October 19, 2016 Interview – Jeff Stinco of Simple Plan
While some would have you believe the Pop Punk era of Rock-n-Roll has come and gone, dedicated followers could not prove those naysayers more wrong. Where trends are constantly changing, there are always those who stay true to who they are while still evolving as artists, and multi-platinum selling Simple Plan hold this flag proudly. Hailing from the French-Canadian city Montreal, Quebec, Simple Plan made a tremendous impact on the Rock scene in the early 2000s, first with the popular 2002 album No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls and following up with 2004’s Still Not Getting Any…. Both albums that would cement them as Pop Punk leaders alongside Blink-182, Sum 41, New Found Glory, among others, Simple Plan return in 2016 with their first album in five years, Taking One for the Team. Dubbed an album that highlights the glory days of Pop Punk, while still making it fresh for today’s audience, it proves Pop Punk is far from dead. Recently we caught up with Lead Guitarist Jeff Stinco to talk the early days of Simple Plan, the pressures they put on themselves to put out the best record possible, helping others, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Simple Plan has been going strong for nearly two decades now, and in that time the band has attained a series of platinum selling albums as well as received multiple awards. Through it all, how would you describe this amazing ride the band has been on?
Jeff Stinco – It’s an amazing ride. It’s been very fun over the last… I think we started in 1999, so it’s 17 years now. It’s kind of a roller coaster, being in a band. It’s all about accepting that you get some really beautiful moments, some highlights. Then there are some moments that are not so great, some songs that you wish would have made… would have gotten heard, and did not necessarily get the exposure that it probably would have deserved. It is ups and downs. Through it all, the fans are there. The fans are at the shows. The fans have been with us since the beginning, and they are still there.
We are in a period of our career that is pretty spectacular. The fans that were too young to come to the shows are now coming for the first time. The people that came when they were 18, 19, and 20 are now in their 30s. We have got newer fans that are exposed to our music through Spotify playlists, YouTube, and referrals through all the music there is that you could find. We are in a position where we’ve got this super-wide audience, super-varied ages, it’s pretty cool. It is a very good time to be in Simple Plan right now. It is just a lot of fun. People are very positive, very happy to hear the old songs as well as the new records, so it’s a lot of fun.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it is a great time and things are going well. You mentioned about it being up and down and a roller coaster, the band really laid a strong foundation for the future with the 2002 debut album, No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls. That album did exceptionally well. Seeing that album was as successful as it was, did the band place any undue pressure on themselves for the follow-up?
Jeff Stinco – Oh, definitely. Well, actually, that is not true. First of all, the first record, people have a misconception about how it actually got so big. We toured for that record for 2 years. We weren’t selling any units, we weren’t really doing that well for 2 years, just kind of growing a little fan base opening for bands. Sugar Ray was the first band that actually took us on tour. We developed a fan base through their help, but it wasn’t doing really great. Eventually, we got played on MTV, we got certain movie spots, we ended up being on radio. I think our fan base started calling in radio and it started creating something. The record took over two years after its release, then it got re-released, and that is when it really took over.
As far as the second record, 2004’s Still Not Getting Any…, it was interesting because we had been touring non-stop for three years by then. We just got into the studio, we knew exactly what we wanted to do, we knew exactly what our setlist was missing, and we knew exactly what we needed. We wrote the songs that we needed. We had a lot of things we wanted to address. Songs like “Untitled,” “Crazy,” and “Welcome to My Life” came about. They filled the gaps in the setlist that we wanted to fill up. It was actually an easy record to make, it took about two months to record, mix, and master. Then we got back out on the road, we went straight out from the studio to Warped Tour, and started touring.
The second record was not that hard to make. It was the third record where all the pressure came in. You had success with two records that did really well, the expectations were high, but mostly because the expectations the band put on themselves was high. We just went in and tried to push the notion of what Simple Plan can do, but at the same time remain honest to who we are. It is always a battle. Every single record has been like that. It is about how far we can push the sound, without alienating our fan base. We want to make sure our fans are happy, but at the same time, you have to keep interest for yourself as a musician.
CrypticRock.com – Right, finding that balance can be a challenge. Since, you have been extremely consistent through the years, and, back in February of 2016, you released your fifth studio record, Taking One for the Team. Many are saying this is one of the band’s best to date and a welcomed addition to the Pop Punk genre. What was the writing and recording process behind this new album?
