The roots of Simple Plan’s new album, Harder Than It Looks, go back 20 years. In celebrating the twentieth anniversary of their influential and very successful debut, No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls, the band tapped into the sound and feel of that record for the new album, adding in 20 years of experience since then, as well as the now adult themes in their life.
The release of Harder Than It Looks is part of a big year for the Canadian pop-punk superstars, who will be out this year for a celebration of their Canadian lineage with fellow Canucks Sum 41 on the “Blame Canada” tour.
I spoke with Simple Plan drummer Chuck Comeau about the new album, his fandom of Pearl Jam, why the band learned to embrace the success of their debut and not run away from it and much more.
Steve Baltin: Let’s start with the anniversary of the debut album. When you’re in the midst of a record, you don’t have time to appreciate everything. So when you went back to the anniversary, were there things that either really stood out to you or songs that you appreciated in a new way?
Chuck Comeau: Yeah, it’s been so interesting. We actually did a big fifteenth anniversary tour and we were not really sure at first if we wanted to dive into this whole nostalgia aspect. I think it was a little scary because then you start to think your band is just gonna be that kind of act, right? That like your best days are behind you and all that people care about is your old stuff, which we absolutely wanted to avoid at all costs. It’s not what the spirit of this band is all about. We’re always trying to look forward. But we actually said, “Here’s how we’re gonna approach the whole thing. We’re gonna be proud of our past and we’re gonna be proud to celebrate that because it’s part of the career, it’s part of the art, it’s part of what we’ve achieved, and we’re proud of it. But we’re also gonna be excited about the future.” I think we can have it both ways, and that’s really been the stance of the band. And when we did the fifteenth anniversary tour, what I was really surprised by was how natural and great it felt to play the whole record. It did feel like it was still relevant. And when I saw people in the front row singing every word even to the more obscure tracks on the album, it kind of made me feel like, “We created something that at that moment meant a lot to all these people.” They were in a specific time in their lives where the music could resonate with them, and there’s something special about being able to revisit that time in your life and bring all these memories. It was really special, it was a lot more fun than I think we ever expected it to be. And that’s why now that we’re coming up on 20 years again, it’s like, “Yeah, why not embrace that and just be happy?” Because even me as a music fan, I still gravitate toward the record that I love when I was a teenager or in my early 20s. That’s still the music that really grabs me the most.
Baltin: When you go back and hear old material it can absolutely influence new music. So for you, revisiting old material, do you feel like there is a continuation that comes into this new music?
Comeau: Yeah, like 100 percent. I think it’s actually really inspiring to go back and do that tour. It made us want to make the kind of record that we’re about to release now with [Harder Than It Looks] because we realized we had the blueprint. We knew what kind of album we wanted to make [back then]. There was no doubt in our minds. We had the direction and we just went for it. And it came out, and luckily for us, it did connect in a really awesome way with tons of people around the world. And then on the second record, we made it back to back almost. We toured and toured and we stopped and we made the record and we went back out. And then again, we had that same direction. We did some small adjustments, but we knew who we wanted to be. We had the identity of the band kind of narrowed down, right? We had that desire. We knew who we were, and I think that as you progress in your career, after one or two records that are very successful, then you get into this whole thing about, “Oh, we need to change. We need to completely reinvent the band and who we are as people and how we dress and everything. Because if not, it’s too obvious, you’re just doing the same thing over and over again.” And I think that that’s what happened on our third album. We got a little bit lost along the way. And with the fourth record, the fifth record, and now this one coming, I think more than ever after doing the anniversary, like you said, we kind of reconnected with like, “Hey, this is who Simple Plan is. This is what we do. This is what we’re good at. Let’s just embrace what people love about our sound and let’s embrace what we always love about music, which is high energy, super catchy songs with very heartfelt and honest lyrics.” That’s our identity.
Baltin: Are there moments on this record that kind of pleasantly surprise you lyrically because it shows you who you are 20 years later?
