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Benji Madden on Good Charlotte’s comeback and soundtrack writing

Good Charlotte, Benji Madden second from left (Photo: Justin Coit)

In Under The Influence, The A.V. Club asks a musician to pair three of their songs with a non-musical influence.

For some, Good Charlotte is one of the band’s responsible for making pop-punk a four-letter word. From the very start, the band wasn’t shy about trying to write hit songs, and with the release of The Young And The Hopeless in 2002, those grand ambitions became a reality. As the years went on, the band would veer away from its successful sound, dabbling in danceable tracks that left no room for guitarist Benji Madden’s towering liberty spikes. After going on hiatus in 2011, Good Charlotte returned this year with Youth Authority, a record that wouldn’t have been made if not for fans forming their own wildly successful bands—like 5 Seconds Of Summer—and conjuring Good Charlotte from its slumber. Here, guitarist Benji Madden—twin brother of vocalist Joel Madden—talks about three songs from their catalog that were influenced by some of the strange situations the band would find itself in.


The song: “The Anthem” (The Young And The Hopeless, 2002)
Influence: Writing songs for movie soundtracks

Benji Madden: That song was inspired, originally, for a movie. We had a song on our first album called “Little Things,” and there was a movie—I think it might have been American Pie. It was either American Pie or—no, wait, it was the other one.

The A.V. Club: American Wedding?

BM: No, it was another franchise. One of those kind of loser high school movies. What happened was they said, “We wanted a song like this one that you guys have. Can you write another loser anthem?” He actually said, “Can you write another loser anthem?” I thought that was funny because, for all intents and purposes, they were calling us losers. Like, “Oh, okay, that was the loser anthem.” So at the end of “The Anthem,” you hear that lyric “Another loser anthem / Whoa-oh.” So we wrote that song with this movie in mind and it’ll come to me, I’m trying to remember… fuck. And then it didn’t actually end up getting used in the movie. They actually just went back to the original song on our first album. But we loved it. We loved the song and we actually felt really connected to it. I just thought it was hilarious that they referred to the other song as a loser anthem, because I never saw it that way. And I was like, “That’s definitely making the song.”


AVC: Was that something that was happening a lot, where people were asking you to write a song but have it sound just like one of your other songs?

BM: Well, that’s just the music industry. They always want you to write something like the one that was popular. And that’s something you kind of have to just—sometimes you just say yes to people, like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure,” and then you just write the one you want to write. I think a lot of times, people think they know what they want, but what they really want is something that’s genuine. So they’ll be saying, “Do another one like that,” but you liked that one because it’s real. So as long as I keep it real and I do something that’s real to me, you’re going to feel it in the same way.


AVC: Then the “loser anthem” that wasn’t good enough for that movie becomes a hit and wins an MTV Video Music Award.

BM: It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? That song went on to be one of our most popular songs, and it’s another loser anthem. But I think Good Charlotte has definitely always been for the underdogs and the misfits. We haven’t ever really been the critics’ darlings.


The song: “Girls & Boys” (The Young And The Hopeless, 2002)
Influence: Going clubbing in L.A. for the first time

BM: That was an experience we had where we were making a record, and Joel and I were in L.A.—we didn’t live here yet, but we were in L.A. We were going to go out to a club. We’d only ever gone to see shows and watch bands. We’d never gone to clubs really. And we didn’t get in. We went down the street, we went to another place, and we didn’t get in. I think by the third place we got in somewhere and we were just kids without a lot of experience, just kind of observing what was going on. At that point, our band was only big in the Warped Tour scene. And we were just observing, and that song came—we wrote it the next day. It’s a kind of funny social commentary.


AVC: Was it a culture shock for you?

BM: I think we found a lot of it to be funny. I still do. I mean, I definitely spent plenty of time in my late 20s in clubs and kind of in very stereotypical settings for what that whole scene is like. I think I’ve always found that dynamic of certain types of people with different agendas—I’ve always found it to be amusing. I think Joel and I were able to articulate it in a very funny, young way on that record in that moment—the next day, after experiencing it for the first time. Novelty always sparks ideas.


The song: “Life Changes” (Youth Authority, 2016)
Influence: The first day recording Youth Authority

BM: It’s the first song on the new album, and that’s an interesting story because we had spent five years apart—I mean, we had seen each other on some holidays and stuff, but the band had been apart for five years. And we decided that it felt like we could make another record again. We didn’t even know what we would do with it. We didn’t know how we would release it. We’re completely independent now. We thought about it and we were like, “It’ll be fun. We’ll figure out what we’re going to do after.”


We got together at my house, all the guys, everybody brought their kids, their wives, all of our families were all together on this Saturday before we started recording on Monday. We had the best hang ever. It was incredible, man. We hung out for, like, six hours, just all the kids played. We had a great time. When we went in the studio on Monday, the first song that we wrote was “Life Changes.”

If you listen to the song and you imagine the band—we started our band in 1996, when I was 17. It’s the same band. We grew up together, all of us. We were kids, and now we have families and lives. If you can imagine that after five years of not playing shows, spending your entire youth in a band and then having this period where you go off apart from each other and live your lives and find yourselves, and then getting back together and going in the studio the first day. If you listen to that song, it’s fucking awesome. The energy, everything—it’s just a fucking awesome moment that we were able to capture right there. I feel like if people listen and know that story, they’ll really get that song.


AVC: How did it feel to get back together as an independent band and have all these new ways of getting music out? Even though it’s only been five years, the industry has changed pretty dramatically.

BM: It’s an interesting question, because everything has changed. I almost feel like it’s more adaptable, and you can decide your own career now. I feel artists have so much more of a voice and so much more power now. It’s really inspiring to see how a lot of the young artists use their platforms. When we decided to make this record, the number one goal that we had was to make a record that we loved, that we could just drive around and listen to. With that being the goal, it was a win from the start. I don’t know if we’ve ever made a record with that mind-set maybe since our first album. When we made our first album, we had huge dreams, but really what we were all focused on was making a record that was badass to us.


AVC: Was there any pressure to capture a certain era of Good Charlotte’s sound, or did you feel free to do whatever you wanted?

BM: I’ve got to say, Good Charlotte has always felt really appreciated by our fans, but I think one of the things I’ve noticed since we took five, six years away, is we’ve felt a lot more appreciation from outside of our fans as well, from the rest of the world. We got a really warm welcome back. The reception has been overwhelming. I think that definitely took away any nerves. The welcome back has been so warm. We all love the record so much, we’re just happy to share it with everyone.


I don’t know if we could be swayed off our own opinion of it, you know? We all really just love the record, so there hasn’t been any nerves. If anything, we’re just really excited to get it to everyone. I think the record leaked. It’s funny, because the reaction from the band—the record leaked last week or something—and everybody in the band was like, “That’s awesome, man. I hope kids are enjoying it.” Everybody’s just happy for kids to have it and for it to be out there, because we love the record.

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