Interview: Chuck Comeau of Simple Plan

Simple Plan

How’s it feel to finally have your new song, “Saturday,” out?

We’re excited! It’s been a long time since we’ve put out new music. The last thing we did was like this little EP that was a little bit of a b-side, I guess, quote, unquote — songs that were leftover from the Get Your Heart Onalbum. We take a little bit of time in between records because we go on tour for two, two and a half years on each cycle. Then we stop for a few months, catch our breath, and then we start writing and we write for a long time. We wrote for like a year and a half on this album. We wrote like 70-75 songs. It’s definitely exciting. People have been waiting and we’re finally able to give them something they can listen to and get stoked about the album. It feels good to feel like, “Okay, we’re kicking up in gear,” and we’re slowing switching from writing, making the record, and recording it, to actually having music out and going back on tour and planning some shows and the album cover and all that. So it’s exciting that we, as a band, have the luck and the privilege to be doing it for a fifth time.

So “Saturday” isn’t going to be the first actual radio single, right?

It’s a little bit blurry right now. We’re getting all the mixes done and we just had this one that was finished and we just felt like, “You know, it’s fun, it’s up-tempo.” It doesn’t necessarily represent the record because our records are always very eclectic and very diverse, but we just thought it would be cool to kind of toss a song out there and just get people to know that, “Hey, we’re having a new record and it’s coming soon and here’s a song that’s done, check it out.” So that was sort of the thinking and it was very fast and there wasn’t this crazy, huge plan behind it. It was more like, “Let’s put out some music and let’s see how we’re going to set up the rest of the album.” But for now we just wanted to throw something out to the fans because they’ve been really patient.

The song was produced by Howard Benson. Was this the first time that the band has worked with him?

Yeah, first time.

Did he produce the majority of the record?

Yep, the whole record.

With the last album primarily produced by Brian Howes and then this new music by Howard Benson, what goes into the decision process when it comes to picking a producer? I know those guys kind of dabble in a whole bunch of genres, so do you ever consider enlisting someone who’s like a 100% pop producer? Do you ever look for a producer whose previous records fit the band’s mold?

It’s kind of an interesting thing. First of all, for us, with producers, we don’t tend to be the most loyal or the most committed people. [Laughs] We kind of have a lot of one night stands. And part of the reason is because we just feel like we can always learn from different people and it’s always exciting to see how people do it — their process. So when you have the chance to be able to work with people that have made great records that we loved growing up … when you have a chance to spend time with them and learn from them, it’s always a chance that we gravitate towards and we’re always excited about. That’s been the thinking. For us, it’s weird, because as a band, we’ve always had a foot in this pop world and we’ve always had really catchy songs. It’s been kind of the trademark of the band. But at the same time, we grew up playing in Fat Wreck Chords/Epitaph-style bands like Reset and that’s part of our DNA. It’s like the Warped Tour scene and all that — that’s what we grew up on. So we’ve always had the two styles attached to this band in a way, you know what I’m saying? So when we pick someone, we want to find somebody that will have the pop sensibility and will understand what we’re trying to do. You know, big songs that people will find super memorable and really catchy on the first listen. 

But also, we’re a rock band and when you come see us play live, I think people are always a little bit surprised like, “Oh my God. They might not be my cup of tea but when you see them live, it’s a real band.” We’ve been touring for 15-20 years now, even more than that when you count our first band before. So we need to find somebody that will be able to incorporate the two sides of the band, you know? That’s always been the criteria. We don’t want to necessarily go to a pure rock guy or a pure pop guy. It’s like finding the hybrid — the person that can bridge the gap and help us find the sound that will be true to who we are as a band and the way we play live, but also that will find the right vehicle for the song and make sure that they shine as much as they can.

One of my favorite things about the Self-Titled album that I think a lot of people don’t realize so often is that you actually had a song with Max Martin back then and it was like right before he got completely massive. Is that something where you’re like, “Shit, I wish we had him now!” or do you ever find yourselves wanting to work with somebody as big as him again?

