Good Charlotte: 'Living in America gives you a front row seat to tragedy on a daily basis'

The rock band discuss their new album 'Generation Rx', the social landscape in America, and how they've become less – rather than more – jaded as they release their seventh album

Roisin O'Connor
Music Correspondent
Monday 24 September 2018 13:26 BST
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Good Charlotte have released their seventh album 'Generation Rx'
Good Charlotte have released their seventh album 'Generation Rx' (Ville Juurikkala)

Good Charlotte emerged as pop punk rebels back in 2000 with their self-titled debut album, shooting to fame with sarcastic hits such as "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and "Girls and Boys".

On their seventh record, Generation Rx, they're reflecting less on the culture of celebrity and more on issues such as America's ongoing opioid epidemic, the struggles of refugees, and self-worth.

They're performing their biggest ever headline show in the UK next year, at London's Alexandra Palace. The Independent caught up with the band's frontmen, twin brothers Joel (vocals, keys) and Benji Madden (guitars, vocals), to talk about the album, critics, and an apparent resurgence in pop punk.

Tell us a bit about making the new record

Benji: We started in January, and the idea with this record was to try not to force anything, to just open up and see what came out. And it just really did naturally kind of feel like we were saying let’s just see what’s deep down in there, like a stream of consciousness. The songs kept coming.

On ‘Prayers’ you’re heavily critical of the go-to response from America whenever there’s a mass shooting or a humanitarian crisis...

Joel: Living in America we get a front row seat to witness tragedy on a daily basis, and that whole ‘thoughts and prayers’ response made us wonder: Am I a part of the solution or am I in the audience watching the tragedy?’

As adults it’s our responsibility to take care of our kids and as a parent myself, I think about that a lot. It’s not my children’s job to feel safe, it’s my job to make them feel safe and to raise them in a world where they can be safe.

Benji: I think that “Prayers” is a really interesting one because we wrote it well before the border crisis was happening, and in that first verse I was actually writing about the experience of me and my wife’s relationship and finding someone who you feel safe with and you relate to, and can ponder existence with.

On the second verse I had a really clear image in my head that I’d seen on TV – this little Syrian refugee girl crying in front of this rubble. But there are so many things since then that I’ve seen that apply to the lyrics, and the meaning continues to get deeper and deeper.

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Joel: Whatever religion you identify or subscribe to, I don’t think any of their teachings are ones that tell us to just stand by and watch. I think we’re meant to help each other, we’re meant to take action, we’re meant to do things for one another and I question a society of people who identify as religious, who aren’t taking action for those in need.

You became known for those very sarcastic observations about celebrity culture. Do you feel less jaded now?

Joel: I think we've learned how to understand people. We can articulate things a little more clearly. When we were younger, the sarcasm was kind of a defence mechanism. Now we're OK with not having the answer. Just asking the question is more important.

It feels as though your last record Youth Authority was you starting up again after a four-year hiatus, and Generation RX is really where you got a momentum going?

Benji: I think we captured a moment. I’ve started to see records as just a snapshot, a portrait of where you were at, at that time. And if you’re comfortable with that, sometimes it’s like an old high school year book picture – it makes you blush a little bit but you gotta learn to really appreciate each stage of your life and where you're at. I think this record is a really special little portrait of our band and where we have ended up 20 years later.

Joel: I think momentum is the real thing. You take six years off and you have zero momentum. You’ve got to get your swing back and I think our last record really was like we were warming up, we were dipping our toes back in the water, swinging the bat a little bit, getting our swing back.

Benji: I like the story of that record [Youth Authority] though, because we made it, we put it out ourselves. It was a great place to start and feel like a new band again and then this one feels like our second record. It feels like we really get back into our swing and we found our identity.

Do you care much about negative criticism?

Joel: I feel like I’m definitely going to read the reviews from this record. I hope they’re good. I won’t mind a bad review if it’s thoughtful. I really do like reading people’s honest opinions.

Benji: I prefer a good review. A bad review that dismisses us… I take it with a grain of salt, I go ‘okay they didn’t even try’.

You picked quite a bold title for the record, how did that come about?

Benji: I think that to us is the most polarising thing about the record, and then you listen to the songs how vulnerable we’re actually being, and the questions we’re asking. And that to me is the most important thing about the record – the conversation piece for asking hopefully the right questions.

It’s also a criticism of the ongoing opioids crisis in the US…

Joel: Yeah, drugs, opioids and why it’s happening… what’s the pain, where does it come from?

Benji: There’s not a family in the US that hasn’t been affected or touched by that.

Joel: All the issues are intertwined right? Mental health, the opioid crisis, the overpopulation of our prisons. What does it cost us? Again, to me that’s the thing, the empathy, the humanity, can we feel each other, can we be together in a room and talk about things we may not all agree on, but I bet you we could all agree on some things.

We’re just a rock band, two kids from the middle of nowhere who had nothing. No education, no one was helping us, there were no adults in our lives. Our version of the American dream, we’re living it. We both got married – I didn’t know if that was possible for me when I was young. You’re going to have a wife and a family, you’re going to wake up every day and it’s going to be peaceful and your life’s going to feel safe. And I think about that, and I go okay, I was very fortunate, I was very blessed and I got very lucky.

It’s easy for someone anywhere in the world to look at me and go, easy for you to say. You don’t know what it’s like to struggle. It’s easy for you to question. And I feel like, absolutely, but I’m always going to question if I’m doing enough. We wouldn’t be here without the people that were rooting for us and the fans who lifted us up. We wouldn’t have been on a single magazine cover if it wasn’t for the kids who made us important.

Where do Good Charlotte fit into 2018?

Joel: Where the hell do we fit into anything? I know that if I’m going to make an effort out here in the world and put something out into the world, I want to make sure I’m doing my very best at a time when I feel like there’s more fighting and division and pain than ever.

Confusion is a mother***er. Nothing feels better to me when we have clarity. To me, my clarity is my purpose on the planet now, to be a father and a husband, and if I put anything into the world I want it to be for good. I want to peacefully question everything, hopefully in a way that inspires people to have thoughtful conversations.

What was it like making the video for 'Shadowboxer'?

Joel: I love videos, but I got to tell you, I hate making them. Being in front of the camera I’m so self-conscious. But I like Shadowboxer. So far, I think each video is getting better on this record so I’m very happy with that.

So, in one shot we have a person looking in the mirror in a normal house that looks beautiful, clean, calm, collected. And then, flash to the reverse where you’re in a burned out abandoned house, a play on "burn your life down".

What do you make of this ‘pop punk resurgence’ that seems to be taking place at the moment?

Joel: I wonder if there’s something in all of us that needs to go back to our inner child, whatever age that was. I was 15 when I needed that older figure to put their arm around me and told me everything was going to be okay. That’s what our music was to a lot of kids, and it’s what a lot of our favourite bands were for us.

If this music strikes a chord in that way somehow, that’s great. Because what we’re finding now at our shows is more young people, as well as the older fans. In February we’re doing the biggest show we’ve ever done in the UK, and that’s amazing to us.

Generation Rx, the new album from Good Charlotte, is out now

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