ATP! Feature: Simple Plan - The Official Story
A lot of bands have recently been commemorating the anniversary of an album by touring and performing the release in its entirety each night. Simple Plan, on the other hand, have decided to put out a book; a 304-page extravaganza detailing the history of the band, hundreds of never seen before pictures from tours all over the world and personal stories and memories.
Alter The Press spoke with drummer Chuck Comeau to discuss the book, take a nostalgic look back to the story of the band's origins and much more.
Alter The Press: What prompted the decision to put this book together?
Chuck Comeau (drums): It just felt like it was the right time. After ten years since the first album came out ["No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls"] it was good timing. I was so happy we were able to put it out when the band is still current and doing well. This wasn't like when a band puts out a book ten years after they had their biggest hit when their career is going down the train. I thought it would be cool and great timing when things are still going amazing for the band. We are still loving what we do and their is still so much passion for Simple Plan.
We wanted to do something different from the other books that we saw. It's not like a has-been kind of band who talks about the good old days and tries to romanticize everything. It's a band who is still working hard right now and probably just had one of their biggest songs in years with "Summer Paradise".
I thought the arc of the story was so great. They do their third album, it was a little harder, we went through a tough time but it goes great. We came back with this record ["Get Your Heart On!"] and things started to go so amazingly well again. It was a cool chance to tell this story that you should never quit and even if it gets a little harder, you should just roll up your sleeves and start working hard. If you keep believing in yourself and the music you make, good things will happen. I felt like it was the perfect time to tell the story.
ATP: How long was this project in the making for?
Chuck: I would say we first started talking about it seriously was in September 2011, like for real when we said that we should start doing this. It took about a good year to get everything going and I would say that we first started working properly on it in March 2012; starting the interviews, going into the archives. It really kicked in during the springtime - that's when we just went into overdrive and realized that we had a deadline like September 1st!
That's how it always is with any project and we've spoken to people who've made books before. When you make a record, it's always where you think you have all the time in the world and all of a sudden, three/ four months before the deadline you're like "holy shit! we better step up because we are in trouble!"
I spent most of my time on it during the summer - from going through the boxes, sorting through the archives to doing all the interviews with the writer [Kathleen Lavoie]. I would say I probably did about 30-35 hours of interviews and background with her. The band talked with her as well. Everyone was involved. We sat down with our art guy, Fred, who was the lead graphic designer for the project, and went through every page together to make it looked right. When you start getting texts from the writers, you have to re-read it and make sure everything is accurate and the details were understood correctly. That took a lot longer than I expected. Once it's in the book, it's there forever, you know? We had to get it right, perfectly. If it was a little off, we had to tweak it and the worst is the last month when you're about to go to print and everything matters.
We were involved in everything. On our last tour of South America, we were sleeping 4-5 hours a night, finishing a show, then working up until 4-5 in the morning and waking up at 8am. It was pretty crazy, but we were able to put it together. We didn't really respect our first deadline! I think we gave it back about 6 or 7 days before it came out. It was that crazy. We had beg our printer to get a longer extension.
ATP: The one thing fans will find the most interesting is the back-story before Simple Plan even started. It's the first time you have really spoken in such detail about Reset [frontman Pierre Bouvier and Chuck's first band, formed in 1993]. How was it reminiscing the early days and reconnecting with former members of the band for the book?
Chuck: It was really interesting. At first we debated if we should really go back in time that much, but the more we spoke about it, the more important it was for us to. That's how we got here. First we contemplated just beginning when Simple Plan started, but how do you explain how Pierre and I knew each other? How do you explain Sebastien and Jeff coming into the band? How do you explain the bond and relationship we built together? It just felt like if we didn't go into details about how we started, fans would really miss a compelling part of the story.
We decided to start from the first moment Pierre and I ever met because that's the genesis of how everything happened. I think it's interesting because we have a lot of young fans and a lot of people who want to learn how to play music, so I wanted to share with them how we got started. It didn't start in an amazing studio with the best instruments, it started out like how anyone else started; with a cheap, banged up, piece of shit drum that my parents bought for me for $300 that I didn't know how to play and Pierre had his dad's guitar that he borrowed and put a bunch of stickers all over it. That's how we started jamming in high school.
