Kerrang! (UK) - - Welcome - Pho­tos: jonathan weiner, getty

For more than two decades, JOEL and BENJI MAD­DEN have been work­ing hard to build some­thing. As GOOD CHAR­LOTTE an­nounce the re­lease of their new al­bum, GEN­ER­A­TION RX, David Mclaugh­lin heads to MDDN HQ in Los An­ge­les to see first hand the coal­face of the twins’ em­pire, and find out what con­tin­ues to drive these two un­re­lent­ing cap­tains of in­dus­try…

When Good Char­lotte first ap­peared on the cover of this mag­a­zine, on Fe­bru­ary 1, 2003, we pre­dicted that Benji and Joel Mad­den were in the busi­ness of build­ing an em­pire. At that point in time, their sec­ond al­bum The Young And The Hope­less had sold a mil­lion copies in the U.S., the pair were MTV fa­mous and busy plot­ting how to fol­low their pop­u­lar MADE cloth­ing line with a record la­bel some­day. But even then, we couldn’t have imag­ined just how prophetic and true our state­ment would prove, 15 years down the line.

Yet on the ap­proach to MDDN head­quar­ters – the twin broth­ers’ man­age­ment hub – there are no clues as to the suc­cess and star­dom lurk­ing in plain sight around the cor­ner on Mag­no­lia Boule­vard, Bur­bank. Flanked by rows of anony­mous-look­ing of­fices scat­tered be­tween the usual LA ar­ray of fast-food joints, gyms, re­tire­ment homes and cos­metic den­tal surg­eries, a high grass and steel-fenced en­clo­sure, shad­owed by wilt­ing palm trees, en­sures the build­ing’s fa­cade re­mains en­tirely un­re­mark­able.

Once upon a time, artists such as Snoop Dogg and Mary J Blige would be buzzed through its se­cu­rity gates to cut records, back when Will Smith owned the premises at the height of his mu­sic ca­reer. To­day, from the out­side, it could al­most pass for any other busi­ness in the vicin­ity. But be­hind its doors lie the bricks and mor­tar of that em­pire – the ever­bur­geon­ing re­al­i­sa­tion of a life­long dream.

“We’ve al­ways been ex­tremely fo­cused on try­ing to build some­thing,” Joel of­fers, ges­tur­ing around at that very some­thing, as we em­bark on an ex­clu­sive, ac­cess-all-ar­eas guide. “It’s just evolved as we’ve got­ten older and be­come more real.”

Ker­rang! is in town to chat to Benji, Joel, gui­tarist Billy Martin, bassist Paul Thomas and drum­mer Dean But­ter­worth about the new Good Char­lotte record, Gen­er­a­tion Rx – the band’s sev­enth full-length al­bum, and the sec­ond since they called time on their four-year hia­tus back in 2015.

First we’re es­corted past the “bullpen area” up­front, MDDN’S en­gine room where the day-to-day hus­tle and grind goes down. There’s room for maybe 15 peo­ple in there, and it’s fronted by 10-feet-high glass win­dows with a heavy-duty wooden-framed en­trance, com­plete with a metal­lic snake door han­dle – a replica of the one that adorns the new al­bum’s art­work. On the wall op­po­site the well-lit neon com­pany sign, a glass board with Sharpie scrawls de­tails up­com­ing shows, re­lease info, and im­por­tant dates. A sep­a­rate col­umn is ded­i­cated solely to track­ing ‘Where’s BM and JM?’ It’s the only part of the board that’s cur­rently blank, though con­sid­er­ing the past few months have seen the pair bounc­ing back and forth to China – men­tor­ing Bri­tish pop star Jessie J as she won the celebrity tal­ent-show Singer – that’s a rar­ity.

