Q+A: Simple Plan

In 2002, five young Montrealers recorded a debut album that would go to launch a very successful career and shape their distinct musical identity. Fifteen years later, Simple Plan celebrated the anniversary of their debut album with their “No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls 15th Anniversary Tour.” Ahead of their show in Ottawa at Algonquin Commons Theatre, The Charlatan caught up with guitarists Sébastien Lefebvre and Jeff Stinco to talk about their their early beginnings, touring around the world and family life.

The Charlatan (TC): What’s it like to be back here in Ottawa?

Sébastien Lefebvre (SL): It’s always fun! It’s close to home and we know we have a lot of great fans here in Ontario and in Ottawa. It’s always a good time to play Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, Ottawa and all those cities surrounding, like where we kind of first started as a band, it’s great!

Jeff Stinco (JS): I love Ottawa, it’s so close to home and yeah, we do come here pretty often, we’re about here two or three times a year. I’m starting to feel that there’s also more restaurants and cool places to go out. I remember when we were touring here, people would always say “You gotta go to Gatineau to actually have a good party”, but I think it’s changing now, so I’m always curious to try new things here in Ottawa.

TC: What do you think was the significance of [No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls]?

SL: Well, that album changed our lives. Basically, it allowed us to be a band, to go on tour and to do this for a living. I think it’s a special album because it connected with a lot of people . . . They come and tell their stories on how they’ve been fans forever or how the music has changed their life or just helped them through a hard time that they were going through . . . It’s great for us too, it brings back a lot of great memories of how this band first formed and the first shows we ever played and how we made the albums and we didn’t know what we were getting into. It’s a beautiful thing.

TC: In the last 15 years, how do you think you guys have grown up, matured or changed as a band?

JS: When we started out touring for this record, we were super naïve, we wanted to see the world and party. We were opening for bands like Sugar Ray, we did a bunch of shows with Green Day, Blink-182, and we would play for half an hour and then you would go out and just meet fans and the lifestyle was really about meeting fans, hanging out, going to bed way too late waking up really early to get to the new city. It was tedious as a schedule, for us it was just fun . . . We did that for many years, and now it’s changed a little bit because we have families and we don’t tour as much as we used to. We go to all the same places, but instead of touring 300 shows a year, we’ll play like 150, which is still a lot, but it’s a lot less. It’s a good time to be in a band, for us actually, because we have all this history, we have all those songs, people actually are still with us, are very loyal. A lot has changed, but it’s still about getting out there, playing music and travelling the world.

TC: What was the reasoning behind doing smaller venue shows as opposed to the NHL arenas, like you might normally do?

SL: Well, I think that’s because when this first album came out, that’s what we were doing. We were a band that nobody really knew and we we’re trying to get our name out there and we were either opening up for people or playing small rooms, so it kind of made more sense for this show. It’s not made to be an arena show, there’s not a bunch of video screens and all that, it’s just the guys getting on stage and playing the songs that we wrote 15 years ago . . . so smaller rooms felt better for this.

JS: It’s about going back to the roots, and as I mentioned to you earlier, this tour was meant to be like a short celebration around the anniversary of the record  . . . The real philosophy of this band has been “let’s move forward,” write new music, support it, get out there, but we’ve also been a band that hasn’t really celebrated all the landmarks over the years . . . This this time around we decided “You know what, 15 years: that’s huge!” We didn’t even think when we started out that we’d be around for that long. It was just a day-to-day thing, we never really projected ourselves too far, so it was a great opportunity to take time and say “This is a landmark, it’s important, let’s celebrate it.” And those smaller rooms are just perfect, conducive to a great party.

TC: What are some of the things you try to teach opening acts when you’re touring with them?

SL: We’ve been in the opening act position for a really long time and we know what it can be like if you’re dealing with some not as nice people, so we always try to be very nice to whoever’s on tour with us because we know we always end up being friends with them . . . It’s not because you’re opening up to someone that you need to be restricted and everything, being told what to do all the time. It’s not about that, it’s about bands being on tour playing music for the same fans, you know, it’s the same kids that are in front of them right before they’re in front of us at the show, so it’s about respect, it’s about the music.

JS: We’ve had some amazing openers throughout the years. We had Plain White T’s, Paramore, I want to say that we had the Backstreet Boys in Minneapolis a while back . . .  It’s cool to see a band that wishes to grow because we were that band. We would look at Blink, at Green Day, we opened even for Metallica, we’ve had some opportunities to play with great bands. You’re always learning. When you’re a band that has ambitions and is humble enough to understand that they’re in that position, the band playing headliner, there’s a reason for that and there’s always something to learn from those bands.

TC: When you’re touring, how do you find that balance between music and family?

SL: When we first started out . . .  we’d play like 300 plus shows a year. Now, we try to be on tour for a month then be home for three or four weeks, and then do that back and forth. We’ll go to Europe for four weeks, then we know we’re coming back for three, and that’s basically how we do it, and that’s how we keep having a family life  . . . When we come back home, we’re dads, so that’s good. So we get to soak it all in, and then we can leave the tour being satisfied.

JS: It’s a fight on every tour. In my family, Halloween for some reason is huge, and this year, it’ll be the first year, I think, since we’ve started that we’re going to be on a cruise playing Warped at Sea and my kids were like “You’re a lame dad for not doing Halloween with us!”, but we’re doing this, that our lives as well, and basically what I teach my kids is “This is also your thing, we’re all part of this, this is what allows us to live that way and be alright.”

TC: You meet up with fans after your shows now. What are some of the interesting, meaningful or funny stories you hear from them?

SL: Well, on the meaningful front it’s whenever somebody would say “I probably wouldn’t be here at this show if it wasn’t for your music.” There’s no bigger compliment you could ever get as a band as to have changed someone’s life. That happens surprisingly quite often, and that’s pretty amazing, I think.

TC: How much do you a factor of your fans being loyal to has been the relatability to your lyrical content?

SL: I think that’s a lot of it, whether it’s lyrical content or the band itself. I think we’ve always wanted to make ourselves very available, so we’ve always, from the very beginning, we go to the merch stand and try to meet people and all that. Something we’ve realized over the years, album after album, is that the most personal things we talk about in a song, those happen to be the ones that people will relate to the most. So like I’m writing something specifically about me and they’re like “Oh you know what, I totally see myself in that.” I guess that’s part of who we are as a band.

JS: For sure it has something to do with it. From very early on, songs like “Perfect”, “Welcome To My Life”, even “Boom!” I would say more recently. People tend to relate to songs that are meaningful.

TC: After this tour, what’s next for you guys?

SL: Short break, then we go to Japan, then we’re doing Warped at Sea on a cruise, Mexico, a couple more U.S dates, and then we’ll be off for the holidays. And then next year, I think we’ll start thinking about maybe a little more touring here and there, because we never really stop, there’s always a show popping us here and there, but I think we’ll start thinking about the next album.

Photo by Siena Domaradzki-Kim