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Q & A With Benji and Joel Madden

Ten years ago Benji and Joel Madden burst onto the scene with Good Charlotte. The single “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” put the band on heavy radio rotation and the two scrappy kids with a bunch of tattoos and a boatload of charisma into the spotlight. The Maddens, in location and mind-set a long way from their bedroom community of Waldorf, MD, became pop-punk princes in Hollywood. The twins even dated the duo atop the celebutante pecking order: Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie (Joel is now engaged to Richie, with whom he has two children). In between coverage in Us Weekly, the Maddens created the clothing line DCMA Collective (with their brother, Josh, and friend Tal Cooperman), were tapped by Macy’s to vet a women’s fashion collection, and put out two more albums that climbed the Billboard charts. Now rock’s royalty is back and poised to please Good Charlotte fans with their fifth studio album, Cardiology. INKED: Good Charlotte has been around for 10 years now—seems like a good time to drop an album.
Joel Madden: It doesn’t feel like it’s been 10 years. I don’t feel we’ve been doing this that long. I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing yet.

Benji Madden: It flew by. I definitely appreciate the last 10 years because a lot of times when you’re young you’re kind of naive and excited—and it’s good to be that way—but there’s also a lot of valuable things you learn along the way that you really appreciate.

Joel: Yeah, our band’s been through a lot of shit. A lot of people don’t see all the things that we’ve been through. Sometimes the time feels longer and sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long between albums. There have been sacrifices you make for the band—you miss people’s weddings and birthdays because of it.

Benji: I appreciate the lessons we learned and appreciate that we are still here. Now it feels right too. We’re definitely having more fun than ever.
Benji, you were quoted last January saying you didn’t feel comfortable about the initial stages of recording this new album.

Benji: Yeah, I think sometimes when you get a feeling and your gut tells you something you’ve got to listen to it. We were with the wrong producer and I could just feel it. The record didn’t have the vibe that I was kind of wanting it to have, and it wasn’t really about the songs—I liked the songs—it was just the vibe of the record. And so it was kind of a hard decision because we had worked for a long time on it, and I definitely punched a couple walls. Then we were like, yeah, we need to start over. So once we did, we started the record with Don Gilmore, who did a couple other records for us. It immediately felt right. And then it was like, okay, good, we’re on the right track. And now I love the record, so I’m really happy we did that. Because it’s everything I wanted it to be.

That must have been a tough decision.

Benji: It was a scary decision but it was the right decision. It’s like a tattoo, you know? If you’re going to get a tattoo and you don’t fucking like the drawing, don’t get that shit. You know? Like, you learn as you get older. When you get tattooed you kind of learn how it works. I don’t want to laser any tattoos off—I’m not going to. So if you’re going to put a record out, you fucking better back that shit. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. So it is kind of like a tattoo. You got to go with your gut.

Moving on to another body part: Why name the album Cardiology?

Benji: No one can explain why they love music or hate music or why people are always so passionate about certain bands. They love them, they hate them—no one can explain why you could be in the shittiest mood and a song can change your whole day. Or a song can make you think of one person, or a memory or a band can just inspire everything else you’re doing. I’m a fan. I’m still a fan through and through. I’m a fan of so much music that moves me and really does so much for me. That’s all kind of connected to the heart. They have doctors and medicine and science all explaining how the heart works and all that stuff, but they can’t explain how when you love someone and they break your heart you physically feel pain. They can’t really explain that. And music is all wrapped up in that notion; music is really at the heart of everything. Through the process of making Cardiology I kind of fell in love with music all over again.
Do you have a favorite track on the album?

Joel: I’d have to say “Harlow’s Song” is my favorite because I wrote it for my daughter. It wasn’t going to be on the record, but my brother was like, “We have to put this on the record.” It’s a little lullaby I wrote for her and it turned into a real song, so that’s probably my favorite. There’s some fun ones, though. There’s a song called “Last Night” that I feel has good vibes.

“Last Night” makes us think of The Hangover.

Joel: Right on the money. It’s like the continuation of the first single off the album “Like It’s Her Birthday,” but only it’s the next morning.
“Like It’s Her Birthday” has been out in front of the album. Does that help you gauge the reception to your new work?

Joel: We’ve already gotten a great reaction online. I guess I’m pretty calm because we’ve been getting such a good reaction from the fans. It’s weird how 10 years after our first record, we’re closer to our fans than we’ve ever been because of things like Twitter. We talk to our fans every day. It’s cool. Our whole career was built off of our relationship with our fans. Back in the day I would write them letters.

How old-school.

