Joel & Benji Madden on How 'Generation Rx' Helped Rejuvenate Their Band: 'We Feel Like Good Charlotte Belong to Us Again'


The group’s seventh album is out now.

When you've been a band for nearly 20 years, it's easy to get complacent with your sound. But when Good Charlotte went into the studio to start making their seventh album, the guys felt that — despite writing everything in their catalogue — their music wasn't coming f entirely genuine.

After ending their four-year hiatus in 2015, the band released Youth Authority in July 2016, inspired by the fact that all five members — co-founders and twin brothers Joel and Benji Madden (lead singer and lead guitarist, respectively), bassist Paul Thomas, keyboardist Billy Martin and drummer Dean Butterworth — felt like they had something to say. Though Joel deemed it the best record the band had made in a long time, parts the track list still gave him pause for not totally representing the band's current headspace at the time. "We put a couple songs on that album because we felt like we had to," he admits.

So for their next LP, Joel says the most important thing "was being able to get back to a place where we could be really honest and vulnerable, and have it be really organic … We were like, 'Let's just sit down with a guitar, and just kind do it like we used to.'"

Their no-inhibitions approach resulted in Generation Rx, a nine-song album that is perhaps the most forthcoming Good Charlotte has ever been in their lyrics, addressing mental health struggles and the pain they've both experienced and witnessed over the years. While the content is heavy, Generation Rx makes the group's emotionally charged pop-punk sound more authentic than ever — and Joel couldn't agree more: "It really does feel like Good Charlotte belong to us again."

Joel and Benji detailed the "brutal honesty" Good Charlotte explored in the creation Generation Rx, what inspired such a deeply vulnerable process, and how that resulted in the band's truest collection yet.  

When the album was announced, you guys were quoted saying this was the album you were waiting 15 years to create. What makes you say that, and what do you think it took for you to get to this point both creatively and as a band?

Joel: Our first record came out in 2000, 18 years ago. That was the last time we were really unaware ourselves. Just getting back to that point where you can show people who you really are — the way you would've before you knew anyone was looking. That's a tough thing to do, and it's a thing that you have to build up the courage to do again. Some people have the natural courage, and naturally have the confidence to just unequivocally be themselves, but not everyone is blessed with that kind self-esteem. For us, it was a process growing and being who we are and learning — that’s what the process the last six albums has been about.

Would you say this is the best representation why you started Good Charlotte in the first place?

Joel: This is a really great representation why we started in the first place — to express ourselves, and to kind push a message hope and courage.

Benji: I agree with that. Just getting to a place where we are literally just trying to create the meaning, and do something that we feel is meaningful.

You've also said that you channeled the soul your first two albums. Can you describe what that soul is? Did you feel like you'd lost that soul between The Young and The Hopeless and Youth Authority?

Joel: I think we just got to a place on this record where I think we felt completely uninhibited. Maybe we didn't realize we were as inhibited as we were. We landed in a place where I think we could create some music that has a message that feels as meaningful to us as some the earlier records that were very vulnerable.

How did Youth Authority set you up for what you wanted to say in Generation Rx?

Joel: Youth Authority set us up for this record in an unconscious way. I think with Youth Authority] we were just getting back into swinging the bat again and getting to know ourselves as a band and as songwriters. It was a waking up process sorts. But then with this record, I think we came all the way into being able to let our unconscious stream consciousness out, and just writing songs without thinking about anything other than feeling them and creating stuff.

I don't even know really where this record fits in the modern landscape music. I know it's not a throwback record, it's definitely a new Good Charlotte record. It feels like if Good Charlotte made a record in 2018. I don't know if there was a real strategy when we made the record — I think it was just an unconscious process creativity and discovering the things we wanted to talk about by just going and doing.

It sounds like the process was a little different than it has been in the past.

Benji: Yeah. I think we kind got back to our truest process, actually, which was to make it as uncontrolled as possible. We felt like that would be the way to get the most honest shit out us, if we weren't trying to do anything in particular at all.

Was there a turning point in figuring out what you wanted to say, and letting the stream consciousness take over?

Joel: We looked at Youth Authority, and we'd go, "What did we not like about that? What did we not like about the process? What did we not like about the songs?" And then, "What did we like about it? And what songs were our favorite on that record?" We felt like our fans wanted a certain thing from us for the next album], and then we were talking about it, and we were like, "Our fans probably just want us to be honest … Let's only do songs on this record that naturally just feel really good, and let's not just try to put things on this record we feel we should. We'll never do that again." We made that decision and we never looked back. And then we just let the record write itself.

It feels like it's really our band again, and the entire band feels that way. Good Charlotte really does feel genuine again to us, where at some points it felt like it got out our control, got away from us.

Is there one song that stands out as the most meaningful, or vulnerable, that you're really proud ?

Benji: I really love "Cold Song." If anyone really listens to that song and thinks about their life, there's a lot good material deep down in there. I think if you listen to the lyrics, it may take you on some sort a journey. I also love "Actual Pain." I love the lyrics, and I love the message. There's a lot deeper meanings in there.

Joel: For me, I think "Self Help" and "Shadowboxer." That's probably the most vulnerable I've ever been in opening up and sharing my own thoughts and perspectives. Those are very meaningful because it's not hiding behind any kind anger, I'm not displacing it on anyone else. I'm actually just kind opening up and sharing a personal thought, an experience without anything to hide behind. Those are probably the most meaningful just in terms new territory, personally, opening up on a record.

Is that vulnerability what inspired the skeleton-based imagery on the album cover?

Benji: I wanted to try and create a very almost expected Good Charlotte vibe, but there's a deeper meaning. You can hide behind your clothes, and you can hide behind covering yourself in tattoos, or putting on masks, or whatever, but at the end the day, your real life is in there. I kind question, "What are we all hiding behind? Am I hiding? If I am, what am I hiding behind?" Brutal honesty and trying to get to the heart the truth myself. In a way, hopefully inspiring people to question their own selves — all from a place wanting to encourage people to love themselves and ask the right questions themselves.

How do you see that tying into the title Generation Rx?

Benji: I think we live in a time where we can all distract ourselves from facing the pain or the reality all our lives — tons ways to hide, to kill pain, to deal with pain. I'm not challenging anyone, but I'm hopefully inspiring the question asking. Hopefully the people that would look at a Good Charlotte record and dismiss it for maybe what they think is a certain kind content, if they do discover something meaningful, then it's a nice surprise. I like those kinds contradictions.

You covered Lil Peep's "Awful Things" before putting this album out. Did the impact his death on you guys and on his fans play into your self-awareness and your connection with fans now?

Benji: Yeah, I think it's just been a part a larger conversation we've been having. I feel like we've had a front row seat for the last 20 years to watching culture and youth. And we've had our own experiences. As older guys who have some perspective now, we look at things like Peep, who we were all fans — it was tragic, and we see so much tragedy these days. It feels like everywhere we look, the people that are suffering are young people.

I guess we question, "Are we giving anything to them from our experience?" I don't know if there's an answer to that other than us carrying our own perspective, our own experience, and trying to be good older brothers, and responsible adults and parents. We're still involved with a young culture that we want to have a positive impact on. I think we're conscious that now. Whereas, maybe when we were younger, we weren't always so conscious. I think we've just become more aware ourselves.