It was important to go back and it was pretty amazing to see how much stuff I saved in my archives about our first band. We had the tracking sheet from the studio. It was a nice way to show people what it was like.
It was so cool to go back and realize how much things have changed. When we first started out, it was cassette tape demos. You couldn't go on YouTube or Twitter and share it. If someone wanted to find you, they had to mail order a tape. It was such a different time and it was so important to get out of your town. You couldn't just become an internet sensation in three weeks because you put your tape on the website, people had to literally read fanzines. The internet was barely starting. It really was interesting to see how much the process has evolved and relive those moments where everything was a first, like our first big show opening for Pennywise or playing with Face To Face or the first time we played Warped Tour and all that stuff we did when we were around 15-16 years old. It was cool to look through the eyes of young kids where everything meant so much and everything was so exciting at that age. It was cool to look at that and for us to gain perspective on what it was like, how we got there and how we started out. It was good to take a minute and appreciate how we got from being a basement to where we are at today. We got to live all of our dreams.
Like you said, it was cool to reconnect with some band members and have them involved with the book. They are part of the story and it makes me realize how crazy it is how your life is shaped by little decisions. At the time, you don't know why it's happening, but everything happens for a reason. We all met at the same high school and I guess in some ways, it was just meant to be. If I went to a different high school, I might not be talking right now. I made a decision at 12 years old, when I had no fucking idea about music! When you think about that, the four of us had to come together and do that and we got into a fight Pierre and it's gotten me to reconnect with him. That's how the band got started. Pierre came back, David [Desrosiers, bass] replaced him in Reset and then we asked him to join Simple Plan. It's interesting to see how that stuff comes together and why it happens. I think that's been the most interesting thing about this process. Everything is based on little coincidences or accidents.
ATP: Moving forward to the recording process for "No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls". From watching your "A Big Package For You" DVD [Simple Plan's 2003 documentary], it came across as everyone was so happy, smiles and excited about being in the studio but after reading the book, it was far from this. Was this the first time the band spoken about about this?
Chuck: I think it was the first time we shared all those details and spoke about it. It was tough. We were a young band, we had our vision of what we wanted to do but we weren't the most experienced veterans at the time. When you come in and you clash with your producer on the first album, it's tough, it sucks and it's not the most enjoyable moment, but at the time, we were creating our first major label album. It was a mix of excitement and "holy shit, we are in a real studio and doing this for real! It's amazing!" but at the same time there was a lot of frustration because we really believed in our songs and were really defending them tooth and nail with Arnold [Lanni, producer], who was also trying to make a record but maybe had a different vision.
At the end of the day,when I look back, I feel like we've learned so much from it but we still had a great time, it wasn't like it was torture. We were getting really pissed off, we were fighting, but it came to a point when it was like "when are we going to finish this fucking record?" It was pretty gruelling after a year and a half. We never saw the light at the end of the tunnel for getting the record done, and what was frustrating was seeing all these different bands coming out and we were like "we need to be coming out!"
At the end of the day we made a record, even though there are a few things I would change - like maybe the sound that we had in mind - it was one of our most successful albums and defined who we are as a band. There are some songs on there that people still say is their favorite, like "Perfect". I think when you create something and when you work hard on it, there is bound to be some tension and sometimes that tension can create something great. I think that was the case with this album and we still look back on what Arnold taught us and use it everyday. One thing it did was made us bond more as a band. It was us against him. We became even tighter and it was good for us in long run.
ATP: In the chapter on the first album, you mention about Mark Hoppus' appearance on the album and his input to the band's career, but there isn't really anything mentioned about Joel Madden's [vocalist of Good Charlotte] appearance on "You Don't Mean Anything". Was there a reason or was is just a case of there wasn't much story, just "he just came in, did his part and it came out great"?
Chuck: There's not a reason, but now you mention it, I feel kinda bad! At some point we had a book which had to be 304 pages and unfortunately it couldn't be 500. We actually wrote about it and it just got edited.
It went great with Joel. We met him for the first time in Montreal when Good Charlotte were opening up for MxPx. Someone at our label knew them and said to us we should meet up with that band and we had a great time. Being the road you become friends with people quick because you share the same life story, but at the time, we were still making our first album and not on the road just yet. We met up with them, talked and said this was a band just like us who came from the same place, from the similar scene and we should try and get them on the album and they graciously accepted. We were really proud; we came out with an album with Mark from Blink-182, the biggest band in our style and an amazing young and up and coming band who are about to blow up.
