Montreal pop-punks Simple Plan are celebrating 10 years together with the release of Simple Plan: The Official Story, a coffee table book and biography of their lives, from their first high school bands to touring Warped and the world. Written by Quebec journalist Kathleen Lavoie, the book is available in both English and French versions, a nod to the band's growing popularity in their home province of Quebec.
The five-piece is also celebrating the continued success of their Simple Plan Foundation. Last month, their annual benefit show brought in $165,000 of donations in one night, bringing the total funds raised for youth charities since 2005 to $1 million. In March, the band will receive the Allan Straight Humanitarian Spirit Award at Canadian Music Week.
In a Toronto hotel room surrounded by copies of the book and a stack of 1,800 glossy 8x10 photos they're signing for new fan club members, guitarist Jeff Stinco and drummer Chuck Comeau talk about singing in French and their humanitarian approach to activism.
The book really portrays Simple Plan as a global band throughout your career, but also how you've done a lot more at home in Quebec recently, including French-language songs for the first-time. Why now?
Jeff Stinco: It wasn't a commercial thought. We have many French fans in Canada and elsewhere who were asking us and we decided, why not? We had this perfect song, “Jet Lag,” that was a duet, which allowed us to collaborate with a French artist and it felt right at the time. [Quebec reality TV show Star Académie finalist] Marie-Mai is a very genuine person who has the same kind of relationship with her fans as us and we felt we could endorse working with her. And eventually it became one of those songs that even the Anglos really adopted and liked.
And the French. This year you were nominated for Quebec Artist With The Most Success Outside Of The Province and English Album Of The Year at the Quebec music awards, and you won Best Francophone Artist at the NRJ Awards in France.
Chuck Comeau: It's kind of surreal. I think we were all pretty worried before we did that song. When you do something for the first time you wonder if people will say, “What they hell are they doing?” We put it out and got this across-the-board fantastic reaction, in France and Quebec. So we decided to record in French again with our next single, “Summer Paradise” just by ourselves. Both songs did super-well. For the French fans, it's special.
Do you feel any connection with the more political side of life in Quebec? The student protest movement against tuition hikes of earlier this year, for example. Bands like Arcade Fire made signs of solidarity.
JS: It's important that we hear out the students. As for the protests, it was a pain the neck in Montreal, but it served a purpose, it opened the discussion, which is part of the democracy that we all live in. As far as what they were asking, we decided not to take a political stance with this band. We're very political people, we just decided not to address it in the same way. Philanthropy is our way of changing our society.
A portion of the profits from the book go to the Simple Plan Foundation, which you started seven years ago. The list of charities and organizations it has supported is long, but the focus is on helping young people. What is your philosophy behind choosing which causes to support?
CC: It all started for us when we would meet our fans at the concerts who would tell us about their problems, sometimes very heavy. You feel powerless. It's awesome that my songs might help them, but how do you go an extra step? We've been so lucky and blessed with a great career. We were all raised that when things are going well for you should help others. So felt the right thing to do was to focus the activities of the foundation on young people. And the brother of Pierre [Bouvier, singer] went through cancer, so that became a focus also to help young people going through sickness.
But it's not like Simple Plan is going to be that band wearing T-shirts that say “Fuck Cancer.” And unlike a lot of the punk rock acts you grew up on, you're not aligning yourselves with controversial or more political causes. You're all very nice and Canadian about your social work.
CC: I think youth health gets neglected. It's not the “coolest” cause or punk rock, as you say. But for us it feels important to put the spotlight on that and try to help out on that level. Also to try to promote music as a way for young people to find a passion in life. That's what happened for us, so to pass that on for people who may be lost.
JS: What we'd like to tell them is to find something that will enrich your life. Sports, dance, cooking, whatever it is. When we grew up it was only music and now there are so many specialties you can be inspired by. Find something you really love to put more hours into it, to push yourself. That makes a successful life.
One cause in the spotlight you have been involved with is the problem of teen bullying, working with Kids Help Phone on their Artists Against Bully campaign this year. Why is that important to you?
JS: We go above and beyond that, actually. Bullying is often a surface problem. It's something you can see but there's a full-on spectrum of issues underneath, whether that's sexual identity, poverty, mental illness, dependencies. We try as much as possible to help out organizations that educate, to use this platform that we have to discuss those things that are not as glamourous or "lifestyle.” We support organizations that help gay kids come out, for example, who are often the victims of bullying. To me it's a very complex issue. No, we're not necessarily wearing crazy T-shirts — we're trying to actually make a difference.
What do you want the legacy of Simple Plan to be — music or the Foundation?
CC: Years ago, my dad came up to me and said he was proud of what we had done with music but it was time to think about something that would last even longer. We want to be remembered for our songs, and I hope people remember us as hard-working band. We may not be the most talented or the best looking band in the world but every show we play we never cheat, we never phone it in. But in 20 years if we take a break, we can still work on the foundation. So I hope that we are remembered for the lives we've affected, through music and then through the foundation.