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Interview: Guitarist Billy Martin From Good Charlotte

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I recently had the opportunity to talk with Good Charlotte’s guitar player, Billy Martin over the phone about the band’s upcoming album Cardiology. We talked about the recording process, how the band switched producers and record labels, and keeping up with their devoted fans.

First off, I just wanted to thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

Yeah, no problem.

How does it feel to be releasing your fifth album?

It’s amazing. Honestly, we think about that more than a lot of the other things that we get to do. Nowadays, longevity seems to be the hardest thing to maintain. I think really we just owe it to having good fans. They keep supporting us, it feels good.

Was the recording process for this album different than it had been for previous albums?

A little bit. When you’re five people, everybody has different ideas that everybody wants to do that has a different sort of end result. It’s hard finding that middle ground, and we definitely struggled a lot with that on our previous records, trying to all find a way to be happy and feel like you’ve gotten input. We’re just older now, like you said, it’s the fifth record and we’ve done it so many times that you realize that the bigger picture is more important that the pieces. We went in with no egos, no expectations, and said lets make a record that we know how to do and hope that we can make one that’s better than the previous record. 

Billy Martin from Good Charlotte. Photo courtesy of EMIHow many songs did you initially record for Cardiology before narrowing it down to what was going to be on the album?

This record was quite a roller coaster ride. There were a lot of demos. We originally started out doing this album with Howard Benson producing. He came in and picked a few demos out that he thought was strong and told us that we needed to keep working. We started tracking the record with him. We finished all the drums, all the bass. We got about halfway through the guitar and then we started doing vocals on some of the songs, and realized it just didn’t sound like we wanted it to. It was missing a lot of the heart and the soul that the demos had.

We kind of just pulled the plug and started over later with Don Gilmore, who had done our last record (Good Morning Revival) and our first record (Good Charlotte). We wanted to try something new with Howard, and it seemed like a good fit, but in the end it just wasn’t. We kept probably six or seven of those songs. We ended up throwing everything away and re-recording with Don and then a handful of new songs came out during the process.

So you worked with Don Gilmore on this album, and I noticed that some of the songs on this album sound reminiscent of your first album. Do you think this is because you worked with the same producer or was it something that just happened naturally in the recording process?

I’m not sure, because he is the same producer as our last record, which I think sounds the least like our first record. I don’t think it was totally the producer, because then our last record would have sounded more like the first two. I think consciously we had been experimenting on each album.

Our first record was really simple, simple melodies and simple hooks. The second record we started with more textures and sounds. The third record we got a little more experimental with strings and keyboards and really trying new stuff. The fourth record, we went a lot more heavy with the keyboards and brought a more dance-y kind of vibe. This record we kind of said alright, why don’t we take the best of all those records. Let’s keep it simple like the first record. Let’s have it be about the hooks, but lets make sure the songs are rich with all those textures and sounds that we like. We’re not going to ditch the keyboards, cause all of us really love electronic music and that’s something we found a way to put the music we like, but maybe just not as much as the last record.

We really tried to take the best of all our previous records and combine it to make the record that fans that love any of our records could listen to this one and be into. Not really super conscience; it just seemed like the right thing to do.

I think it worked out well for you guys. On previous albums, you have co-written tracks, I was wondering if you had any co-writes on this album as well?

No, I didn’t. My wife and I had a son a year and a half ago. I’ve been spending time really enjoying being “Dad,” and sort of being swept up in the whole family world. Part of me feels a little guilty that I didn’t come to the table with as many songs as I have in the past, but it just felt right.

There’s just not that many times in your life that your kid is born and you get to spend all that time with them. I really take advantage of not being on the road, and spend a lot of time with my family. I didn’t bring songs to the table, but now I’ve figured out how to balance my job and my family, I think for sure in the future I look forward to getting back in being more of a songwriter.

Benji really did the shift this time. Joel has two kids now, I have a have a son, our bass player just had his first kid just about a week ago and our drummer has a son, too. Benji’s really the only one who doesn’t have a family, so it’s easy for him to be 100 percent Good Charlotte, all the time. He was just demoing songs like crazy. Out of those 100 of songs, I’d say Benji wrote about 80 of them by himself. We’re lucky to have him. The bulk of the record was written by Benji and a good handful came from Joel.

How did you guys come up with Cardiology as the album title?

The album title was actually around really before we had even started recording the record. Every kind of song deals with the heart, whether it’s love, hate, relationships, being a father, it pretty much goes back to the heart when it comes to that kind of music. It seemed like a fitting title.

I think that this is a great collection of music from you guys and I thought that a lot of the songs could make great singles. I think that “Like It’s Her Birthday” is a great bridge from Good Morning Revival to Cardiology and I was wondering what the process was like in deciding that it would be the lead single?