For us, it was fantastic and such a great launching pad for the band. That's why on the last record, we reconnected with having future guests and remembered how cool and special it was. It made records so much fun and that's why we came back to that.
ATP: After the success of the first two albums, do you think if it wasn't for the self-titled album Simple Plan would have retained it's level of success in the United States?
Chuck: I have no idea, and that's probably the cruelest thing about what we do. You can't re-write history or can't find out what would or could have happened if you put out a different song or make a different kind of record.
At the time, I can tell you that, as we talked about in the book, it was a really tough process to write that record. We were going through a really tough time - Pierre's brother had cancer, we were going through breakups. It was a pretty dark time where we were a little burnt out from touring; we hadn't stopped for 5-6 years. I think when you get successful and you get to a certain level, there's a lot of pressure where it's "You have to change! You have to evolve and do something different otherwise you will just repeat the same thing and copy your same records." At the time we had to try something different, which was a little more daring. Some people loved it, but some people hated it.
When I look back, I wish I could have known what would have happened if we wrote a record that was more in line with what the band was on our first two records. Maybe we strayed a little bit from our sound, what we loved and what our fans love about our band. I know that record for a lot of our hardcore fans became their "favorite" record. It was a little darker, a little more emotional, but at the time it was something that we had to do.
What ended up happening was that it made us want to go back to our roots on this fourth record, and I think that's the reason why it's so fun and why our fans are loving it so much. It's us reconnecting to our roots and not being bored by them. It was great going back and being able to do what we do best, which is fun, aesthetic and catchy music. In some ways we had to make the third album in order for us to make the forth, but I would say the fact we don't tour as much in the US anymore, and the fact we are doing so well around the world and maybe the only place we aren't doing well is the US, is obviously a bummer. We talk about it in the book extensively. It's sad, and we get so many messages from fans asking us to come back to the US, as we wish we could come back more. It sucks but at the same time, what ended up happening was building this amazing fan base around the world that no one in the US has any idea about. They think we are done, washed up, but in fact we're quite the contrary. We focussed on South East Asia, Europe Australia, South America and we established something pretty amazing for ourselves.
It all ends up working out for the band in some ways. It's sad but at the same time, we never give up. I feel like we have a shot to come back and have a big record in the US again. We are probably going to re-release "Summer Paradise" in the spring in the US again because it never came out last summer. We are not done. We are not that kind of band. If it's not with that one then we are going put out our next record and write songs that we feel that could be big everywhere. We don't give up and that's why we did Warped Tour and the headline run last year, because we don't want to let our fans down. Even though we might not be as big as we were in 2005, it still matters to us.
ATP: It seems the band really took a lot of criticism to heart, resulting in the self-titled album. Would you agree with this? Was it also more therapeutic than anything by writing the record than releasing it?
Chuck: Yeah. We wrote it and believed in it 100% and it felt like the right thing we wanted to do as a band. Creatively, we wanted to spread our wings and try something different. We tried it, went all the way and you're right, there was a lot of criticism, but a lot of people really loved it.
The one thing I would alter is how serious we became about everything - that's not the M.O. of the band. I think if I could change anything it wouldn't be the music but the videos, the pictures and the vibe. It wasn't so much fun to be on the road at that time and when you're on the road for a year and a half, you need to make things fun. You should have a good time with your friends and I think with that record, it wasn't what it was like usually to tour for us.
It wasn't us. We went away from who we were and if there was one thing I could change, it would be that; to goof around more and be ourselves. It's not something that anyone told us to do, it just felt right at the time. Looking back, that was the bummer of the campaign. When we finished the cycle, we needed to look back and decide whether we needed to keep going like this. We all said no and decided to go back to ourselves and having fun. We wanted to go back to not taking ourselves seriously by dressing up like in the artwork, doing more funny videos and having a good time.
ATP: Moving forward to "Get Your Heart On!", why do you think it took so long for Simple Plan to write a song in French and English?
