Meeting the kids
Joel Madden and Billy Martin of Good Charlotte discusses the massive success of their album, their commitment to their fans and the dark side they plan to reveal more of.
It's a good two hours before the doors are set to open in the Temple Bar Music Centre on the night of Good Charlotte's debut Irish show. Already a large crowd has gathered outside, eager for a glimpse of their heroes. That's nothing new, except for the fact that this band's album was only released here the day before. Superstars in waiting? I'd say very likely.
Inside the venue, there's a much more relaxed atmosphere. Joel Madden and Billy Martin, respectively the vocalist and guitarist, with this young pop-punk outfit are taking it handy. Still though, it has to be said that they are excited about playing here for the first time. Joel, whose family originally come from Limerick, describes Ireland as his "homeland". Later on, he will show me his first ever tattoo, a tricolour done on his upper right arm.
"All I've seen is the van ride from the airport to the club, that was it, unfortunately. And we're leaving in the morning, so we won't really get to see anything," Billy says with a certain degree of disappointment, before Joel interrupts, "But I saw Ireland and I love it. Everybody here rules."
Billy may only have had a view from the bus, but he's not oblivious to what's going on outside, having already taken time out earlier on to meet some of his band's fans. The black-clad guitarist is also quick to point out that their fans are important to them, especially in new territory like Ireland. "In America, we still spend a lot of time with the kids, we see them all the time. Especially over here, we make it a point to meet the kids, if not every kid", he says. "It's really special," Joel continues. "We'll meet every kid tonight. There's only a couple of hundred."
If you're thinking, "'only a couple of hundred' fans at this bands Irish debut and their album hardly even out twenty four hours, what's going on?", then you have most likely been hiding in a barrel, deep in a cave on Mars for the past two months. Good Charlotte's single, 'Lifestyles of the rich and famous' has been receiving considerable airplay on MTV lately. Their album, "The young and the hopeless", has already sold over a million copies worldwide and they've been labelled as the brightest hopefuls for 2003 by the music press, especially in England.
You'd never think it from talking to them though. Both are laid-back and easy going, eager to chat about everything from religion to tattoos and all in between. Joel may be the singer, but he talks a lot slower than his bandmate. In fact, you get the impression he's going over each sentence carefully in his head before saying it out loud. When asked about their success Billy is astounded by how much has happened so fast.
"Selling over a hundred thousand [albums] in one week for us was so far beyond anything we ever imagined. We're still kinda dreaming, you know? You don't go 'it's definitely going to happen'. You don't sit back and just go 'uhhh'! It's great because the record is still at the beginning; it's only been out for a couple of months and it's done really well. It's amazing. We feel really lucky, but we feel like we gotta work harder now to try to do the right thing, you know, not sit back and go 'oh, that's great, we sold a million records'. We just gotta work hard now. Make the best of it." Both of them also point out though that the Internet is to thank as well, saying that without most of the people outside wouldn't know the songs.
As far as their popularity goes, they believe it's because people can relate to them, lyrically and personally. Billy points out that "we don't really come from anything. We had to work hard to get whatever we have and most kids can relate to that." This is reflected throughout the album, especially in Joel's deep, often extremely personal. 'The Anthem' is one of the prime examples. Joel describes it as "a song about not living the way that you're supposed to live. Like I guess that in America everybody kinda looks at, to be successful you gotta go to college, get a job, a house, two cars, a wife and some kids. That's the American Dream or whatever. It's like, well, I could never go to college or whatever. I'm kinda proud of being looked down on because we've made something happen. We didn't have the most opportunities growing up." "To us," explains Billy, "it's a song saying that whatever goal you have, try and reach it."
Joel and his twin brother, Benji, Good Charlotte's other guitarist, really did have it tough growing up. When they were sixteen, their father walked out on them on Christmas Eve, leaving their mother alone to take care of four children. This sent the family into financial ruin, but it also provided Joel with plenty of material for lyrics. He hasn't confined himself to writing about this, though it is a recurring theme throughout the album. As a lyricist, he has matured a lot since the band's self-titled debut and, by doing so, he has led his band away from being simply another pop-punk band in an already overflowing sea of them.
Take a listen to 'My bloody valentine' if you want proof. It reads like the script of a slasher film with Joel in the lead role, killing the boyfriend of a girl he loves. It's a song that he says, "I wrote about something and I took it, twisted it and incorporated like a fantasy. But it was all out of my head, kind of like a jealous moment. Then I kinda took it, twisted it and made it a little darker. Then they added music to it. It's totally Edgar Allen Poe."
It's not just lyrically that the band have matured though, it's obvious in their music as well, having spent most of last year in California recording "The young and the hopeless". "We spent a lot more time with this record than our original record," Billy explains. "We did the first record in like a month or two or something, we spent almost five or six months working on theses songs. Sort of between working on the songs, recording and mixing them, all in all. It was way longer than the first record and we're all pretty proud of it." They've also moved on from their straightforward punk rock roots, adding in other elements, much like AFI have done. Joel believes that it's because, this time, they let other influences on board.
"Benji is like a super big industrial Goth synthpop kinda like… if you went to his house you'd see what music he's really into. Apoptygma Berserk, VNV Nation and all these like synth-pop gothic bands, all that dark stuff. He's into all that stuff and I'm not really into it, but he is. Billy's into like Silverchair and Muse and all those metally kinda bands. Then I'm into like, a lot of like, The Cure, The Smiths. Some of that darkness would probably come from all those, but also there's a side of us that's got that in us," he explains, before Billy continues, "It's kinda weird when you sort of listen to the music or whatever, and then you look at the way we dress and you listen to the kind of bands we listen to.
"There's a lot of really depressing or dark bands and all of us love that kind of music. It didn't really come out on the first record at all, but I think, in this record, there's a couple of songs where we sort of leaned towards those kind of songs. Instead of being scared to go there, cause that's kinda weird you know, that's the kind of stuff that we like and a couple of more songs headed in that direction. Those are some of our favourites songs too". Billy is also quick to point out that, although Good Charlotte, who are named after a children's book, are in essence a punk band, they "don't have any restrictions, so I wouldn't be surprised to hear anything come out."
When asked about what the future holds for his band, Billy pauses for a moment before saying, "It would be awesome for some ten years from now, someone to be like 'Good Charlotte they have great songs'. Not like they changed the world or something. We just want to keep making records, as long as people like us we'll keep going." "We've got a long way to prove ourselves", Joel concludes, "so we'll just keep working."
by Ken McGrath