Is it harder to write pop-punk in your 40s than it is in your 20s? Pierre Bouvier, the spiky-haired frontman for Simple Plan, can’t help but get a little self-referential.
“This is sort of a bad joke,” he replies, “but sometimes I feel like life is a nightmare.”
The year might be 2022, but anyone who had a pulse in the early 2000s has likely been feeling some déjà vu. Our contemporary fashions? Noughties realness in the form of pastels and bucket hats. The sounds? Electric guitars and emotional belting, brought to you by acts like PUP and Blink-182’s clingy younger cousin, Machine Gun Kelly. The vibes? Spiritually, they’ve been pretty terrible for at least a couple years now.
That’s where Simple Plan comes in. With their signature blend of energizing guitar riffs, emotional candor, and a twist of wit, the group has established themselves as soothsayers for the frustrated, occasionally naive child inside all of us.
With the release of their sixth studio new album, Harder Than It Looks, the band is touring with Sum 41 this summer—the first shared shows, believe it or not, in the Canadian outfits’ two-decade parallel careers. A European leg will follow in the fall, as the bands reunite for select dates of Sum 41’s Does This Look All Killer No Filler tour.
When Simple Plan first started out, “People were like, ‘Oh, you better hurry up—this whole pop-punk thing thing is going away,’” Bouvier said. “But we always believed that this kind of music has a timeless quality to it.”
With Harder Than It Looks, the band sought to recapture the old magic with a few modern updates. From the album’s opening riffs, that goal is more than met.
“Wake Me Up (When This Nightmare’s Over)” sets the stage for a pleasantly familiar journey through trash can-kicking angst, glimmers of buoyant romance, and youthful bravado. Tracks like “The Antidote” are classic Simple Plan, while others quietly experiment with influences like pop and (in the case of “Anxiety”) reggae. Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley joins in on “Ruin My Life,” while “Best Day of My Life” features a little self-reflection.
As he discussed the album’s sound, Bouvier grew pensive once more.
“I think in the arc of a career of any band, there’s always a moment when you start to question what you sound like,” he said. “Should we change?”
“We’ve gone through those phases, and I think that now, for me anyways, I look at what we sound like and what people expect from us as an asset,” Bouvier said. “We realized that people fell in love with Simple Plan because of the sound, so let’s give them that—and let’s enjoy doing it.”
Drummer Chuck Comeau couldn’t help but throw in a little self indulgent reference of his own: “It was a bit harder than it looks at first,” he said with a requisite pause for laughter. “But we just kept going and we kept writing.”
The band had already finished work on Harder Than It Looks when COVID-19 lockdown brought everything to a screeching halt two years ago. Like everyone else, they began scrambling as their kids got pulled out of school. (“Welcome to My Life,” indeed.) Clearly this was not the right time for a new release.
Amid the chaos, however, a funny thing happened. “I’m Just a Kid,” the debut single that kickstarted Simple Plan’s careers, went viral on TikTok.
It took a beat for the group to find out that countless users and celebrities were restaging childhood photos to the tune of their anthemic ode to teenage angst, Comeau said. “Bowling for Soup would call us and say, like, ‘Hey, do you guys know what’s going on with your song?’”
Eventually, however, the fad became impossible to miss. And so, a new generation of furious teens have discovered the simple joys of ballads like “I’d Do Anything,” and the reggae-inflected hit “Summer Paradise.” (It’s only a matter of time before arm bands and white studded belts take over local high schools, if they haven’t already.)
At first, Comeau admits, he felt wary of becoming a “nostalgia band.” Now he’s come to appreciate the distinction. “I think we can have it all,” he said. “We can be proud of our past and really excited about our future, and I think that’s how our fans feel.”
As one might expect, it was hard for a band that’s been playing shows since they were 17 years old to suddenly stop. Now that they’re back on the road for their Blame Canada tour with Sum 41, both the bands and the fans are bringing the energy.
