By Courtney E. Smith
Good Charlotte is dead, long live the Madden Brothers. After the dissolution of their previous project, Joel and Benji Madden have teamed up for a new one under the moniker the Madden Brothers. Their first album, Greetings From California, is sonically two parts Beach Boys, one part the Clash and one part sounds that they worked hard to make sure no one had used before.
Radio.com caught up with Joel for a Proustian question and answer session, in which he talked at length about the events in Ferguson, Mo., the pursuit of happiness and the oddity of their debut single lining up with what’s happening in Ferguson, Mo.
Greetings From California is in stores on September 16.
Radio.com: What is your first childhood memory?
Joel Madden: Eating watermelon in the driveway with my brothers and sisters when I was three or four. I was in Maryland.
What is your idea of contentment?
Being with my family somewhere on the water, looking out and watching the sun set or rise.
What ideal are you most loyal to?
Protecting the integrity of who you are and what makes you special. With this record we’ve been really protective of the integrity of the record and the music. And keeping it special. Making sure that it’s unique, that every sound on the record has never been used before whether it’s a guitar tone or whatever.
Musically it’s very different for you, did you have to protect your ability to go in this direction?
Yes, we had to protect the space that we were in to be able to create the record and not let anyone intrude on what we were doing for three years while we were making it. It was very important to us that we make sure we protected our ability to create it and not think about charts, what’s in the radio, what we’ve done before, what people are going to think — all the different, hundreds of factors other people think about. We didn’t want to because we don’t believe in that stuff.
What song makes you feel most secure?
I think it’s Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.” It makes me feel like at the end of the day we all are just humans. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. It doesn’t matter how special my record is or how important this time in our career is, whatever you’re saying at the end of the day we’re all going to have to serve somebody. And every dog has his day, basically.
If you could change one thing about humanity, what would it be?
I would change our level of compassion, to give us more.
What feelings do the images of a militarized police in America on the news inspire in you?
Our single “We Are Done” is about that. It’s about being done with the old way. I think the system hasn’t evolved as much as it should. That being said, I think people should also evolve. As a country and as a society we constantly need to evolve and compassion is a bit part of evolution. It’s been sad and hard to watch.
If we get deep into it, and we talk about society, we haven’t evolved. I think that education is the No. 1 solution. I think we have to work hard on trying to provide more of it. The bottom line for me is having compassion and it’s tough. I understand that individually people are doing the best they can. One way of looking at it is as a group, but another way is breaking it down individually by case, by person. It’s easier said than done and watching this, especially as a father with two young kids, I’m watching this and scratching my head, wondering, “Where are we headed?”
I like to be hopeful but sometimes when you turn the news on it’s hard to see the good because there’s a lot of bad. I think what our job is, as entertainers, as artists, as songwriters, is to try and provide inspiration and hope. That’s always our goal with our music, especially on Greetings from California. We wanted to provide those things and tell our story, because it’s one of the American dream. [My brother Benji and I] came from nothing. We left home with nothing. We’re two kids who went out into the world and found our way. People can say it’s dumb luck or whatever, but it truly is thanks to the innate ability to have the pursuit of happiness. All people deserve the pursuit of happiness. What happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson is that it was taken away from him and so people are upset, instinctively. They understand that someone was robbed of their ability to pursue happiness and it wasn’t liberty. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the American dream right? That was taken away.
Certainly some of the best words Thomas Jefferson wrote.
Yeah, so that basic idea that’s ingrained in us as Americans whether we realize it or not is the bottom line for all of us. We all have that right, whether we act on it or not. The response is anger. And the response to that anger is militarized police. It’s this back and forth. That’s why I say compassion, for me, is always number one. But to have compassion globally is easier said than done. It’s nice to be philosophical and talk about this stuff.
What America is angry about is the idea that a young man’s ability to pursue happiness was taken. His life was taken away. It’s frustrating and everyone’s angry and the conflict is that there isn’t an answer. We’re all sitting there going, “We understand the anger.”
“We Are Done” is a hopeful idea that we can be done and we can think of ourselves in a way that is compassionate but still declaring what we want, and what we’re done with.
The lyrics of your single seem to have taken on an amplified tenor in light of current events, do you feel that?
It’s really interesting than this is our single. I mean, we’ve been working it for months, way before any of this happened. But it’s a universal idea that always applies. There are always going to be injustices because nature isn’t fair. We believe that we should have a fair system, and that’s the truth. That’s the greatest thing about our country and being American: that it’s fair. We created the idea of fair and our country is a great place because of it. It’s an ideal we all hold on to.
But sometimes things aren’t fair. The idea behind “We Are Done” always applies to somebody. The idea that people will declare themselves, to say where they are or where they want to be, to be done with something, everyone deserves that sort of American dream.
When were you happiest?
It’s a perpetual feeling that I experience with my family; whether it’s when my kids were born or on Christmas or when I got married or when my daughter draws a picture for me or when my son is proud of himself for hitting a baseball for the first time.
What is the most miserable part of being a musician?
Being separate from the ones you love to promote your art.
What’s your current state of mind?
What song would you listen to get this conversation out of your head?
After this, I’m going to band rehearsal to listen to “We Are Done.” That’s probably going to drive it in further. This is actually not a conversation I want to get out of my head.