Identity Crisis: Simple Plan talks songwriting sleepovers and remaining relevant

Simple Plan
photo: Chapman Baehler

It might seem like an understatement that all it takes for a band to survive with the same original members for nearly two decades is hard work and dedication. But for the guys in Simple Plan, all it takes is friendship.

“To me there is something respectful about the fact that we all understood that Simple Plan is bigger than all of its elements,” lead guitarist Jeff Stinco says over the phone.

Montreal’s very own pop-punk saints have just released their fifth full-length, Taking One For The Team, courtesy of Atlantic Records. It’s been a very long five years of touring and writing for Stinco, vocalist Pierre Bouvier, rhythm guitarist Sebastien Lefebvre, bassist David Desrosiers and drummer Chuck Comeau since their previous album, Get Your Heart On!, was released, not to mention about three years were dedicated to touring in promotion of the album.

“We’re fortunate that we’re a band that travels internationally, but when you’re always in airports or hotel rooms it’s really hard to write,” Stinco says. “We had to take three years to tour, an extra year to write and then the real loss of the time was the full year we spent in the studio to record the album, what we thought was going to be a month-long session and then ended up being a full-year session. It was pretty intense.”

What’s even more intense is the fact the band moved in to drummer Chuck Comeau’s house and all lived with each other for about six months to really focus on writing material for TOFTT, hearkening back to the time period surrounding band’s first album, No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls, the band members all lived with each other. “We slept in bunk beds in the smallest rooms,” Stinco recalls, remembering Comeau would take his mattress, place it in his drum room and sleep around his drums.

This time around, while the guys had their own rooms, they would exchange ideas fromSP_album_cover a few guitar chords to different melodies, watch movies together and just talk music, which Stinco says brought the band back together.

“I saw things about my bandmates that I forgot about, things that I love about them,” Stinco says. “When you’re not on tour and live a normal life, you’re not acting the same. On tour you’re moving fast, you’re always chasing the next city, chasing the next show, it’s very stressful and doesn’t necessarily bring out the best in people. In this environment, I just felt like the guys’ personalities came out and I really appreciated that. It was really inspiring.”

In what would eventually become TOFTT, the record includes guest vocals from New Found Glory’s Jordan Pundik on “Farewell,” rapper Nelly on “I Don’t Wanna Go To Bed,” Juliet Simms on “I Dream About You” and also collaborate with hip-hop duo R. City on their reggae-inspired “Singing In The Rain.”

“There’s nothing exciting as a musician to hear other people’s take on your songs,” Stinco says. “We listen to a lot of music and our interests have changed. We can stretch what we can do as a band as long as Pierre sings it and we all play together then it all starts gelling and sounding like Simple Plan. It’s about keeping the balance between what we did in 2002 and what we want to do in 2016.”

But if you ask Stinco, TOFTT is about identity. The conversation quickly transitions into the guitarist referring to the album’s opener, “Opinion Overload,” ultimately a song about people having opinions about someone or wants to tell that person who they are or fit them into a mold. “The reality is you have to know who you are and you have to stand by what you believe in,” Stinco continues.

He ties this subject into the band overall. Simple Plan has heritage and history; while there are songs on the album that might come out of left field, it’s an element Stinco says the band has, and is one of the many faces the pop-punk has to offer. And after creating about 50 songs or so in the studio, the band wanted to choose song that would still have their Warped Tour feel, but also showcase what they can sound like in 2016.

“As musicians and artists you want to make sure you push yourself and just write stuff that will keep you excited,” Stinco concludes. “We’re going to do this until that excitement is not around anymore. When you feel like you’re forcing your music down people’s throats, that’s when you need to stop and, as far as the band goes, I think we’re still relevant. I want to keep making music for as long as people want to hear us.”