Simple Plan – you know the name, but do you know the story? The nitty-gritty? The highs, the lows, the drama, the bond that these five young people share? For those of you who have just recently heard of the band, you might think that they’ve always been on top, that they’ve always had the kind of success that they have now, but it is not so.
“Yeah man,” says lead singer Pierre Bouvier. “We weren’t always doing songs for the live action Scooby-Doo movie and playing shows on MTV’s Hard Rock Live. We’ve had to work hard to get where we are.”
Indeed, in 1999, Bouvier was slaving away in his first band, Reset. They’d just released their second album, No Limits – a title which proved ironic because nobody anywhere cared about Reset. “Yeah man I’ll admit it,” Bouvier says, “Reset wasn’t going so well. We were pretty punk, you know – no compromise and all that – but eventually I just had to look out for myself, right? I had to say ‘Fuck it. It’s time to write some pop music. It’s time to write about my inner turmoil, my inner despair.’ Because I’ll tell you man, at the end of the day sometimes I feel like that’s all I’ve got.” Here, Bouvier pulls out a notebook and writes something down.
He laughs. “Just had a great idea for a song,” he says.
Part 1: The Beginning
Bouvier’s work in Reset was not necessarily bringing in the Canadian bacon. He was still working full-time at Pancake Gong, Canada’s version of Taco Bell. He spent his time flipping pancakes, doing flips on his skateboard during breaks, and flipping his manager the bird behind his back. After work, he would rock out with Reset. It was not an unsatisfying life, but he did feel that he had more potential in him.
One day, five minutes before the end of his shift at Pancake Gong, a girl walked through the door. She asked the manager if she could speak to a Pierre Bouvier. “That tosspot? He’s in the back flipping pancakes and if you ask me, that’s where he’s gonna be for a long time. He’ll never become the lead singer of a multi-platinum selling band. You mark my words.” The girl pushed past the surly man and approached Bouvier, who was exiting the kitchen, skateboard and jacket in hand. “Are you Pierre Bouvier? From Reset?” asked the girl. “Yeah,” said Pierre. “My name is David Desrosiers. Nice to meet you,” the girl said.
Bouvier and Desrosiers became inseparable. “I was a big fan of Reset,” Desrosiers says. “When I listened to their music, whether it was on record or at a show, I felt like I was hitting the reset button on my life. Starting anew.” Naturally, being a woman, Desrosiers decided to steal Bouvier away from his bandmates in Reset to start a new band. Because Bouvier, in addition to being a talented singer, was reasonably good at playing the drums, and Desrosiers slapped the bass, they initially tried to carve their way as a drum-n-bass duo a la Lightning Bolt. However, Bouvier soon realized that they would make no money by making this music and he wouldn’t be able to have sex with groupies. “David,” he said one day, “let’s just come up with a simple plan for our music. One: we will find two guitar players and a drummer so that I can focus on singing and all the groupies that come with being a lead singer. Two: we will make our music catchy. Three: we will focus exclusively on heartbreak. How does this sound?” Desrosiers expressed her joy by playing an ascending bass lick without her shirt on.
Five days later, the pair found guitarist Sebastian Lefebvre, drummer Chuck Comeau, and bald guy Jeff Stinco digging through the dumpster behind Pancake Gong. Simple Plan was born.
Part 2: I’m A Dick, I’m A Dick, Ted, To You
Says Jeff Stinco: “Once Sebastian, Chuck, and I joined the band, things went pretty fast. The three of us had been living on the street together, digging through the garbage for food. We weren’t homeless – our parents were all rich – but we did it for the experience, man. We learned so much about survival. There was this one time where…aw, you guys don’t want to hear about that. Suffice to say that whenever I play the intro riff of ‘I’d Do Anything,’ I’m thinking about that giant rat in the Quebec sewer system.”
Lefebvre adds, “I was initially skeptical about joining a band that had a chick in it, but once I heard her slap that bass, I was transfixed.”
The first song that the five of them wrote collaboratively was “Addicted,” which would later peak at #45 on the Billboard chart. The song was written about Ted Kaczynski, notoriously known as the Unabomber, and how the acts he committed were directly related to the bullying he suffered as a child. The song’s narrator expresses remorse over his actions, saying that he only did it because he secretly thought Kaczynski was cute and didn’t know how else to express his emotions. “Writing this song was the breakthrough for us,” says Bouvier. “I think it took maybe an hour to do everything – lyrics, melody, music. We really hit it off well together. The song was catchy, but writing about the Unabomber was edgy enough that we could still call ourselves punk and spike up our hair and wear eyeliner. It was a perfect situation.” It didn’t take long for the band to write the rest of the 12 songs on their debut album No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls.
“I actually came up with the title,” titters Desrosiers. “I was actually wearing pads and a helmet when I came up with it. And of course, I’ve got no balls, so it wasn’t a gigantic leap to take the opposite and make a title out of it. It’s badass. I’m really proud of it. That was our most successful album. Is it a coincidence that I didn’t come up with the titles of our other records and they didn’t sell as well? I don’t think so.”
The band released five singles from the album, most of which were featured in films like Confessions Of A Teenage Drama Queen, Cheaper By The Dozen, The New Guy, and The Hot Chick. Everyone in the band was thrilled about this except for Chuck Comeau, who was filled with existential angst. “Look man, I’m happy that our music was put out there for so many people, but my favorite director is David Lynch. I don’t watch shit like Cheaper By The Dozen. When I heard about our songs being in all these movies I thought, ‘Wow, nothing we’ve done matters and it will never matter.’ It sucked, I was in a rut for weeks. I didn’t touch my drumsticks for five days straight at one point because I thought they would turn into snakes and eat me for selling out. It just makes me miss living on the streets, you know? Things were simpler then.” He pauses. “I did fuck Lindsay Lohan on the set of Confession Of A Teenage Drama Queen though. That was pretty cool.”