Comeau: I think “The Antidote,” that’s always been the approach for Simple Plan. We actually start with the title and the whole concept behind the song and we try to do something that’s different. You don’t hear of a song called “The Antidote” every day. I come up with a lot of lyrics and the concept and I always try to push myself and I’ll read the newspaper, I’ll read a book or I’ll be watching a TV show or even hear a conversation. I’ll hear a word that people say. And I was like, “Oh wow, that’s a really cool word. How can I twist that into a song? How can I make that a cool big rock song?” I think I was reading a newspaper. I read like, oh, the antidote or something. I’m like, “Oh s**t, the antidote, that’s an amazing title.” I saved that. And I’m proud just like “Jet Lag” on the fourth record. These are words that you don’t really associate with a song, but somehow we turn into what I think is a quite essential, Simple Plan song, but it has a cool original hook to it. So I think that’s what’s fun. There’s a song called “Iconic” on the album that I’m really proud of. I think it feels like an anthem that we always wanted to write, the kind of big moment in your life, like sports kind of moment. We’ve always chased that we were never able to do it. And on this record we were like, “Yeah, let’s try.” And we had the perfect title that was really cool and different. To me there’s always a satisfaction when you have the little notes scribbled in your notebook. So I still get excited whenever I come up with a little idea, I can imagine the potential and there’s no better feeling than when it’s fully mixed and you put in your car and you hear it and it’s final. And it’s like, “Oh wow, this little thing turned into this.”
Baltin: What is the most iconic sports moment you’ve witnessed?
Comeau: I was in the building when the LA Kings won the Stanley Cup for the second time. So that was quite special, ’cause I’m a huge hockey fan and I’ve been to many, many games and I was a Montreal Canadians fan of course, ’cause we’re from Montreal. But to see the Stanley Cup and [Commissioner] Gary Bettman present the Stanley Cup. It was overtime against the Rangers. So that was quite impressive just to be there and see it. Yeah. We got to actually play the winter classic and we got to do the National Anthem right before the Winter Classic in Boston when the Montreal Canadians played. And we got to play the all star game for The NHL. So for me, these were all unbelievable moments.
Baltin: What are some of your favorite examples of the dichotomy between upbeat music and sad lyrics?
Comeau: I think our whole catalog is that. Like, “I’m Just A Kid,” that song had this gigantic TikTok revival last year, almost like five billion impressions on TikTok, which is insane. When you listen, it’s like, “I’m just a kid, life is a nightmare you know and nobody cares and I’m alone and the world’s having more fun than me tonight.” It’s a little like teenage kind of lyric, but it’s so interesting ’cause so many people now, like you see it on all social media and especially on TikTok, they use the lyrics and they’re like, “Wait a minute, I’m 35, I’m 30, I’m 40. And I still feel the same way.” So that one is a really good example. The first song we ever released, “Welcome To My Life,” it sounds super kind of happy, but when you look at it is pretty heavy lyrically. It talks about just being alone and just completely lost and people not having no idea what you’re going through.
Baltin: What about as a fan, one or two examples for you as a fan from other people’s music?
Comeau: Pearl Jam, for me, was a big band. “Alive,” that song felt very catchy and super pop, but then you would go into the lyrics and go, “Oh, wow it’s a lot heavier.” Or like “Jeremy,” for example. Even some Bad Religion songs are, in terms of the melody, so catchy. Then you listen and it talks about all these social problems and everything. And I thought that was always really interesting. Blink-182, same thing,. They had a lot of songs that talk about that angst of not being able to fit in, then they would find a way to make that sound so catchy. Then My Chemical Romance, same thing, you would be singing about suicide, and it’s like the greatest melody in the world. So I think that there’s lots of bands that do that.
Baltin: Let me ask you about working with Deryck Whibley who I’ve known for a billion years.
Comeau: We’re super excited. We came up almost at the same time, I think they were a year before us. And I remember, like there was a bit of a rivalry between Simple Plan and Sum 41 because we were both from Canada, and we were playing in the same scene and everything. They had that kind of attitude at the time where they would go after everybody and that was their shtick, that was their thing, right. And so it’s really cool all these years later to see that both bands have kind of survived and are still here, still thriving, and still doing well, still relevant. And to be able to finally do something together, musically, I think the fans are gonna be absolutely thrilled about it. So to come together and do a song, it’s really cool. He’s been super nice about doing the whole thing. He did it back in his house in Vegas and we just texted and email. We’re also gonna announce a huge worldwide tour with them as well, for the anniversary. It’s gonna be quite awesome to have the two bands coming together and doing this, we’ve never done it. We’ve never played a tour with them.