It was definitely hard. With us, we try to make every song seem like it could be a single, it doesn’t really make sense to do album fillers or just a song that’s fine. We don’t really write deep, introspective art music, we just write simple, peppy songs. It’s usually a hard decision. This seemed like the right one.

When we started recording this record we were on Sony BMG. After we finished the record, we switched over to Capitol/EMI. I really wanted to trust the new label, and let them see what they could do and put the power into their hands. Everyone seemed to be really into that song.

Out of the 100 demos that you recorded, were there any that you knew instantly were going to be on the album?

Yeah, there were a couple. Like the first song on the record, “Let The Music Play,” is definitely a special song. It’s one of those songs, pretty much saying how music is really important to a lot of people, us, our fans. How many people rely on music in their lives to get them through situations or relate to something. There was never a doubt that that wasn’t going to be the first song on the record.

There were a couple songs that had made it through the beginning, like “Right Where I Belong” and “Can’t Dream Without You.” Both of those were demos early on. “1979” was another song that’s been around since the beginning demo stages. I think any of the songs that made it through multiple producers and made from demo to record back to demo, back to the record again, those are strong songs.

In the past, you’ve designed artwork for the band’s music videos, are there plans to do more designing for the band?

I’m always open to it. That’s something I always grew up thinking I would be. I love drawing, it’s definitely an important part of my life. I got to do all the artwork for Chronicle (Chronicles of Life and Death) and direct one of the videos. That was nice, it opened up a lot of doors for me. A lot of our fans know that I have that side to me.

Since then, I’ve gotten to do a whole lot of cool things in the art community. I have a comic book that I co-wrote with a friend of mine that I’m drawing as well, that we’re shooting to put out next year. That’s kind of cool. If the opportunity comes up to do more stuff for the band, I certainly will. I still do t-shirt designs for the band once in awhile. It (designing the third album) was a great door-opener for me to get to do more art projects.

You guys have very devoted fans and in between albums you definitely seem to make sure they are informed through the band’s website and lately with Twitter. How important is it to maintain that connection with the fans as you prepare to release your new album?

I think the most important things a band can do, especially nowadays with all the availabilities with that kind of stuff like you said with Twitter, the internet in general, putting blogs on your website in ways to give kids that content to check out and get to see behind-the-scenes stuff. I know when we were young, it would have been great to see that stuff from bands that we loved, but it just wasn’t there.

You might be lucky if you if you were one of the first people to buy their album at the store, you’d get some kind of behind-the-scenes tape, and that was a big deal. But there was no going on the internet and watching a live band in the studio. Twitter, MySpace, Facebook and all that stuff just wasn’t around. It seems pointless not to use it, it’s there, kids love it, and it’s really easy to use. It helps us maintain that fan-band relationship when you’re not on tour and not out there doing things.

I definitely try to keep up on that and learn about it, cause we’re definitely not like the new school young bands that grew up on there. A lot of bands have built their careers on the internet before even going on tour. When they do go on tour they know X amount of kids are going to be at their shows, because that many friends on Facebook or MySpace. That seems cool and that’s something we have to learn, because when our first record came out in 2000, people were still using America Online and dial up. For us it was going out on tour all the time, go out after the show and meet your fans, and hope that you build that kind of relationship and keep working.

Nowadays, it’s a little different, but it’s nice. I can sit at home from my office on the computer, go on the internet, kids two seconds later read what I wrote and they’re writing back. It’s definitely important and it’s something that we’ve really had to adapt to and stay up on.

Any plans to tour after the release of the album?

We’ll definitely go on tour. We hit new countries and new territories after we visit countries. We always feel so welcome and there’s so many fans all over the world who don’t get a chance to see a band. We always go back to all those countries like Indonesia, Singapore or South America. We just went to Russia a couple months ago for the first time. The record comes out in November, we’ll do a couple scattered shows in the US for promotion, then to Australia for a show. Next year we’re going to Europe in January/February. I think we’re hoping to do the Christmas radio shows around America, the radio stations do their Jingle Bash or whatever they call them. We’re hoping to do a handful of those around the holidays. There probably won’t be a full-on US tour til next year.

Good Charlotte’s fifth studio album Cardiology will be released on November 2. For all the latest news on the band, check out their website.

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About Kirsten Coachman

Kirsten Coachman is an Entertainment Writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. She has interviewed a variety of people from across the entertainment spectrum, including singer-songwriter/Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas, Andrew Dost from the Grammy Award-winning band fun., singer-songwriter Christina Perri, and acclaimed writer-director Derek Cianfrance.