The Wi-fi pass­word is ‘good­char­lotte’, nat­u­rally. There are framed pho­tos of other artists on the ros­ter, such as Water­parks, Ar­chi­tects and Sleep­ing With Sirens on prom­i­nent dis­play – vis­ual re­minders of the team’s suc­cesses thus far – while the Sonos plays a chilled mix of tunes by hip-hop manof-the-mo­ment Child­ish Gam­bino and Bri­tish in­die-pop up-and-comer, Rex Or­ange County. Above a 60-inch, wall-mounted flatscreen hang four black and white plaques out­lin­ing the com­pany’s mis­sion, vi­sion, iden­tity and val­ues. “MDDN is a for­ward-fac­ing, in­no­va­tive and value-driven team, of orig­i­nal dreamers, work­ing to make a pos­i­tive im­pact on the artis­tic com­mu­nity and the di­rec­tion of pop­u­lar cul­ture,” says one, not un­typ­i­cally.

“Even though it’s our name­sake, the great­est thing about this com­pany is the peo­ple who work here,” the vo­cal­ist proudly de­clares. “Ev­ery sin­gle per­son that works in this build­ing shares those val­ues. There’s no Darth Vader or big boss here. The val­ues in the core of the peo­ple who work at MDDN are spe­cial.”

As man­age­ment usher us into Stu­dio B, we’re treated to a play­back of a few new tracks, while the re­main­der await fi­nal tweaks and mixes. We hear Prayers, Shad­ow­boxer, Cold Song, Leeches and Ac­tual Pain – the al­bum’s lead sin­gle. As each blasts through the stu­dio speak­ers, the dig­i­tal con­sole dis­plays the in-joke work­ing ti­tle of Bored-182. This is no pop-punk fod­der, though. On the strength of these new songs alone, Gen­er­a­tion Rx prom­ises to be a Big Rock record – with a capital B and capital R. This at a point when so many of Good Char­lotte’s peers and scene prog­eny seem des­per­ate to make mu­sic that’s any­thing but.

“It’s not a pop-punk record,” nods gui­tarist Benji, who also over­saw pro­duc­tion on this al­bum in-house, along­side en­gi­neer Zakk Cervini. “A big rock record is ex­actly what it is. And it’s a live record, be­cause we fell in love with play­ing live again to­gether.”

Un­ex­pect­edly, mem­bers of a big-deal rock band pop their head in, search­ing for a mic. It turns out they’re here record­ing in one of the com­pound’s other stu­dios, though they in­sist the process is still very much in the nascent “early doors” stage. It’s all so hush-hush that that’s about as much as we can re­veal at this stage, but they’ll be look­ing to build on their arena-sell­ing sta­tus on their next record. De­spite that, if there is any pres­sure, they cer­tainly aren’t show­ing it. Fur­ther down in yet an­other stu­dio, past per­fect white walls given a dash of colour, thanks to the framed copies of Good Char­lotte’s pre­vi­ous Ker­rang! cov­ers, Ken­tucky post-hard­core quar­tet Emarosa are also busy lay­ing down new record­ings. In the ad­ja­cent kitchen, front­man Bradley Walden talks through his nu­tri­tion and fit­ness regime with the el­dest Mad­den brother Josh, who also serves as the chief cre­ative of­fi­cer for the com­pany.

The at­mos­phere through­out is one of calm and fo­cus, yet a hive of cre­ativ­ity with pock­ets of in­dus­tri­ous en­ergy ev­ery which way you turn. It’s not hard to imag­ine Gen­er­a­tion Rx com­ing to­gether within these walls over the past few months. What is dif­fi­cult to fathom, how­ever, are the lo­gis­tics of its cre­ation. Ques­tions re­main, such as: how the Mad­dens found the time to ded­i­cate to it? And in­deed, why, and why now? One look around MDDN and it’s clear there’s more than enough to keep the pair busy, let alone try­ing to ac­count for time spent with wives and chil­dren.