Chuck: It look a long time probably because we grew up with English music. It's what we knew and what we liked. There was a lot of French music in Quebec, but it wasn't the style that we loved. All the bands we loved were English speaking bands. We started to write right away in English. There was never any question or intent to write in French. Even when we were 14 years-old, we wanted to sing in English.
At some point we asked ourselves, because a lot of people were asking, especially in Quebec, about our first and second albums why we don't write in French. It became part of our identity. We were an English band. We wanted to be big around the world and not just play in Quebec and France. After three albums, we reached a certain level of success around the world and people know we are not just a band who plays in Quebec and France, so we thought maybe it was time to give it a shot. I think we were scared actually, because Pierre never sang in French and if it's not done the right way it could come out really corny and not good.
It was the right moment. After ten years, more and more fans were asking, even those outside of French territories were saying we should do it. We decided to give it a shot and see what happens, and when Pierre first sang in French in the studio we said "Is this cool? Or just lame?" then we just decided to do it. It was great. It came out and the reaction was so great. People really, really loved it especially people from our home province in Quebec and France. It was probably our biggest song ever because it was in French and people loved it that we re-connected with our first language. When it came to putting out "Summer Paradise", people loved it so much that we decided why not do it again. It made sense and was another super big hit for us.
It was a cool experience do it. I am proud of it and so glad it worked out because it could have sucked! It was a risk, but worth the gamble.
ATP: It was interesting to hear about the story of how Sean Paul came into the picture for "Summer Paradise" and the success that proceeded! Did K'Naan/management say anything about the success of the re-released version of the song?
Chuck: It's a perfect example of what we said earlier about it seeming like a disaster at the time and stuff just happens. We were so bummed when we got the phone call that K'Naan couldn't do it and we only had a month or two to get another version together. It was heartbreaking for us because we really loved that version we did with K'Naan. He's a great friend of ours and a great artist.
It was out of his and his manager's hands. The label wouldn't budge so we had to react and ended up taking on Sean Paul, who was into it. We spoke about how it happened in the book where we were in California, he was in Germany, it was six in the morning! It comes out magical and you can't script that. We knew Sean Paul was a big artist and it opened the doors for us in so many countries. It gave us the biggest hit of our career since the second album or first album. Our first real number one in the UK/Europe and it's a song which people really connected with. Fuck man, how do you script that?! That's why we wanted to have it in the book and show people how these things really happen.
We spoke to K'Naan afterwards and he was bummed. Not bummed because it was successful, but was sad that he couldn't be a part of it as it was originally supposed to happen. We got to perform the song with him at the Juno's, even though the version with Sean Paul was out. He came out and played it with us once, so it was cool that we got do perform together at least once.
ATP: Why do you think so many bands have come and gone from the Warped tour/punk-rock scene which you originated from?
Chuck: It's not easy to be in a band for a long time, and that's the truth. It's takes dedication and a special kind of individual like a band such as U2 who have stayed together, or No Doubt. It takes a special kind of friendship that you need to have and not everyone can do that.
For us, we all grew up together. If anyone starts pulling any kind of shit or whatever, we're like "Hey! I knew you when you dressed like a clown at 12 years-old, don't try to be too cool for school" and we put them back in their place. It's a huge part of why we are still together. We still like each other and never give up. Even when one of us is going through a tough time, they are our brother, we help them out. It sounds cliche and corny, but it's the truth. As the years go by, you realize time is precious and you learn to respect it even more. Maybe some bands don't look at it like that, but that's okay. For us, we are just really grateful that our fans still care about us. I think that makes a big difference. When you start to go through a tough time, less people turn up to your shows and it's hard on the morale. It's not as easy, but luckily for us our fans have been loyal and keep following us and believing in us. It makes us want to keep going.
It gets hard and tiring. When you sit down and it's time to make a new record, some people think they might be hot shit and don't need to work as hard. For us, because of our situation and how people always treated us as underdogs in some ways, like critics and people in the punk/rock scene taking a shot at us, it makes us feel like we have something to prove. It's never easy for us. We have to prove everything to everyone and that makes you stick together, creates a bond and makes you work harder and write better songs.
ATP: A lot of bands recently have been commemorating 10 years of an album's release with album tours, whereas you guys did the opposite and released this book. What is your opinion on this?
