Simple Plan – ‘This record captures the essence of what this band is all about’

Words: Miljan Milekić

The year was 2005 or 2006, and I was in a hospital for a week or two, having minor surgery. With no internet, TV, or cell phone, with visits limited to only my parents and only 30 minutes a day, my only connection to the outside world was one of those cheap mp3 players a friend borrowed me, with some music he put on. One of the few records that he managed to fit in was Simple Plan‘s ‘Still Not Getting Any…’ which will always have a special place in my heart. So yes, seeing the band going strong almost two decades earlier, still resonating with young people all over the world, and dropping strong records such as ‘Harder Than It Looks’ does make me happy. And that’s why I’m so happy that I got to catch up with drummer Chuck Comeau, and talk about it, as well as many other things. Check the interview below.

Simple Plan / Photo: Jordan Kelsey Knight

Hi Chuck! Thanks for finding the time to do this one. So how are you? I know you’re on the road at the moment…
Oh yeah, we’re great! We’re in Atlanta today – we just came from Nashville. The tour is about three weeks in now, and we got one more week left on this leg until we do the second leg in August. It’s been amazing. Honestly, it’s been great to be back on stage, and shows have been pretty much all sold out, which has made this so much more fun and exciting. It’s a bit challenging to be leaving our families after being home for so long. So, it’s really special to have the shows feel that big and see the crowd’s response. All those big moments every night, with just people singing and having a great time.

Right now, you’re on the North American tour with Sum 41, something that we will also see in Europe in a couple of months. So how it’s going so far, and what can we expect from those shows on this side of the Atlantic?
It’s been going great here – shows have been fantastic. It’s such a good match. Us and Sum 41, I feel we have so many fans in common, and whenever they play last, all our fans stay for them, and when we play last, all their fans stay for us. It is a perfect combination and a perfect night of pop punk and rock music, and people are really loving it. So, I feel the same thing’s gonna happen in Europe, to be honest. I feel like it’s gonna be just as fun, and I think people are just as excited. I’ve seen the reactions, and people are really, really psyched that we’re able to bring it to Europe in September and October. And we’re just really happy that we can.

It’s pretty rare that you can bring a bigger tour like that overseas ‘cuz sometimes it doesn’t work with the scheduling, budgets, and everything. And this time, we were able to find a way to make it work. We’re just having so much fun, and it feels like it’s such a good package that it was worth making an effort to do this together and find a way to bring it around the world. So, yeah, I’m excited. I see a lot of questions about how long we are playing and all that. And we’ll be playing a pretty extensive set. I think we’re playing like 70 minutes plus, so you get a lot of each band. I think they’re gonna play an hour and a half, and we play almost the same. So, it’s gonna be a big show with lots of music and lots of songs. And I think people will really enjoy it.

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For more than two decades, both you and Sum 41 were a staple in the Canadian scene, and only now do we see you connect in this way, along with releasing ‘Ruin My Life’ with Derryck. How did it all happen, and how come that it’s happening just now, after all those years?
Chuck: Well, it’s an interesting situation. I feel like we’ve had a very similar career path. We started from the same place, pretty much five or six hours away from each other, where we grew up and formed our first bands. We had very parallel careers where I feel like we were always obviously very aware of them, and I think they were always very aware of us. We’ve had very similar fans and similar career arch. I think their first record got pretty big in 2001, and ours was in 2002.

But for some reason, we had a bit of a rivalry, and I’m not sure exactly why it happened. I think that was, kind of, of their thing, being a bit controversial, making fun of other bands, and all that. So, we had a bit of a rivalry, and for a long time, we didn’t really tour or play any shows together. And then, at some point, I think ten years into it, we were at the MuchMusic Awards in Canada, and we just, you know, thought about it. And it was like – “This is really getting silly and stupid. We’re all older now, and there’s really no reason why we can’t be friends. We all do the same kind of music, and we were able to survive and stay relevant and still be there.” And, and I think each band knows how hard that is. So, there’s been like newfound respect for each other. And we just said – “You know what, let’s bury the hatchet and just be friends.”

