To some, Simple Plan’s lyrics are amateurish, whiny, and straightforward. To others, they’re fully relatable. Whether it’s an LGBTQ+ kid’s perspective on “Perfect,” or someone in an abusive relationship hearing “Shut Up!,” there’s at least one Simple Plan song that everyone can relate to, no matter how much they deny it.
The group’s new album Harder Than It Looks—its first in six years—is a return to the No Pads, No Helmets...Just Balls days and covers mental health, karma, and even includes an anthem that is uncannily not inspired by a post-COVID-19 world. “We got it done actually before the pandemic, and it still is my favorite [album we’ve done], so that's a good sign,” Simple Plan rhythm guitarist Sébastien Lefebvre told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
After multiple attempts at putting on the “Pop Punk’s Not Dead” tour with New Found Glory in the last two years, Simple Plan is starting fresh on the new “Blame Canada” tour with fellow Warped Tour veteran band Sum 41. Before the tour moseys into Tampa’s Hard Rock Events Center this week, Creative Loafing had the chance to talk to Lefebvre about podcasts, playing in Disney World, and his favorite Warped Tour.
I'm all right, I’m all right. It’s just me and you, then!
I guess so. You're in your studio?
I am, yeah! I spent a lot of time down here.
Awesome. At home?
At home in Montreal. Absolutely. It's good to be home, especially when we're about to embark on a long tour, and that's something we haven't done in a couple of years. So I mean, we're making the most of this.
So, I want to start by giving you and the band major props for your new inclusivity-specific protocols set for all your shows. I wish more bands would do that.
Thank you very much! I mean, it's something that has always sort of been part of our philosophy, and there's no sugarcoating it. It seems like the scene is kind of like a boys club,, and we're like, “Why?” So, we figured if we put it down, if we tell people, it might actually entice a little bit of change. That's something we definitely kept in mind moving forward with everything that was related to this [new] album. So I mean, yeah, it's been great. We've been receiving a lot of good comments as well, so that's cool.
That’s great. Speaking of the new album, did you write anything for it?
I did not, man. Chuck and Pierre did, they definitely have the Simple Plan sound down. When they start working on the song, it's just the Simple Plan sound that you want. And then, when we all get together in the studio and I just laid out my “dang dang dang” sounds, that’s where we get that type of energy from, and then when Jeff start doodling on the guitar, that's when you get those sort of like, background melodies that fill up the sound of Simple Plan.
This might be a little bit of a touchy topic, and I understand if you don't want to talk about too much, but is [ex-bassist] David Desrosiers on the album, or did you re-record the bass parts?
He is the one playing the bass on the album.
Gotcha. So, you guys were regulars on the Warped Tour when it was still a thing. To your memory, what lineup was the most jaw dropping in your eyes? Like, who were you most honored to be playing with, or seeing live?
Well, I'm going to throw it back to the first Warped Tour I ever went to. I believe was either ’94 or ’95, I think it's the first time Warped Tour ever came to Montreal here, where we're from. I was a kid, I had $30 and I got to see—well, first of all, Reset, which is Chuck and Pierre's old band. They were opening up Warped Tour, because I think Guttermouth got stuck at the border. And they got a call at 9 a.m. like, “Hey, can you make it?” and they just made it. So, I'm walking on the grounds, and I'm seeing the band that I love that goes to my high school, basically. And then, on the bill that year was blink-182, Sugar Ray, Lagwagon, I think Limp Bizkit was on, Offspring was on, Millencolin… I mean, it was a dream, you know?
And to be able to go see all those bands for the price of a regular ticket was completely insane, and I convinced my mom to give me money to buy merch, because all I wore back then were band shirts, so this was going to be the perfect place to get a new wardrobe going. So I bought like, five t-shirts which was enormous at the time. I was like, “Oh my God, I got five new t-shirts for the year?!” That was gonna last me until the following year of Warped Tour. So I was extremely happy, and that must have been one of the greatest years.
We’ve been very fortunate. I think No Doubt was on the tour as well, and they were like, on the truck stage! It's mental. I’ve had to look it up again because every time I read it, I'm like “wow, I can't believe these people actually played that year.” But through the years, we got to play Warped Tour, and it’s been awesome. Bad Religion was on, and we got to see them again. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, we got to see them and hang out with them, awesome. Paramore as well. Like, there’s…name them, right? Everybody.
All the great bands have played Warped Tour. All the great bands in the scene, definitely. I'm actually reading…well, I’m not reading, I’m listening, to the book “Sellout” right now, and there's a whole chapter about blink-182 and how Warped Tour was instrumental in their career. And it's true. I mean, if you're a band, you want to play Warped Tour. That's just how it is.
I really hope it comes back in the coming years. They're actually talking about it.
Yeah, I mean, there's different economics and different ways that it could go. I mean, I understand how grueling it must be to go around the country, but make it a weekend in like, three different cities, like they did when there was the 25th anniversary. That year, they did, I think Atlantic City, they did Cleveland and they did one more, probably somewhere in California. Like, do three or four weekends throughout the summer. I mean, that seems reasonable, or maybe more manageable for Kevin Lyman and the whole team. I don't know, I'm just talking through my ass right now. But that might be the way to do it.
Let's talk about your podcast a little bit. It's been going on for 15 years now.
Yeah, that’s pretty mental when you put it that way. We were bored and in between albums, Patrick [Langlois] and I, and our dear friends at Idobi Radio were like “hey, how about you just record a special?” And well, “okay, we'll make an hour long episode, and play our favorite songs,” and people tuned in.
