Simple Plan have outdone the majority of their late ’90s/millennial pop-punk peers and now find themselves standing on the precipice of that all-important third album. It is indeed make it or break it time, as a third album usually determines if a band is here to stay.
There are two ways in which bands usually tackle this daunting prospect: the first way is to produce a third album that sounds like the tried and true formula which got them to this point or a band or artist can view the third album as an opportunity to mix things up. For bands that take this approach and are successful, they begin to build the foundation for long careers, like those of U2 or Green Day.
Simple Plan have taken the latter approach to their self- titled third album. When asked if this is the trajectory that the band is on, drummer Chuck Comeau laughs. “It’s definitely a loaded question. If you say yes, then you’re being arrogant. If you say no, you have no ambition. We’ve been around for a long time. In the industry today, a third album is a big deal. A lot of bands release one song and they’re gone forever. We have a lot of fans and yeah, we’d still like to be a band in 10, 15 years.”
The route to this point has been a scenic one. After forming in 1999, the Canadian rockers released their debut No Pads, No Helmet…Just Balls, which was last tallied as having gone double-platinum in 2002. Soon the band followed up that success with 2004’s Still Not Getting Any for a total of seven million albums sold world-wide. In addition to studio albums, Simple Plan also took part in the series MTV Hard Rock Live in 2005.
If the band’s intent was not to instantly cement their position as a band with staying power, then what was their motivation for this musical change of mind?
“I think we wanted to keep it fresh and not bore people or ourselves. Bands can become very predictable. We wanted to include new sounds, not so much change. We wanted to expand our wings and do something fresh and new,” Comeau explains.
Doing something fresh and expanding their musical wings is a natural progression for a band which openly rejected the punk label when it was one of the industry’s strongest marketing tools.
“The whole point was to keep people from classifying us. Every great band has a style of their own. We would want to follow that tide. We want to define our sound and figure ourselves out. That’s the goal. We’re Simple Plan and that’s what we sound like,” Comeau says.
Although at Simple Plan’s conception, not even Simple Plan could have seen the album developing into the end result.
The process of writing and recording began shortly after the end of the band’s tour for their second album, 2004’s Still Not Getting Any. The band members themselves assumed that it would be a quick process of writing and recording songs similar to what was already in their canon. Eventually, their initial intent fell by the wayside and after a trip to Miami to work with Timbaland (yes, that Timbaland) protege Nate “Danja” Hills, it became evident that the musical course had changed.
Danja wouldn’t be the only unlikely bedfellow to get in on the creative process behind Simple Plan. Max Martin of James Blunt, Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne fame, and Dave Fortman, the man behind Evanescence and Mudvayne also contributed to the end result.
So, what exactly was the result on Simple Plan’s usual writing and recording process? Superficially, Simple Plan may sound like a different band altogether with its downright danceability at times, but at the core is Simple Plan’s signature blend of deceptively upbeat melodies with bittersweet and angsty lyrics. And that may be what makes this change of direction a successful endeavor for the band—their willingness to change, but not abandon their identity.
Still, Simple Plan was not entirely a departure from the band’s normal creative process. Friend and longtime producer Arnold Lanni, who has worked with Our Lady Peace and Finger Eleven in addition to producing Simple Plan’s first album, was also brought on board to aid in the process.
Working with such an unlikely roster of mix masters or even the notion of producers having any sway in the band’s creative process is certainly something which may be a turn-off to the band’s hardcore fans. Comeau has a message to those who may be worried about what all of this influence and change of pace may have done for the band’s sound.
“We’re really proud of what we’ve built. Just forget about the stigma and listen in an unbiased way, and you’ll be surprised,” he promises.
Worried fans are the least of most bands’ concerns when changing their direction in the manner Simple Plan are attempting. Critics often have a hard time taking such shifts seriously or even attempting to appreciate the artistic growth required to precipitate it. Simple Plan, not unlike many of their peers, have the added task of never having been as critically acclaimed as they may have liked. To the band’s detractors, of which there are many, SImple Plan have a decidedly grounded attitude.
“People do it to every pop-punk band new on the block. ‘Oh, they’re not real punk’—we never said that. NOFX, Bad Religion, that’s punk. I don’t think we ever tried to be. We try to make the best music possible. It’s cool, we’re not the darlings of the press, and we made peace with that a long time ago. It would be great to do a show and get a five star review, but it’s just as good to have people show up and sing along to your songs,” Comeau declares nonchalantly.
Looking toward the future, Comeau excitedly admits, “We’d like to open for a lot of people. No Doubt, if they ever come back. Green Day, Avenged Sevenfold. Even with a completely different band like Linkin Park.”
The future of the music industry is currently more unstable and unpredictable than at any other point in recent history, and while the prospect of uncertainty may make some artists uneasy, one would have to guess that Simple Plan are excited for it. Living up to the declaration made in the title of their debut album may be one of the things which has already set the band apart from its peers, sales and appeal wise, and may be the one thing which grants the band its longevity and staying power. No matter how different Simple Plan may sound, it is the sound of Simple Plan, no longer being just kids.
The band is planning on granting people the opportunity to come out and sing along as they hit the road in support of the album. Their 22 date tour will bring the band to NYC’s Fillmore@Irving Plaza on Feb. 25. Simple Plan is in stores now. For more, visit simpleplan.com
Photo Credit: Warwick Saint