And then once that happened, we really started to think – “Wow, this could be a really good tour.” We always try to find ways to give the fans something special. We really want them to have an experience where they come to the show and feel like it’s a special event that might never happen again, and they need to be there. So, we were, sort of, telling them like – “Hey, whenever you’re ready, we would love to do a tour together.” And I think the first time we seriously had this conversation was in 2012. We were doing Punk Springs in Japan together, and I remember sitting down with Deryck and saying – “Hey, if you guys are interested, we would love to do this.” But I think they were not quite ready yet.

But now, when we were planning the return to touring, post-pandemic, we got a call and said – “Hey, if you guys are still interested, we’re in. We’d love to do this.” And it was like – “Oh, awesome” Finally, let’s do it!” So we put it together, and honestly, it’s been a real pleasure working with them. It’s been fantastic. They’re super cool, and we get along really well. Our fans love them, their fans love us, and every show has been just sold out and really successful. So, yeah, it’s been, kind of, a no-brainer, and we started talking about how we can take it around the world and to more places. I think Europe is the first one, and then, hopefully, we’ll be able to do it somewhere else. When you find a formula, something that works and that people love, it’s special, and you just wanna replicate it and bring it everywhere. And everybody’s asking when we’re coming to Australia, when we’re coming to South America when we’re coming to the UK… So, one place at a time, we’re trying to bring it everywhere.

Your new record has been out for a few weeks now. How happy are you with the feedback, both online, and especially at shows, now when you can finally play them again?
Chuck: It’s been really awesome. We knew we had a record that we were very proud of, and that really feels like it was one of our best. And I know a lot of bands say that when they have a new record, but we truly believed it. It wasn’t just a promo line. We really created something that captures the essence of what this band is all about. We captured the best elements of our whole career and put them into these ten songs. And the feedback we got is that our intuition that people would love it has really been confirmed. As soon as the record came out, everything we thought about it was confirmed within seconds.

Our fans are loving it. For many of them it’s actually their favorite record that we’ve ever made, which is crazy that after 20 years, we’re still able to put that album that feels so relevant to our fan base. It’s is the best feeling in the world. The comments have been like a hundred percent positive. Honestly, I haven’t seen one fan saying – “Oh, this is not what I wanted.” It’s quite the opposite. I feel like we’ve made a record that is exactly what they were hoping for. I think it even surpassed some of our most hardcore fans’ expectations, which is incredible. And it’s weird because we’ve done this record almost two years ago. It was recorded before the pandemic.

We had to sit with these songs for a long time, and there was never a moment in that process where we felt like we were sick of them or that we should do something different. We couldn’t wait for fans to finally hear it ‘cuz we knew, in a fundamental way, that it was gonna be a really good one for them. And the reviews have been incredible as well, even from just journalists and all that. I feel like people look at the band in a different way. There’s a different perception ’cause we’ve been there for 20 years. So there’s a bit more respect and credibility that’s been given to the band, which is really nice.

And there’s a great reaction when we play new music live, even though it’s a co-headliner, so it’s not even just our own fans. Many fans already know all the songs, all the words. But then you also have the people who might not have heard everything yet, and they’re just paying attention and enjoying the music, and then they go home and check it out. So, it’s been really exciting and, obviously, it just came out. There’s still a lot of people to reach, and we wanna get the word out. We’re so proud and happy about the record and want as many people as possible to hear it ‘cuz I think it’s one of our best.

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So how challenging was it to make a record like this because, in the past, I feel like some of your albums were a bit more like compilations of songs with different styles and influences, while this one is a cohesive whole? And how challenging was it to strike a balance between growing as a band and trying not to repeat yourselves, while constantly having one ear on what your fans want?
Chuck: You really summarize the challenges we’ve had when we started making this record. Our goal was to create an album that would take all the best elements of our career, narrow down what people love about this band and what we love about it, and try to distill all that and turn it into ten songs and a cohesive album. And I think that’s easier said than done. (laughs) That’s, kind of, why we named the record ‘Harder Than It Looks.’ It is harder than it looks.

