Simple Plan’s big Canadian hearts

One of rock’s most successful bands and perhaps the world's nicest, Simple Plan returns to Israel for a 3rd visit.

Simple Plan 370 (photo credit: Courtesy/PR)
Simple Plan 370
(photo credit: Courtesy/PR)
The thing with Canadians – even Canadian rock stars – is that they’re so darn nice. Take Chuck Comeau for example, the drummer for Simple Plan, the hugely successful Montreal-based punk-pop band.
While he and his four band mates have carte blanche to behave as carefree and adult denying as they appear to be in their spunky, hook-filled songs, Comeau instead talks earnestly about responsibility, loyalty and aspirations... and about his refreshingly unjaundiced view of Israel, which he’s about to visit for the third time on May 5 at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv.
“Israel is a pretty magical place for us,” said Comeau recently from Hamburg where Simple Plan was touring in support of their fourth studio album Get Your Heart On!.
“We finished our world tour for our third album in 2008 by coming to Tel Aviv for the first time for a sold out show, and I don’t think we ever envisioned having so many fans so far from home. We knew from Facebook and Twitter that we had lots fans in Israel, but only when you go out and see a full room singing all the words to the songs, and people waiting at the airport for you, that it really hits you.”
“We booked extra time so we could travel around, and my family flew in – it was a beautiful experience. Israel has now become a must for us on every international tour,” added Comeau.
And after a decade together and ever-increasing popularity, Simple Plan’s international tours are becoming more extensive and far-reaching, with the band boasting (politely of course) of having performed in over 70 countries. An anomaly in the world of rock, Simple Plan has boasted the same lineup – Pierre Bouvier (lead vocals), Jeff Stinco and Sébastien Lefebvre (guitars), David Desrosiers (bass) and Comeau – since its inception in 1999. It’s a testament, according to Comeau, to the no-nonsense cordiality that the band members show to each other.
“A lot of it has to do with the fact that we were all friends before the band, we went to the same high school, we have the same values and the same approach to life,” said Comeau.
“It’s all about the fact that we also have the same goals and aspirations for the band, we’re on the same page. And at the times that we’re not, we sit down together and talk, reevaluate what we’ve accomplished and where we want to go. As the years go by, the fact that we’re all still together becomes more important and more precious to us – we value it even more.”
On Get Your Heart On! Which finds the band – in the words of one reviewer – “checking their adulthood at the door,” Simple Plan revels in reliving the punchy punk-pop of their youth, with a slew of cameo contributions from the likes of one their heroes, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Natasha Bedingfield, and Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan. But in addition to bratty rockers like “You Suck At Love” and “Can’t Keep My Hands Off You,” there are also attempts to branch out with the pop reggae sounds of “Summer Paradise,” a development that Comeau expressed pride in.
“We grew up listening to that second generation of California punk rock – bands like Bad Religion – and no matter where we take our music, that will always be part of our DNA and how we look at things,” he said. “But as we’ve gotten older, we’ve opened our minds to new types of music and styles – it’s crucial to the band to prevent stagnation and boredom.
“That’s what I love about our band – we can have an in-your-face punk song like ‘You Suck At Love’ and the next track can be this reggae-Bee Gees-influenced song unlike anything we’ve ever done. It shows we’re expanding our musical palette and taking risks. But because we’ve been playing together for over a decade, it’s still going to sound like us. We have our own little musical identity no matter what style we tackle.”
That includes the centerpiece of the album – the heartfelt ballad “This Song Saved My Life” – a unique collaboration between the band and its fans. Comeau and band mate Pierre Bouvier were discussing writing a song about the emotional power music can have in someone’s life.
“We wanted to write about how one song, or one album can change someone’s life,” said Comeau. “It may seem like an exaggeration, but I think any music fan has had those moments when you’re going through tough times and you hear a song or a band and it gets your over the hump. We all had those moments growing up, and a lot of fans have told us that we’ve become that band for them.”
THE BAND decided to ask their fans how they felt. Comeau posted a message on his Twitter feed saying, “We decided to write a song about you guys... Can you tell me how our music has made you feel through the year?” The responses started arriving immediately and grew to avalanche dimensions.
The result is probably the first song ever written via Twitter, with every lyric taken from the fans’ messages.
“It was really special. We got messages from kids saying that if they hadn’t heard that song or that album, they didn’t know if they’d be here today. We wanted to write the song as a tribute to them, and figured the best way would be to go to them directly and have them power our music. And in a way, the song has become the symbol of what we stand for as a band – that interaction and feedback with the audience.”
Once the song was written, the band took the final step of inviting 25 of the responders to join them in a Vancouver studio to sing on the track, an event that Comeau deemed as “completing the circle.”
“I’m really proud of the song – it’s created an even more special bond with the fans, and we love playing it live.”
And if you thought Simple Plan couldn’t get any nicer, Comeau described the achievements of the Simple Plan Foundation, which the band founded six years ago as a way to give back to its community and to get involved in the lives of young people in need.
“It’s all about kids who are sick with illnesses like cancer, or kids going through tough times growing up with typical problems like depression, drugs, and dropping out,” he said.
According to the band’s statement on the foundation’s website, “it breaks our hearts to see so many young people fighting to survive while feeling depressed and lost.
We want our Foundation to help them find their way and show them that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, that things can get better.”
Comeau proudly announced that the foundation has raised over a million dollars, and at this month’s annual Juno Awards honoring the best Canadian musical talent, Simple Plan was given the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award for the efforts of the foundation.
“I think the message we’re putting out there is you don’t have to wait until you are 40, 50 or 60 to do something. I think the world would be a better place if we all make a little time and a little effort,” vocalist Bouvier told reporters at the event.
Apropos the band’s orientation, the foundation promotes music as a means for the youth to find a passion in their lives, and the band has used its music to forward those aims – donating a dollar from the price of each ticket on their current tour to the foundation and performing an annual benefit show to raise funds.
“We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished – the foundation is something that’s close to our hearts,” said Comeau.
And it’s apparent that there are some big, Canadian hearts ticking in rhythm behind the beat of Simple Plan.