We chatted to 1/2 of the Madden Brothers about 'The Chronicles Of Life And Death', dealing with fame and facing the task of following up one of the biggest pop-punk albums of all time.
SO MANY THINGS CHANGED FOR YOU BETWEEN THE RECORDING OF ‘THE YOUNG AND THE HOPELESS AND ‘THE CHRONICLES OF LIFE AND DEATH’. HOW WERE YOU FEELING GOING INTO THOSE SESSIONS?
Says vocalist Joel Madden: “It was interesting. It was such a strange time for our band. We couldn’t have expected that album to do what it did. I think ‘ The Young And The Hopeless’ did something like 5 million [sales] around the world. Suddenly people were saying, ‘go do it again’. We had been on tour for like, two years. I think we did 350 shows one year and 360 another year. We had literally played almost every day with no time off. We certainly weren’t thinking about it. That’s just what we did back then. We toured.”
“I remember that I had stayed in Japan for a week and then ‘they’ [the label] said, ‘in two weeks you’re going in’. I remember thinking that I didn’t even know what we were going to write about. We were just in this whirlwind bubble. I flew home and at the time I didn’t live in Los Angeles. I had moved up to the Bay Area in San Francisco. Well, it’s where I dropped my bags for a bit every few weeks. I remember packing up my car and driving down to L.A. to make that record. I started couchsurfing and trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do.”
“We were facing a lot of criticism from all sides. We didn’t quite fit in with pop music. We didn’t fit in with the genre that we came from. It was such a strange place to be. So we internalised it a lot. When we went to make that record we were internalising all that stuff. I think it all just came out on the actual record. Our travels helped us grow a little bit. We were ready to move on and make a statement. We wanted to do something grand. I’m not sure we were ready for it or not but we still went in trying to make a cohesive record that was also us dealing with our own feelings and ideas about our own mortality in the emotional, physical and musical sense.”
“There was a real focus on mortality and life and death, <<beyond>> the physical idea of your life. It was about us surviving an industry. It was about us surviving a world that we had previously - with ‘The Young And Hopeless’ - come into bright-eyed. When we went out into the world we were met with all different things along with people clapping and going, ‘you guys made it’. That’s how we felt. We felt we had made it out of a bad situation and we didn’t realise we would be thrown into the fire like that.”
IT SOUNDS LIKE THE LEVEL OF EXPECTATION PUT ON YOU AFFECTED THE SOUND OF THE RECORD, THEN?
“They wanted the big, bright, marketable caricature of what they were selling. This safe punk thing. We were like, ‘no’. We pushed against it in a way. We rebelled against it by going dark and moody. There were moments on the record that I also thought were sarcastic. Like ‘I Just Wanna Live’ sums it up perfectly. It sums up the whole experience. Even the video if you watch it is dark in a weird way. It’s a bit cynical. That’s just what we were experiencing.”
“‘The Young And The Hopeless’ was all about making it out and that stream of consciousness when we first came to L.A. to make that record. We weren’t allowed into places and we didn’t have nice cars and we didn’t have all the things that we thought we wanted, or what symbolised ‘making it out’. We wrote very honestly about that. So then that experience over those two years was one of ‘this is the world once you get there’. It wasn’t us complaining. It more of us going ‘oh shit, well reality is reality’. It’s a big world and people don’t give a shit where you are from or what you have been through. They don’t care. Also, to be everywhere but also nowhere. You’re touring and playing shows but you’re also in this bubble. Then also having these new die-hard fans, which is a completely new energy, and validation that you weren’t really ready for. I kid you not when I say we should have been in therapy to prepare ourselves for just that stuff. You don’t have anything then you have anything you want. For kids who had experienced everything in their childhood from trauma to poverty. To come into that was a whole other mindfuck.”
“Now making those adult decisions because suddenly you are valuable to all these adults. There are different people trying to manipulate you and putting pressure on you. All that stuff you have to do when you are kids who don’t have adult supervision and aren’t educated or have adults from their previous life saying, ‘okay guys let’s slow this down’. I think there was a real tidal wave of things. Then to go straight into recording, we threw it all up. I don’t know if it was anger, or if it was a more dark and cynical view of what life really is.”
WHEN YOU ACTUALLY GOT TO THE STUDIO, HOW DID THOSE IDEAS EVOLVE?
