Simple Plan knows why we’re all still addicted to pop-punk

IIs it harder to write pop-punk at 40 than at 20? Pierre Bouvier, the spiky-haired leader of Simple Plan, can’t help but get a little self-referential.

“It’s kind of a bad joke,” he replies, “but sometimes I feel like life is a nightmare.”

The year could be 2022, but anyone who had a pulse in the early 2000s probably felt a little déjà vu. Our contemporary fashions? 2000s realism in the form of pastels and bobs. The sounds? Electric guitars and emotional belts, featured by artists like PUP and Blink-182’s clingy young cousin, Machine Gun Kelly. The vibrations? Spiritually, they’ve been pretty terrible for at least two years now.

This is where Simple Plan comes in. With their signature blend of energizing guitar riffs, emotional directness and a touch of wit, the band have established themselves as a diviner for the frustrated and sometimes naïve child within all of us.

With the release of their sixth new studio album, Harder than it looks the band are touring with Sum 41 this summer – the first shared shows, believe it or not, in the Canadian bands’ two-decade parallel careers. A European leg will follow in the fall, as the bands reunite for select dates on Sum 41’s Does This Look All Killer No Filler tour.

When Simple Plan started, “People were like, ‘Oh, you better hurry – all that pop-punk stuff is going away,'” Bouvier said. “But we always believed that this kind of music had a timeless quality.”

With Harder than it looks, the band sought to recapture the old magic with some modern updates. From the opening riffs of the album, this objective is more than achieved.

“Wake Me Up (When This Nightmare’s Over)” sets the stage for a pleasantly familiar journey through trash can angst, glimmers of dynamic romance and youthful bravado. Tracks like “The Antidote” are Simple Plan classics, while others quietly experiment with influences like pop and (in the case of “Anxiety”) reggae. Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley joins “Ruin My Life,” while “Best Day of My Life” features a little self-reflection.

As he talked about the sound of the album, Bouvier became pensive again.

“I think in the arc of any band’s career, there’s always a point where you start wondering what you look like,” he said. “Should we change?

We’ve been through those phases, and I think now, for me anyway, I’m looking at what we look like and what people expect of us as an asset,” Bouvier said. “We realized people fell in love with Simple Plan because of the sound, so let’s give it to them and enjoy it.”

Simple Plan poses February 2, 2005 in Bangkok, Thailand.

MJ Kim/Getty

Drummer Chuck Comeau couldn’t resist adding a little self-indulgent reference: “It was a little harder than it looked at first,” he said with a pause. needed to laugh. “But we just kept going and we kept writing.”

The group had already finished working on Harder than it looks when the COVID-19 lockdown brought everything to a screeching halt two years ago. Like everyone else, they started to struggle when their children were taken out of school. (“Welcome to my life,” indeed.) Obviously, it wasn’t the right time for a new release.

Amidst the chaos, however, a funny thing happened. “I’m Just a Kid”, the first single that launched Simple Plan’s career, went viral on TikTok.

It took the band a while to discover that countless users and celebrities were replaying childhood photos to the tune of their hymn to teenage angst, Comeau said. “Bowling for Soup would call us up and say, ‘Hey, you know what’s going on with your song?'”

Eventually, however, fashion became impossible to miss. And so a new generation of furious teenagers discovered the simple joys of ballads like “I’d Do Anything” and the reggae-influenced hit “Summer Paradise.” (It’s only a matter of time before armbands and white-studded belts take over local high schools, if they haven’t already.)

At first, Comeau admits he feared becoming a “nostalgic band.” Now he has come to appreciate the distinction. “I think we can have it all,” he said. “We can be proud of our past and really excited about our future, and I think our fans feel that way.”

As you might expect, it was hard for a band that had been performing since they were 17 to suddenly quit. Now that they’re back on the road for their Blame Canada tour with Sum 41, the bands and fans are bringing the energy.