So, we turned it into a weekly thing, and then we turned that into seasons, so we started packaging the episodes like, 10 at a time, because with the touring, it was hard to just have it be like, 52 episodes a year. And so yeah, we've been going strong for 15 years, and last year actually, we decided to kind of just take it back to the roots and just have theme-based episodes where Patrick and I sit down and just tackle one thing for a whole hour. And it's actually been a lot of fun and very inspiring to revisit basic things, like how we met or favorite music, favorite movies, fashion in general, or different periods of our lives, like the ‘90s and all that, so it's a lot of fun. We still have a great time doing it.
Did you see a surge in listeners when the pandemic hit? Because podcasts exploded when everything shut down.
Yeah! So both things happened. Actually very early on, there was a big drop. And then a couple of weeks in, or maybe like a month in, fwoop! Everything came swooping up for everybody on Idobi actually, including us. I'm really into podcasts, and I actually got into them late. I wasn't a very big fan, and I think the only podcast I used to listen to was “Hi My Name Is Mark,” back when podcasts first started and were kind of a thing, but obviously over the pandemic, they took a new turn, so I listen to a lot of different things, and audiobooks now.
When I’m commuting, when I was just like, working around the house, and if I'm just practicing on the guitar where I don't actually need to be listening to what I'm playing, I'll have a podcast playing in the background and yeah. I mean, it's a different form of entertainment that I guess requires some attention, but not your full attention, and that's something that people look for now.
Yeah. What kind of podcasts you listen to?
Mostly comedy. I have to say, I’m a big fan of the Conan O'Brien podcast. Smartlist as well, Depending on the guests, when they have someone interesting on there. I just love Will Arnett and I love Conan. I have friends that are constantly pitching me true crime stuff. That's not my bag *laughs* sorry!
Understood. You guys played on “Conan,” right?
We did. I think we did Conan…twice? We did Jay Leno quite a few times in the early days as well. Kimmel is the one that we played the most. I think from the show's inception, every single time we had a single—and we were out and around in L.A.—we would play Kimmel, which was awesome. Absolutely awesome. Big stage in the parking lot, an actual crowd, not as nerve racking, very hot.
Moving forward, you guys are also going to be playing at Epcot in Disney World come June.
It's fun, man. I used to go to Disney every other year as a kid with my family. We would drive down from Montreal, that’s like a 30-hour drive. And then we'd spend spring break—or the end of Christmas break—over at Disney, and it's great memories for us. And now, we get to bring our families, we go on all the rides, and it's a fun thing. We play in Epcot, it's like three 30-minutes sets, so we can swap the songs, we just have fun with the crowd, keep it light and just have a good time.
I think that's a good way for people walking around to really discover Simple Plan, because they'll walk past the theater and they'll hear all this electric music and go “what the hell is that?” And then they’ll walk over and enjoy the show. Truthfully, that's how I became a Simple Plan fan.
Tell me more. You were just walking by?
Yeah, I was walking by at Epcot the first year—and the first day—that you guys were doing it, actually. I stopped, and I’ve been to see the band every year since. I cried when the 2020 show got canceled because of COVID breaking out.
That was such a… Do you want to know how mental that was?! Well, first of all, thank you very much. I appreciate you saying that. And, we've been very fortunate to have had a few songs play on the radio, so people walking by might recognize us. "Oh, I know these guys,” or “that's a TikTok band!” So, they'll pop by and watch the show.
But in 2020, I was an hour away from getting an Uber to go to the airport, to go play the Disney shows. And I had dropped off that morning my daughter on a school trip thing. They were going to Sugar Shack, which is a big thing here in the spring. And I was like “okay, I'll see you in a few days.” She wasn't coming to Disney that year. And then at noon—I was leaving my house at 1:00—we got on a call and it was like “okay, all these bands are canceling shows and tours. What should we do? Disney says they're not closing the parks," like, what's going on? Disney was super cool and said “Whatever you guys decide, we understand.”
And then we're like, “I think we have to pull the plug on this. It's not safe or a good idea to travel to just invite a bunch of people to gather together.” So, we decided to make that announcement, and I think the following day, Disney made the announcement that they were closing the parks. What a crazy time that was. Literally an hour away from leaving my house, and getting there.
Wow. Right on the cusp of it, huh?
You mentioned that a lot of people might know Simple Plan for the TikTok memes and your Internet presence in general. Is that a direction you envisioned your music heading for? Are you cool with your music living on like that?
100% cool with it. Never would we have imagined, because social media wasn't a thing when we wrote those songs back in 2000 or whatever, 2001, when we recorded [No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls!] I mean, it's completely changed the industry. Well, the industry has changed, and social media has changed the industry. They had a big part of that. And it wasn't even our doing, like how "I'm Just A Kid" became the challenge, and had the billions of impressions that it had. We had no control over that, it just kind of happened.
It took on a life of its own, and it's kind of beautiful to watch all these people reminiscing about the old days using songs and putting together like a kid's picture and new picture, or the other way around, with their pets or with their family, their loved ones. Whoever. It's been beautiful to watch. And for us, we've always been the type of band that wanted to get our music in front of as many people as possible. And I mean, if that's the new way to do it, then we're all for it, and we just decided to embrace it.
We've been doing a lot of TikTok, we've been very active, posting a lot of stuff that's either funny, heartfelt or whatever we feel like posting on that day, and it's just part of who we are. We've always wanted to connect with the fans however that is, really.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Josh Bradley is Creative Loafing Tampa's resident live music freak. He started freelancing with the paper in 2020 at the age of 18, and has since covered, announced, and previewed numerous live shows in Tampa Bay. Check the music section in print and online every week for the latest in local live music.