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Ten Years On: Simple Plan - No Pads, No Helmets...Just Balls

Ten years ago this week, the Canadian pop/rock outfit Simple Plan released their debut album, "No Pads, No Helmets...Just Balls", a record which paved the way for the band's success worldwide.

The album reached double platinum status in their native homeland of Canada, the US and Japan, platinum in Australia and Gold in the United Kingdom and to this day, is still looked upon as one of the most pivotal pop-punk albums of the last decade.

With this said, Alter The Press sat down with drummer Chuck Comeau, to take a retrospective look back from the start of the band's career, for our latest "Ten Years On" feature.

ATP: It's been ten years since the release of "No Pads, No Helmets...Just Balls". What comes to mind when you look back in retrospect?

Chuck Comeau (drums): First of all, it's unbelievable that it's been ten years; it really does fly by. I'm just grateful that we're still here, we're still relevant and we have four albums out. Most bands don't get past two and are only hot for one minute. In some ways, I wouldn't say we're proving people wrong, but I remember looking back in 2002-2003 and people were saying, "They'll be gone next week!" and "They're a one hit wonder!" and that we would never last.

I think you take a lot of pride and satisfaction in still being around. We have hardcore fans who still follow us. I think the greatest thing for us, is that it's the same line-up; it's the same five guys. I think that as a band, we're still together and we still enjoy what we do. I think, more than ever, we appreciate what we have and how lucky and privileged we are because most people are not in that position. And because of that, we try not to fuck it up and not to loose what we have.

ATP: If you could go back and change something about the album, what would you have done differently and why?

Chuck: It's kind of like, everything happens for a reason. It's like when you take a picture in high school and you look back and say, "What the hell was I wearing? What's up with that hair cut?" There are maybe a few little things I would’ve done different like the production on the album, I wish it was similar to the second record. It came off not as heavy and rock as we wanted it to be, but it was our first time in the studio, we didn't have the knowledge or expressed what we wanted.

I think the sound is something I'd like to revisit but overall the songs, I'm really happy. I think it stands the test of time when we play those songs live, it's amazing how many people still love them like "I'd Do Anything", everyone still goes off. We played Warped Tour last year and that was the song everyone was crazy about. "Perfect" was probably one of the most important songs we ever written. It's the one song we play everywhere, no matter what country we play in, and we always play it last. It's almost like our "Bro Hym" by Pennywise, it's tradition to always play it last and everyone sings every word; Pierre (Bouvier - vocals) doesn't even need to sing it. To me, that's always the moment, when it's just Pierre playing the acoustic, I don't go backstage, I just sit at the drums and watch the crowd, to see the reaction of people singing the words. That's always been one of my favorite moments.

It's funny. Your first record definitely defines you. We were young, and wrote about what we knew but sometimes, I wouldn't say you look back and not cringe but with "I'm Just A Kid", we look back and we play it, I think there was a moment when we were 25-26 and didn't want to play that song anymore but now fuck that, it's a part of who we are and people love that song. It's almost like we're embracing our first album, not trying to run away from it like some bands do. This is the history of the band and now it's like we're embracing it more than ever.

ATP: Do you regret signing with a major label from the get-go?

Chuck: Not at all. Again, it defined our career. I don't think we would have had the privilege to play everywhere around the world the way we do, and build ourselves into a global band that can headline Australia, South-East Asia, South America, Canada, US because of that situation. I think we're lucky that the album came out in 2002 because we were one of the last bands to have the chance to benefit from "the old system" where you can sell records and get on the radio as a rock band, which if you look at right now, is extremely difficult in the US. I would say back then, fans were more loyal so I think the fact we got to reach them so early on, they still come back ten years later. These fans who were there in 2001-2002, we meet them today and they say they met us when we opened for Sugar Ray and the first Warped Tour.

We were the kind of band who were just playing in our basement and our goal all along was just to be heard; signing to Lava/Atlantic gave us a chance to be heard. I think we signed to a label that really believed in us. They weren't like the evil A&R people who wouldn't believe in us and give a shit about our songs. They never once told us to dress a different way or write a song differently. They just loved what we did and there was never any pressure. I think that also came from us, because Pierre and I have been playing in bands since we were 13. We had done two records out, we had toured with bands like MxPx and Lagwagon, so I think we had a good handle on who we were and how we wanted to come off as a band. I don't think we felt the pressure that some bands felt when they were on majors. It was kind of like, we just did our thing, and had people help us to be heard.

ATP: "I'm Just A Kid" was the first single Simple Plan released. What does the song mean to you now?

Chuck: It's funny, when you write a song, it's not exactly science, but I remember writing that song in my parents living room with Pierre and Seb. We were working on the first part of the song and once we nailed the chorus, we were like, "Man, this is something really special, it's something that people can really connect with forever." We did a demo of the song in our basement, before getting signed, way before the first album was in motion or anything. We felt like we had to record that song, it's the song that helped us get signed; to make our first album and everything.

