Heart to heart with Joel Madden

hot Magazine, Issue 160, November 2010

Heart to heart
Joel Madden opens up on Good Charlotte’s new album and other important matters

By Sophia Goh

Joel Madden is a man who believes in wearing as many hats as possible. “I like to work,” he tells us in this phone interview. “I don’t believe in time off, I think that I should be working 40 hours a week just like anyone else, and it’s important to me [that] if I’m not working with the band that I’m still working.”

When we point out to the Good Charlotte lead singer and songwriter – who is also a record producer, DJ and philanthropist, not to mention devoted fiancé and father to Nicole Richie and their two kids Harlow and Sparrow – that it sounds as if he’s putting in more than the regular 40 hours a week, he laughs.

“I try, you know. Yeah, some weeks, maybe, but I try to just work hard and be thankful,” he says.

We’re not quite sure what we were expecting from the heavily tattooed 31-year-old rocker, but this down to earth, regular Joe-type character definitely wasn’t the first image that sprang to mind.

Originally formed as a pop punk band in Waldorf, Maryland, in 1996, Good Charlotte is a familiar name to music fans worldwide. Comprising Joel, his identical twin brother and guitarist Benji Madden, guitarist Billy Martin, bassist Paul Thomas and drummer Dean Butterworth, the group has sold over 10 million albums to date and is responsible for hits such as ‘Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous’ and ‘Hold On’.

As they celebrate ten years since their debut record with a fifth studio album, Cardiology, Joel reflects on the years gone past and talks about his passion for charity work (he and Nicole started The Richie Madden Children’s Foundation in 2007), fatherhood and brother Benji. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, he’s the younger twin by five minutes.

Congratulations on Cardiology.
Thank you.

It’s been ten years since Good Charlotte, your debut album. Does Cardiology recognise that milestone in any way?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely a special record. And being ten years from our first record, this record’s kind of like a best of everything we’ve done in the last ten years; it has a little bit from every record, you know.

What can fans expect from it?
I think that it’s got a lot of energy. I think the record’s got some of the best songs we’ve ever written. It’s got a lot of old school Good Charlotte meets new Good Charlotte, and the songs are very personal so they mean a lot to us and we’re very honest on this record.

Is it true that the reason you guys took three years to release Cardiology is because you didn’t want to release a shitty record?
Absolutely, yeah. We wanted it to be right and we had to keep working on it till we got it right so it took us some time. I think we needed to get back to life and living and experiencing life, [so it’s] not just the four of us, surrounded by our music. Yeah, we had to get it right.

What do you want this album to achieve?
I think what I want this album to achieve is I want the fans to listen to it and feel like, you know, they relate to us and they understand us and they feel connected, and I want them to enjoy it, obviously. For all the old Good Charlotte fans, I want them to be happy with the record we made, and for all the new Good Charlotte fans, I want them to get to know us and I want them to feel like they own this band.

So you think you’ve managed to put together a record that combines all those things?
Absolutely. That’s why it took so long, you know.

What were some of the specific challenges you faced making this record?
For me, it was the songs. Getting the best, most personal songs. Picking the right songs. We spent a lot of time writing – we wrote like 120 songs – and it was really just about digging deeper and getting the songs we needed to get across on the record. For me, that was the only thing that was hard about making this record. It was a lot of fun, we had a good time making it, but it was hard finding those songs [and] writing the best songs we could.

Could you share some thoughts on your career with Good Charlotte so far?
We’ve been in this band for 14 years. I think we’ve been very blessed and very fortunate to have the longevity we have had to this point. We see a lot of bands come and go. These days it’s not easy for bands. The music industry in general has taken a lot of hits; I think that you have to be tough to stick around. You have to work hard. I think we feel blessed, we feel like the luckiest guys in the world and we’re very, very thankful to our fans for believing in us, for sticking with us. We’re at the beginning of a new decade for our band and we’re at the beginning of a new chapter and we’d like this to be the beginning of another ten years, you know.

