French-Canadian five-piece Simple Plan do seem to have one simple plan – don’t ever stop. They’ve barely finished riding the tilt-a-whirl of 2011 release Get Your Heart On! and subsequent massive world tour, they’re preparing to head into the studio to begin work on their fifth studio album, and somehow they thought they’d slip an EP in between all that.
“We have quite a few songs but we started working on a collection of five to maybe six songs in the studio,” guitarist Jeff Stinco told me but a month ago. “We’re hoping to work that into an EP release [but] I’m not really comfortable giving dates just because we’re the kind of band that’s finished when we’re finished. We don’t put pressure on ourselves – it’s good or it’s not and we release when we’re ready. I really like these songs, they’re somewhat in the vein of the last record but some are pretty adventurous too. I think it’s going to be fun.” Like pure professionals, Simple Plan work fast and only days ago announced that their new EP, Get Your Heart On – The Second Coming!, will be out this week.
While Simple Plan have toured relentlessly over the 14-plus years they’ve been together, their output hasn’t always been as rapid as of late. 2011’s album was only their fourth full-length release – it feels as though they must have amassed a larger back catalogue than they really have. Still, their musical development was evident throughout Get Your Heart On! and fans are eager to hear where they’ll go next.
“We’re going full prog rock!” laughs Stinco. “Nah, I’m just kidding. I guess I’m excited about it all. There are some changes but maybe that won’t be that clearly noticeable. It’s so tricky, when you’re in the process it’s so dangerous to be talking about the songs because they can take so many turns. You can have a spark of inspiration in the studio and then the whole feel of the songs change. There’s also something about discussing something that’s in the works that kinda stops the process. There’s something better about finishing it and having people hear it and take on their own ideas. I always want to verbalise my ideas but… I guess right now, I’m just really happy. There’s material coming soon and right after we do this we’ll start working on the new album as well.”
The only problem with dialogue after music has been released is the baggage it attracts via genre labels and sticky music adjectives. While Stinco is an absolute delight in conversation – open, warm, good-humoured with a sprinkle of self-deprecation – he has still been around long enough to have his own frustrations with the industry at large. Once the discussion moves onto reviews and genre labelling, his reservations emerge even through his French-Canadian accent and a gentlemanly grace that would charm the hardest of hearts. “I have nothing against journalists and critics – I believe that they are an important part of the process of appreciating music – but there’s something very limiting about tagging a genre to a band’s music,” he says. “When I hear that my band’s a pop-punk band I just want to reference our songs that aren’t at all like that, and I feel there’s a lot of them too. It’s about writing the best songs possible for us and it just so happens we often use a certain sounding guitar or drum to get that.”
Of course, these labels often come from necessity. “There’s just so much music out there that people need to somehow make sense of it all,” Stinco says with resignation. “I totally understand that and I do the same thing. There’s very little music out there right now though that is purely one thing. There’s so much cross-talk between the genres these days and it shows that the close-mindedness has gone. As a music lover I doubt that any serious artist only listens to the genre of the music that they are or were making. I’m pretty sure that Bob Dylan has heard an N.W.A song.”
So how do Stinco’s own influences find their way in and out of his creative space? “I think it’s dangerous to push into any level of intellectualisation. Oddly enough on the fourth record the process was so fluid and fun and that reminded me that this whole, crazy adventure started out as a fun thing. We learned the craft of writing and playing and being in the studio, and when you get back to that initial energy and spark – I mean, you can’t go completely back to that – but if you capture it again there’s something very special about that. You need to feel like you’ve written something bigger than what you’ve ever written before and yet have a naive approach to what you’re doing. I really loved our third record, I thought it was a really strong record, but there was a real intellectualisation of the process. Some of the songs became quite heavy because of that and I’m happy we moved away from that process. I’m always scared of using the word ‘organic’ because it’s a word that’s so overused, but we have found a more natural way of doing things.”
This “natural way” is a direct result of Simple Plan’s self-sufficient approach to life in the spotlight and as a cog of the industry machine. Since 1999 they’ve had no lineup changes – not many bands can attest to that – and by all accounts are going strong. It’s not just the music they make, the crowds they pull or the fun they have – it’s that they lack arrogance; they’ve learned and learned again and they’ve stayed true to themselves.
“We released a book, kind of a retrospective, and it reminded us about how little we understood the music industry and how we were just thrown into a big whirlpool, or cyclone of interviews, shows and travel. We never got to perceive the magnitude of what the band was all about, and at a point I think that lack of knowledge made this band more real and more appreciate of what we have. In this day and age in the industry it’s very fickle. I don’t live in the day-to-day world where I’m dealing with chart positions – I’m dealing with the fans and that’s what I really try to make it about. Social media has really made us able to do that a lot more and when I look at the music industry, I don’t know, it allows us to put records out and play shows but there’s always being something very DIY about this band.
“A lot of decisions are made within this band; 99 per cent of the time we’re making the decisions and in the one per cent that we’re not, we’re reacting to something and that’s when you’re not making an entirely free decision. I try to avoid speaking about numbers and I’m really still – it’s hard to say without sounding pretentious – but I’m still in it for the music. During my career I’ve seen so many people in it for the wrong reasons, guys just starting bands to get laid or to make the big bucks, but I’ve also met real artists and those are the guys I look up to and that is what I aim for with this band.”
BY KRISSI WEISS
Get Your Heart On – The Second Coming! out Friday November 29 through