“You always feel it,” Bouvier said. Many people here who come to see the Blame Canada tour are probably seeing a concert for the first time in a few years. For Comeau, the timing couldn’t be more perfect for the group’s Sum 41 team. “If people are going to come out, I think they want it to be special,” he said. “They want it to be a once in a lifetime event.”

And speaking of unique events, has Simple Plan ever been invited to the gigantic emo gathering taking place in Las Vegas this fall, the When We Were Young festival? When the formation came out, Bouvier said, he was puzzled. Why wasn’t Simple Plan on this thing? Fortunately, there was a solid explanation.

“The first thing I did was text my manager,” he said. “He’s like, ‘Uh, because you already have a tour planned?'”

Although the band couldn’t attend, Bouvier said, “It’s so great to see all these bands coming together.” Still, he has the same practical reservations as the rest of the online audience when it comes to planning.

“How is it possible that all these bands play in one day? Pragmatically, on paper, it sounds a bit Fyre Festival-y, but we’ll see. I mean, this lineup is amazing, so if they can pull it off, it’s going to be the biggest festival ever.

People were like, ‘Oh, you better hurry up, this whole pop-punk thing is going away.’ But we always believed that this kind of music had a timeless quality.

As happy as the emo resurgence is, it comes with sober reassessments of the broader “scene” culture, which was very white and also, like so many music scenes, rife with exploitation. Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey has been accused of doctoring fans over email and instant messages; in 2020, Simple Plan severed ties with their bassist and, a week later, their touring bassist due to allegations of sexual misconduct.

When asked how they thought this scene could change for the better (and whether or not it was already happening), Comeau and Bouvier expressed cautious optimism. Their band has made it a point to hire and collaborate with more women and people of color — on their tours, in music videos, and everywhere in between.

“As a scene, we should have done more,” Comeau said. “Now it’s up to each group to really step up and implement positive change.”

If any inappropriate behavior were to occur now, Bouvier said: “I’m more confident than ever that people would try to stop it… When I walk into shows or even anywhere in a city we’re in , I feel like it already does, so that’s a good thing.

No music scene comes without its warts — or in the case of the Vans Warped Tour scene, perhaps sun blisters would be a better analogy. One thing Bouvier and Comeau will say for the genre, however, is that its embrace of raw emotions was ahead of its time. “We’re talking more and more about mental health and emphasizing that,” Bouvier said. “I think pop-punk emphasized mental health before it was popular.”

Pierre Bouvier of Simple Plan performs at Hollywood Palladium on November 22, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.

Timothy Norris/Getty

Simple Plan has played the Warped Tour more than any other band besides Less Than Jake. The annual summer tour was instrumental in building up their fan base; although the scorching weather can be grueling, Bouvier described the experience as a “punk-rock summer camp”.

“We realized early on that you had to take a bus with a shower so you wouldn’t be crowded into the communal showers,” Bouvier said with a laugh. They also learned early on to bring toys – dirt bikes, scooters, that sort of thing.

Naturally, when Kevin Lyman announced the event was coming to an end, Simple Plan joined in with his last hurray. Although some bands pulled out assuming the final shows wouldn’t be up to snuff, Comeau said they were spectacular. “In your head, you know, ‘Okay, this is probably the last time we can do this.’ So I think we enjoyed it a lot more while we could do it.

“I really miss it,” Bouvier added. “I’m sure Kevin will do a few one-offs here and there. We’ll be happy to be a part of whatever we can do with it in the future, that’s for sure.

Now that pop-punk is back in full force, it seems safe to assume that the opportunities for nostalgia won’t be lacking. Simple Plan, hopefully, will be there for it all, at least as long as their fans stay this addicted.

And as for that question about what it’s like to write pop-punk in your 40s? Adult life can be a nightmare, admits Bouvier, and the stakes are much higher. “The things I do have more impact on more people I love.”

At the same time, “Having this life gives me more to sing, more to write.”

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