When those ques­tions are put to the quin­tet, Benji suc­cinctly shrugs them off with a sim­ple: “We’ve al­ways had a low tol­er­ance for bore­dom; we make ev­ery minute count.” When we fi­nally sit down to get into the nuts and bolts of the record’s progress, we do so right at the back of the MDDN com­plex. At the fur­thest reaches of a build­ing that seems to just keep go­ing and go­ing, you’ll find an of­fice space ded­i­cated to the af­fairs House Of Har­low 1960 – a be­spoke, sig­na­ture jew­ellery



line and labour of love cour­tesy of Joel’s wife, Ni­cole Richie. Even in a room filled with ex­pen­sive items that have been worn by the likes of Madonna, there is a rel­a­tive mod­esty and un­der­stated class about the place, as is the case with all things MDDN. The Mad­dens might have it all these days, but they’ve not lost sight of their roots or how they got here. And that comes back to the ques­tion of why Good Char­lotte are still a go­ing con­cern.

“This is our baby,” Benji stresses, the more in­tense of the twins, and also the old­est by two whole min­utes. “Good Char­lotte is what got us out of poverty. It’s not for sale any­more. It’s for us. We share it, we go on tour and we play for peo­ple, but it’s for us. If any­thing, it’s be­come more like a pas­sion project. So we pro­tect it more than ever and I don’t think we could do it oth­er­wise.”

As to the ‘why now?’ – es­pe­cially fol­low­ing so soon on the heels of the knock­about fun of 2016’s Youth Author­ity al­bum – Joel sim­ply says “it was time”. But it goes so much deeper than that, be­cause this one ended up be­ing a darker, in­cred­i­bly per­sonal and far more im­por­tant record, much to the sur­prise of its chief cre­ative duo.

“I think me and Joel have been do­ing a lot of ex­ca­va­tion in our lives as grown men…” Benji be­gins, be­fore his brother swiftly jumps in to fin­ish his point, some­thing that hap­pens of­ten with this pair, as with many twins. “We’ve done a lot of work on our­selves, try­ing to grow.”

“There’s two ver­sions of you,” the singer con­tin­ues. “There’s the ver­sion you present to the world that you can fil­ter, crop and make look good for In­sta­gram – and that’s a good thing; we should all present our­selves how we want the world to see us – and what I try to ac­com­plish in my life is to be that ver­sion of my­self al­ways. I want to be a good per­son, a good dad, a good hus­band, a good friend and a stand-up guy, and I work hard at it. But the work is never done.”

“And us­ing that anal­ogy, this record is us tak­ing that fil­ter off and show­ing the world our flaws,” Benji in­ter­jects again. “Be­cause at home, with your wife? She sees all your flaws, you see each other with­out the In­sta­gram fil­ter, and at your worst mo­ments…”

“That’s where I was go­ing: this record is about let­ting peo­ple in,” his brother con­cludes.

And so, ear­lier this year, when their day-to­day du­ties at MDDN wrapped up (“We usu­ally work reg­u­lar of­fice hours from 8am to 6pm,” says Joel), they’d find them­selves put­ting in two to three ex­tra hours in the stu­dio, where songs started to flow through them nat­u­rally. When it came to sched­ul­ing the rest of the guys in to record their parts, they sim­ply used the band’s text group (“It’s mostly just ev­ery­one agree­ing”) – or as the oth­ers re­fer to it, “the Bat­phone rang”. It was ap­par­ently the fastest record­ing process of their ca­reers.

Billy – an il­lus­tra­tor for Mar­vel, Dis­ney and Nick­elodeon when he’s not busy with Good Char­lotte – flew in from Pasadena with his wife and kids while he nailed his parts in a week. Dean lives just 10 min­utes’ drive away, but he also plays drums full time in Sugar Ray and in the house band on NBC’S Hollywood Game Night. As for Paul, he’s still try­ing to find the time be­tween all of this and fam­ily life to go back to UC Berke­ley to com­plete the de­gree in com­puter science and math­e­mat­ics he started when the band went on hia­tus. All told, these are busy men with re­al­life re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, who sim­ply wouldn’t have to do this any­more if they felt so in­clined. And yet, they keep show­ing up, drop­ping ev­ery­thing else and giv­ing their all to the cause. It seems the pas­sion they share for it just grows stronger the longer they go on to­gether. De­spite lo­gis­ti­cal hur­dles, there’s now a freedom about the process that few bands ever have the lux­ury of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

