In a musical world that changes by the minute, it’s good to know that Simple Plan maintains an impressive level of irreverence after two decades together. Example : Harder than it looks, the title of their new album. “If you look through the band’s history, every single track on the album has a tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendo,” frontman Pierre Bouvier told American Songwriter. “We like to use a double meaning, where it can be seen as a sexual pun, but it also has a deeper meaning. As our second album was called Always not. Well, it was really about not getting the respect of the media who thought we were another pop-punk band that wouldn’t last.
“With this one, we’ve been together a very, very long time. A lot of people think rock star life is all about private jets, luxury and partying, but it’s really a lot of work. Being together this long , staying together this long, continuing to be relevant and maintaining that fanbase, being in the group this long, it’s harder than it looks.
Not only the titles of the albums remain on the mark, but the music too. Harder Than It Looks oozes the same youthful energy of their early records. The hooks are still sharp, and the guitars and drums are still spinning at a hyper-fast tempo. A quick listen and you’d swear this Canadian quartet (Bouvier, Chuck Comeau, Jeff Stinco and Sebastian Lefebvre) have created a time machine to return to their initial multi-platinum blast.
Listen more closely to the lyrics, however, and you’ll hear a band that has gracefully matured without losing its vibrancy and vigour. Songs like “Wake Me Up (When This Nightmare’s Over)” and “Anxiety” evoke the angst and turmoil that anyone who has lived through the past few years can relate to. Call Simple Plan prophetic, because the album was written before the pandemic even started.
“With Simple Plan, we have realized over the years that many of our fans rely on us to help them through difficult times,” Bouvier says of the coincidence. “We try to be conscious to write songs that talk about struggle. I think it helps me too. I am now in my forties and I wonder what I am doing. I fight. I have anxieties, I have doubts. I doubt my decisions, where I am in my life. And I think music can be a really helpful tool to get you through those times.
“That’s the inspiration behind a lot of these songs. And that really fits the pandemic. Because when you’re going through that and you say, “Wake me up with this nightmare over,” a lot of us have probably said that over the last two years. It scared me a little. Did we really plan this? I hope people find comfort in these songs.
When the pandemic hit, it halted the group’s exit plan. But Simple Plan is finally ready to release its sixth album. “At one point, it felt like six years had passed since our last album,” says Bouvier. “We can’t wait any longer. The fans are getting impatient. We pulled the trigger. We realized we couldn’t wait any longer for the pandemic to end. »
Work the plan
Bouvier collaborated with drummer Chuck Comeau on the writing of Simple Plan. The duo proves again and again on the ten titles of Harder than it looks that they haven’t lost their talent for skipping verses and anthemic choruses. “I don’t think it’s in me to write filler,” says Bouvier. “I’m not trying to be boastful. It’s just the way I write stuff. Chuck will come up with a line, and I’ll sing it and I want to make it the center of everything. When you hear our songs, whether they are singles or not, you will remember the hook. It’s really a complex part of what Simple Plan is, and I think it’s part of all the songs we’ve written.
Songs like “Million Pictures” and “Best Day Of My Life” are feel-good ravers delivered with the ease of true pros. Simple Plan even engages Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley on “Ruin My Life”. The two bands hail from neighboring parts of Canada and rode the wave of the early 2000s pop-punk movement together, but had never collaborated on a record until now. A Blame Canada tour featuring the pair of bands will take place in the United States in the spring and summer. (“As Canadians, we never want to take anything too seriously anyway,” Bouvier says of the tour title.)
As for this “pop-punk” label, Bouvier has made peace with it, even if he sees the band’s music a little differently. “I think it’s something a lot of bands go through,” he says of the categorization. “Especially when you’re going out, you don’t want to be labeled as a specific thing. Although you also don’t want to ring everywhere. It’s a good tool for people to describe, ‘Oh, how does that sound?’ I can kiss her. I understand.
“But what’s most important to me are good songs. Often, when I write songs, I am often at the piano. You’ll take a song that can be a fast pop-punk song, and if you can play it on the piano and it sounds like a wonderful ballad, you’re on the right track.
Speaking of wonderful ballads, the new album ends with a stunner on “Two,” a snapshot of divorce told by a child caught in the middle. “We all have kids now,” Bouvier says of the track. “We are looking at the impact these things can have. In our relationships and our lives, we watch our friends break up and how it affects people. One out of two marriages does not work.
“It was Chuck’s idea to write it, and it was interesting to write it from the perspective of a kid who doesn’t have a voice. I think it was an original idea to write from the point of view of “Hey, I never wanted this, to have two separate houses, two separate Christmases”. I think it’s a very powerful song for someone going through this, who’s either the product of a divorce or going through a tough time in a relationship. It sure is intense.
Two decades of simple pleasures
Harder than it looks will be released 20 years after the band burst onto the scene with their debut album No pads, no helmets… Just balls. The synchronicity is not lost on Bouvier and his bandmates. “How did we manage? he marvels. “It’s the greatest gift. I look at different people who were on the rise at the same time as us, and either they broke up or they’re not as relevant anymore. I’m so grateful that we can still be here.
“I think it comes with the work ethic. We have Chuck, our band’s drummer, who’s like the most driven person I’ve ever met in my life, and then I’m the perfectionist. When we write songs, I surgically work on every little part. Whether it’s a shaker or a tambourine or a keyboard part underneath or the bass line or a drum fill, I work hard to make sure that it’s perfect. I think that’s why we’re still here. It’s proof that we work hard. And how much it means to us.
Not that everything is going well. In 2020, longtime bassist David Desrosiers left Simple Plan after allegations of sexual misconduct were brought against him. Part of the statement made by the group after his departure made clear his feelings for those affected: “We offer our sincere apologies to the women who have been hurt by his actions. We are also sorry for all our fans who are disappointed by this unfortunate situation.
Bouvier sees his group’s problems as a microcosm of the bigger picture. “Not only what our group has been through, but also what the whole world has been through,” he says. “There is so much division everywhere. With the pandemic, having people locked down and having nothing better to do than comment vitriol all over the internet. I think it’s been a tough time for everyone. We all feel it. We all go through our stuff. That’s what makes me even more excited about turning the page and coming out strong. To do what we love to do. It is important to be able to learn from our mistakes, to grow after difficult times.
How does a band like Simple Plan, which is caught somewhere in time between its buzz band youth and grizzled veterans, keep its fans’ attention? For Bouvier and company, they managed to do this by staying true to themselves and their experiences in their songwriting, while refusing to betray the anarchic spirit of rock and roll. That’s how crisp guitars and frenzied choruses can blend so seamlessly with deep emotions, as they do on Harder than it looks.
“I’m in my 40s, I have children myself,” Bouvier says of the group’s evolution. “I still feel like the kid who sings ‘I’m just a kid’ at 19 on stage. I don’t feel like a different person. I feel like I have experience, and I feel like I know a little bit more about some things. But I still have insecurities. I don’t know what I’m doing. When I’m writing songs, I’m constantly in question. When we do live TV shows or interviews, I’m just a guy who doesn’t know what I’m doing. I think when I write songs about hard times, they’re always relevant to me. .
Problems may change, but Simple Plan’s ever-dynamic music still provides, to paraphrase one of the songs from the new album, the antidote. “The point is ‘Yes, you’re going through a tough time’, but it looks like it’s going to be fine,” Bouvier says. “That’s how I feel about a lot of these songs. What we want people to leave thinking is yes, this is a tough time. But if we can get through this, we will be stronger.
Photo by Anna Lee Media.