It is harder than people think because we didn’t want to just simply copy what we’ve done before. We didn’t want to replicate, you know – “Oh, let’s just do a song that sounds like ‘No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls.’ It was about capturing – the word that comes back is the essence. It’s not doing what we’ve done before but understanding what was special about it and trying to do a version that would feel exciting and relevant in 2022. It’s like going back to that record and capturing that energy, the youthful enthusiasm, and the excitement that we’ve had as a young band. And then, look at ‘Still Not Getting Any…’ where we had this anemic, arena rock record. And we love the production. We love how that just hits you in the face. It was heavy, and that was a reference that we kept talking about in terms of sound and production.

Then you go on the third album, and it really had a lot of darker, more emotional songs, and the lyrics were very raw and open. I guess heartfelt and honest. And that was something that we wanted to capture and bring to this new album. And then, ‘Get Your Heart On!’ was just really fun. It was like a return to just having fun and not taking ourselves too seriously – with the artwork, photos, and everything. And so we wanted to bring that as well. These are all the signature elements that make Simple Plan, Simple Plan. So it was like – “Okay, now that we understood what it is that makes this band who we are, let’s sit down and write music that will reflect that.” And that’s hard. That’s why it took us a long time. 

We wrote for a year and a half and recorded for, I think, more than six months. So it almost took us two years to put it together. It was important that it would feel like an album as well, because I think that art form is, kind of, going away. It’s becoming a lot more like a single-driven type of thing. So it was important for us to create songs that could be singles, could reach people, and have an impact, but at the same time, being aware that yes, it is an album, and we want people to sit down and listen to it from top to bottom. To have an experience and immerse into that world of the album. So when I look back, and when I listened to it today, even two, three years after we rolled the songs and recorded them, and we had the pandemic, and had to wait… We held the record back because we didn’t wanna just throw it out there and have people not really paying attention. To not be able to promote it properly or tour the way that we’re used to and wanted to. Even after all this time, I really feel like we accomplished that mission. I feel like we really nailed it. (laughs)

Simple Plan / Photo: Jordan Kelsey Knight

And the fans have recognized it.
Chuck: The fans seemed to agree, and it’s just amazing to be able to do this 20 years into our career. You know what I mean? And I realize now why some bands, when they keep going and they stay a long time, put out like their sixth, seventh, eighth album. I understand why sometimes you listen and think it’s not as good as it used to be. It’s hard. It takes so much time and energy. And in your life, as you get older, you have more responsibilities. You got kids, you’re a parent now, and you got other things going on in your life too. It’s not like when you’re not 22 years old, and that’s your entire world.

I mean, at the time we made ‘No Pads…’ that was all we had. We all lived and breathed the band. Now there are other things, but we still make the commitment and the effort to give our hundred percent. To never be satisfied until we really feel like it is better than anything we’ve done before. And I’m proud of the band that we still have that resilience and energy to do that. It does take a lot out of you, it’s not easy, but I feel like, with this record, we did it. It’s a big win for the band to have that kind of record because it’s not easy to make. (laughs) So, to see the reaction has been really rewarding. To see the fans agreeing with us and saying that this is one of our best albums. How excited they were to be listening to the new music and how these songs were hitting home. It has made all the sacrifices and the efforts worth it.

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One of the singles from the new record is ‘Wake Me Up (When This Nightmare’s Over),’ a song that has a special message and a special video for it. So, can you tell me more about that project?
Chuck: So, the song was written two and a half years ago, long before we knew it would be this conflict with Russia and Ukraine. And we didn’t know that the pandemic would happen. We wrote the song about the internal struggles, trying to get through, and hoping that you’ll be all right and come out on the other end of it. But when the pandemic happened, we had this song, and there were many moments when we were like – “Oh my God, we should release this right now!” It felt like we wrote it about that. We realized that the song was a bit like a chameleon because we made the lyrics vague enough that people could use them and apply them to whatever situation they were going through in their life. Whatever it was – divorce, breakup, a financial situation that was going bad, losing your job, or whatever terrible event in your life, you could use the lyrics as a form of comfort or inspiration. To know that you’re not the only one going through this.