[Laughs] Yeah, that record was interesting. We got to work with Max and we got to work with Danja and Danja literally made the entire Justin Timberlake record along with Timbaland. We just wanted to try something … we had this vision of, “Hey, it would be really cool if we could have a hybrid of what we do,” which is like the high-energy up-tempo choruses, but then mix it up in the verses and have this more pop sound. It was really cool to work with Max. It was interesting. Looking back, I wish it would’ve gone a little different, because we walked in and we played him a bunch of songs from the record, and he was like, “Man, I love this song you guys have.” It was called something else but it was pretty much the same song that ended up being “Generation.” And he’s like, “Let’s work on that,” and we’re like, “Cool! Max Martin loves our songs!” We tweaked it and we re-wrote parts and he produced and looking back, it happened so fast and now, maybe, eight, nine years later, we’re like, “What the fuck were we thinking?! We should have just written something from scratch!” But it just kind of happened and it was great and he was the nicest guy ever. We hung out for almost a week in Sweden and in L.A. and he was just the most humble and amazing guy and I’m so happy for his success now. It’s amazing. So hopefully one day down the road we’ll have the chance to work with him again. That’d be great.

The last record was the first time we saw the band work with a lot of outside writers. Is that going to be the case again with the new one?

It’s kind of interesting, the whole co-writing thing. When you look at our first record, it was just the five of us. We had our producer Arnold that was chipping in on some things but mostly, it was the band 100%. Then the second record, same thing. It was literally just me and Pierre writing the entire album. There was a little bit of co-writing here and there on the third album but the fourth one is when we really embraced it and gave it a shot and said “You know what, it would be cool to have a little bit of a fresh perspective and be able to balance some ideas.” So that was cool, we kind of just jumped on that and it turned out great and we had fun. Again, we got to learn and you spend time with people and you’re like, “Oh, okay, that’s how they do it.” 

I think the one big thing that co-writing sort of taught us on the last record was like, “Everybody has the same process.” It’s hard for everybody. Nobody just walks in and boom, in an hour they’ve got a hit song. Everybody sort of struggles and re-writes and that was the one thing that made us say like, “Oh okay, well that made us feel better about our own writing. We’re not these weird people. We’re normal. It’s okay to dig.” That’s what makes a song great. We always felt like, “I’m sure it’s a lot easier for everybody else,” and we’re spending three, four days on one song. And then you realize that’s what everybody’s doing. There’s nobody walking in, except maybe for Max Martin or somebody, who nails it in two hours. It’s normal. 

On this record, we kind of went back to a lot of Pierre and I just writing on our own. There are some co-writes. It’s pretty much half and half. But the one thing that we found is that … it’s funny because now everybody’s co-writing. Literally when we started out, that was like the cardinal sin. Like if you did a co-write with anybody, you were the worst band ever, the biggest sellouts, you were a joke. If some bands did it, they kept it completely secret and it was like this super taboo thing. Now it’s like everyone is doing it. But something that happens with that is that it becomes a little generic, because everybody is writing with the same people. And all the writers are doing two sessions a day and they’re writing seven days a week. At some point, the well runs a little dry, you know? And people are trying to go really quick. For us, we’re not the most gifted writers in the world, but the one thing that we do is that we put in the time and we put in the work ethic. On this record, when we co-wrote with some people, we were like, “That’s not how we want to write our album.” People just kind of botching it a little bit and trying to go so quickly, like, “Let’s write three songs a day!” and we’re like, “No, let’s just write one good song in one week and we’ll be happy.” We ended up being a little turned off by some of it and we ended up going back to the two of us writing and it was awesome. Some of the best songs on the record, I think. But also, when you write 60-70 songs, there’s something nice sometimes about bouncing some ideas and having an outside perspective. 

The one big thing about co-writing, and you can probably ask any band, is that nobody is going to care about your band more than you do. Nobody is going to care about the songs more than you do. So usually, I would say most of the time, unless you bring the first idea or the first seed, you’re not going to be happy with the song unless you bring that in — the concept or the melody. We’ve definitely been doing that a lot on this record. I think, for us, it’s just more of having somebody that, when you’re about to give up on a song, they’re like, “No, it’s great, let’s keep going.” We tend to be a little insecure and question everything like, “Eh, I’m not sure if it’s good enough, we should just leave it aside,” and then when you have somebody else there, it sort of helps you say, “Alright, let’s just get this song done.” And then sometimes you’re really happily surprised, like, “Holy shit, I’m glad we didn’t give up on it, it’s great, it came out awesome.” And then sometimes you’re just like, “Eh, we were right” [Laughs] “We’re not using that song.” But it’s part of the process and I think that it helps us a little bit.

