The roots of Simple Plan’s new album, Harder than it looks, go back 20 years. To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their influential and highly successful debut, No pads, no helmets…just ballsthe band tapped into the sound and feel of that record for the new album, adding 20 years of experience since then, as well as the now adult themes of their lives.
The release of Harder Than It Looks is part of a big year for Canadian pop-punk superstars, who this year will be celebrating 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 Pearl Jam fandom, why the band learned to embrace their early success and not run away and more.
Steve Baltin: Let’s start with the anniversary of the first album. When you’re in the middle of a record, you don’t have time to appreciate everything. So when you looked back on the anniversary, were there any things that really stood out for you or any songs that you enjoyed in a new way?
Chuck Comeau: Yeah, it’s been so interesting. We actually did a big fifteenth anniversary tour and weren’t really sure at first if we wanted to dive into all that nostalgia. I think that was a bit scary because then you start thinking your band is just going to be that kind of actor, right? It’s like your best days are behind you and all people care about is your old stuff, which we absolutely wanted to avoid at all costs. That’s not the spirit of this band. We always try to look forward. But in fact, we said, “This is how we’re going to approach it. We’re going to be proud of our past and we’re going to be proud to celebrate that because it’s part of the career, it’s part of the art, it’s It’s part of what we’ve achieved, and we’re proud of it. But we’re also going to be excited about the future. I think we can have it both ways, and that’s really the position of the band. And when we did the fifteenth anniversary tour, what really surprised me was how natural and awesome it was to play the whole record, I felt like it was still relevant. And when I saw people in the front row singing every word of even the most obscure tracks on the album, it kind of made me feel like, “We’ve created something that, in that moment- there, meant a lot to all those people.” They were at a specific time in their lives where music could resonate with them, and there there’s something special about being able to revisit that moment in your life and bring back all those memories. It was really special, it was much more fun than we expected. And that’s why now that we’re hitting 20 again, it’s like, “Yeah, why not accept this and just be happy?” Because even me, as a music fan, I’m still drawn to the record that I love when I was a teenager or in my early twenties. It’s always the music that attracts 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’s a continuity that goes into this new music?
Comeau: Yes, 100%. I think it’s really inspiring to go back and do this tour. It made us want to make the kind of record that we’re about to release now. [Harder Than It Looks] because we realized we had the plan. We knew what kind of album we wanted to do [back then]. There was no doubt in our minds. We had the direction and went there. And he came out, and luckily for us, he connected in a really great way with tons of people around the world. And then on the second record, we did it almost back to back. We turned and turned and we stopped and we made the record and we started again. And again, we had the same direction. We made some small adjustments, but we knew who we wanted to be. The identity of the group has kind of tightened up, hasn’t it? We had this desire. We knew who we were, and I think as you go through your career, after one or two very successful records, you get into this whole thing of, “Oh, we have to change. We have to completely reimagining the band and who we are as people and how we dress and everything. Because otherwise it’s too obvious, you’re just doing the same thing over and over again. And I think that’s what’s happened on our third album. We got a little lost along the way. And with the fourth album, the fifth album, and now this one to come, I think more than ever after doing the anniversary, like you said it, we kind of reconnected with, “Hey, that’s who Simple Plan is. This is what we do. That’s what we do well. Let’s just embrace what people love about our sound and embrace what we still love about music, which is high energy, super catchy songs with very heartfelt and honest lyrics. It is our identity.
Baltin: Are there any moments on this record that pleasantly surprise you lyrically because it shows you who you are 20 years later?
Comeau: I think “The Antidote” has always been Simple Plan’s approach. In fact, we start with the title and the whole concept behind the song and try to do something different. You don’t hear about a song called “The Antidote” every day. I find a lot of lyrics and the concept and I always try to push myself and read the newspaper, read a book or watch a TV show or even hear a conversation. I will hear a word that people will say. And I was like, “Oh wow, that’s a really cool word. How do I turn this into a song? How do I turn this into a great cool rock song?” I think I was reading a newspaper. I read like, oh, the antidote or something. I’m like, “Oh shit, the antidote is an amazing title.” I saved this. And I’m proud like “Jet Lag” on the fourth disc. These are words that you don’t really associate with a song, but somehow we turn into what I think is a pretty essential Simple Plan song, but it has an original hook and cool. 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 sounds like an anthem that we’ve always wanted to write, the kind of big moment in your life, like a sporting moment. We always hunted that we were never able to do. And on that record, we were like, “Yeah, let’s try.” And we had the perfect title that was really cool and different. For me, there is always satisfaction when you have the little notes scribbled in your notebook. So I’m always excited every time I have a little idea I can imagine the potential and there’s no better feeling than when it’s fully mixed and you put it in your car and you hear it and it is final. And it’s like, “Oh wow, that little thing turned into this.”
Baltin: What is the most iconic sporting moment you have witnessed?
Comeau: I was in the building when the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup for the second time. So that was pretty special, because I’m a huge hockey fan and I’ve been to a lot of games and I was a Montreal Canadiens fan of course, because we’re from Montreal. But seeing the Stanley Cup and [Commissioner] Gary Bettman presents the Stanley Cup. It was overtime against Rangers. So it was quite impressive to be there and see it. Yeah. We had to play the Winter Classic and we had to sing the national anthem right before the Winter Classic in Boston when the Montreal Canadiens played. And we were able to play the all-star game for the NHL. So for me, these are all incredible moments.
Baltin: What are some of your favorite examples of the dichotomy between catchy music and sad lyrics?
Comeau: I think our whole catalog is that. Like “I’m Just A Kid,” this song got this gigantic TikTok revival last year, almost 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 is having more fun than me tonight.” It’s kind of like some kind of teenage lyrics, but it’s so interesting because so many people now, as you see on all social media and especially TikTok, they’re using the lyrics and they’re like , “Wait a minute, I” I’m 35, I’m 30, I’m 40. And I still feel the same.” So that one is a really good example. The first song we ever released, “Welcome To My Life,” sounds super happy, but when you look at it, the lyrics are quite heavy. It’s about being alone and completely lost and people have no idea what you’re going through.
Baltin: As a fan, one or two examples for you as a fan of other people’s music?
Comeau: Pearl Jam, for me, it was a big band. “Alive,” this song was very catchy and super pop, but then you’d go into the lyrics and go, “Oh, wow that’s a lot heavier.” Or like “Jeremy”, for example. Even some Bad Religion songs are, melodically, so catchy. Then you listen and it talks about all these social issues and everything. And I thought that was still very interesting. Blink-182, same thing. They had a lot of songs that were about that angst of not being able to fit in, and then they would find a way to make that sound so catchy. Then My Chemical Romance, the same thing, you’d sing about suicide, and it’s like the greatest melody in the world. So I think there are a lot 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 arrived almost at the same time, I think they were a year before us. And I remember, like there was some kind of 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 back in the days where they were picking on everyone and that was their thing, that was their thing, okay. 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 good, still relevant. And to finally be able to do something together, musically, I think the fans are going to be absolutely thrilled. So getting together and doing a song is really cool. He was super nice to do everything. He did it at his house in Vegas and we just texted and emailed. We’re also going to announce a huge world tour with them too, for the anniversary. It’s going to be pretty awesome to have the two bands together and do this, we’ve never done it. We have never toured with them.