Simple Plan were on top and nothing, it seemed, could topple them. Their overnight success story inspired hundreds of teenagers to pick up a guitar and learn three chords and sing even though they had no talent. “It was what I’ve always wanted,” Bouvier says.
But then, tragedy struck…
Part 3: But Then, Tragedy Struck
Simple Plan’s sophomore album, Still Not Getting Any, was a critical and commercial bomb.
“I’ll be honest,” Stinco says. “I didn’t really have much to do with that album. Pierre and David were fucking by that point, I think, although we never actually saw them do it. But they would look at each other sometimes and there was something there – a bond that they didn’t have with the rest of us.” Lefebvre is less poetic: “Those fuckers went fucking crazy. They wouldn’t listen to anything that we wrote. That whole piece of shit album is full of songs written by Desrosiers and Bouvier and every single one of them are fucking shit. All of the guitar riffs were played on David’s bass and then Bob Rock ran them through Pro Tools to make them sound like guitars.”
Although a few of the singles received moderate airplay (especially “Welcome To My Life,” released before the album came out), critics hated the album and the band gained no new fans. In fact, Simple Plan were even accused of selling out – a band’s most feared insult. Says 18-year old Canadian fan Archibald Devereaux: “Motherfuckers abandoned their roots. The sound was completely different. Also I found out that David Desrosiers was a chick and that really turned me off. At least she was only the bass player.”
It seemed like the one good thing to come out of the Still Not Getting Any sessions was “Untitled” – later changed to “How Could This Happen To Me?” when released as a single. The music video depicted a drunk driver crashing into a tree and bloodying his nose. Mothers Against Drunk Driving latched onto the video and started using it to promote their message. “Yeah, I wasn’t too crazy about that,” says Lefebvre. “I drive drunk all the time. I wrote some of my best drum sections while driving drunk. But the band was in a bad way. We were all at each others’ throats. Jeff threatened to quit a few times but he calmed down once I rubbed his head in that special way he likes. So we all went along with it in the name of positive exposure.”
Says MADD founder Candice Lightner: “That song was a piece of shit. But teen drunk driving rates are higher than ever. We knew we had to find a way to appeal to a younger demographic as alcohol is being exposed to children at such a young age now. But yeah, that song really really sucked. When I proposed that we use it in our ad campaign, a few people actually walked out of the room as soon as I said the words ‘Simple Plan.’ To this day I’m not sure if the song had a positive effect for the organization or not.”
Part 4: The End…Or Is It?
Four years after Still Not Getting Any, the band released their self-titled album.
“Pierre and David were trying to run the show again,” Stinco says. “They wanted Bob Rock to produce the album again because they knew he’d do whatever they wanted him to do. But I got Dave Fortman to produce it because he produced those Evanescence albums and I really dig them. Now that is how to use a female member in a band!”
“Stinco went fucking crazy,” says Desrosiers. “I’ve had some pretty bad periods in my life but this guy was seriously on the rag. He pulled a gun on us while we were negotiating with Bob Rock. God knows where he got the damn thing. Started screaming about Evanescence and how we needed Dave Fortman. That’s the last thing I remember though, strangely. I am pretty sure he hypnotized us with his bald head or something because next thing I knew, we were in the studio and Fortman was telling us that we needed more piano ballads on the record.”
“Once Bob Rock was out of the picture, Seb, Jeff, and I took over,” says Comeau. “We locked Pierre and David in the closet, where I’m sure they performed unspeakable acts on each other, and we got to work writing the album.”
The three members took Simple Plan’s music into decidedly heavier territories. Comeau bought a double-bass pedal, and Stinco and Lefebvre pulled out their old Autopsy records for inspiration. Fortman wanted them to write songs in the vein of “Untitled,” thinking that they could corner a good chunk of the over-35 female market. But once they presented him with the first completed song, “The End,” Fortman saw the light. “That was probably the greatest fucking song I’d ever heard,” Fortman says. “It was real heavy. It was about the apocalypse, about the four fucking goddamn horsemen coming from the sky and just slaughtering the fuck out of everybody. Pretty sure I heard Bouvier and Desrosiers weeping inside the closet when the boys were done playing it.”
Desrosiers spent the entire recording session in the closet. Fortman simply reused her old bass lines for the album and turned the volume down. Bouvier was let out briefly to record vocals. “By that point, I was fucking wasting away,” says Bouvier. “They only gave us a head of lettuce to eat between us each day, so I’d lost around fifty pounds. When they let me out to record vocals, I basically just screamed incoherently into the microphone. Apparently it was exactly what they wanted me to do.”
“Yeah,” says Stinco, “his performance was fucking perfect.”
Although it was the band’s personal favorite album so far, Simple Plan failed to chart. The band has spent the past two years touring overseas in Europe and Asia because nobody in the United States listens to them anymore. Even so, their foreign following is rabid and they will probably ride on that success for years. As for the next Simple Plan album, Pierre Bouvier says, “I don’t know if there will be another album, to be honest. Recording the self-titled album really took a lot out of me. I’m still twenty pounds underweight. Also, David and I have been having some problems.”
“Pierre can’t get it up anymore,” says Desrosiers.
Jeff Stinco, Chuck Comeau, and Sebastian Lefebvre have since started their own metal band, Pimple Gland and have thus far played one show at Pancake Gong in their hometown of Quebec. “We’re hopeful for the future,” says Lefebvre. “And that’s something I haven’t felt in a long, long time.”