I was sitting in a coffee shop in LA a few years back when my brothers, the Madden twins, casually mentioned they were headed to Miami for a week to spend some time in the studio with Pharrell Williams. I guess it’s hard to imagine someone leisurely mentioning a thing like getting in the studio with the one and only Skateboard P—it was an awesome conversation I’ll never forget but at the moment nobody had any idea what would transpire. It was a different time and place in music. With tracks like “Call Me Maybe” and “Party Rock Anthem” riding high on the charts, what was to be expected from the Neptunes producer and the Good Charlotte guys?
When I heard the first demo for “Good Gracious Abby,” a track that sounds like João Gilberto and Stan Getz collaborated with the Eagles, it was pretty obvious that whatever this was—it was going to be different. The time spent with Pharrell rolled into a couple of Miami trips and a handful of tracks that would set the tone of this still-unnamed project with a very different sound. It was the impetus of a new movement that would change everyone involved a few degrees— a few degrees warmer, I think.
During this three-year songwriting sabbatical, another interesting thing happened: Joel got a call with an offer to be part of the cast that would launch a new version of The Voice in Australia. Oz is like our second home, and it was a radical opportunity for all of us to go over and hang out in a very awesome and different music scene. You can hear the influence of it in the brothers’ new sound. Of course Grant Cobb, one of our favorite tattoo artists and best friends, came out and blessed Joel’s Voice team with their first tattoo in Sydney.
The time between shooting seasons of The Voice, which has become wildly popular, was spent writing songs with this organic sound, and I noticed a rare occurrence in the process. They say you have your whole life to write your whole record.
Records can become a bit of a responsibility, an agreed upon arrangement with record labels in fact. The brothers Madden went back to their normally scheduled program of taking the kids to school, fixing up the garage, and training the family dog. Somewhere in the middle of it all life picked up where it had left off before a career in music happened.
Time spent with Williams yielded the beginning of a new sound—then hang outs with music buds like Dan Keyes (Recover/Young Love), Ryan Adams and producer Eric Valentine (Queens of the Stone Age, the Wombats, The All-American Rejects) further solidified this new sonic identity. The Madden Brothers soon hatched a completely new collection of tunes that felt like familiar classics—a group of songs that sounded more reflective of their music DNA. The demos led to a stint in the studio with a frequent collaborator, producer, Eric Valentine and then the guys went in with the legendary Joe Chiccarelli (Beck, The Shins, Elton John, Morrissey).
After three years of life spent mostly at home (relatively) and writing songs only when they were moved to do so, Joel and Benji sat in a car with me not far from the coffee shop where it all began and I listened to 14 songs that sounded like nothing the guys have ever done. The album Greetings from California bears all of the influence from a youth filled with The Beach Boys; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; and The Eagles. Half of the record that was recorded in complete analog—no manipulated sounds and it stands out.
As the brothers Madden ready themselves for the release of Greetings, rehearsals are in session and the first single, a sing-along entitled “We Are Done” is already charting internationally. The response has been pretty incredible, especially considering the music was made entirely for the pleasure of the artists and on their own timeline. I got the chance to see a live show of Greetings From California recently in a small bar and I can only tell you it sounds like fun—the most fun my brothers have ever had. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
I think I know the answer to this but who’s sat the longest for ink and what was it for?
Joel: Benj holds the record with somewhere around 12 hours for his Benjamin Franklin (he’s out of his mind) back piece. I could only make it to eight hours. And the older I get the less I can sit.
Benji: I did my back piece with Grant Cobb in three sessions—12, 12, and 10 hours—and I sat for 12 hours on my chest and stomach too, Grant is the only guy who will tattoo me for that long! I like to get my tattoos over and done with. As the years go on I get tattooed less and less, so when I do, I make it count!
Who are your top five favorite artists?
J: I haven’t even had the pleasure of getting work from some of my faves, and some I’m covered in, but here they are in no particular order: Adam Barton, Grant Cobb, Minka Sicklinger, Cartoon, Juan Puente, Norm, and Mark Mahoney.
B: Grant Cobb, of course, Juan Puente, Dave Waugh, Matt Rinks, Richard Stell, and I would love to get pieces by Scott Campbell and Frank Carter.
Are there any up-and-coming tattoo makers that I should look out for?
B: A kid named Kris Maron who tattoos out of Scranton, PA. I love his New School Traditional style! He also grew up in La Plata, MD (Clarks Run). It’s really cool to see a hometown kid make it.
J: I pretty much have fallen out of the tattoo world, so I wouldn’t know the up-and-comers. I feel so old now, I just stick with what I like.
I got a hinge after seeing Benj’s and wanting one for a long time—are there any tattoos you’ve seen that you want?
J: I’ve always wanted a snowflake, a reaper, a sparrow, a crow and a Black-eyed Susan. And I’ve been saving my hands and my neck for something special.
B: I really want to get some more Traditional stuff done. I really have grown to love the timeless aspect of that tattoo art. I think the over use of it in pop culture turned me off a bit in the last decade, but now I am coming back around to it.
I remember you guys sitting for a tattoo on tour, getting up halfway through the session to play a set, and then sitting down and getting right back to being tattooed—isn’t that crazy to think about? I think back to those days sometimes and laugh.
J: Our late teens all the way through our 20s were spent that way! I wouldn’t change a thing about the crazy shit we did back then, but I wouldn’t go back either!
B: Some of my best memories are late-night tattoo sessions with Grant and all of our friends. I still smile when I look at the coffin inside my left middle finger. All the Good Charlotte guys and the Avenged Sevenfold guys got them together in a hotel room late one night on tour. It’s a great memory to have. I also remember getting my throat tattoo by Franco Vescovi in a hotel room in Vegas, that was funny. Why did I feel the need to tattoo my throat in a hotel room in Vegas? Rock ‘n’ roll I guess!
Greetings From California comes out September 16th. The Madden Brothers Tour is coming this fall.