Joel Madden explains why Good Charlotte returned after six years to make 'Youth Authority'
Credit: Justin Coit

After six years off from making music, Good Charlotte return this month with Youth Authority, a nostalgic, stomping pop-punk album that highlights the best aspects of the group’s earlier work: rollicking guitar plucks, catchy sing-along choruses, and hidden inside jokes (yes, that’s an iPhone sound on “Makeshift Love”).

Since they last released 2010’s Cardiology, brothers Benji and Joel Madden have kept busy as judges on The Voice Australia and running their own studio in Los Angeles, where they worked with next-gen pop-punkers like 5 Seconds of Summer and All Time Low.

When asked why they wanted to return to Good Charlotte, to make a new album after calling it quits, Joel Madden, 37, who co-founded the band with his brother when they were struggling teenagers living in Maryland, tells EW, “We didn’t want to make another record just for the hell of it, or for the money or whatever. But we all felt like we had something to say.”

They then wrote and recorded for two months straight with famed producer John Feldmann (Blink-182, Panic! at the Disco), and came out with the 12 tracks that make up Youth Authority, an album Joel calls “the best record we made in a long time.”

Below, Joel details the journey towards their sixth album, out July 15, and why it’s time to take pop punk seriously.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it like to make a Good Charlotte album again?

JOEL MADDEN: Everybody was on the same page. We all were like, “Yes, it can’t be about anything else other than Good Charlotte and the band, its legacy.” We all agreed that we all felt passionate about it. We went in the studio and it happened really fast. It took about two months but it was a really kind of organic process and it was the most fun we had in years. This is probably the best record we made in a long time. It’s fresh.

You said you didn’t want to make a record unless you had something to say. What did you have to say?

Good Charlotte was always something that we needed. It was the product of our environment and our experiences as young kids. Good Charlotte was something that we created so that we could belong to something. We just needed some hope. As we got to our Greatest Hits album [in 2010], I’m not sure that we were clear on that. Good Charlotte had to grow up in front of everyone because we started so young. We came from a situation where we didn’t have a great education. We were low income and we were from a small place. We got to live out our dreams, but as young men we had to rediscover ourselves and what we stood for. We took six years off and we got to live in our real lives and discover who we were outside Good Charlotte and who we were inside Good Charlotte.

How did working with younger artists like 5 Seconds of Summer impact your desire to make new music?

We got the opportunity to work with some really great bands, 5 Seconds of Summer, Sleeping with Sirens, All Time Low, and it definitely influenced us with the energy that they bring to making their records. Kids need to see bands that are accessible to them, bands that they could start in their own garage. With Good Charlotte, there was always a simplicity to the music. We were never musical geniuses. We were always very honest about our musicality. While I love music that is a bit more complex or artistic, when I look at my kids, I go, “I hope that they one day discover a band they feel like they could reach, they feel like they could start in their garage in their bedroom.” That’s what Good Charlotte always was. We didn’t have musical backgrounds in our families. We didn’t have music lessons. We literally picked up our guitars and a week later we started our bands and we started learning as we went along. We never claimed to be anything other than guys who were trying to make music. So there’s an honesty to it. It’s not very pretentious. It’s digestible.

Some songs on this album — “Life Changes,” “40 oz. Dream,” “Life Can’t Get Much Better” — feel really nostalgic. You talk about how grand and life-affirming individual moments can be. Were you looking back while making this album?

As you become a parent you do become nostalgic, but you question the future for your kids. What is my footprint on the world? Who am I? What am I contributing? As a grown adult person who is raising children in these really unsure times, you have to examine your own footprint and it’s something that my wife [Nicole Richie] and I do all the time. That’s what we did over the last five years. We left the band. We shut it down. We chilled everything and said, “Let’s take a look at who we are in the world. We have to be more than this.” It’s very selfish to think, “I’m going to put out records, tour, and make money.” I think all of us were longing for some kind of deeper connection with the world in a more human way and not as entertainer. We looked back and said, “Can we take all the good things we did in Good Charlotte and repeat them and leave behind any of the youthful angst or selfishness that we feel like we had?” In an honest way, looking back, we did have a lot of nostalgia on this record and fondness for some of the things we did. We were pretty off in our intentions in the beginning.

Even though a lot of your earlier work spoke about partying and getting out of your hometown, songs like “Hold On” supported kids through depression. It’s funny you say that you had to leave the band in order to figure out how to be socially aware yourselves.

I think all of us are very happy coming back to Good Charlotte now and being in complete control of it. Everything we put out from here has hopefully inspired people, but we don’t feel like we need to sell another record ever again.

Pop-punk is having a moment. 5 Seconds of Summer had a massive album last year, Blink-182 put out an album earlier this month. Good Charlotte were one of the first groups to make the genre crossover into the mainstream. What do you think about the state of pop-punk in terms of where it’s gone from where you started?

I love the genre. It gets dismissed by music critics, but pop-punk is such an important genre. Had I not heard pop-punk music when I was a teenager, I don’t think I would have been confident enough to pick up a guitar and start a band. Good Charlotte has become something that’s like our baby. The rest of the work I do, that’s what I do when I go to work every day. We have a studio Los Angeles where bands make records and we work in all kinds of ways. I never take it for granted, the way that I got into this was a band that started in our bedroom with our friends in high school. Obviously and certainly, all of the bands that have, over the years, listened to Good Charlotte or gone to a show have afforded us the opportunity to have the careers we have. That’s all because of this genre of pop-punk that a lot of people don’t take very seriously.