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Joel Madden Q&A

Joel Madden of Good Charlotte

Obsessing over Morrissey and Sinatra

    It's not easy growing up in a strict religious household, where little more than Christian music is allowed. "I didn't really enjoy any of it," says Good Charlotte lead singer Joel Madden, who along with his twin brother, Benji, still managed to smuggle Nirvana tapes into their home in suburban Waldorf, Maryland. One listen to this "evil" music and they were hooked. Despite their lack of musical know-how, the brothers formed Good Charlotte in high school with some friends and hit the road for 300-plus days a year. Their second album, the Top Ten smash The Young and the Hopeless, mixes catchy power pop with orchestral flourishes and punk-rock attitude. But the melodies are all from Joel, who worships his tuneful elders -- Frank Sinatra, Nat "King" Cole and Morrissey. "Between me and my brother, I've definitely got the better music taste," he says. "Benji's a fan of street punk. I can't even tell what they're saying.'"

What's your earliest music memory?

My mom is a Christian, and she wouldn't let us listen to rock music. So me and my brother, we had this tape player with headphones, and we locked ourselves in our pantry. We were fighting over the headphones, sitting in this dark pantry listening to Metallica.

Which album had the biggest effect on you?

When I heard Nirvana, it changed my life. I have an older brother, and he had been listening to them since Bleach -- he would tell me about them. He was always a little bit ahead of me; he was the one who made me listen to the Smiths, the Cure, the Dead Milkmen.

Did your hometown influence you musically at all?

I grew up in Waldorf, just below D.C. Everyone there listens to hip-hop. If you go there, you'll see just lowriders, and you'll hear the bass. That's definitely been an influence.

What's the last CD you bought?

I just bought Bing Crosby, Nat "King" Cole and Dean Martin singing Christmas songs.

Your favorite make-out CD?

The best CD for any kind of romantic situation would be the Cure's Galore, the CD with all the good singles. It's good song after good song with that make-out vibe.

Don't you end up singing along?

That's why you gotta play them a little low.

What's the most embarrassing thing you listen to?

Vanessa Carlton. My friends see that and they're like, "What?" And the Smiths -- they're one of the greatest bands in the world. No one will ever be able to sing like Morrissey. He just captures emotions. I could talk about the Smiths all day long.

What songs from your past do you love most?

I remember running around with my brother when I was sixteen. Me and Benj would skate around and get into a lot of trouble, and we would listen to "Journey to the End of the East Bay," by Rancid. We were like, "Yeah, stick together!" like, us and our friends and our band. It just reminds me of being younger and feeling invincible. I also remember "U Can't Touch This" [laughs]. And "Pictures of You," by the Cure. I was totally in love with this girl, if you could imagine a really young kid being, like, heartbroken and listening to "Pictures of You."

Do you still buy a lot of music?

Music is the one thing I believe in spending money on. It's the business I'm in, and I like supporting other artists. Like Chevelle. I had heard some of their older stuff, but I never bought their CD, and they're kind of a new band, so I went out and bought it. I buy music every day. I try to support independent record stores and artists.

Do you ever do karaoke?

I go to karaoke bars and I sing a little bit of G n' R or Bon Jovi. I don't know any of the songs, but I'll sing along if the words are on the screen. It's pretty bad, though.

Is there a period of music you really missed out on?

I know almost nothing of metal. All I know is Tommy Lee was in Motley Crue. Sometimes when I find out one of my friends loves Motley Crue, I'm like, "I thought that only cheesy people who had long hair and wore tight pants liked that stuff." But when I think about it, it's perfectly logical. All these bands sold millions of records -- of course someone's gonna like them.

KIRK MILLER
(November 21, 2002)

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