Chuck: I think it's awesome for the fans, and we thought about it, but with this record, people still love it just as much. In some ways, we are still current and we don't need to go down that nostalgic path. It feels like we are not there yet and still a modern band with big songs. For a lot of our fans, it's their favorite more than the first or second.
One thing that was important to us was to somehow celebrate it. Instead of doing a show, we do a cool ten minute melody for 6-7 songs from the first record and put a few more in the setlist to celebrate that moment. It became a wink to our hardcore fans who have been there since day one. That was our little gift at the shows and it's their favorite moment of the show. We play "The Worst Day Ever", "You Don't Mean Anything To Me", "God Must Hate Me" and "My Alien" even. All those cult songs that the fans love.
I'm stoked for all these guys though. It's something special which their fans really love and I will definitely see some of those shows where bands play a full show like that. At the same time, I don't think it has the same special feeling where you go to a show and they play a real set. The order of an album is not necessarily made for a live show. When you compose a setlist, you think about how the crowd is going to react, the energy and you bring them down and up for a few songs. There's kind of like a science to it. When you play a full album, I don't think it'll work that well. It's fun to throw fans some hits, a more obscure song then more hits. There's something cool about pacing a live set. Maybe if we played an album back-to-back, it wouldn't have that same energy.
ATP: With every album, it's always different and fresh from the one prior. There must be such an incredible amount of pressure on you to remain relevant and how do you deal with that? Chuck: It's tough on any band that has been around for a while. When you're a band that's been around, it's kind of like a disadvantage. Sometimes we feel like if we were a brand new band, there would be a whole new buzz, but when you've been around for 10-12 years, it's like "oh, they're back again".
It brings a lot of advantages though. You have a legions of fans who care about you and are still there but being the hot new band, it can be awesome. Everyone loves new things, when it's fresh and the when you find out about a new band but you don't have that luxury after you've been around for a long time. In someways you need to try harder and have better songs. You need to figure out a way to get radio stations, critics and people like MTV to get excited again.
I think you just sit down and try to make the best record possible. With us, we took some chances, like with "Summer Paradise", but at the same time, it just felt right. It was something we could pull off. When we wrote the album, there was so much dance music around with fake drums and we thought do we go down that road? We can't. It's not us. If we do that, it would be the worst thing for our band.
We tried different things but at the same time, we have a certain sound and fans have certain expectations from us. It didn't limit us but we have ten years of history as a band. We need to write something fresh and original but can work around what fans want and what we want as a band.
It's a challenge, for sure. That's why for our last record we wrote over 75 songs for it because we wanted to push ourselves and see what we could deliver. A lot of the songs that we ended up releasing as singles came in the last stretch of writing, which often happens when you have an album and you have nothing to lose and anymore and try something different.
ATP: What's next for Simple Plan?
Chuck: More shows. Even though we are going to take a mini-break after our show in India this month to get our energy back, we are going to go to Europe, Asia, do some shows in Canada. We're doing Rock am Ring/Rock am Park and will probably do some shows around that. That will be exciting. It's 8-9 months from now, but we're excited and it's going to be cool.
Mostly what we want to do is another big project. We want to put out the live DVD that we worked on from the show in Australia. We want to try and tackle the idea of doing like "A Big Package To You"; a history of the band, like the book, but in DVD format. We have so much footage to look through and we need to find the time to sit down and do that. We also want to put out some songs before the next record; an EP of new music for fans. We are aiming to have that in the first half of next year, to have 4-6 new songs to get people to excited for the new album and hanging while we are working on new songs. It's going to be busy, but most importantly, the next record - that's the next big thing we need to tackle, but we are going to take a little break before that.
We definitely want to start writing next year. We are not taking a year off from writing. When it feels like it's ready to go, we're going to start writing and do everything we can to put it out as fast as possible, but it takes time. Obviously our fans know now we don't write records in 3-4 months and we want to keep them entertained in the meantime by playing shows and putting out new songs.
ATP: Is it still in the cards that fans can expect the new album in 2014?
Chuck: I hope so. That's the plan but as we know the plan is not always that Simple! So we will see!
- Jon Ableson
Simple Plan: The Official Story is out now and can be purchased here. The French version, "Simple Plan: L'histoire officielle" is available here.