It has been 20 years since Simple Plan burst onto the rock scene with its debut album, 2002’s No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls. The double-platinum-selling set spawned the hits “I’d Do Anything,” “Addicted” and “Perfect,” which peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 5 on the Pop Airplay chart. (Another song, “I’m Just a Kid,” later gained traction in 2020 when it was used for a photo-sharing TikTok challenge, catapulting the track to platinum status that same year.)
To mark the anniversary, the Canadian quartet announced today (March 15) on social media that it will be releasing its sixth studio album, Harder Than It Looks, on May 6. Prior to the announcement, Billboard exclusively chatted with three-fourths of the group — vocalist/bassist Pierre Bouvier, rhythm guitarist Sébastien Lefebvre and drummer Chuck Comeau — about what fans can expect from the album, the band’s first self-released set since parting ways with longtime label Atlantic Records in 2019.
In terms of sound, Harder Than It Looks is a return to form for Simple Plan, who refer to themselves as a mix of emo and pop-punk. “It’s a very quintessential Simple Plan album,” says Bouvier. “It’s us being ourselves, not trying to be something that we’re not. In a lot of ways, it’s about finding pride in what we created in the beginning. A lot of times, you start a band and create this sound — which, for us, became our signature sound — and then you want to run away from it. Now, with a little more maturity, we can embrace who we are, who we were, and give the fans what they want.”
That includes “empowering” songs about life, like the already-released singles “The Antidote” and “Ruin My Life” (featuring Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley).
“A lot of the songs that we write are about going through difficult moments in life,” says Bouvier. “Whether that may be feeling like you’re not good enough, or feeling like people don’t have your back, or just feeling like, ‘I’ve got this, I can get through this.’ It’s something that Simple Plan has always done because we are inspired by those moments. When something in life brings you down or something in life is a huge challenge, that’s when I want to talk, that’s when I want to write some lyrics.”
Adds Comeau, “If there’s one word for me that sums up the album, and the band in some ways, it’s ‘resilient.’ It’s overcoming adversity and obstacles and finding hope even when it’s difficult. I feel like our music for a lot of people has been this thing that gives them hope. Every song that we do, even if it’s very dark subject matter, there’s always that glimmer of hope — a light at the end of the tunnel. Like, ‘OK, we’re going to get through this together.’ ”
And while some of the songs appear to tackle the band’s feelings about the coronavirus pandemic — like the unreleased “Wake Me Up (When This Nightmare’s Over),” which Bouvier calls a “premonition” that was generally written about “life and love”— the album was almost fully completed before global shutdowns began in early 2020. “We got lucky,” says Comeau. “We got to do it the old-school way where all of us were together in the same room, and I think that makes a huge difference, to have that interaction, that back-and-forth, and to be able to avoid saying, ‘OK, I’ll call you back on FaceTime . . .’ And then you never get to. We were there together, grinding it out and making it awesome.”
Now that pandemic restrictions have begun to ease and society is inching toward a new normal, band — which also includes lead guitarist Jeff Stinco — thought now was the perfect time to release the album and embark on a co-headlining U.S. tour of 35 cities with fellow Canadians Sum 41 that kicks off on April 29 in Raleigh, N.C.
“It’s the 20th anniversary of our first album, and it’s the 21st anniversary of Sum 41’s [2001 debut, All Killer No Filler], so… it’s going to be a throwback tour of those early-2000s days,” says Bouvier.
Adds Comeau, “We’ll play all the big hits from our past records, but also showcase some new songs. We’re really proud of Harder Than It Looks and know our fans are going to love it just as much as they love all the other records, so it’s finding that balance between those two things. We understand we’re part of that nostalgia where people want to relive special moments from when they were younger. But, at the same time, we’re still putting out music that feels relevant and that fans can connect with. So we’re going to go out there and play our hearts out and just enjoy every second of it.”
As for whether they see themselves doing this for another 20 years, the answer is — well, simple. “We’re now in our early 40s, but I don’t feel older,” says Bouvier. “I don’t feel in my soul like a different person than I was when the band started. And I’m starting to believe that’s never going to change. I’m always going to be the guy singing ‘I’m Just a Kid.’ That’s what I do. I don’t really see an end to it.”
And therein lies the hidden meaning behind the title of Harder Than It Looks, according to Comeau. “The idea is to keep our streak of funny puns [in titles] going because that’s been our shtick, but there’s also something deeper to it. To be able to stay relevant for 20 years is a lot harder than it looks.” (Throughout its career, in the United States, Simple Plan has moved a total of 5.1 million equivalent album units and 700 million-plus on-demand streams of its songs, according to MRC Data.)
“I think there’s always a time in a band’s career where you wonder, ‘Is this the end?’ But we’re entering a level now where we have enough special songs that have meant a lot to people that we will be afforded that privilege to be able to keep going,” says Comeau.
It’s a sentiment that can be found throughout Harder Than It Looks, with the first three singles clearly taking the foursome back to its catchy roots. “This record is Simple Plan to its core,” says Bouvier. “We didn’t overthink it; we didn’t do too much. We found pride in embracing where we came from and what created this band. A fan listening to this album will be completely satisfied, and that’s a good feeling.”