What advice would you give other bands that would like to achieve the same kind of longevity that you guys have?
We tour with a lot of newer bands and I tell other bands this all the time – for me, it’s about working really hard and you have to be humble and you have to keep your perspective and the fans come first. As long as the fans know you appreciate them and communicate with them, they’ll believe in you and that’s the only reason we get to do this. It’s because of the fans. You can’t go out on stage and expect it. You have to go out on stage every night and be thankful that you have that opportunity because there are a lot of people who would want to be in your place, and as long as you keep that perspective, it keeps you down to earth and that way, with success and with failure you keep everything in perspective so you don’t feel entitled to things, you know.

You’ve involved in lots of other things besides Good Charlotte. For instance, you’re also a DJ and you’ve got a charity. Do you think that helps your music?
Well, it helps it sometimes; it hurts it sometimes. I don’t do anything I don’t believe in, that’s always my philosophy. If I’m doing it it’s because I want to be there. Ultimately, I think it only helps it. As far as charity and stuff goes, I believe that whatever you give, you get back. The kind of energy you put out into the world is what you’re going to get back. I try to give as much as I can, I try to spend as much time doing that stuff as I can, because I believe that it’s the right thing to do and I believe that it’s not just a game but it makes your soul feel good. Spending time doing a service to other people gives you, I think, some perspective and focus in life, and it’s important. As far as all the work stuff – DJ-ing, things like that – I like to have fun, I like to work.

How have you guys managed to stay together for so long?
I think we care about each other and we’re friends. We’ve been together since high school and we enjoy being in a band together and we still enjoy making music together. A lot of it has to do with where we’re from, our background. We’ve been together since high school so we’ve known each other for 15 years, you know. We’re almost like family. We’ve just got deep roots together.

Because you’re Good Charlotte, is there any pressure every time you make a record to make it super successful?
Not to us. We have a different kind of view on that. These days, records don’t sell a lot and for us, we make records for fans. The success of a record is what the fans think of it, and if the fans like it. It’s not sales and stuff. You can’t control that and every year it’s different. Some years are good; some years are bad. Music goes in cycles, you know, you have your ups and downs. We’ll do it as long as we still mean it. If the day ever comes when I don’t mean it anymore, and I don’t have the conviction to write a record, then I won’t do a record. [With this album], we mean it, and so the success of it, for me, will be how the fans like it and we’ll see that when we’re on the road.

Now you’re a father to two beautiful children…
Thank you.

How has that influenced your music?
I think you feel deeper, you know. My children are the most important things in the world to me; I love them like I’ve never loved anything in my life. It’s a whole new experience for me. It’s opened my mind and my heart and my eyes to a different kind of love and a completely different feeling so it definitely affects everything you do, including writing songs.

Does it make you a bit more reluctant to tour?
Yeah, it does. It’s harder to tour. It’s harder to be away. Sometimes every once in a while when I miss them and it feels like I just want to go home, I have to remember that this is also a job and sometimes it’s not fun because you just want to be home with your kids but it’s life and that’s work, you know.

You’re known as Nicole Richie’s partner as much as you’re known as the lead singer of Good Charlotte. Does that bother you?
No, I’m proud of my girlfriend. I don’t pay attention to the tabloid type stuff so it doesn’t really affect my life. I’m proud of her.

Is it difficult to keep the focus on your music with all these tabloids and stuff like that?
No, because I don’t really play into it, you know. I can only have a conversation with someone for so long and if they don’t want to talk about music there’s not much else to talk about after a certain point.

What’s it like having an identical twin brother with you in the band?
It’s good. He’s my best friend and we’ve been together our whole life and we work well together. We’ve always been partners so it’s good having that support.

Is it true that twins have a special telepathy thing going on?
There’s definitely something like that, you know. We know each other so well that we kind of can read each other’s thoughts. I wouldn’t say it’s like, if I tried to send him a message right now that he’d get it, but we definitely share a lot.

Do you guys have any plans to come to Malaysia again?
Yeah, next year we’re going to be coming on tour. We’ll definitely be coming to Malaysia.

That’s awesome. Do you have anything to say to your fans?
Just thank you all the Malaysian fans. I get to speak to a lot of them on Twitter but we couldn’t say thank you enough. We came here three years ago and had an amazing show and a great time, everyone was so nice. We really appreciate the support from our fans and hopefully when we come back we’ll get to meet a lot of them and we couldn’t say thank you enough to everyone in Malaysia for being so cool to us and so nice to us. Good Charlotte really loves Malaysia, we have a really special place in our hearts for Malaysia and we can’t wait to come back here.

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