now I have a great life. I have a house and whatever I want. It's safe to say, God blessed me. I'm not going to assume anything, but I have a great life. Everything from here on out is icing. Even now, I have two kids who are healthy and happy, which all matters, but as a band, we have everything that we ever dreamed of.

We're now getting to the point, we were talking about this recently actually, we only play the shows that we want to play. We're not opening unless want to, but we will. We were talking to All Time Low about doing shows with them over in the UK and we possibly wanted to do it because they’re our friends. That's where we're at. Let's just do shows with our friends and do shows we want. We said that we wanted to do a London show because we knew it was going to be wild and it's going to be good. We said about going out with Yellowcard for two weeks in the US. We don't particularly need to tour the States, but we toured with Yellowcard because we always wanted to. We're at this point now where we're only going to do what we want to do and that's that.

ATP: Back in 2003-2004 you were playing arenas and you mention now opening for bands such as All Time Low today. How does the transition feel?

Joel: It's cool. It's funny because we go to Australia and do sold out arenas and it feels good to do that. Honestly, we don't give a fuck what people think. Why would you care to play a club or an arena? Because you're afraid it'll look bad? Because you played an arena before? We're not at arenas in the US anymore, but we sell out clubs, the shows are fucking wild and everyone wants to fucking be there. We can play any song, off any album, in the States and everyone knows every word. At an arena, you’re packing it out because they want to hear a set full of hits. We can play in the States and not play one single and everyone would be stoked. Guaranteed in the UK we could do the same, but we are going play all the singles because we like them.

That's what our band has become. We have hardcore dedicated fans. The only reason we wouldn't open for our friends in All Time Low would be pride but we're not that band. The reason we started this, when we were went on our first tour, was to play with our friends and bands that we like. That's where we're at now. We still get to do the crazy arena thing in some places. We did 30,000 in Jakarta and that shit is cool, but it's not like that everywhere in the world.

ATP: A lot of your songs in your back catalog such as "Emotionless", "The Story Of My Old Man", "Thank You, Mom", "Little Things" and others, touch on the subject of your dad walking out on your family growing up. Today, the two of you now have a relationship.

Joel: The cool thing about my dad is that he's a pretty tough dude. I don't know if he really understands my job. My dad is an old-school, hard working blue-collar dude and would be like, "You make a living playing music?" but he's really cool and has every record. He went out and bought every record, bought magazines, all before I knew and spoke to him. He loves us and is proud of us. It was kind of awkward when saying, "Sorry about all those songs we wrote about you. You must be pretty angry" but he didn't care. He's like, "I'm proud of you guys, the way you handled yourselves and the men you became. That's all I could of asked for. I'm a man and I can take it." That's what my dad taught me my whole life.

It's weird because what my dad taught me growing up, when I did know him, his attitude all the time was, "Man up. What are you going to do? Lay down and cry?" Despite all the shit we would get from people, it was how we were raised. That's why we don't care about the size of venues and shit like that at the end of the day.

This is our job and we’re stoked to be making a great living and we know that. It's pretty simple math to us. We have great lives and great fans who believe in us, who back us and supported us, and each day, more and more are coming back and it's crazy. 16-year-old kids are now coming out saying, "This is my first Good Charlotte show and I'm fucking stoked". Who's to say we won't be in arenas in five years? We're just stoked to do what we do but with my dad, who doesn't have a weird relationship with one of their parents? I'm not selling anything to anyone. I'm tight with my dad now, we text and we talk. It's not perfect but I don't know what is.

ATP: What has kept Good Charlotte going strong for 16+ years?

Joel: All the dudes. We love each other and try to make the best decisions for the band always.

We're about to take some time off, but by no means are we tired. We're just stoked, but we have this weird confidence that we've never had before. We know for a fact, our band is really fucking good live. Our rhythm section is one of the best rhythm sections in rock and roll. It's so crazy at this point in our career like, we've done thousands of shows. We could go on stage shit-faced and you would never know. We do a good job. We play our music. Whether you like our music or not, that's taste, it's like food. When we go out and do it, we're fucking good at it and we know it, but we don't feel like we have to stay on the road ten months of the year anymore.

When I look back at the last ten years all I see is touring. It's hard for me to think about the last couple of years with my kids. There is shit I wish I could remember, but all I remember is a big blur of tour. We just want to spend some time with our kids and remember some shit besides touring, because you do trade a part of you when you do this shit.

We're going to take it as it comes and do what we want to do, but the next record is going to be really fucking good, whenever that is. I don't know when it's going to be, but the shit that's starting to come is crazy. The next record is going to be insane. What can I say? I'm excited for that.

- Jon Ableson

Alter The Press!