Twin brothers Benji and Joel (born 3/11/79) grew up in a lower middle-class family in the town of Waldorf, Maryland-"the middle-of-nowhere suburbs," says Benji.
"Ours was definitely a dysfunctional family situation," he admits, "but luckily me and Joel always had each other. When things started to fall apart, we just got into music." The twins' older brother Josh turned them on to influential albums by Rancid, Minor Threat, the Cure, the Smiths, and many more.
Benji began teaching himself guitar at 16; Joel gravitated towards lead vocals. "Right away, Joel and I started thinking up songs," Benji recalls. "We'd go straight to our room after school, singing and playing for hours every day."
After Paul (bass) and Billy (guitar) joined, Good Charlotte took their name from a children's book and played their first gig in a neighbor's basement for an audience of 20. "We only played our own songs-we weren't good enough to learn anyone else's songs!"
The brothers dedicated themselves to their music, although they had almost no money for equipment and no connections in the industry. They cut their first demo, wrote their own bio, and began mailing packages off to a list of record companies obtained from a magazine.
"I wrote this letter saying, we're Good Charlotte and if you sign us now it will be a lot cheaper than if you wait!" recalls Benji. "Our ignorance was kind of a blessing. We couldn't be discouraged by knowing too much about how the business really works."
Benji and Joel graduated high school in June 1997, and for a graduation present the twins' mother presented them with a pair of open airline tickets to California. "Some of our favorite bands like Green Day had started out at this East Bay club called 924 Gilman Street. So when we graduated, that summer we made a pilgrimage to visit the club. We'd never even been on a plane before, but we have an aunt in Berkeley who let us crash with her."
The brothers returned to Maryland, newly inspired and more determined than ever. They left home and moved to Annapolis, played many more shows both electric and acoustic, and worked "all kinds of shitty jobs-I've had over 30 of them," says Benji. "It was a struggling time in our lives, but it was also a great time. It's good to be hungry sometimes."
When Billy joined on second guitar, Good Charlotte was complete. The band won a local contest, and their song "Can't Go On" was included on a sampler of area talent. They attracted the interest of a manager, and Lit offered a support slot on a series of sold-out East Coast dates.
"We had no money, no transportation, and no way to do the gigs. Our mom was living in like a shed on a neighbor's property, and the only thing she really owned was a mini-van. She said, you guys take the mini-van to play the shows and I'll catch rides or walk to work. That just shows you how she's been there for us the whole time."
"By the time we played New York with Lit, in December 1999, all the labels turned out. We signed our deal in May 2000, in the studio where we were recording, and the album Good Charlotte (Epic) came out in September."
By then, the quintet was on the road non-stop. Three months of dates with MXPX segued into the 2001 W.A.R.P. tour, then into more gigs up until Christmas Day (off), followed by still more gigs including a trip to Australia and New Zealand (where their debut went platinum). Through this intensive roadwork, Good Charlotte built an avid fan base-and MTV took notice, giving extensive airplay to the band's videos for "Little Things," "Motivation Proclamation," and "Festival Song." At this writing (August 2002), Benji and Joel are hosting MTV's "All Things Rock," which airs Monday through Thursday after 11 PM (ET).
Honesty is the thread that runs through every song on The Young and The Hopeless and binds Good Charlotte to their devoted fans. "I don't think we're better than any other band," says Benji, "although I do think we're more sincere, more real, than some of them. We want to be judged for what we're really doing, not put in a genre with a bunch of other bands with which we have nothing in common."
"We have a lot more to say than some of the bands we're compared with, and I hope people will hear it on this album. The kids that we were, five years ago-I just want to give those kids something to help them through the day."
Old Band Bio
Good Charlotte Joel - Lead Vocals; Benji - Vocals & Guitar; Billy - Guitar; Paul - Bass; Aaron - Drums
It's not often that a young band of Cure/Clash/Beastie Boys-loving barely-twentysome-things comes tumbling out of virtually nowherewell, Annapolis, Maryland to be exactto drop the year's most fiercely melodic and garage-gritty debut album. Good Charlotte is a brash young quintet whose killer first singlea hitbound anthem of high school angst called "The Little Things"announces the arrival of an 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 Joelhis identical twin brotherhad 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 Things."
"Me and Benji have always written from personal experiences," says lead singer Joel, "You've got my brother on guitarhe's got that punk-rock aggressionand you've got me singing." He gestures to his heart: "Everything comes from here."
Most of Good Charlotte's songs reso-nate with a heartfelt but humorous sense of personal tri-umph over some pretty bad luck. Others, like "Waldorf Worldwide," 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. "What-ever 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 concertthe Beastie Boys' "Ill Communi-cation" tourand 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, ignit-ing 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 handbook."
By their senior year of high school, the brothers' musical obsession had become all encom-passing. "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 make it."
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 im-promptu 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 sta-tion 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 Foundation.
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 dif-ferent."
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."