Other than the co-writes last album, another thing you had a lot of were guest features. Will we be seeing guests on the new album, too?

Yeah, we’re still kind of working on that right now. The record is not completely done so we’re definitely trying to find some guests. For us, it’s always cool to just have people that we respect and admire on the album and people that we’re friends with. So we’re definitely working on it, but we’re not at the point where we can really share yet because they’re not all done or all confirmed and everything. But we would love to and we’re working on that right now.

So you say the album is almost done. How far along exactly do you think? Is there a release month?

Our goal is to have it out this fall. So whether that means early fall or late fall, that’s what we’re working with right now. We’re trying to figure out exactly what the date will be. We don’t have an official date. But we’re pretty much 80%, 85% done with the mixing, so we’re getting really close. Neal Avron mixed the album and it sounds amazing. He was great, he was awesome to work with. Now it’s just the question of narrowing down what songs will make the album, the track listing and getting all that stuff sorted. But we’re getting close, finally.

Now the new songs that I had heard, I feel like they sound like Get Your Heart On on steroids. Like Simple Plan turned up a notch. Some have sort of a retro or 80’s feel to it. Is that what we’re going to see on more of the songs off the album? How would you describe the diversity that the album has?

Yeah, the way you’re describing it, the goal was to try to turn everything to overdrive and try to make everything that makes our band who we are pushed to the extreme. We try to have the biggest songs that we can and produce them in a way that stays true to where we come from and who we are, but also embraces being in 2015. We don’t want to make a 2004 album. At the same time, there’s some great things about the scene and where we come from and our sort of classic sound that we don’t want to lose. 

I think the big key for us on this record, for the up-tempo songs, is to try to have a lot of energy and make it exciting. The way that people listen to music now, on an iPhone, it’s so … the attention span is so short. We just wanted the songs to jump at you and grab your attention. So that was the approach with the songwriting but also with the production. As far as the album, there are a lot of vibes and a lot of different styles. It probably has one of the fastest, hardest songs we’ve ever written. It almost has a little bit of a Rise Against vibe to it. I say that and I know it’s going to come back to haunt me [Laughs] but that was the inspiration. I’m not saying that it came out like that, but we love that kind of music and we were like, “Let’s do something in that vibe.” So that was probably one of the hardest, most aggressive songs that we ever wrote. It also has some songs that have a lot of pop influences. 

There’s kind of three different things that, as a band, I think that we’re good at: the high energy songs that will get you going and are great live and are the throwback classic-sound Simple Plan. Then you’ve got the more emotional ballads that have lyrics that connect with people’s lives. Those songs we also have on the record. They’ve always been really important to who this band is and I think those songs are even more emotional on this album and we try to push that as well and make sure it would really hit home and connect. And then you’ve got the left-field kind of things. On this last record, we had a song called “Summer Paradise” that was definitely outside of our comfort zone. When we first did it, we were like, “Holy shit, can we do that?” [Laughs] It just felt genuine. When it was recorded, we listened back like, “Holy shit, this feels like us because we love it.” And when Pierre sings … that’s the thing, we’re very lucky Pierre has a very distinctive voice, and when he sings something, even though it’s a little bit outside of what we’re known for, he makes it sound like Simple Plan. When we all get together and we play it and believe in something and when it feels genuine to us, I think generally our fans embrace it as well. They see that and it’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s them because they’re singing it and they’re playing it and they believe in it.” 

Every album we always try to push the envelope a little bit of what is Simple Plan and what people’s expectations are of the band. That envelope that we’re sort of labeled in or whatever. We always try to change that a little bit in every record. I think there are a few songs on there that are the dark horse or a little bit of a different vibe that stands out that will take people by surprise. For us, it’s exciting, because we’ve got to keep growing and we have to adapt and try new things. It’s a weird thing as a band, especially as you have more longevity, it’s almost like you can’t win because you don’t have the excitement of being the brand new band. So people are like, “Okay, what have you got now? It’s your fifth record.” If you stay the same and keep putting out the same album … you know, there’s some bands that are able to do it, but a lot of times fans will get bored. They’ll be like, “Yeah, they just put out the same record, it’s kind of boring.” Then if you change drastically or if you try something vastly different, then they’re like, “Well, I like their first records.” It’s like trying to find the balance of, “How can we grow as a band, keep what makes us who we are, but at the same time, achieve something new and feel fresh?” And also, just for ourselves, that we’re excited about the music that we’re writing and not just feel like we’re re-hashing the same vibes and the same direction. That was the hardest thing about this record, trying to find that balance. I feel like we were able to achieve that. When you hear the record as a whole, I think people will be like, “Oh, yeah, cool, I get it.” There’s some throwback influences like you were saying, there’s some retro things that we’ve never really done before that we wanted to try and it felt exciting to us. Then there’s some classic elements. It’s just finding that balance and I think we were able to do that on a bunch of songs.

