Benji and Joel Madden are literally surrounded by their success. As they sit with Billboard in a Hollywood recording studio, the 35-year-old twin brothers are flanked by gold and platinum records and posters commemorating sold-out shows during the previous 15 years with Good Charlotte. They need only look around to be reminded of their lofty commercial track record.
Yet the brothers admit a lot of questions in the last few years, as they wonder whether music had passed them by.
“You get to a point, especially this late in your career, we’re not the young, hot, new thing,” Joel says. “You get to a point where you see music changing every 18 months, and you go, ‘Do I have a lane? Maybe my songs will have a better chance with someone else because I love my songs, I want them out in the world, so maybe I’m not the guy.’”
“I definitely think we had moments of self-doubt,” Benji adds.
They got a boost of confidence from a surprising source: Pharrell Williams. “We went down and saw Pharrell. We’ve been friends a long time,” Benji recalls. “Then a guy like Pharrell goes, ‘You’re the shit, music needs you. You guys have a real voice and you guys are legit and you guys have been through it all,’” Joel adds. “You start to think maybe he’s right and you start to believe in yourself a little bit more.”
Pharrell wasn’t the only one to give moral support to the pair. Ryan Adams lends his talents to the track “California Rain.” “He just did it in one take, came in and it ended up completing the song. He’s such a badass,” Benji says.
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“Then we were recording at Sunset Sound with Joe [Chiccarelli] and The Black Keys were making their new record there and they were so cool,” Joel says. “And seeing them every day, and just being around real musicians everybody is pretty cool.”
Bolstered by the reassurance from such diverse acts, the duo has, at least for now, put Good Charlotte to the side to record Greetings From California, their debut effort as The Madden Brothers. The album harkens back to the days when classic rock was pop, as they went for the sounds of classic rock, from The Beatles and The Beach Boys to the Eagles.
One of the standout tracks is also the simplest, the love song “UR.” “I wrote it as a personal song,” Joel says. “I said, ‘I want to write a song about [wife] Nicole [Richie] and the kids. Me being away.”
Pharrell was also the initial guy to encourage the new name and sound. “We were like, ‘We’re doing this thing, we’re gonna call it The Madden Brothers,’” Benji recalls. “He was the first person that didn’t scratch his head. He was like, ‘Oh, fuck yeah, dude, that’s like some classic rock shit, right?’”
“Cause everyone else was like, ‘You shouldn’t call it The Madden Brothers, you should come up with a name,’” Joel interjects.
Keeping it simple with their band name felt right. “We immediately decided that this was something we were gonna do for ourselves,” explains Benji. “And now as we go into the world and promote the record it’s incredibly easy because we’re showing up the way I went to dinner last night. We don’t have to be characters, we’re just showing up and being the Madden Brothers. With this record it’s incredibly easy to be ourselves.”
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That begs the obvious question: Were they being characters in Good Charlotte? “No, Good Charlotte was authentic, the five of us in this kind of mission as young kids to go out into the world and there was like a flag to wave and a banner to carry and there was a club to be in,” Joel says. “It was like a little gang we created for ourselves to belong to,”
“And we had a great run, five records, fucking tours, 10, 11 years of just fucking having a wild ride. But we’re in our thirties now and we have families now and we just have a different take on it,” Benji adds.
It’s hard to miss that he refers to Good Charlotte in the past tense, but the brothers are not ready to put a period on that part of their career. “I say that idea of it, I think, what we were, is [done]. What we will be is the question,” Benji says.
For now they are focused on this project, which is where the brothers are today. Joel says the album’s title, Greetings From California, comes from the fact the band wanted to share exactly what their lives are like today. “It’s a postcard from where we are now,” he says. “We got signed when we were 20, now we’re 35. Fifteen years, that’s the difference. You don’t know how a song is gonna do, you don’t know where it’s gonna live. You know if it feels real, if it feels authentic. And that’s this record, we had to go with the feel.”
To get the feel they wanted, namely a mix of vintage and fresh, they turned to Joe Chiccarelli (The Shins, The Strokes, The White Stripes) and Eric Valentine (Slash, Taking Back Sunday), a familiar name to Good Charlotte fans for his work on The Young And The Hopeless and The Chronicles Of Life And Death.
Valentine was initially reluctant, feeling like he and the Maddens wouldn’t be able to surpass their previous work according to the brothers. “Eric told me, ‘The enjoyment I get from music is beating the records I’ve done and we made some records that changed a genre,’” Joel says. “He said, ‘I don’t know if we can beat what we’ve done already, I think we might’ve done it.’ So I played him some music, some demos, he listened, and we did ‘Dear Jane.’ That was the moment where we went, ‘Okay, this is gonna work.’ Then we were off.”
The pair have already been very pleased with the initial feedback from fans. But more important to them is they are very happy with the finished record. “For us, it was about making a record that makes a difference, whether it’s sonically or the lyrics. That’s what we get off on. For us it just feels like we finally got here, we’re okay with ourselves,” Joel says. “Regardless of the rest of the world we’re happy right where we’re at and this record was for us, this record was so we could die happier.”