Interview: Good Charlotte comes home

When Good Charlotte released its first album more than a decade ago, few critics saw much of a future for the band. Upbeat, impetuous, sure; but it was mostly seen as a slightly more punk alternative to the boy bands of the moment.

And yet the band is now touring to promote its fifth album, "Cardiology," which came out last year.

Guitarist Benji Madden, who started the band in Waldorf in Southern Maryland with his brother, Joel, isn't surprised.

"We never planned on breaking up. I can't see us doing much else," said Madden. "We're proud of how long we've been together — 15 years as a band, and going on 11 years since our first album. It's not easy to stick around, especially these days in the business. We're all really happy."

The band was initially known for honest songs about teenage angst, but Madden said the new album finds Good Charlotte embracing maturity. (The members are now all in their 30s.)

Good Charlotte is one of those bands whose members knew each other years before they had any musical inclinations.

"We've been together since we were little kids," Madden said.

They started the band with that kind of childlike abandon, and they had no real plans for the future.

"We were all 16 and 17. When you're that age, you're just daydreaming all day," Madden said. "We had bands we loved — Green Day, Weezer, a lot of bands in the '90s — and we just wanted to have fun. We didn't overthink it too much."

Before the first record, none of them had been outside Maryland. "I didn't fly on a place until I was 19," Madden said.

More than 11 years later, Joel and Benji Madden now live in Los Angeles — though Benji keeps a house in Annapolis — and bass guitarist Paul Thomas lives in Northern California. Only lead guitarist Billy Martin still lives in their home state.

"Everybody's married with kids," said Benji Madden, who is the only one who isn't.

When he and his brother — typically the band's lyricists — started writing what would become "Cardiology" in 2009, "a lot of babies were on the way," said Madden. The kids influenced not only the themes on "Cardiology" but how it was produced and how they're touring now as a band. For the first time, Madden had to run the show because the others were involved with their families.

Production took longer than usual for the same reason, but Madden said that wasn't a problem because of the group's previous success.

"We've been around for a little bit; we can take our time and do it the way we want to," he said.

Though Good Charlotte started recording "Cardiology" with producer Howard Benson, they eventually parted ways over "creative differences" and the group enlisted Don Gilmore, who had produced the first album,

Madden said Benson wanted a more radio-friendly sound, while he was writing tracks that were deeper — that reflected changes he and the group had gone through in recent years.

"I feel like, if you're writing the same songs you were writing when you were 17 in your 30s, something's wrong," he said. "As a grown man, you're more confident, and you have less to prove."

On "Cardiology," there's still what Madden calls a classic Good Charlotte party anthem, "Like It's Her Birthday," but there are also nostalgic tunes, like "1979."

"That's just about my parents," he said. "Anyone who's followed our band through the years has heard about the teenage angst. I wanted to write about the good memories."

There's also "Harlow's Song," about Joel Madden's daughter, which shows off "a melancholy side to my brother that people won't ever see," Benji Madden said. "I think it's our best record lyrically. The performances are the best we've done."

What has surprised Madden during the first three shows on this tour — the group has been playing hourlong sets of songs from all its records — is that fans can still sing along to B-sides from years ago.

"There are a lot of perks to the jobs, but the reason you write songs is in the hope there's a handful of people who'll hear the lyrics for the reasons you wrote them," he said.

"That's one of the reasons we love coming to Maryland. There's so much love for us."

If you go

Good Charlotte performs at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place in Power Plant Live. Yellowcard and Runner Runner open. Tickets are $25. Call 410-244-1131 or go to