So, we were trying to find a way to convey that. We knew that this song was a classic Simple Plan song that our fans would love, the quintessential Simple Plan song that sums up everything we’re about. And we were trying to find ideas for videos. So, we were working with director Jensen Noen, who made videos for ‘Ruin My Life’ and ‘The Antidote.’ We were talking about ideas, going back and forth, but we couldn’t quite find the one that really worked. Then, all of a sudden, the war broke out. And I think, for a while, we were watching the news and thinking there’s no way it’s going to happen. That it’s impossible. Like a lot of people around the world, we were just in disbelief. And when it happened, it just really hit. We saw the newspaper and social media images, and it just felt so surreal and unbelievable that this would happen in our lifetime. It just felt like such a step backward.  

And Jensen is from Ukraine. He was born and raised there. His parents are still there. He has friends that are still there. So, I was watching the news, and I was thinking about the song, and it just felt like the images just felt perfectly aligned together. It just felt very emotional. It felt like it was a big statement, and it made the song feel even more important when you applied it to that situation. So I brought it up to Jensen. I was like – “Hey man, I know you’re from there. I know this is probably very emotional and very personal for you. Would you think this is a good idea?” And he was like – “Man, that’s crazy. I was thinking about bringing it up to you guys, but I felt a bit weird. I didn’t know how you would feel.” So agreed to try to do something, to have a positive impact. To try to make a video that can raise awareness and raise money for the people over there that are being affected. And obviously, it’s a bit different for us.

We’ve done a lot of stuff for charity over the years, but this is a bit more into the political aspect of punk rock. I don’t think we look at ourselves like that, but as people, we are very invested in following these stories. For me, it was a natural fit. It just felt like something that we could do that, hopefully, would have an impact. To do like our little share, our little part to try to help. And it was very important for us to do it with somebody who had a personal connection to this whole situation. If we didn’t, it would feel contrived. It would feel like it wasn’t done in a genuine way. But with Jensen having that connection, we felt we were in really good hands, and he would make something that would feel honest and real. Then, we used all these actors and actresses from Ukraine as well. It was important that all these people involved in the video were connected in a personal way to the story that we were trying to tell. And I think it came out amazing. It’s very emotional, and I’m really proud of it. And the response has been awesome as well. I think people were a bit surprised that we did this, but at the same time, they felt it was done in a very genuine and heartfelt way.

It seems like, in recent years, social media has changed the game again in the music industry, especially since TokTok became so big for many young people. And along with another band that started in the early 2000s, that I love – Papa Roach, it seems like you managed to open up to a whole another generation of fans, something many bands struggle to do. How did that happen for you, and how important to open up another channel of communication, to share your music and your messages with fans?
Chuck: That’s a really good question. And it’s a really good observation that it’s Papa Roach and us. It’s a band that we reference a lot because they are one of the only rock bands of our era that’s actually out there, doing work like that on TikTok and being able to communicate to their fans through these new platforms.

And for us, throughout our career, we always wanted to embrace new ways to talk to our fans. We’ve always wanted to be a very accessible band, a very open-book kind of band. To be very transparent and find ways to show our fans our personalities and who we are. We never believed that you had to be mysterious or that you had to be this enigma or a rockstar persona. We felt like quite the opposite. We wanted fans to know that we were like them and that they were like us, and that we had so much in common with them. We want fans to understand that when we write music, it comes from our hearts, from our lives, and we’re the same kind of people as them. And that’s why they can relate to the music – because we live the same things they live. 

So, we did that via the vlogs, and the websites, we did DVDs that would show the backstage stuff. We were into sharing a lot about what it was like to be on the road and what it was like to be us. Them, when Instagram started like 10 years ago, we embraced that. And TikTok was a bit of a tricky one because we really didn’t feel at first that it was a space where we could find a comfortable way to be on. It just felt it was all the choreography and the dancing, and that didn’t feel like something that we could do well. And then, all of a sudden, this ‘I’m Just A Kid’ challenge happened. And at first, we were not aware of it. We had nothing to do with it. It just happened. And our song just took off, and now it’s at five or six billion impressions on the platform, which is insane.

