PAPER featured Joel and Benji Madden on the cover of its L.A. Issue in the fall of 2008 -- a time that Joel notes, when I recently met the twin brothers at a small recording studio off Sunset Boulevard, now feels like a lifetime away. Indeed, things have since changed quite a bit for the Maddens. These days, the brothers spend most of their time working on the new Good Charlotte album, Cardiology, and Joel has become a father. He and his longtime partner, Nicole Richie, have two children and are, according to several recent reports, engaged. After Joel spent a few minutes speaking on the phone to his two-year-old daughter, Harlow, the 31-year old twins sat down with PAPERMAG to discuss returning to music, having toddlers as best friends, and pursuing a possible second career as motivational speakers. It seems like the Madden brothers have grown up, and that's only the beginning.
You began recording Cardiology at the end of last year, but then decided to scrap the whole thing and start over.
Benji Madden: That was really kind of an emotional roller coaster. I was kind of down for a while and kind of hating myself, going through self-esteem issues. I woke up one day and was like 'Man, I gotta get my shit together.' And that's when the record started, and I really started being happy and taking care of myself. A lot of people do better music when they're messed up, and depressed, but I think Good Charlotte makes feel-good music. We're much better when we're happy. I think the first producer we worked with took some of the wind out of my sails. I felt like it wasn't right the whole time, but I was like "I gotta have faith, this guy is big-time." And I should have listened to my gut.
Joel Madden: It made the record better, it made us work harder.
BM: It made me believe in myself, and it made me think 'it doesn't matter how many records this guy sold,' that's not what music is about for me. I told everyone we had to start over, and everyone felt it too. So we went back with Don [Gilmore], who made our first record and our last record. I just called him up and told him the whole trip I was on, and where my mind was at, and he was like, "This is the best I've ever heard you, we have to do a record together."
JM: This record -- we're really proud of it and really excited for the first time in a long time.
Notwithstanding the emotional toll, being able to call the shots and make the album that you want to make seems like a dream position to be in. Has it taken awhile to get to that point?
JM: It's taken us 14 years to get here. It's been 10 years since our first record. We have a great relationship with our label, they respect us, and they respect how hard we work and how we've never been a diva band. [This] was the first time we ever needed to make that decision, and luckily they gave us our space. They haven't heard the record, still.
BM: They're going to hear it in a week or so.
JM: They believe in us. Our manager just heard the record. I think he was even a little nervous at first, but when he heard the record a few days ago he got it. This time we did it our way. We went to Vancouver, with a producer, everyone was locked out, there was no one in our ear, no one calling.
BM: We wanted to get back to us and our fans. Literally the only website I've gone on since we went to Vancouver is goodcharlotte.com.
JM: We have no idea what people think of us, and I'd prefer to keep it that way.
I get the sense, through your blog and website, that staying in touch with your fans is really important to you guys.
B: It's always been important to us, and it just got re-important. Everybody goes on their own journey musically and personally, and we can't be anywhere other than where we are. And with this record in particular, I'm just really excited to talk to fans. I can't wait to go out on this tour and meet 'em.
What's next, in these months leading up to the album's release?
JM: Well the record's done now, we're just mixing. And we go on tour May 21st through the end of June.
Is touring a different experience for you now that you have a family?
JM: Touring is like another whole thing. I'm very blessed, I have everything I could ever ask for, I have healthy kids and a happy family. And a really supportive partner -- Nicole is awesome. Touring is, not something I don't look forward to, but it scares me a little bit. We went away for four or five weeks, and I was away from my family, and it was really rough. I'm really close with my kids. My daughter is my best friend -- you heard me on the phone with her. If I've been working all day, I make sure I get home by bedtime, just so I can see her, even if I have to run back out. It's going to be hard, but luckily Nicole always has my back. She brings the kids out when it's been too long. They're not going to come on tour, it's not really a good life. Her whole life revolves around them having the most normal life they can have. We just have to work together. And now Harlow is old enough, she gets it. She's my little sidekick. She's very verbal for a two year old. She talks like an adult. She quotes lines from this Tinkerbell movie she likes. She likes to act out the scenes with me, so I had to memorize the lines, because she knows them all. It's funny, my best friend is a two-year-old. She keeps it real.
Has it been strange to have your personal life become everyone's business?
JM: It's not weird, because I don't talk about it with anyone I'm not comfortable talking about it with. So we don't read any tabloids, and we don't go on the websites. Our house, there's not a lot of computers being used. No magazines, it's just not a part of our lives. We've been able to manage the photographer situation pretty well, and it's one of those things we have to deal with as parents. Protecting our kids, but at the same time raising them not to be afraid of anything and to understand. But so far it's not a big element of our lives, and we've managed it the best we could. We don't complain about it, because at the end of the day we live in LA.
Family seems really important to you.
JM: We've always been family guys. And our friends are like family.
BM: We might appreciate them now more than ever.
JM: We're not perfect dudes, we've had our moments. But I think right now we're the best we've ever been. And I think that's what this record says. We have the most gratitude we've ever had, for many reasons. We lost a very dear friend this year. We've had awesome little kids come into our lives. It's all culminated in this moment, when we've decided to go for it, and be the best we can be.
BM: I hit kind of a rock bottom at some point a couple years ago. I was in a series of relationships where I just accepted less for myself and I was not happy with my situation. I wasn't looking out for myself. I woke up one day, and as dumb as it sounds, I realized my life was one big possibility and I just started thinking that way. I've had a few people come into my life and give me some really positive words of encouragement or advice, and it changed my life forever.
JM: I feel like now, we could be motivational speakers. I love encouraging people, and telling them they can accomplish their dreams and do anything. It sounds cheesy, but it's so true.
Cardiology is expected out this fall.