I was going to say, because I definitely hear some saxophones and trumpets on one of the new songs and they just really work. It’s not really a combination you’d expect with Simple Plan but like you said, it sounds genuine and it makes sense and Pierre’s voice works with it.

I forgot that you had heard “Sad.” That’s one of my favorites on the album. It just felt so awesome for us to do that because it has an up-tempo feel and everything, but at the same time, it’s a little bit throwback-y, it has a little bit CeeLo Green and Bruno Mars in it but then it’s mixed in with the punky energy and with the horns. I don’t want to say it has a ska influence, that’s not really the vibe we were really going for, but at the same time, that energy, that tempo with the horns, it gives a little bit of a Less Than Jake kind of feel. In terms of the lyrics, what I love is that it’s a very sort of Simple Plan theme but at the same time, there’s a very cool positive spin on it, which is rad. It’s kind of like the new version of some of the things we wrote about before. But yeah, I really like that one. One of my favorites.

I was looking at the release dates for your past albums and noticed that when the new one comes out, it’ll be the longest gap that you’ve ever had between albums. Does it feel like it’s been that long? Do you think at some point the band will ever release albums at a quicker rate?

In a perfect world, we would put albums out every two years or every year and a half. I know a lot of people that I read on the website, it’s funny, they always say like, “Oh, they’re still around? Like seriously, they’re still a band?” It’s so interesting, because people don’t realize that outside of … in the U.S., I’ll definitely admit that it hasn’t been what it was on the first and second records. We lost a little bit of how popular the band was, it definitely went down in the states. We still have a lot of core fans but we’re not on the radio like we were on the first and second records, you know? 

But the reason why it takes so long in between records is because, as the U.S. went down a little bit, we developed this amazing worldwide career. The last record we toured 12 or 13 different countries in South America from Chile to Brazil to Argentina. Mexico was amazing for us. We went to Australia three or four times on the last album. We did Europe four or five times. We went to Vietnam, we went all over southeast Asia, and Canada, of course, and Russia. And Israel. Maybe things slowed down in the U.S., but we expanded so much around the world. So when we tour, it takes two years just to go everywhere. So it definitely makes the record cycles longer because it’s not like we only do two U.S. tours and one European tour and then okay, back to writing. We go out and we go out hard, because this band is all about shows and playing live and that’s how we’ve built our career and that’s how we connect to all the fans. 

That’s why it takes a long time, and I think sometimes people don’t know that, just because in the U.S., people think like, “Oh man, those guys are just bumming around for two years taking time off and doing nothing,” but it’s a lot of touring. And then we do take a lot of time to write. In a perfect world, I wish we could write our record in two, three months. But I think the reason why this band is still here and is still relevant to a lot of fans around the world is because of the fact that we always put the emphasis on the songs. Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, or whether you’re a fan of our style of music or the kind of songwriting that we do, it always boils down to that for us and I think that we spend a lot of time making sure that we have quality songs. 

The last thing that we want is to have to become a band that goes on tour and does, like, a 10 year anniversary tour for our first album. Actually, it’d be like a 13 year anniversary now [Laughs] but those kind of tours where it’s like, when you play your new record, people will go grab a beer or they leave and they just want you to play the old stuff. I think with every record, we try to make sure that it becomes people’s favorite album of ours. With our core fans, it becomes their new favorite record. So we want to make sure that when we put out something, the 12-13 songs that are going to be on it, each of them can be somebody’s favorite song. That’s sort of like our criteria. And if a song is just kind of like “okay,” well, then we keep writing. We wrote 75 songs for this record, close to 80 now, and we’re still writing right now. Even though the record is pretty much done. But you never know. You could wake up one day and write the most special song you’ve ever written, so we keep pushing, but that takes time. The thing is, for some bands out there, they go on tour and they have a bunch of writers that are kind of writing their record as they’re playing all these shows, it makes it easier to put out something faster, as opposed to when you’re actually the ones that are writing them. Trust me, I wish it was faster. I wish we could figure out a way to put them out faster. Maybe we just don’t have a really good batting average, maybe we just have to get better at songwriting, but trust me, we’re trying our best. [Laughs]

Back in February, you were in the studio with 5 Seconds of Summer. How did those songs turn out?