“The beau­ti­ful thing about be­ing Good Char­lotte in 2018 is that of all the bands and artists in the world, we just gen­uinely do not have to give a fuck,” Benji says with a steelyeyed pride. “We have no-one to keep up with. We don’t have to sell X amount of records. We don’t have any ex­pec­ta­tions and we’re happy with the re­sults be­ing what­ever they’re go­ing to be. The only way we do this gen­uinely is if we fuck­ing love it, and we get to do what we want to do for the first time.” For the first time? “We were re­ally im­pres­sion­able when we were kids,” he qual­i­fies, care­ful to be clearly un­der­stood. “We had never even been on a plane be­fore [be­ing suc­cess­ful]. We didn’t have any adults in our life. It’s not like one of our par­ents was around to pro­vide guid­ance. And we got worked a lit­tle bit. That can re­ally make you fall out of love with mu­sic. Now, we’re

just com­pletely in love with it, be­cause we’re only do­ing it on our terms and we’re happy to take the re­spon­si­bil­ity that comes with that. We don’t owe any­one any­thing, ex­cept our­selves. And that gives you a whole dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship with it.”

There was an­other onus on this record, though, and it’s one that goes back to its ti­tle, its im­por­tance and the spirit at the heart of its songs. It’s the rea­son they came out so raw and un­ex­pect­edly per­sonal, too.

“Life is painful, for all of us,” says Joel of its cen­tral theme. “All of us self-med­i­cate in some way with some­thing. I watch young kids to­day and I feel for them. I un­der­stand the pain al­most more than they do, be­cause I got through to the other side of it. What this record is about is spark­ing that con­ver­sa­tion. I want peo­ple to hear it and find the love, op­ti­mism and en­cour­age­ment to go for­ward, to do the work and stand up and help them­selves. We hope that it’s a pos­i­tive record.”

“No mat­ter who you are, in ev­ery walk of life, be­ing who you are is painful,” Benji re­it­er­ates. “That’s what Gen­er­a­tion Rx is to me. When we thought about the mes­sage of this record, we just re­ally wanted to open our hearts up and pour ‘em out in songs in a way that we haven’t done in a long time. It re­ally was a re­lief. It was so cathar­tic and, man, I gotta say, we haven’t writ­ten that way since our first two al­bums. There’s some­thing dif­fer­ent about this record. When you hear it, you can tell.

“Good Char­lotte fi­nally feels the way that it did when it started, again,” he adds pas­sion­ately, keen to drive home a vi­tal point in the story. “I don’t know if a lot of guys in bands get to come full cir­cle like that. It re­ally, gen­uinely feels like this is why we started this band, be­cause some­times that can get lost and you get car­ried away from you. Be­ing as young, un­e­d­u­cated and in­ex­pe­ri­enced as we were, it did feel like it got taken away from us. I don’t know if it was the in­dus­try or what, but we didn’t have the ex­pe­ri­ence to pro­tect it back then, and now we do. You can feel it in the brand – it feels stronger than ever now, be­cause we’re so pro­tec­tive of it.”

Go­ing back to that very first Good Char­lotte cover of Ker­rang! for a mo­ment, there’s an­other ex­cel­lent piece of con­text that backs up the Mad­den broth­ers’ point about this thing com­ing full cir­cle now. Back then, like al­most all of the band’s me­dia cov­er­age at the time, there was an air of sus­pi­cion around their ap­par­ent overnight suc­cess State­side, and a ques­tion mark con­cern­ing their cred­i­bil­ity as true punks. Within that, though, there were some words of com­fort from their friend, Ran­cid gui­tarist Lars Fred­erik­sen, who re­as­sured Benji, “Dude, don’t worry about it, you’re the real deal. It’ll just take time, is all.”

And here we are. No-one ques­tions Good Char­lotte any­more. How did that hap­pen?