Jeff Stinco – I think the biggest compliment we get about the record is, “This is my favorite record, even more so than the first one.” In all honesty, the thing I have heard most through my career was, “Your first record was the best.” I think the reason why people have said that so much is because that first experience hearing a band as a teenager has a very lasting effect. It is very hard to convince people that the music you are doing is still as relevant and moving. You always listen to music as a teenager with very open ears. You associate it with that time where you were free and experimenting new things, living your first love, your first heartbreak, there is so much going on in your life when you are a teenager. The music that you hear then is the soundtrack for all those amazing experiences that you can never duplicate later in life. When you hear people hearing the last record you did has as strong a meaning as the first record, that is when you know you did something right.
As far as the process went, we went into the studio with a headspace of pushing the boundaries of the sound of Simple Plan, but at the same time, pay tribute to the sound we are known for. We went straight into the studio and we recorded the most songs we ever recorded. It went fast, it was efficient, and we tried a lot of different avenues that are not on the record. We kind of balanced it out with songs that we felt were paying tribute to those first two records, but at the same time modernize that sound. I think the criticism you hear, the positive criticism, is you have managed to keep that nostalgia thing, but at the same time, make that sound relevant in 2016. That is the biggest compliment people can pay to us.
CrypticRock.com – For sure, and Taking One for the Team is doing quite well. Much like previous records, there are a series of collaborations with other artists on this album. How important is it to Simple Plan to be able to collaborate with other artists?
Jeff Stinco – I think some of it has to do with the fact that we are very insecure about putting out a new record. There is always so much pressure around a record. We want to make sure every record is special and has something unique for the fans, so we want to blow their minds. We want to make sure the songs have enough new elements to keep their interest going. Then again, for ourselves, we want to bring new sounds into the mix. That demands exploring. Sometimes, when you bring new artists in, it makes it so refreshing. Not necessarily better, just different.
Our singer (Pierre) has a very distinct voice, so when you have a collaboration coming with it, sometimes it brings a different spice and flavor to a song, and that is very exciting. We always have people from our scene coming in. On this record, we have Jordan from New Found Glory and bringing some his own vibes to the songs. In the past we had Mark from Blink-182 and the All Time Low guys. It is just a way for us to keep things interesting, but at the same time giving something special and unique to our fans. Oddly enough, we probably think just giving them Simple Plan is not enough. It is that insecurity that all artists have. We always feel we need to do more than expected.
CrypticRock.com – Understandable, and the band has done a great job of that. Another thing you have done is, each record you have worked with a different producer. What have you taken away from each producer you have worked with moving forward?
Jeff Stinco – Some of that was choice, some of it was not so much by choice. It had to do with scheduling or availability. That whole thing is not necessarily about the best scenario. We made a record with Bob Rock, that was amazing. We would have loved to collaborate with him, but it never panned out. That is probably why we ended up working with our producers.
I could tell you about what every producer brought. It is quite different actually. Arnold Lanni, our first producer, he brought in experience, he taught us how to make a record. We all thought we knew what we were doing, but we had no clue. He taught us so much and really worked us hard in the studio. I think after that, we got pretty good at it. Bob Rock’s spontaneity, he brought in the idea that you can go and be yourself on record, trust your instincts, and go with them. He is a very quick guy in the studio, he is efficient, he gets amazing tones. I learned a lot about guitar playing and sounds in the studio because of him.
Then we got to work with Dave Fortman, Brian Howe, and Howard Benson. They all have different techniques and bring different elements. Fortman, on the third record, was really about making the songs amazing with arrangers and strings. He was open about collaborations, and I think it was about being ambitious and pushing the sound as far as we could. That was Fortman’s forte. Then Brian Howe, who worked on the fourth record, Get Your Heart On!, he was a song guy. He was all about the song, the performance. We probably could make the most perfect record with Brian. I would love to collaborate with him again. Benson, I think stressed the fact that we have been doing this for so long and allowed us to do our thing in the studio. That is respectful of a producer of his statuary. He allowed us to be Simple Plan in 2016, and that is pretty cool.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like all producers have provided with some wonderful lessons. In support of the album, the band is back on the road in the US this October, and then onto Canada come November, before South America in December. What can fans expect from this run of shows?
Jeff Stinco – It is kind of cool right now. As I told you earlier, our fans have grown and some people really want to hear the old stuff. We are going through the repertoire of what people want to hear. All the best songs, like “Perfect,” to “Crazy,” to “Welcome to My Life.” People are very pleased about that. Then we are catering to the hardcore fans who know the deeper tracks and want to go into more modern stuff as well. I think it is a well balanced, very energetic show.
