Music

SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE

Montreal’s Simple Plan has parlayed catchy punk into world success

MICHEL ARSENEAULT March 14 2005
Music

SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE

Montreal’s Simple Plan has parlayed catchy punk into world success

MICHEL ARSENEAULT March 14 2005

SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE

Montreal’s Simple Plan has parlayed catchy punk into world success

Music

MICHEL ARSENEAULT

ABOUT 2,000 young people are lined up outside London’s Astoria Theatre all the way to Soho Square. This is a self-consciously cool crowd in black (leather jackets, T-shirts and hair dye). These English kids would look tough if they weren’t so young, which isn’t preventing many of them from sucking back bottles of hard liquor. They’re out for a rousing good time, and Simple Plan, a Canadian pop-punk band that has sold five million albums worldwide, is itching to give it to them.

When this Fab Five appear onstage, girls shriek like teenagers in old Beatles footage. Left hands with hook ’em horns zoom up in the air. Right hands fidget with the video-camera function of cellphones. The audience doesn’t have to be prodded to join in for the chorus of their megahit, Shut Up! It seems this crowd knows the words to Simple Plan’s two albums by heart.

Simple Plan’s first CD, No Pads, No Helmets.. .Just Balls, has been a bestseller in markets as diverse as Canada, Mexico and Malaysia, where the quintet almost triggered a riot while signing autographs in a Kuala Lumpur music store. Since its release in 2002, No Pads has sold two million copies in the U.S., where the band’s second album, Still Not Getting Any, went platinum four months after its release last October. (Lead singer Pierre Bouvier, 25, is now hosting MTV’s new Damage Control series.) The band attributes its American success to relentless touring. In fact, the musicians have performed in all but two states. “We’ve toured the U.S. so often,” says guitarist Jeff Stinco, 26, “that we’ve lost track.”

Simple Plan’s members are all native French-speakers, but they sing only in English. Their level of fluency is such that they sound as if they had two mother tongues. They grew up in well-off Montreal suburbs. Four of the five met and started playing together at Collège Beaubois, their private school in Montreal. They would rehearse in Bouvier’s family basement. His father, Réal, who owns a transport company, drove

them around when they started touring Canada and the U.S. Their parents were less amused when the boys started talking about dropping out of school to pursue music full-time. “It’s like wanting to become a hockey player,” says drummer Chuck Comeau, 25. “It’s a dream so many people have.” Comeau eventually dropped out of McGill University’s law school.

Critics have used oxymorons like “happy punk” and “corporate punk” to describe Simple Plan’s post-boy-band music. It’s true their lyrics—“I’m just a kid and life is a nightmare”—make Avril Lavigne sound grown-up. But the musicians, who also include David Desrosiers (bass) and Sebastien Lefebvre (guitar), are unfazed, saying they never

intended to emulate their punk elders. “People who are older than 35 and who’ve known the Clash will never find a band that is pure enough, musically or ideologically,” says Comeau. “That’s all right. We don’t want to play that kind of music. We’re not very political. We’ve never called for the end of capitalism.” For fans, Simple Plan’s fidelity to punk is a non-issue. These punks (in the other sense of the word) weren’t even born when British groups like the Clash and the Sex Pistols shocked the world in the ’70s. Comeau suggests his band’s massive popularity indicates critics are out of touch with young people. He says Simple Plan songs have a “true emotional impact” that’s reflected in their fan mailincluding “hundreds” of letters from kids who say they’ve contemplated suicide. “When you’re a 30-year-old journalist and you’re a bit jaded, it’s easy to say that we’re inane and insignificant,” protests Comeau.

At the Astoria Theatre, the show is drawing to an end. The band exits, then returns for the de rigueur encore. A grinning Comeau is the first to come back—with a big Union Jack. It’s seen as a politically charged gesture in Britain. This crowd roars, clearly oblivious to punk’s anti-nationalist tradition. How did that old Sex Pistols song go? God save the Queen/The fascist regime. Maybe someone in the audience remembers—but these boys and girls just want to have fun. ffl