We really believed in it, it was a special song. We never had any doubt in our mind that it would be our first single to come out. It's funny, it didn't explode the way we thought it would, in the US it really didn't do anything, but in Canada and Japan, it was our biggest song, it was our intro to them. I remember the first time we traveled. Our first headline tour was in Japan, we got there and the band was huge. We were playing sold out shows 2-3 nights in Tokyo, had people waiting at the airport, hotel. It was the first taste of having a successful song and a band that people care about. It was all due to that song. I look back at the song and how it opened up a lot of doors for us. I think looking back now a little older, I can see why it was an easy target for people to pigeonhole the band for being young and too poppish. You know what, that's the course of our history, and at the time, we believed in it 100%, it was something special and it got us tons of fans. Now it's funny, it's kind of like a favorite, and places where it wasn't even a huge hit, it's kind of like a cult song like when Blink plays "Carousel". It's kind of interesting.

ATP: When was the last time you listened to the album in its entirety?

Chuck: It's funny, I did it recently. We're working on a bunch of projects and with the 10th anniversary of the album, we're trying to put together a bunch of different ideas. We were rehearsing for tour and we wanted to throw in some old school songs. I listened to it back-to-back and it's funny that there are some things that you forget like one song, "That bridge was a cool part!" Our goal back then was for us to make the ultimate pop-punk record, but you still have a song like "Meet You There" which is something deeper and more serious. You have "Perfect" and then you have "One Day" which is a whole different feel, Sugar Ray/Smash Mouth kind of song. That's one thing that stood out that the record is kind of fast compared to our third record.

I'm really proud of the record and that people still find something cool in it that they like. I think the goal is to do a special show where we play the whole first record. It's definitely an idea of mine that I think we should do, and I’m pretty sure it'll happen. I feel like for us, our goal with every record is for it to be solid from top to bottom, not just three-four good songs and filler. With this record, we spent a year and a half in the studio making demos, trashing songs and starting again, but we really pushed ourselves with this album, knowing that every song could be someone's favorite song. It's funny, when we ask someone what song they want to hear, it's always 11 different answers. I feel like when you have that kind of reaction from people, with every album, you know it’s mission accomplished.

ATP: What is your favorite Simple Plan album and why?

Chuck: It's a tie between "Still Not Getting Any..." and "Get Your Heart On!" I think with "Still Not Getting Any...", there are some songs that are really cool; I still enjoy playing like "Jump". We always open the show with "Shut Up" because it's really in your face and we did the album with producer Bob Rock (Aerosmith, Metallica, Motley Crue). It sounds really powerful, big and rocking at the time, which we wanted.

I feel like after the success of the first album, there is pressure to put out something great to get us to keep going and getting bigger. I think the reason why I like it so much is because I have so many good touring memories of the second album. We did so many cool things, we played the Playboy Mansion, the Kids Choice Awards, we were starting to tour overseas, we did a big arena tour in Australia and we physically saw the record was hug; it went four-five times platinum in Canada! It was the period when everything was happening for the band and we got on all these cool TV shows like Leno. It was almost like the first record gave us MTV and the first taste of radio and success, the second record showed that this would keep going for a while and it was not going to disappear. That was the biggest challenge for us; to not loose everything, not have a career. I think once we were able to get over that challenge, it felt amazing to have a level of confidence and happiness in the band. Musically, I love every song. It's powerful, catchy, heartfelt and diverse. Our new album, sometimes I wish it was our first, and we were a brand new band because after being around for ten years, sometimes you feel like you don't have the same chance or same buzz if you were a new band. I feel like if we came out with that record, or were called something else, people would be like, "Who the fuck are these guys?" but I'm just really proud of it. We really pushed ourselves and wrote over 70 songs for it. It's funny, I had a guy in a band come up to me and say, "I feel like every song could be a first single for some other band" and that was a really nice compliment for us. I love that we are playing the songs live. When you have a band who plays new songs live, sometimes people don't care and just want to hear the old songs, but I feel the excitement is the same when we play a new song as when we play a song from the third record. We're able to make sure every release is different.

I think the difference is in how we approach things; like every album is our first record or our last in some ways. Because of the perception people have of Simple Plan, some people are surprised we're still around after ten years, but we feel like we have a chip on our shoulder and that we have to prove ourselves to people and that we're the under dogs and we never feel like we've had anything there for sure. It's like every record we write is to save our lives, also because we have such a legion of fans and the last thing we want to do is let them down. I know it sounds like a cliche answer for an interview but as you know, we talk and really connect with our fans. When they tell us they need a new song, or record, because things are tough in their life or something to smile about, we take it seriously and don't want to put out something that is not great. We really kicked ourselves in the ass with this one. There are enough songs to put out a second record! The songs that didn't make it were almost just as good, and it was tough to make that decision.

ATP: If you weren't in Simple Plan, what would you be doing and why?

