“We had no idea if this would be a success or a real failure” – hmv.com talks to The Madden Brothers
Plenty of musicians try other things outside of their main projects, they’re artists, creative types, it’s what they do. Lots start side projects, whether that’s to try something else out, to be the main man/woman when they’re normally a supporting character, or just because they’re a bit bored and they fancy a change.
But then there are new projects that seem a little unnecessary, or confusing, like when Johnny Borrell decided to record a solo album apart from Razorlight, or when Conor Oberst decided to release an album under his own name rather than Bright Eyes, these people who so central to the creative vision and songwriting that you wonder what exactly the need for a solo album is.
This certainly seemed to be the case at the outset with Good Charlotte’s Benji and Joel Madden, now artistically known as the Madden Brothers. The pair were the creative forces behind Good Charlotte’s sugary pop punk anthems like ‘Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous’ and ‘Girls And Boys’, they sold millions of records, played arenas across the world and seemed to have the perfect set-up.
So why have they gone solo? And, more importantly, why have they made Greetings From California, an album that’s half classic rock and half surf pop? We sat down with Benji Madden to talk about going it alone and their collaborations with Pharrell and Ryan Adams…
You’re about to release your first album as The Madden Brothers, is this exciting or a bit weird?
“To be honest, it’s just exciting. We’ve been doing this for years now and to be able to do what we’ve done with this record has been amazing. We’ve really made the record we wanted to make. We got into this because we loved music, but when you’re in the industry and business gets mixed with the thing you love, it can be really negative. So to be able to do this, which has been such a positive experience, is just fantastic.”
So why now? You must have had downtime with Good Charlotte over the years, why did you decide to do it this year?
“I don’t know, it just felt natural, without giving it too much thought and without being calculated. This really felt like a record we had to make, artistically it was important, we’d have made this record whether it would have come out or not.”
You can’t put your finger on what made you decide to do it now?
“We started Good Charlotte when we were 15 and we signed to a major label when we were 20. We’re 35 now, we’ve done a lot, we’ve had an incredible ride, we’ve grown up in front of people. Most people are in two or three bands before they get serious, we’ve only known Good Charlotte, we’re so proud of what we did in that band, it’s so special to us.”
“You know in the end, Good Charlotte felt like it belonged more to the fans then to us. We felt like we were all in a club called Good Charlotte.”
So did you feel like you needed to do this?
“Absolutely. As a writer and artist, there are things you want to do just for yourself, things you need to do artistically, that’s how this record came about, it’s a pure artistic decision, we had no idea whether this record would work. It was definitely a risk. If you look at what’s happening right now in music, especially in the Top 40, it’s not songs like ‘Dear Jane’ or ‘We Are Done’, so it’s fantastic to discover that they’re working. We had no idea if this would be a success or a real failure.”
How did recording work?
“We did the first side of the record in our downtime over the years, that was ongoing. We did that with a producer named Eric Valentine, who I’ve worked with for years. We’d record, we’ve live with it for a little while, then we’d go back and work on it.”
“On the second side, we worked with Joe Chiccarelli, who’s one of my favourite producers, he’s made so many great records, from The Shins to The White Stripes, he’s produced records that I consider modern classics. Joe helped me put together this insanely badass guys, loads of hard to get session guys. We recorded that side of the record all live, we’d rehearse the songs for about five hours, take a break and then we’d come back and record them 10 times. It’s so exciting to do it that way, because you work through the day and then you pretty much have a finished track. We did a song a day.”
Why did you decide to do it in those distinct halves?
“It suited the vision we had for this record. We really asked ourselves ‘What do we want to put into the world?, ‘What is exciting us?’ and ‘What kind of record would we want to hear?’. Everyone wanted us to make a pop record, loads of big producers, like a singles collection. Me and Joel weren’t interested in that, we wanted to do a pop record that’s more true to what people did in the 1960s and 1970s when people made pop records. The kind of pop record The Beatles or The Beach Boys would have made. Pop as in how pop started, which oddly enough is a bit of a rock record. We decided on Joe’s side to this kind of Laurel Canyon, 1970s California thing, and on Eric’s side more of a Phil Spector kind of thing, it’s retro pop.”
How would you describe the album lyrically?
“There’s a lot of things we wanted to say over the years, but couldn’t really articulate it. Whether that was that we weren’t mature enough, I feel like we can say them now. Our lyrics are still really relatable, our experiences over the years are in there, we’ve grown so much as writers during our career. We’re writing for other artists too now, we can do things when we write for other artists to satisfy certain urges, that helps keep our records pure. There are some very personal songs on there for us, ‘Brother’ especially, which is about our relationship with our father, I think that’s the best song we’ve ever written. There’s a lot of different flavours.”
You worked with Ryan Adams on ‘California Rain’, what was he like to work with?
“I’m such a big Ryan Adams fan, so for me, it was just awesome. For him to want to be part of the record was incredible for us, he’s one of our favourite songwriters.”
You did tracks with Pharrell too right?
“We co-wrote two songs with Pharrell. He’s a friend, we’ve worked together lots over the years, work for other artists and lots of songs that haven’t come out. It’s a really comfortable relationship and a very natural collaboration.”
Have you enjoyed the process of opening yourself up to collaborators?
“It’s been interesting. As the Madden Brothers, people always say to us ‘Why don’t you call yourself Good Charlotte’, then they hear the music and they’re like “Oh ok, I get you now. This isn’t a side project for us, this is where we are now. This is where are as performers and writers. This is such a nice place to be as an artist.”
You also worked with 5 Seconds Of The Summer recently right?
“Yeah we wrote this track for them called ‘Amnesia’. A few years ago everyone would have questioned that, but now everyone kind of gets it. They get how eclectic me and Joel are and how broad our range of influences are. It’s take us a few years to get it across to people that the guys who are in Good Charlotte are most than just that.”
Finally, do you have much touring planned and will we see you in the UK?
“Oh yeah, we’ve put together an incredible band and we’re going to go everywhere next year. Everywhere.”
The Madden Brothers’ debut album Greetings From California is released on Monday (September 15th) and is available for pre-order in hmv stores now.