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Anthem for a Generation: A career-spanning interview with Good Charlotte

Good Charlotte on the pop punk revolution, music industry pitfalls, and going back to their roots. 

It’s the year 2000. Once the fear of Y2K had subsided, the new millennium brought with it a different change . Teenagers were embracing a new sound, a new fashion, and a wave of new bands. It was music created for outcasts, but quickly momentum picked up, and the mainstream caught on.

And while it wasn’t the same disenfranchised revolution of the grunge-era, it was the angst and a sense of uniting outside society’s “normal” that came to define a generation.

It’s been 20 years since four high school friends were swept up in its current. Wide-eyed and unassuming, they too created music for the fringe kids – the outcasts and misfits looking for a place to belong. A lot has changed for Good Charlotte since, but the core of their sound and their beliefs has always remained. For guitarist and vocalist Benji Madden, he still talks of those early days fondly.

“We were just little kids, we didn't really know anything," he says. "We’d never even been on an airplane and when we got our deal and we were going to make our first record, we got to fly out to LA and we were so wide-eyed.

“My whole goal when we got our record deal and made our first record was to buy my mum a house. Her living situation was fucked up at the time and that was all I could think about: ‘If this works out maybe I can get my mum a house.’ I was obsessed with trying to make the most of the opportunity and not waste it.”

And waste it, they didn’t. Their debut self-titled album kicked things off in fine form and saw the five-piece supporting bands like Blink 182 and MxPx. But it was their follow-up record, 2002’s The Young and The Hopeless, that thrust Good Charlotte into the mainstream – topping the charts, scoring magazine covers, and performing on live TV. These wide-eyed teenagers were now one of the biggest bands in the world, and the process of dealing with that change wasn’t an easy one.

“We were all the low self-esteem kids. And when you're coming into it like that anyway, you're going to be influenced by people because you want people to like you, you want people to approve of you because you don't already have the natural confidence,” Madden says.

“That is something I wish someone would’ve given me the answer to, because that process took another decade after that, of trying to figure out, ‘Who am I now?’ And it turns out – and this is what I tell young bands now – I've been the same guy all along, but my perspective has changed a little bit. My experiences change but I'm still the same guy.

“The hardest thing to deal with, especially in the music business, [is] when you're trying to mix art with commerce. You've got influences around you, whether it's someone at the label or someone in management – or whoever it is – who genuinely want your success. But they don't realise they're trying to influence your success and derail you from how you need to express yourself. If you can just find a way to continue to express yourself honestly, regardless of how your experiences change, people are still going to feel that.”

Three more albums and eight years later, it seemed that Good Charlotte had reached their end. In an interview with Rolling Stone they announced they were “stepping away from the grind of making records and touring”. No one knew when or if they were coming back, but within the band they knew they needed to find their passion again.

“Joel had sworn that he would never do Good Charlotte again. He's like, ‘I love Good Charlotte, that's my heart, but I've moved on.’ We shut it down and we stopped doing Good Charlotte because we felt like it wasn't ours anymore. [But] We took it back and I feel like we got back to where we started.”

That sentiment – of going back to their roots – rings true throughout their latest album, 2016’s Youth Authority. Injected with the spirit and energy of their early 2000s releases, we finally have a band with nothing left to prove and the authority to bask in that freedom.

“The whole band came over to my house and we had everyone, our wives, all the kids. Everybody's having a few beers and talking and watching all of our families hanging out and were like, ‘Man, we've been together a long time.’ This was 2015, and it had been five years since we’d put out the last record.

“Emotionally [Good Charlotte] comes from a different place for us, and we were talking about it and we're like, ‘It’d be fun to get back together and make some music.’ Two weeks later, we were like, ‘Let's get in the studio and do a song,’ and Joel did the first song of the record, 'Life Changes'. Right away, if you listen to that song, you can feel that energy. That was the first time we all got back in the studio.”

The journey of Good Charlotte is one that’s been played out across TV screens and tabloid magazines the world over, but for the band it all comes back to one thing – each other.

“It was a really interesting journey to go through," Madden says. "Being from a little town in the middle of nowhere to having success and a bunch of people gather around us. That's the thing I love most about the comeback: I feel like we finally got Good Charlotte back to where we started. Good Charlotte's our baby. It's the thing that changed our lives and changed our families. It's given us so much and we finally took it back.

“There's some things that we could never trade for anything and it's definitely those friendships and that time. We started in 1996, we're going on 22 years and you just can't trade anything for that.”

Good Charlotte will perform at Download Festivalcoming to Flemington Racecourse on Saturday March 24, also featuring Korn, Limp Bizkit, Good Charlotte, Neck Deep, and more. Their latest album, Youth Authority is out now.