We are also bringing bands that we love with us. We have All Time Low and Pvris in Canada, Hit the Lights in the US. It is all about reconnecting with our audience, because we did take five years between the fourth and fifth record. We were afraid that people had forgotten us, but oddly enough, people were really anxious to see us again on stage. It is a celebration of the songs that people want to hear. It is fun, light-hearted, and we are not afraid to go into the oldies and deeper cuts. It is really about pleasing our hardcore fan base.
CrypticRock.com – Right, and you said you were afraid that perhaps fans would forget. Sometimes, when a band does go away for a while, that is a risk. What is great is that it appears that absence has made the heart grow fonder for Simple Plan fans.
Jeff Stinco – That is exactly what happened. You put your finger on it. Truthfully, I was really afraid. I thought, with all these hipster bands, that our genre could have faded a little bit. The fact that Blink-182 put out an amazing record, that fact that Sum 41 are back together, that fact New Found Glory are still successful. Then you have all these amazing bands such as A Day to Remember, I would not say are exactly in our genre, but I would say they are part of the scene. The fact is that all these bands are going and building the scene, I think it is very healthy for us. I think the fact that we put out a record that pays tribute to that Pop Punk sound we are known for, as you said, created that desire for our fans to see us live again.
I see some super-casual people, I see some people at our shows now. I also see people that are super-tatted up too at our shows. I love that diversity, I think it is amazing. As I said, it is a great time right now.
CrypticRock.com – It is a great time for the Pop Punk scene again. More than just a Rock band, Simple Plan has been very active in trying to help others with the Simple Plan Foundation. This foundation particularly helps teenagers. Since its formation, how many lives have you seen improved because of it?
Jeff Stinco – The beauty of the foundation is not doing anything gigantic. We give a proceed of every ticket that we sell to the foundation. We do events yearly to raise money. We have raised over two million dollars up to now, just doing it every year, and not stopping. That is what I am most proud of. Basically, all the money, every single penny, goes back to the foundation. Every single person who works in that foundation, including us, work as volunteers. I am most proud of that, because when started out, it was somewhat in reaction to some of the other charities that we had been dealing with that were throwing lavish parties and having big administrative costs. We just thought it was unfair to the people spending their hard-earned money to charities and not seeing results. We wanted to see results. The charity is about helping people with their problems in general. Whether it is addiction, schooling issues, poverty, we are trying to inspire people to find a passion in their life.
We are kind of in between the charitable people and the organization that act on the ground. We give money to an amazing organization that actually really makes a difference. It has been very inspiring to see so many people give their time to change their society.
We are not a very political band, actually, that is not true, I think we are very political. Our political side is not expressed in who we vote for, it is expressed in how we can change society on a social level. The charity is our most political act if anything.
CrypticRock.com – Well it really is wonderful that you are doing something. There are many people who have the ability to do something to help, but for whatever reason do not. It is nice to see that you are doing something positive.
Jeff Stinco – You have to remember one thing, as much as we are doing, we are doing very little. For a lot of people, it is frustrating, who have large ambitions about changing the world. You are really acting on a microscopic level, it can be somewhat frustrating at times. But at the same time, you can also complain about it and not do anything. We accept the reach that we have, which is not gigantic, but at least we are making a difference. The little difference that we are making is worth every minute we spend on the foundation.
CrypticRock.com – Every little bit counts. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of the genres, what are some of your all-time favorites?
Jeff Stinco – When I grew up, I watched so many Horror movies. I love all the classics, whether it was Poltergeist (1982), A Nightmare on Elm Street series, all the Halloweens. I watched some of them in French, you have to remember my first language is French. I watched so many of them, but I kind of stopped watching them over the years. They kind of freak me out. I watch The Walking Dead, it definitely is something I am really into.
When I was a kid, I was all into Ouija boards, Horror movies, I loved the movie music. I wrote a lot of music that was cinema and Horror based. I enjoyed it, but I do not watch as much Horror movies as I used to. My life is already as crazy as it can be. For some reason, I need lighter movies (laughs). I still love that aesthetic for sure, but I am just not up to date, unfortunately, going on in that world. I know there are a lot of Sci-Fi and Horror movies that are amazing, to be honest with you, I am just not up to date.