For Montreal-based pop-rock quintet Simple Plan, their recently released third album is not just an album, but a statement of artistic ambition and growth from the group. As you'd expect from any group that would call its debut album No Pads, No Helmets...Just Balls, the new self-titled release is a fearless, without-a-net excursion into dynamic music-making, taking what we love best about Simple Plan - the unbridled energy, the ripping guitars, the hook-filled melodic sensibility - and incorporating a slew of inventive sonic approaches informed by new collaborators such as Nate "Danja" Hills and pop wizard, Max Martin. Since the album’s release back in February of this year, the band have been on an extensive world tour in support of the new album. Recently, the band made their way to Australia where Joe Matera was invited backstage to interview the band exclusively for Ultimate-Guitar.
UG: With this, your third album to date, it is a much more mature effort and one where you manage to successfully, forge a new sound in the process.
Jeff: The reason was that we just wanted to try new things, and we wanted to experiment. And we were inspired to do so by the music we were hearing around us. I think as musicians, you can’t help but take everything in and then mix it up and make it your own. It is like making a big stew of all your musical influences. At the time we were really excited with what the producer Danja was doing with artists such as Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado. And we were like, “well, we find that cool, but how do you make it rock at the same time?’, because for us, it needs to rock, to stay exciting. So we thought, 'let’s blend those sounds and make something unique and something that is our own sound’. And that’s what we did. So we really worked hard in the studio to make the two sounds mesh in a natural way. We didn’t just want the sound of a rock band with a few electro elements. It had to be something where it really blended nicely together. And that’s why the record took a little longer than usual. Truthfully there was almost like, two records written before we actually started making this one. There was a lot of material that got left over, a real lot of songs. Not that they were not good enough, but because, they were too similar to what we were doing in the past, and too similar to what we were doing on the second record. And though that was cool, we felt we had already done it. So out of our desire to be challenged and to stay excited about the music, we got all this fresh stuff going on.
The underlining philosophy of the band has always been a love of pop music and pop music structure though?
Jeff: Yeah I’ve always been a sucker for a pop song. It is something that has always been attractive to me. Even though I listen to tons of music, everything from metal, country, and a lot of different things, what always attracts me, is a great hook. For me the concept of making a song is about making it more melodic and catchy and with a meaning. Yet, making it deep enough so you don’t get bored with hearing it after one or two times. It’s a fine balance and quite an art form to it. For example, if you hear a song like I Kissed A Girl, its like 'I’m so fucking tired of hearing that song!’ But truthfully man, it is brilliant. As it’s got this great hook that just grabs you and won’t let you go.
You mentioned working with producer Nate "Danja" Hills on this album. You also worked with two other producers, Max Martin, and Dave Fortman. Obviously each had a different approach?
|"This record was basically like having a music store available to us."|
SÃ©bastien: Yes. Danja definitely got some of the beats going. It was very interesting to start a song in the songwriting process with a beat or a loop. It was something we had never done before. We usually start with a guitar and a melody. And he got excited when we played guitar and we got excited whenever he was doing some beats. So that was inspiring. As for Max, we just did the song Generation with him. Though the song was already written, Max helped us out in the way of shaping it to how it is now.
Jeff: A lot of people use him as a songwriter and producer but on that song, it was more about, 'okay the song is written but its not quite 100% there. I think it’s got more potential, so let’s bring it to another level’. So he helped us to push it and kind of synthesize some of the hooks as that song had too many hooks. He helped us figure out which ones were good, and which ones, weren’t. Being songwriters we were too close to the song, so having that outside perspective from him was very important.
SÃ©bastien: But Dave Fortman was the guy who oversaw the whole project. Even if we did try to put in some beats and some loops, some keyboards and stuff, Dave still made it sound like rock as he’s a rock guy having obviously worked with a lot of the harder rocking acts such as Evanescence, and Mudvayne.
Jeff: All three producers were involved at different stages of the recording. But Fortman was really the producer of the record. He sat down with us and he let us be crazy in the studio, allowing us to experiment. And when something sucked, he had the balls strong and big enough to actually tell us so.
So when it came to gear, did you also experiment with it too?
Jeff: Because what works in the studio doesn’t necessary work live, I kind of mixed it up a bit. This record was basically like having a music store available to us. It was nuts.
