Shortly after forming in 1999, the Montreal-based pop-punk act Simple Plan signed a When the pop-punk act Simple Plan signed to its Atlantic Records in 2002 to release its debut, No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls, the execs at the label were anxious for the album to come out.
“They wanted to strike the iron when it’s hot,” recalls drummer Chuck Comeau in a recent interview. The band brings its tour in support of its new album, Taking One For the Team, to House of Blues on Oct. 15. “We were laughing. [Pop-punk] had already been around for 15 years. Sure enough, 17 years later, the bands are still here. And there’s a big resurgence of bands coming back. Blink 182 is selling out huge venues and our album is coming out and Sum 41 is back.”
According to Comeau, because the music comes off as something “honest and heartfelt,” it continues to appeal to fans.
“People write from the heart,” he says. “They don’t write for radio. The music is honest and real and talks about people’s live and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s high energy and in your face and catchy. A lot of the bands are all about touring and playing live. Nowadays, it’s often not as important for new types of acts. We don’t need huge production. We can play in a small club or big arena and just jump around and go crazy and run around. People feel the energy and react to that. That’s part of the reason why [pop-punk] is still there, and I’m grateful it’s still around, and we get to do what we do.
Comeau says the band took five years to record Taking One For the Team, the group’s first full-length since 2011’s Get Your Heart On!, because the band scrapped some of the initial recordings to head back into the studio and write new tunes.
“It didn’t feel very long,” he says. “We toured for about two years and a half. We played in 65 to 70 countries around the world, from Vietnam to Russia and Australia and Indonesia. We went around the world. We thought we’d be done faster with the album but at this stage, your fans judge you on what you’ve done. We didn’t want to become a band that puts out a record just to go on tour. We wanted to put out something that could rival what we did before and could stand up to No Helmets and records that had a big impact on the scene and on our fans. It took awhile. We’re not the fastest songwriters. We took our time in the studio. We had a finished album and we thought it wasn’t good enough. We went back and wrote three more songs that made the album. That’s why it took some time.”
He admits the long layoff might’ve been detrimental, but fans have responded so favorably, the delay didn’t seem to detract from the band’s publicity.
“In some ways, it might have hurt us,” he says. “But when I listen to the record, I’m really proud of it. Our fans have told us that they love it as much as our first and second albums and that says a lot. When the fans ask us to play more songs live, that’s a great sign. A lot of times when you play new songs, fans think of it as a time to go get a beer.”
The album offers a solid mix of classic pop punk anthems (“Boom” and “Farewell”), danceable pop songs (“I Don’t Want To Go To Bed”), and even reggae/pop blends in a Sugar Ray/Sublime vein (“Singin’ In The Rain”).
Comeau says thanks his high school French teacher initially suggesting he and singer Pierre Bouvier should pursue their punk rock dreams.
“For some reason, our French teacher said we should be in a band together,” he recalls when asked about the group’s origins. “He told us that we looked like we should be in a band together. We started playing together right away and only stopped for maybe one year. It’s been 23 years of playing music together. It’s an interesting dynamic. It’s crazy to think we’ve been doing this that long. We’re not young but not that old. The one thing we’re very lucky about is that we’re still friends. We all grew up together and went to the same high school. We never had any lineup change, and I’m proud of that. It’s pretty rare nowadays with bands. In that respect, we’re very fortunate and very blessed.”
Since the start, the band’s songs have managed to possess both a punk edge and pop sensibilities.
“We’ve always had one foot in both worlds,” Comeau says. “We grew up loving hard hitting Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph and all the punk rock bands from the ’90s. That was our whole world and changed the day I heard NOFX and Bad Religion. But at the same time, we love the Beach Boys and Beatles and Cheap Trick and Elvis Costello and tons of poppy songs on Top 40 radio. We blended those two sensibilities and it came out as Simple Plan. We have a trademark sound. When people hear a song, people know it’s Pierre’s voice. We got some flack for being too pop or being too edgy but we feel comfortable being right in the middle.”
“Singin’ in the Rain” features a reggae beat and call-and-response vocals. The brisk horns give it an '80s ska feel.
“It’s something we got into on the last album,” Comeau says. “We had a song called ‘Summer Paradise’ that was really beachy and Jack Johnson-like. We loved it. At first, we were a little scared. It turned out to be one of the biggest hits we had around the world. It was a No. 1 song in Europe. It was kind of shocking to have that success so far into our career. We thought, ‘Why not try this again and go further into that vibe and try to have fun with it?’ We came up with ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’"
He says the song possesses a serious message too.
"The song is about how there’s so much bad news in the world," he explains. "People are dealing with lots of issues in their lives. It says, ‘Let’s try to keep our head up and stay positive and not let that ruin your day, so we came up with that line and it was inspired by the movie.’ We just wrote something around it that felt cool. It’s about making you smile.”
The hard-driving, guitar-driven “I Refuse” suggests the album's theme.
“We love to crank up those in-your-face punk tunes,” says Comeau. “We had that line ‘I refuse’ and took it from there. I think this whole record is about empowerment and standing up for who you are and not letting people dictate who you are. Our fans can relate to that. It’s anthem for them but also for us. As a band, you get criticized. It’s so easy to hate on everything. We’re in a culture where it’s so easy to type a few words on phone or a keyboard and vent. Sometimes you have to fight back. That’s what the song is about. Our fans have embraced it, and it goes off when we play it live.”
“I Don’t Want To Go To Bed” features Nelly and a satirical Baywatch-inspired companion video that stars David Hasselhoff.
“That song is so different for us,” says Comeau. “It’s a left field move. We had the song for a long time and thought it wasn’t Simple Plan song. We kept going back to it. At some point, we said, 'Why not?' We wanted to make a video that was funny. We wanted to show that we don’t’ take ourselves too seriously. We didn’t want to make a sexy Maroon 5 video. We made fun of that. We came up with the Baywatch idea. It’s the most watched show in the world. We thought that it would be rad to have fun with it. It was complicated. We had to get a license from the show. We came up with the idea for the cameo from David Hasselhoff. It was a blast to make. We were on the beach goofing around and laughing. Our fans were surprised by the musical direction, but they love the video.”
The new album reflects the fact that band members continue to enjoy making music and haven’t lost their sense of humor.
“Most bands don’t expect to be around this long,” Comeau admits. “With every album we feel like we’re beating the odds, and we’re still here and still alive. It’s a great time. We know who we are. We’re not trying to be something we’re not. We know we’re not the critics’ darlings. We’re fine with that.”
Comeau says the band cherishes the way the group's music has become something personal for its fans.
“Meeting these kids after the show and talking to them and realizing how much the music had an impact, as we got older, that becomes the most gratifying thing about being in the band,” he says. “People tell you that if they didn’t have our music, they wouldn’t be here. You take stock of what you were able to do, and that’s always special and what you hope for. It’s been fun doing that and playing new music live, and we’re happy to still be able to tour.”
Simple Plan, Hit the Lights, Story Untold, 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $27.50-$37.50, houseofblues.com.
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]