It turned out good! We did two songs with those guys, they’re really cool guys and we had a great time just hanging out and getting to know them. Obviously we didn’t spend like months and months but it was really cool to have a chance to write for that project and we came up with two songs with them. One was kind of like a super up-tempo, fun song that was kind of a little pop-punk throwback and then the other one was a more slower, ballad song. To be honest with you, I don’t know what the status of the songs are. It’s so crazy. They have so many people involved. I think they wrote with dozens and dozens of people, so who knows if they’re going to make it, but it was just cool for us to have a chance to do that and they came out great and it’s such a big phenomenon and I’m so happy for the guys. I think it’s exciting, also, just for the scene in general, to have a band that puts a spotlight in a way on that kind of music again, which is exciting. It hasn’t been on the radio that much. There’s a few bands that are still there like Fall Out Boy that were able to sort of find a way to get back on the radio, which is great. But aside from that, there hasn’t been too many bands from our era or our style that are still doing it. So it’s cool to have a little bit of attention on it and to have a band that brings out people to go back and go check out some other bands that have been around for a while. They’re very gracious about that as well, so props to them.

The coolest thing about them is that the bands that they write with are ones that they’re actually fans of, like Good Charlotte, All Time Low, Sum 41. Did that sort of enthusiasm ever come across during the writing sessions?

Yeah, it was really cool of them that they were excited, that they wanted to bring in bands and artists that they grew up loving. For us, it was awesome, they were telling us like, “Man, my first girlfriend I made out with to ‘I’d Do Anything'” and then, it was funny, as we were writing towards the end, they started to do a rendition of “Perfect” and Pierre was singing with them and they put it up on their Instagram and Twitter. It was crazy. They mentioned us and I didn’t know, and I look at my phone and I see that I’ve got like 3,500 mentions, and I’m like “Whoa.” And I didn’t know, and I look and it’s them and they’re like, “Hey, we’re writing with Chuck and Pierre from Simple Plan today,” and I was like “Holy shit” [Laughs] just talk about the power of having people being followers and everything. So it was quite awesome and they knew all the songs and they were big fans of the band, so it was very awesome for us to see that. It’s kind of cool, because when we started out, we were the young band. We were like the youngest guys in the room and we would go on tour with Blink or Green Day and we were like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe we’re in the same catering room as Mark from Blink,” or whatever. It was so rad and awesome and now I feel like when we hang out with those guys or when we do Warped, it’s a bunch of young bands and somehow we’ve become the veterans. It’s just crazy how things reverse and change and it’s been really cool to hear all these bands that come up to you and be like, “You’re the big reason why I’m playing drums today,” or “You’re the big reason we started our own band,” or “Your album was really important to me,” so that’s really flattering. Definitely humbling and awesome.

A couple of weeks ago you were in the studio working on something soundtrack related, right? Is there anything you can say about that? Is it for a movie or a TV show?

Actually, it’s interesting. I don’t know if it’ll be that interesting for you guys in the states. But there was this movie that was like a cult movie back in Quebec where we’re from, like a French-Canadian movie. Literally like every kid has seen that movie and they’re doing this big re-make of it and they’re having a bunch of different bands doing songs and they’re writing a soundtrack for it, so they asked us to be part of it. Because we were such fans when we were younger, we were like, “Hell yeah, we’ll do it.” It was part of our childhood. I think it’s coming out in English as well. I think it’s called ‘The Dog That Stopped The War’ or something. I don’t know how big it was around the world, but definitely where we’re from in Montreal and Quebec, it was this massive movie that every kid saw. So it was cool to be part of it. I think they have Celine Dion on it and a bunch of indie bands from Canada. I think like Walk Off The Earth and stuff, I’m not sure, don’t quote me on that. But it was just cool to be part of it.

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