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June 2022 (NOAHFINNCE)
Feature

Simple Plan: "We're only one hit song away from a new era of Simple Plan"

More than two decades in, Simple Plan aren’t ready to slow down yet.
Published: 10:22 am, May 06, 2022Words: Steven Loftin.
Simple Plan: "We're only one hit song away from a new era of Simple Plan"

Pierre Bouvier isn't 'just a kid' anymore. The Simple Plan frontman is racking up twenty-plus years in music, and now he's toting his band's sixth album cocked and loaded, ready to snap the consciousness of alternative music back to the pop-punk mainstay's way of being.

But that ticking clock doesn't stop Pierre from feeling as fresh as he did back when he and his band appeared like spring-loaded action figures, poised and ready to take on the world back in 2002 with their debut album, 'No Helmet, No Pads… Just Balls'.

"I'm realising that I've come to a certain age now, I'll be 43 this year, but I don't feel like that," Pierre beams. "I feel like I'm still the guy singing 'I'm Just A Kid' and 'I'd Do Anything' on stage. And I've realised that I'm always going to feel like that person.

"However, we cannot stop the years from going by. I think [about] Mark Hoppus, it was at a time when we used to talk to him about our music and stuff, and he was 27. We thought, 'Oh my God, he's so old!' And now I'm like, holy crap. I didn't know what the hell I was talking about!"

Time is an inevitable passage, and being in a band puts you in a unique position. It means that when it comes to, say, your sixth album in twenty-plus years, there's time for reflection. 'Harder Than It Looks' is exactly that for Simple Plan. It's their chance to embrace how far they've come, and how much further they want to go. But unlike their name would suggest, things can be a bit tricky.

"People look at Simple Plan or any big band, and they think that it's a life of luxury and it must be so easy to not have to work for a living and blah, blah, blah," Pierre says, eyes-rolling. "But for us, we've worked so hard on this band, and to be able to be here still today after all this time, it's harder than it looks."

The album's title holds no illusions or hidden meaning. It's as barefaced of a statement as you'll get. Perhaps unsurprising given this is a band who rocketed to fame with such bite-sized philosophies as "I'm just a kid and life is a nightmare", but sometimes a few simple words are all it takes to portray a heft of meaning.

"It's a lot of work to be in a band. It's kind of like being in a marriage with a bunch of other people, and you don't get to have make-up sex; you just have to communicate… Not that I want to have make-up sex with those guys! But you know, there's never that release. You have to talk it through, and there's a lot of opinions."

The four-piece have certainly undergone an evolution. After losing founding bassist David Desrosiers in 2020 following sexual misconduct allegations, the band, consisting of drummer Chuck Comeau and guitarists Jeff Stinco and Sébastien Lefebvre are tighter than ever, knowing all too well the world they're part of can and will change.

Growing up in such an environment, and particularly in this vacuum of self, arrested development is always a card that's inevitably dealt. Years on the road, playing music with his best friends while fans themselves grew up and out of what may have been a mainstream trend when Simple Plan were first barreling around the world twenty years ago. It's a steady stream of hurdles.

Freely admitting that being in a band means he's "never really had to grow up", this fact plays into being able to tap into what Simple Plan have always been about; embracing youth and all those rough and tumble components. "That's why I still feel like a young guy, though I don't look that young anymore," he laughs, scratching at his greying stubble. "But I feel like a young guy, and my life is going out there and throwing the party and having fun on stage and meeting people and then sleeping on a bus."

With the yin of this carefree lifestyle comes the yang of responsibility. Recalling a moment a few days ago, "there was a bunch of stuff going on, and I had a bunch of emails answer. I told my wife, 'This is bullshit. I'm a rock star. I shouldn't have to get up in the morning and answer all these fucking emails!' And she's like, 'Pierre, I think you should probably talk to your therapist about that'. And I'm like, 'Yeah, you're right'," he says with a chuckle. "But, being in a band has been this luxury, and it's something that you have to learn to deal with. There have definitely been parts of me where I've been able to live a juvenile life, and that's the beauty of it."

"To be able to be here still today after all this time, it's harder than it looks"
Pierre Bouvier

Sticking to their guns means Simple Plan are here for the great pop-punk resurgence - it's not just a phase, no matter what anyone says. Even Pierre remembers back in 2001, various labels telling Simple Plan they were on the tail end of the pop-punk fad, and they were about to miss the boat.

"They were like, quick, quick, it's going to be over. We put ['No Pads...'] out in 2002, had a massive record, put our second album ['Still Not Getting Any'] out in 2004, which was massive as well. So it lasted longer than we had been told to begin with, and then when our third album came out, 2006 or 07, it really slowed down."

There's no air of defeat when Pierre discusses this period. Tumbling and rolling with the punches, Simple Plan gave adapting a go on 2007's self-titled album. They decided, "we can't just do straight-up pop-punk because it doesn't get played on the radio anymore, so we gave it a new twist to what we were doing, which is cool, and our fans at first were upset about that third record, and now it's become the hardcore fans favourite."