Chuck: That's a good question. I don't know how to answer that. I guess being in music and in bands since I was 13 is such an important part of my life, so I never really imagined myself doing anything else, but I'd want to be involved in music some how. I love the business side of music and managing, so maybe be an agent of a manger or involved in a record label in someway. At the end of the day, I dropped out of law school to be in a band, so maybe be a lawyer, who knows?

If I had a dream to be one thing, it would be a sports agent. Like represent athletes, I'd love to do that. I'd love to be a pro athlete but that would never happen! If I could be anything, it would be a professional hockey player. I still play and have a lot of friends in the hockey league and it sounds so cool. It’s funny because they all want to be in bands, and the bands want to do what they do, the grass is always greener. I think overall, I'm happy with what I got, it's pretty fucking awesome.

ATP: When you started Simple Plan, was there a goal you wanted to accomplish and do you think you've achieved it?

Chuck: I think we had a lot of goals. I was always pretty ambitious with the band. When we started our first band Reset, we started to get letters in the US and then Canada, Switzerland, Japan and this was before the Internet and everything. We had to play for these people, there was a potential to travel and for me, it stuck for wanting to always play a new country. When we would go and tour South East Asia, I would say, "We haven't played Vietnam/Hungry/Turkey/Ukraine yet." I always want our band to travel and reach new places.

I think when I look back at what I wanted to accomplish with the band, we have been to over 55 countries I think, and to me, that worldwide appeal, I think we reached that. The last thing I wanted to be was just being big in Canada or just one place. It was so cool, you can travel the world and there are people who love your music and there's always someone in the world, day or night, playing your music in their bedroom, basement, on the way to school or work or going through a tough time. I hear it all time from letters, Twitter, meeting fans at the shows and there are fans everywhere from around the world enjoying our songs. That's what I wanted to accomplish as a band.

I feel like there are milestone things we got to do which were amazing, like headlining our hometown arena, which was huge for us. All kinds of stuff you grew up, you look at your favorite bands like Guns N Roses, Pearl Jam and they've done these things, we've done them too and followed in their footsteps in some ways. We've scratched a lot of stuff off our list but there's still a lot of stuff I've dreamt of, but not done yet like the cover of Rolling Stone. Are we going to get it, maybe? Maybe not. I guess that's what fuels your ambition and your drive. If you don't have anything left to accomplish, maybe that's when you get a little complaisant and don't work as hard. It's great to have new goals and new dreams, so I think there is still a lot of stuff we want to get done.

ATP: Do you have any plans to commemorate the release of "No Pads"?

Chuck: There are lots of projects in the works. One is to do some special shows where we play the whole first record. It's kind of tough, you don't want to announce it too far in advance because you want to surprise some people or maybe we might do that? Surprise people and play the whole record. I think 2012 will be the year of celebrating that. We're working on a photo book, like a history of the band, over 250 pages. We've been taking pictures since day one, we have over 30,000 pictures and it's crazy how much stuff we got from backstage, live to on the bus, and I think we want to put something beautiful together to commemorate the history of the band. It's a project of mine, which I've been thinking about for a long time and now it's actually in motion.

One thing I want to do is release more music and have a new DVD. We have fans who loved "A Big Package For You" (Simple Plan's first DVD release) and we want to have one for 2012. I don't think it'll ever be as cult as the first one because we were so young, we were 21/22 and it was such a crazy time for us and we were always fooling around. Maybe we don't have the same level as jokes all the time, but I definitely want to do something to commemorate the 10th anniversary with some new music and a new DVD. It's going to be a really big year for us, not just touring. It's going to be our big year and we have a lot coming.

(At this point guitarist Sébastien Lefebvre sits down with Chuck)

ATP: What has kept Simple Plan going strong for 12 years?

Sébastien: Honestly, we all have the same vision for the band as each other and we love what we do.

Chuck: The fans have made a big difference. Obviously for a band, there’s something motivational about putting out something and having people react to it. It's a huge joy, and we have been lucky enough to have a lot of support over the years, people still come back to see us and there are always new fans who come out to join us; it’s pretty cool.

I think our friendship too. It’s hard to want to be with someone 300 days out of the year, like 24/7. It's tough, so I think the fact we get along so great makes a difference.

We're still passionate about it; we still care. I think the moment you stop giving a shit is when you start to suck as a band. I think it comes from our work ethic and the way we were brought up, but we won't put out a record unless we like it, we won't get on stage if we don't think we're playing well. We make sure every show is great. I don't think it's in our DNA to cheat, like to get on stage and play half assed. I still feel like we're going to give everything we got, it's in our nature. If someone pays $20-40 for a ticket, we're going to put on a really great show and give them everything we can offer them that night.

I think kids can see and appreciate that. I've never had someone say to me that we didn't care or didn't do our best that night.

Sébastien: I find it very hard not to step on stage and not be interested. As soon as you’re on there, you see the kids and say, "Alright! This is awesome!"

Chuck: It's almost like a reflex and the reason why I'm doing it.

Sébastien: No matter how bad of a day you're having, the best part is when you get to kick back and go out on stage.

- Jon Ableson