Oct 20, 2002
It's not often that a young band
of Cure/Clash/Beastie Boys-loving barely-twenty-somethings
comes tumbling out of virtually nowhere, well, Annapolis,
Maryland to be exact, to drop the year's most fiercely
melodic and garage-gritty debut album. Good Charlotte
is a brash young quintet whose killer first single,
a hitbound anthem of high school angst called "The
Little Things," announces the arrival of a unique,
genre-jumping rock band.
Yet until just four years ago, 21
year-old lead guitarist Benji had never strummed a
single chord and front man Joel, his identical twin
brother, had never sung a note. Toss in their equally
precocious high school buddies, drummer, Aaron, and
bass player, Paul, plus recent recruit Billy on guitar.
This is Good Charlotte: a hard-driving, fun-loving
band that has rocked Washington, DC radio station
WHFS' famed HFStival for the last two years and built
a devout following in the Baltimore metro area.
Their self-titled Epic debut album
is a triumphant, raucous celebration of high school
kids who found a way through music to talk back to
their tormentors and survive troubled times.
Good Charlotte, The Album, is a
collection of explosive modern-rock gems with deeply
personal and often very funny lyrics. There are powerfully
crafted declarations like the kick-ass "Motivation
Proclamation" ("Motivate me/I wanna get
myself out of this bed/Captivate me/I want good thoughts
inside of my head"); and songs with haunted,
autobiographical overtones, like "The Little
"Me and Benji have always written
from personal experiences," says lead singer
Joel. "You've got my brother on guitar, he's
got that punk-rock aggression, and you've got me singing."
He gestures to his heart: "Everything comes from
Most of Good Charlotte's songs resonate
with a heartfelt but humorous sense of personal triumph
over some pretty bad luck. Others, like "WaldorfWorldwide,"
take a socio-political slant: "All I wanna do
is kick the welfare/All I wanna do is get my share/I
don't wanna run for President/I just want an honest
way to pay my rent."
"We want kids to come to our
shows and forget about everything," says Joel.
"Whatever their problems are, we want them to
be focused on the energy, have a good time, and then
go back to their normal life tomorrow."
The brothers, who hail from Waldorf,
Maryland, were avid baseball players throughout their
early teens and had never contemplated playing music
until one extraordinary day. During what Joel calls
"a weird time" when they were 16 and dealing
with some serious family problems, the brothers attended
their first rock concert, the Beastie Boys' "Ill
Communication" tour, and felt the earth move
beneath their feet.
"It changed our lives totally,"
says Joel. "We were both freaked out and knew
this is what we were going to do."
Benji went home and dug a cheap
guitar out of the closet, one that the brothers had
never touched before. Their good friend and future
bassist Paul taught Benji a few basic chords, igniting
a lifetime obsession. Another high school buddy, Aaron,
quit the football team to play drums and supply studio
space in his house.
"We had our first band practice
maybe two weeks after I started playing guitar,"
laughs Benji. "I knew three chords: D, G and
A! I became fascinated with all of the late-Seventies
punks. There was something about those old recordings,
those seven-inch singles...There's no music that sounds
like that today because of the raw quality."
"I love the chaotic, wild way
the guitars sound on 'The Little Things,'" he
enthuses. "And some of the sound on our song
'East Coast Anthem' comes straight out of the Clash
By their senior year of high school,
the brothers' musical obsession had become all encompassing.
"We totally withdrew from everything else,"
says Joel. "Our whole life was this band. Every
weekend we had a show. We were totally blind, all
we could see was the big picture: We were going to
In 1998, the twins along with Paul
and Aaron moved to Annapolis to join its thriving
music scene. Skipping college, Joel and Benji decided,
was a risk they had to take. Economically, they barely
survived, working a series of low-paying jobs as stock
boys, waiters, and ("our best job") shampoo
boys at a beauty salon.
"We made a name for ourselves
in that town because we played out everywhere,"
says Joel. "Every party, every bar. People knew
us as the twins that play."
Joel befriended Billy when the guitarist
showed up to see the twins play an acoustic set at
a local hangout. "I thought, wow, these are really
good songs," he recalls. "There were a lot
of local bands doing their own things, but these songs...every
one of them could have been a radio hit."
Billy was playing with his band
Overflow at the time. After the twins got kicked out
of their apartment, they moved into Billy's house.
One day, Good Charlotte coaxed him into joining in
an impromptu practice. A week later, Billy played
his first show with the band.
Things moved fast for the young
group. Unsigned Good Charlotte played with Blink 182
and Bad Religion, and opened for Lit on a sold-out
East Coast tour. They found local champions in the
dee-jays at their beloved radio station WHFS, who
began hiring Good Charlotte to play station gigs and
finally asked them to play the local stage at the
HFStival. In the spring of 2000, Good Charlotte made
a bold career leap to HFStival's second stage, sharing
the bill with Eve 6 and Nine Days. Good Charlotte
played charity gigs with equal fervor, ranging from
benefits for the Annapolis Rape Center to the Leukemia
A demo of "The Little Things"
made its way to Philadelphia modern rock station WPLY
(Y100) and broke a record on the station's show of
dueling songs. "For fifteen nights we won 'til
they had to retire us," says Joel. The buzz around
Good Charlotte was deafening. After being courted
by a variety of labels, they finally signed with Epic
Records this year.
Producer Don Gilmore (Lit, Eve 6)
was recruited to guide the quintet through their debut
album. "What drew me to the band the most was
their personality," says Gilmore. "There's
a lot of pop-punk rock bands that have gotten record
deals, but these guys are doing something really different."
Benji looks around the New York
studio where Good Charlotte is recording. A sheet
of recorded tracks hangs on the wall with titles like
"I Want To Stop," "Complicated,"
and the tentatively-titled, still-developing "Thank
You Note to Mom."
"Sometimes it doesn't feel
real," he says quietly, running his hand through
his shock of pink hair. "Then I realize that
it is, like when I'm walking home from the studio
to the subway at night and I realize that we're in
New York making a record."
"We've been doing this for
four years, and there were all those times when we
were crammed into a car, driving three hours home
from a gig and we hadn't even made enough money to
pay for gas. It's thinking of those times that it
really hits you."
Benji pauses, shakes his head
and smiles, "We daydreamed all this stuff and
now it's all happening."