“I think there was just so much music business rhetoric flying around that we rebelled against. ‘Oh you want us to go that way? Fuck you’. We just dug in and started to make this different record. We have never been an obscure band. We are never going to make an obscure record. I think we have always been pretty pop. That’s just who we are. It’s what we like. One of the more confusing things about our band is that we have always just done whatever we want. We have gained from it and paid for it.”
“With that record specifically there was so much pressure to deliver another hit, that we were like ‘we are going dark as we can’. I think in the pop sense it is still a Good Charlotte record but I think you can hear us all over adding in some darkness and some sadness and some anger. Then there are moments where we, as we always have, tried to deliver some hope. We always feel connected to the people who listen to our music and we always find that the people who listen are in need of something to keep fighting for. There is a running theme with Good Charlotte fans across the world that people are struggling with their own happiness or health. We always felt responsible to put those messages on all of our albums. So, we never lost that.”
“I don’t think it was self-destructive. I think it was us fighting for the freedom to be Good Charlotte. ‘Chronicles’ was us putting something above the success and it cemented us as the band who will always go left when you want us to go right.”
HAVING TO MAKE A DECISION THAT WOULD AFFECT YOUR WHOLE CAREER AT SUCH A YOUNG AGE IS PRETTY CRAZY…
“Even with our most recent record we decided we were going to make a fan record. People said to go on to the radio and take over the world and we said no. We are going to put it out independently and build the story that we want to build. It’s funny how it works out. We have only just to the point in our career where we really understand it. We do things on own terms and now we have realised that we always have. However big or small we will be at any given phase, we are happy with it because we own it and we decided to just be us.”
“Our next record is already feeling like it is going to be a big rock record. ‘Chronicles’ was still such an important piece of that growth and an important of our career where we had to decide to be Good Charlotte and not just a product that we could have ourselves become. We could have made a ‘Young And The Hopeless’ part 2 and pushed out another ‘Lifestyles’ or ‘Girls & Boys’. Then Chronicles ended up being a pretty great success story in its own right. It allowed us to live on. If we had made another ‘Young And Hopeless’, we would have died. We would have just gone away. We wouldn’t have been inspired. We wouldn’t have had anything to fight for. We wouldn’t have been vital.”
“What we have come to learn from our fans is ‘be yourself and don’t lie’. It’s as simple as that. That’s what we have always tried to honour. That’s what it was like when we had five years off. ‘We aren’t lying to you; we don’t have anything to say right now. We are turning it all off.’ There was never a break-up. There was never a moment when we didn’t like each other. We all felt the same way. I remember sitting on the bus the night we decided and saying ‘you know what, we’re done’. It actually felt good to say. People were just going to have to understand. Let’s just turn it off and maybe there will be a day when we have something to say. I didn’t know how long it was going to be but I know that those five years were so vital to the band.”
“That is why we are so energised. It almost feels like a completely different band. We all went and grew up and got adjusted to who we really are so we can be honest with our fans. Everything we do now is true. So when you come to a Good Charlotte show, whether it’s Download or Brixton, you’re getting something real. It’s not just a bunch of guys on stage phoning it in. There is nothing worse than when I go and see a band and it feels like none of them are there. Their bodies are there but their hearts and souls aren’t. That is the opposite of a Good Charlotte show these days. We are putting on the best shows of our life because every guy on the stage wants to be there and cares. Every song is about something that we care about.”
“It’s been a really incredible journey for the last 20 years and we all feel very lucky to be here. We know that there were moments like ‘Chronicles’ where we had to decide something. I’m glad we stayed true to our band because it is the only way that Good Charlotte has survived. The climate in our business has changed so many times since we started and to think that we have survived it all. It’s crazy to think that we have survived so many eras.”
“You grow up as little kids who aren’t even able to play their instruments and then you do this long enough that you realise you can hang with the best of them because you have played thousands of shows. We still kept trying to be better in our own way and we’ve arrived at a place where we all know who we are. For the first time in our career we are making no apologies and not feeling conflicted. That’s the most priceless thing we came to. Being able to move past any conflict. ‘They want this, they want that, they don’t like us, they do’. All the outside voices are gone and it’s just a peace that we all have together. We are picking up steam in our own creative ways and I am excited about the next record we are going to make.”
“We went in to the last record not knowing what to expect. We didn’t even know where Good Charlotte sat within the landscape. So we just made a record that we liked. Now we are all thinking what we can do that is different. The conversations are very exciting. We wouldn’t have got here if it weren’t for ‘Chronicles’. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and that record was a huge part of that.”