If you’re reading this magazine, chances are you know of Good Charlotte. The American rockers have been around since 1995 with frontmen and identical twins Joel and Benji Madden regularly appearing in both music and Hollywood gossip-style headlines. Paul Thomas went to highschool with the brothers and is the band’s bassist, a role he’s played since 1998. For those counting, that’s 20 years in the music biz.
Since Paul joined Good Charlotte, the band has released six studio albums and two compilations. They’ve sold more than seven million albums worldwide and the record ‘The Young And The Hopeless’ was responsible for more than four of those seven million.
People either love or hate Good Charlotte and Paul told me from his home in Oakland, California that he believes that’s something that only happens when a band becomes successful.
“And Australia’s one of the territories we’ve done the best in,” he said, adding weight to his argument. “We used to have that in the States too, but that’s mellowed out a little now.”
“I think it’s that we’re not cool, right? I don’t get what the deal is. We’re just trying to do our thing. The people that do like us are so cool. We have the best band – they’ve given us everything we have.”
“Hater’s gonna hate,” Paul said.
A lot has changed in the 20 years that Paul has been making music. Social media, the internet itself, streaming, not to mention the way music is recorded and released. Paul says the group pays attention to younger bands for that reason. And that if they hadn’t been paying attention and adjusting over time, they simply wouldn’t be around.
“There’s things to learn from these younger bands,” Paul said. “You see them coming out, touring, smarter, leaner. We’ve been evolving because the industry has.”
“The reason we don’t have a big manager right now is that you don’t need that to be successful. You don’t need a label. This has always been a business for us – ever since high school – it’s like this is our job.”
“But at the same time it’s music and art and you want it to have integrity.”
“We’ve gone through the gamut of having to write songs for people and the material is better and more heartfelt right now. We’re back to square one. That’s all because we got stripped down from the high stuff, the fancy labels, flying first class. We were living a life we didn’t have to. So many more people were making more money than us and the wool was over our eyes.”
Paul and his friends were catapulted into adulthood and Paul reflects on those early times as the band’s formative years.
“It that was our college – we just went straight into it. That was our learning experience. Those were our formative years, we were on stage in front of people trying to make our band happen.”
“What it did was – and this is why we’re still a band – it made the four of us become the best of friends in the world –like family.”
It gave us this mentality of us against the world.
Paul is happy because he feels like they’re back there now as a band. There are no manager, no labels. Benji and Joel do their management and when any of them have something to say, they call up their best friends to say it.
With that new focus on artistic integrity, the band’s most recent release ‘Youth Authority’ rose to #1 in the ARIA charts, despite selling poorly in Australia. Paul says it doesn’t matter. They’re going to make the songs they want to make and relish in this new way of doing business.
“No matter what label you’re on, they always have to approve the album,” Paul said, “whereas right now, it’s like ‘do you like this song? So do I, let’s move on.’ We’ll get people’s opinions but someone’s not going to come in and say ‘this isn’t good’.”
“We’ve had songs that totally should have been on an album that were left off because of the label.”
And he’s excited about the future of rock because he doesn’t see that happening as much now as it has in the past.
“It doesn’t seem to be as prevalent now. I really think music is going through some growing pains. Music will have to one day be straight from the artist to the consumer – with no middle man. I don’t know if some kind of future technology will help that happen or what. But it will happen.”
“You see people like Chance the Rapper who make an amazing career out of something on the internet. That’s the future. Independence. That’s a beautiful thing. Real music will cut through.”
Our conversation moves on to the Australian tour, which includes Download Festival and a bunch of sideshows. The last time Good Charlotte were here was in 2012 – which is also the year his son was born and while he’d like to bring the whole family out, it’s just not possible.
“My wife is a teacher, and it’s right at a time when she can’t leave. We have to come back. I’ve been promising my family I’d show them Australia. I’ve travelled the world and there’s no place like Australia,” he said.
And Good Charlotte fans headed to Download Festival will be excited to hear that the band’s sideshow sets, like the show at Riverstage will be vastly different.
“For festivals, we usually really stick to the hits, so to speak, whereas in a headlining show we’ll play some of the deeper album tracks. There’s 100% different vibes on our end.”
And after 20 years, does the music make Paul Thomas feel a little old?
“No. My kids do. My life does. My body does. But no, not the band.”
And if he could go back in time, would he have any pearls of advice for his 17 year old self? He struggles to answer this because he says his wife is so awesome that if he changed anything about his past he might not have met her or started a family.
“You know, maybe I’d tell my younger self to not eat so many carbs,” he said.
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Good Charlotte play Brisbane’s Riverstage on Thursday 28 March.