SÃ©bastien: In the studio we used everything and we blended every type of amp you can think of with every different type of guitar too.
Jeff: For the basic tracks, I mainly used a Bogner quite a lot and a modified Marshall. The thing about a Marshall is that it has got no bass and so is tricky to record in the studio. Because of that, you have to use some tricks. You need to find a way to tweak the front end in a way that brings some of that bass out. And it also suffers from a harshness of the highs.
SÃ©bastien: So because of that, it is always a good amp to blend if you’ve got some other tones available to you.
Jeff: Another thing too is we also used less amount of distortion than we have in the past. We kind of learned that less is more, so the sound is bigger. We also used tons of delays, chorus pedals and some distortion pedals, pretty basic stuff that everybody uses, really. And we wanted to use it in a creative way that would make a difference. Guitar wise, I normally would use Gibson guitars, but I had a lot of tuning problems with them so I had to rely mainly on a guitar that SÃ©bastien got me, a Framus. All the rhythm tracks, about 75% of the record, were done with the Framus. And when it came to all the lead stuff, I used a Fender Tele.
SÃ©bastien: Those Framus guitars are very straight and good sounding guitars…
What about when it comes to the live stage?
SÃ©bastien: Live, I play Framus guitars and Framus Dragon amps.
Jeff: And I use Gibson Les Paul Customs and Mesa-Boogie amps.
Do you prefer working in the studio or performing live?
|"I think the live thing doesn’t get as old as the studio thing does."|
SÃ©bastien: I really love both but after two months in the studio, I’ve usually had enough! While you’re in there, it is a lot of fun and you get to try out a lot of things. But if I was in a band that took a year to record an album, I’d probably shoot myself! (laughs) I think the live thing doesn’t get as old as the studio thing does.
Jeff: To me, I need both. I think with this band, we have tendency to go really deep in the studio. We discuss everything at every point of the process. I just wish maybe the process was a little faster and a little more efficient. But that is alright as we have a democracy, and so we need to hear everybody out. The live thing is awesome but after awhile I need new songs. I am capable of playing the old songs, as long as I have got some new stuff within the set to look forward to, because I do get bored. Some of the songs on the first record, I can’t help it but I’m not that same person that I was when I recorded that album. But we’ve managed to bring a freshness to them by rearranging some parts of them to make them sound a little different. And it is just enough to make them current and for them to fit perfectly with what we’re doing now.
Are the distractions on the road such as the groupies, any less prevalent today than they were in the band’s earlier days?
Jeff: It’s definitely not as wild as it used to be as the fans that come to our shows now, actually come to meet us. So it is not the usual typical clichÃ©s of rock and roll. I mean it’s available to you if you want it. But it’s available to anybody really. I have friends back home who aren’t in bands yet they get laid more often than I do! The truth is when you’re starting out you do get thrown in it so you get all that attention. And because you’re in a different city everyday, it becomes so easy.
SÃ©bastien: Also when you’re 21 and the girls are like 19, it is definitely still better than when you’re 27 and the girls are 19! (laughs)
Jeff: I think with time, you just try and balance it out. And truthfully, unless you’re Motley Crue every night, there is no way you could put on a good show each night and be productive.
So what has been the most important lesson have you learned from being in this industry?
SÃ©bastien: To wear a rubber all the time! (laughs)
Jeff: Yeah like I’m doing right now, I’m wearing a rubber! (laughs)
SÃ©bastien: Yes all the time. (both burst out in laughter) But to seriously answer your question, it is to accept that you’re not going to be successful at the same level all the time. You will have you ups and downs but you’ve got to learn to have it not affect you. You have to accept that it is very much outside of your powers. And the same goes with the critics.
Jeff: Man, you could make the best fuckin’ record in the world and if its not the right time to put it out, then it is not going to do anything. But if you put it out at the right time and even if the critics hate it, it will garner success. Also when it comes to the music industry, you need to not believe the hype. That is very important. In this music industry, you’re only as good as your last single. So as a human being and a musician, I know it is super hard, but you can’t let your confidence be affected by all of that.
Interview by Joe Matera
Ultimate-Guitar.Com © 2008
|Check out an audio of the band greeting the Ultimate-Guitar.com users at this location.|
Simple Plan Music