For Simple Plan, sticking true to why people first fell in love with them, or even the ones just finding them thanks to the 2020 'I'm Just A Kid' TikTok challenge, is important. Four chords, barreling along with a youthful heart and wrestling with those angsty feelings that come along with it.

"We can do all kinds of different things, but at the end of the day, people that are going to listen to this record, they love Simple Plan," Pierre explains. "So, let's give them Simple Plan. My favourite music is pop-punk, I love that kind of stuff, so it's not like I'm compromising. However, I'm embracing what we've built. I'm also embracing what people love from us, you know? But there definitely is an aspect of it that is limiting."

Surrounded by the same four walls, instead of bouncing off of them, Simple Plan have spent their career expanding them, making use of the space. They've found the nooks and crannies and are using them for all they're worth, even if it means some missteps. 2011's pop-infused 'Get Your Heart On!' didn't quite hit its stride, even with its guest appearance bonanza including Kelly Clarkson, Sean Paul, and Alex Gaskarth, while 2016's 'Taking One For The Team' bore the DNA of what made Simple Plan great but faltered in its confidence.

Simple Plan are here for the future. It's a complex world, much more so than in the early noughties. When once upon a time, they would get the occasional call from the powers-that-be telling them of record sales and whatnot, nowadays it's instantaneous, everything is everywhere, and there's not a lot you can do about it.

"I'm in my 40s now, I'm in a band, but when people talk shit about my band or music that I put out, or if they say, 'Oh my god, what happened to Pierre, he looks so old?' I'm like, 'Ouch!' and that sticks with me," Pierre admits. But, as he's been doing his entire career, all he has to do is remember: "I know who I am. I do what I love. You can eff off."

It's this message in particular that make Simple Plan such an important brick in the bigger house of pop-punk. Pierre's aware that he can see the channelling of these emotions into his band's songs "applying to a younger person still in high school. Bullies, they don't stay at school," he says. "They follow you everywhere. They're in your pocket on your phone, and those kids that are going through that stuff that are being teased for having acne or being teased for having a different skin colour."

There's something fundamentally parental about this level of concern. Which is another aspect of life that Pierre is balancing with his band. Being a parent means that he is indeed a full-grown adult now. He has responsibilities, much like his parents did when he first ditched education, instead following musical ambitions. "If my kids told me they want to be in a band, I'd say fuck no!" He laughs. "I'd let them do it. But I'd put up a fight."

Knowing what his parents went through when he first played in dive bars and sketchy clubs with "a lot of swearing", and seeing their child "playing for 30 people that are moshing, and it smells like pot." No matter how much he resonates with that feeling, he'll always be the voice that gave - and is still giving - direction to generations simply because those feelings are timeless. It would seem the shirt ironically emblazoned with 'role model' Pierre wore in their video for 'I'd Do Anything' all those years ago was a prescient icon.

"As kids going through that stuff, that seems so dramatic. You look at adults, your parents, and you think, you'll never understand, you don't know. And your parents know, they were there, and they still are in their own way, except they can't show it to you. It's what brings it all together, which is kind of cool."

2022 also marks the twentieth anniversary of their debut album. With the two releases lining up, they're out on the track, limbering up with tube socks pulled high; Simple Plan are readying to lap themselves. Those snot-nosed punks are a well-oiled machine these days. They've been through the cycles of the industry, and their name is synonymous with a moment still held dear to many who were a part of the chain-wallet wearing, Atticus shirt bearing pop-punk noughties. But that doesn't mean it's translated to Pierre.

"I always feel in my heart like the new kid on the block," he laughs. "Even though I'm older, I've always felt like… when we were on tour, bands we played festivals with like NOFX, and Green Day, and Blink and all those guys, I always felt like the young band. Now I'm realising that we are that older band to other bands.

"When I was on the last Warped Tour that we did, I'd walk around backstage going to get some lunch or whatever, and young bands would be like, 'Oh, my God, you're from Simple Plan! I grew up listening to your music'. That's the new role; I've become that to some people."

There's a lot that Simple Plan have to offer the world. From understanding who you are, to where you've been, and where you could potentially go. It's all about driving forward, accelerating faster and faster, watching the time and fads fly by knowing that if you stick to your guns, it'll keep paying off.

"Even though we've had a lot of success in our career, we all feel like we never really hit it massive," Pierre admits. "We never were as big as like a Linkin Park or as a Foo Fighters or something like that, like there's A class, we're the B class. We did well, we sold millions of records, and I'm so grateful for everything that it's given me, but we always felt like, let's try to get a little more. I think it's a great dangling carrot that we always want to keep chasing because if you are massive, it might be like, 'Alright, I did that'. I feel like we're only one hit song away from a new era of Simple Plan. Hopefully, we have that on this new record."

Whatever happens with 'Harder Than It Looks', Simple Plan will always be Simple Plan. They live in a space that occupies nostalgia while being removed enough from that concrete time twenty-odd years ago where they can still feel brand new in 2022. It's a unique position, one that can only benefit them. And if anything, at least it means that Pierre "didn't have to get a real estate licence or something." Maybe life isn't such a nightmare after all. 

Taken from the May issue of Upset. Simple Plan's album 'Harder Than It Looks' is out 6th May.

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