So we realized at some point just how powerful it was and how much people were loving our music on there. And we just felt like – “Hey, we’re really stupid for not being on this thing and not leaning in and embracing it and learning how to be ourselves on it.” We didn’t wanna become something we’re not. We wanted to find a way for us to be who we are, but to do it in a way that would translate to TikTok and to new people. And I think it’s part of a career now. It is part of what you have to do as a band if you wanna have your music heard. And I think that the most exciting thing about TikTok is that it’s reaching people that might have been fans but forgot about the band or just moved on. And then they rediscover you because the algorithm sends it to even people that don’t follow you. It sends it to people that they think might be interested. So you get all these people like – “Oh my God, you’re still a band! You’re still around! I can’t believe it! I used to love you so much. I’m gonna listen to the new album.”

Then you get all these young people ‘cuz there’s a big resurgence of pop punk in the world, but also on TikTok specifically, it’s very popular. So you get all these people who are into Willow or Machine Gun Kelly or Yungblud, and then they go back, and they realize that there were bands before, that were doing the style, and that we were part of that 2000s scene that they’re so inspired by and emulate in some ways. And then they go back and discover that this Simple Plan band has six albums now, and they can dive in and discover all this music. And they become fans. And it’s been really cool to see how just by making an effort – and it is an effort, it’s fun, we love doing it, but you need to dedicate time. And a lot of bands don’t feel like doing that while they’re on tour or while they’re home. They don’t wanna create content. And it’s almost as important.

Obviously, the music always comes first. Songs are the bread and butter, and that’s what matters the most for a band. But if you make the best record, and nobody hears it or knows about it, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. So for us, we love our music. We love this record. We love our previous albums. We’re proud of our past, and we want people to know about it. We want people to hear it. We want as many people as possible to come to our shows and listen to our songs ‘cuz we pour our hearts and souls into them. So if it means that for that to happen, we need to create and find a cool new way to get the word out, we just have to jump on it. To find ways to be creative and still be ourselves, and don’t do anything that feels uncomfortable.

And I think we’ve always been a band that we never took ourselves too seriously. We can have fun. We can show that we can be serious about our music, lyrics, and live shows. We can be extremely passionate about that but also have this different side of our personality where we can have fun, make fun of ourselves, and do it in a lighthearted way. We also have that funny aspect to who we are that’s been like that for 20 years. We’ve always had it with our album covers, videos, with everything. So, we’re fully into it, and it’s been fun. It’s an exciting thing ‘cuz you never know what video is gonna do well. Sometimes you think one’s gonna be huge, and then it doesn’t do well. And then one’s like whatever, and then it blows up. So it’s been fun to experiment with.

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In the past, and I believe it won’t be any different now, your music was often associated with extreme sports, especially skateboarding and snowboarding, and you had the chance to play some of the extreme sports events as well. Are you still involved in any of those cultures, and do you feel like the acceptance in those communities helped the band reach out to some fans you wouldn’t reach otherwise, especially in the early days?
Chuck: Oh, for sure, man! Especially in the early 2000s, there was such a strong link between these two worlds. Skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing community, they just love high-energy music, and it just was a great match. I think that athletes listen to pop punk and the fans like skateboarding. There was just a culture where it was all linked together. They elevated one another. The music helped the sports scene, and the sports helped the music and the bands. It was a genuine connection. It probably has a lot to do with Warped Tour and having skateboarders and halfpipes on the road with bands.

I think this is still happening in some ways, but it’s interesting that there’s not a festival doing that anymore. But I think that two cultures will always be linked. Just see how huge and mainstream Vans is now. Everybody’s wearing it. It has become a trend even in mainstream fashion. The pop punk aesthetic is coming back, and all that is inspired by skateboarding. All these brands and companies come from that culture. And it’s pretty exciting for us to see that pop punk is reentering that mainstream culture and that conversation that the biggest celebrities in the world are wearing clothes that we’re wearing, and listening to a style of music that we’ve been doing for 20 years. So yeah, we’ve always thought it was exciting, and we’re always happy when we see one of our songs being used in those videos or at these competitions. It just feels like a natural fit.

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