Joel: That was before MySpace or anything like that. Before, we didn’t have cell phones or even a computer—we just drove around in a van. Now I can just jump on Twitter and reply to fans all day. A lot of times I’ll direct message fans on Twitter saying, “Hey, your comment means a lot.” It’s so easy, it takes 30 seconds. Back in the day we’d have to seek people out during a show to find a place to crash. Now, if we needed to, we could jump on Twitter and ask, “Where are we staying tonight?”

And now you’d get millions of offers. How else have things changed?

Joel: I think the band has been pretty consistent—we’re pretty straightforward. GC is GC. It’s not like rocket science or anything. It’s not like some precious kind of music. Good Charlotte to me is a blue-collar band, as in we all kind of show up to work and do our job. We’ve personally grown over the years. No complaints here. It’s been a fun ride and we’ve got a lot of good tattoos and met a lot of really good tattoo artists on the road too.

What’s been the biggest change in your life, and has it influenced your music?

Joel: My kids. But I don’t know that they’ve changed our music. The family has given me some different things to write about and you can hear it in some songs, and they definitely make me work harder. When you have kids you try to become more responsible and have more urgency to work as hard as you can and as long as you can.
And you two have been working for Macy’s as well, with your Mad Picks collection.

Joel: [Macy’s] has the American Rag line, and before the season we went through and picked out pieces that we’d like to see on girls.

Benji: It’s no secret; Good Charlotte has a lot of girl fans. And we really, genuinely love our girl fan base. So Macy’s came to us, and we were like, “Really? Sure! Hell yeah!”

Did you bring your style into the thought process?

Benji: My style? I would describe it as a lack thereof. … If you look at pictures of me over the last 10 years there isn’t really an effort made. Maybe a lot of black.
Joel, did your other better half, Nicole Richie, have a say in the line?

Joel: She definitely had an influence since she knows more about women’s fashion. And Nicole has her own style. But now I’m starting to really notice what chicks are wearing. I like it when I see girls with their own style. I mean, there are tons of different styles and tons of different girls who all have their own flavor. I definitely notice that more than maybe I used to.

Anything else you are passionate about?

Joel: I’m not good at anything else. I don’t have any kind of skill sets. I wish that I could draw and do tattoos. It always looks like fun. But I’m terrible at art. I’m not even creative when it comes to drawing and stuff like that.

When did you first get into tattoos?

Joel: Our brother, Josh, was living in North Carolina when we were about 17 or 18, and we went down and all got the Irish flag at some random tattoo shop that I can’t even remember the name of.

After that did you feel compelled to get more right away?

Joel: I think that Benji and myself kind of always wanted to get covered. We were from a really small place and we didn’t know where to go to get tattooed and we didn’t know any artists or anything. And then when we moved out of the house to Annapolis, in Maryland, we started hanging around in D.C. and became friends with some guys who worked at Jinx Proof in D.C. They saw us getting more and more into tattoos, and I got some really bad tattoos in the beginning—

Benji: Doesn’t everybody get shitty tattoos in the beginning?

Joel: The guys at Jinx Proof were like, “Okay, guys, you got to get serious about this. You got to come and start getting tattooed by some good artists and stuff.” That’s when we started getting into tattoos and actually learning about artists and more about tattoos themselves. So it was kind of like we got taken in by a bunch of older guys that showed us the right way.
Do you have a favorite piece?

Joel: I like a lot of my old, shitty ones because they remind me of a really good, innocent time in my life. But I have a back piece that my friend Grant Cobb did, and that’s probably my favorite one. He did a rendition of the Maryland flag for me and it covers my back. That’s really cool.

How long did that take?

Joel: It’s probably taken about 20 hours total, and I probably have a couple hours left of touching up. Every time I see him it’s like, “Yeah, we should touch that up.”

Benji, why did you get a Benjamin Franklin back piece?

Benji: It’s all about the Benjis, man! It took, like, 36 hours, somewhere around there. Actually, of all Grant’s customers I hold the record for the longest sitting; I sat for 12 hours.
Damn, 12 hours.

Benji: When I get tattooed my friends are usually hanging out so I have to act like I’m not pissed off. But as long as there’s good music playing I can sit for a long time.

Do you have a next tattoo planned?

Benji: I wanted to get wolf heads on the tops of my feet. I did my right foot but I have to have my left foot done.

Joel: I like Mark Mahoney’s work, and I’ve never been tattooed by him. I haven’t gotten tattoos for my kids yet, so I’m planning on having him do that. I think I want to get them on my neck.

You talked earlier about liking some of your sketchy tattoos. Which is your baddest?

Joel: When I was, like, 18 I got a horrible, horrible dragon on my leg. It’s terrible but it’s awesome!

Benji: You mean the sea horse?

Joel: Whenever we’re standing around with new people comparing tattoos I’m like, “Oh yeah? Check this one out!” It’s such a terrible dragon that it’s a really cool tattoo.

Benji: It looks like a sea horse.

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