“Most peo­ple dis­ap­pear,” Dean says, try­ing to find the rea­son for their stay­ing power and the turnaround in their pub­lic per­cep­tion. “The longevity? The marathon? That’s the best, not the sprint. Maybe it’s be­cause we did stay in the ring for all the rounds in the fight. You get knocked down, and there’s al­ways go­ing to be ad­ver­sity, but if you keep go­ing, you’re pos­i­tive and you’re kind, you’ll win.”

“It’s all love now,” smiles Billy, who still re­calls how dif­fer­ent it was rid­ing those first waves of fame. “There was a point at the height of Good Char­lotte’s hype where I didn’t like to go out, be­cause I knew there’d be shit-talk­ers and peo­ple would try to start fights at shows. Now, any time we go any­where it’s all so pos­i­tive. It’s amaz­ing to see it come full cir­cle.”

Young bands com­ing through reg­u­larly pay trib­ute to the band’s in­flu­ence now too, and artists on the MDDN ros­ter – Aw­sten Knight from Water­parks or Jessie J, for ex­am­ple – could not be more gush­ing about the Mad­dens’ men­tor­ship and help in steer­ing their ca­reers to­wards suc­cess. That ap­pre­ci­a­tion ap­pears to be mu­tual.

“We love artists and we’re ob­sessed with spe­cial peo­ple,” smiles Benji. “I love be­ing around them, I love watch­ing them be spe­cial and try­ing to help build and sup­port a life that they can sus­tain…”

“…And try mak­ing things that af­fect cul­ture in a cool way, ” Joel adds.

You can see a fire in their eyes when they talk about their pro­tégés that clearly in­spires and rubs off on Good Char­lotte in 2018. Help­ing young artists avoid the pit­falls of the busi­ness that be­set them early on, while cheer­ing them on to vic­tory from the side­lines, all feeds back into the grand pur­pose at play in all of this.

“The greater goal is, can we build a fear­less brand that dis­rupts the way things were and helps shape the way things are go­ing to be?” says Joel. “That’s kind of our over­all mis­sion in life as we move for­ward.”

And that’s the key to un­der­stand­ing ev­ery­thing the Mad­dens are do­ing and why. Whether it’s with Gen­er­a­tion Rx or with MDDN, the point is to try to cre­ate some­thing spe­cial, some­thing that mat­ters and some­thing you can stand be­hind and back with your heart and soul.

“I think this is just us act­ing our ages,” says Benji, us­ing the new record as a spe­cific ex­am­ple. “It feels very com­fort­able. I’m gonna be 40 next year. It’s about just be­ing com­fort­able with our­selves so that we can still en­joy it; so that we don’t have to fake it, be­cause the sec­ond we do that… dis­con­nect.”

And as the record nears com­ple­tion, the two years of pro­mo­tion and sup­port around the world that will surely fol­low looms as well. It begs the ques­tion of how they can com­mit to that these days, and where ex­actly Good Char­lotte fits into their pri­or­i­ties.

“Good Char­lotte is an ex­tremely beau­ti­ful, ex­tremely valu­able vin­tage car that I take metic­u­lous care of, that I like driv­ing on the week­ends and that I’m very proud of,” of­fers Benji by way of ex­pla­na­tion. “Old cars run for­ever if you take care of them.”

“And you don’t let peo­ple put shit on it, you don’t let peo­ple mis­treat it and the more you shine it up, the more peo­ple look at it and the more valu­able it be­comes,” adds Joel.

And hey, if they hap­pen to break down or bust a gas­ket along the way? No drama.

“One thing that our ex­pe­ri­ence over the last 27 years has given us is enough hu­mil­ity to be okay with wher­ever we end up,” the vo­cal­ist prom­ises. “There’s some peace in that. I’m just happy that we’re here and grate­ful that we still get to be us and wher­ever we end up in mu­sic, I re­ally like who we are to­day. I don’t know what the legacy of Good Char­lotte ends up be­ing, but I’m okay with wher­ever it lands.”

Time to hop in and find out.



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“All black was a bad choice”

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