Twin brothers Benji and Joel (born 3/11/79) grew up in a lower middle-class family in the town of Waldorf, Maryland--âthe middle-of-nowhere suburbs," says Benji.
"Ours was definitely a dysfunctional family situation,â he admits, âbut 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 twinsâ 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 bandâs videos for "Little Things," "Motivation Proclamation," and "Festival Song." At this writing (August 2002), Benji and Joel are hosting MTVâs "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."