“You still feel it,” Bouvier said. A lot of people out here that are coming to see the Blame Canada tour are probably seeing a concert for the first time in a couple years.” To Comeau, the timing could not be more perfect for the band’s Sum 41 team-up. “If people are going to come out, I think they want it to be special,” he said. “They want it to be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of event.”
And speaking of once-in-a-lifetime events—was Simple Plan ever invited to the gargantuan emo gathering happening in Las Vegas this fall, the When We Were Young festival? When the lineup came out, Bouvier said, he was perplexed. Why wasn’t Simple Plan on this thing? Thankfully, there was a solid explanation.
“The first thing I did was send a text to my manager,” he said. “He’s like, ‘Uh, because you already have a tour planned?’”
Although the band cannot attend, Bouvier said, “It’s so rad to see all these bands coming together.” Still, he’s got the same practical reservations as the rest of the online public with regard to the planning.
“How is it possible for all these bands to play in one day? Pragmatically, on paper, it feels a little Fyre Festival-y, but we’ll see. I mean, that lineup is amazing, so if they can pull it off, this will be the greatest festival ever.”
“People were like, ‘Oh, you better hurry up—this whole pop-punk thing thing is going away.’ But we always believed that this kind of music has a timeless quality to it.”
As blissful as the emo resurgence has been, it’s come alongside sober re-evaluations about the “scene”’s broader culture, which was very white and also, like so many music scenes, ran rampant with exploitation. Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey has been accused of grooming fans via email and instant messages; in 2020, Simple Plan cut ties with both its bassist and, a week later, its tour bassist due to sexual-misconduct allegations.
When asked how they believe this scene can change for the better (and whether or not that’s already happening) both Comeau and Bouvier expressed cautious optimism. Their band has made it a point to hire and collaborate with more women and people of color—on their tours, in music videos, and everywhere else.
“As a scene, we should have done more,” Comeau said. “Now it’s up to every band to really step up and put in place positive changes.”
If any inappropriate behavior were to happen now, Bouvier said, “I’m more confident now than ever that people would try to stop it…When I walk around shows or even anywhere in a town that we’re in, I feel like it’s already happening. So that’s a good thing.”
No music scene comes without its warts—or in the Vans Warped Tour scene’s case, perhaps sun blisters would be a better analogy. One thing Bouvier and Comeau will say for the genre, however, is that its embrace of raw emotions was ahead of its time. “We’re talking more and more about mental health and putting a spotlight on that,” Bouvier said. “I think pop-punk put a spotlight on mental health before it was popular.”
Simple Plan has played Warped Tour more than any other band besides Less Than Jake. The annual summer tour was instrumental in building their fan base; although the steamy weather can be grueling, Bouvier described the experience as “punk-rock summer camp.”
“We understood early on that you have to get a bus with a shower in it so you don’t have to be crammed in the communal showers,” Bouvier said with a laugh. They also learned early to bring along some toys—dirt bikes, scooters, that kind of thing.
Naturally, when Kevin Lyman announced the event would be coming to an end, Simple Plan joined its last hurrah. Although some bands skipped out on the assumption the final shows wouldn’t measure up, Comeau said they were spectacular. “In your head, you know: ‘Okay, this is probably the last time we get to do it.’ So I think we enjoyed it a lot more while we were able to do it.”
“I definitely miss it,” Bouvier added. “I’m sure that Kevin will do some one-offs here and there. We’ll be glad to be a part of whatever we can be with that in the future, for sure.”
Now that pop-punk’s back with a vengeance, it seems safe to assume there will be no shortage of opportunities for nostalgia. Simple Plan, with any luck, will be there for all of it—at least as long as their fans stay this addicted.
And as for that question about what it’s like to write pop-punk in your 40s? Adult life can be a nightmare, Bouvier admits, and the stakes are much higher. “The things that I do have more impact on more people that I love.”
At the same time, “Having that life is giving me more to sing about—more to write about.”