Pierre Bouvier of Simple Plan

by Carl Wiser

Simple Plan's frontman names the two songs that defined the pop-punk genre, talks about their most important songs, and explains how their collaboration with hitmaker Max Martin went awry.

In the heady days of pop-punk (2002-2004) when Simple Plan was en route to selling two million copies of their debut album, lead singer Pierre Bouvier would answer every email sent to pierre@simpleplan.com, which was posted on their website. The group was always an exemplar in fan relations, hanging out until every autograph was signed and every picture snapped. Pierre has a theory on why they can do it with such alacrity: they're Canadian.

The group formed in 1999 when five friends from Montreal joined forces, with Pierre and drummer Chuck Comeau doing most of the songwriting. Here we are in 2020 and they're still together with the same lineup. Those fans who hung out by the tour bus are now connected through social media (8.8 million Facebook followers), and are anxiously awaiting the group's sixth album.

Simple Plan has always balanced highly charged, rebellious songs like "Perfect" and "Welcome to My Life" with good ol' fashioned fun, like their hit "Addicted" ("I'm a dick... I'm addicted to you") and their more recent banger, "Boom." They take their time between albums - the last one was released in 2016. That's partly because they're perfectionists and partly because they can: They didn't buy any Lambos or snakeskin suits when they came into cash.

In this in-depth conversation, Bouvier gets to the crux of how their songs have created a sense of community and soundtracked so many important moments in our lives. Now that he's a father, they affect him in a different way. He'll never chastise his kids for not being perfect.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): Pierre, you were in a band all through high school, so I'm assuming you were cool.

Pierre Bouvier: I would say about middle of the road on that one. But yeah, I guess you could say that.

Songfacts: How do you then connect with songs like "I'm Just A Kid" or "Welcome To My Life" that are these outcast anthems?

Bouvier: Chuck and I were in a pretty small high school. I was a skater kid [or as his onetime tourmate Avril Lavigne would say, a Sk8er Boi]. I had bleached orange hair and was trying to find my place in the world and trying to figure out what I wanted to do. The authority figures were always a challenge: my parents, my teachers. Luckily, I had a couple of teachers that were really cool. I had a music teacher that was an awesome guy that I credit a lot for where I went musically. But even if you can find your place, I think you never feel like you're quite good enough or are doing the right thing.

I was talking to my parents about stopping school for a minute to focus on music. After high school in Quebec we have a thing called CEGEP, which is before university. I went there for a semester and I was in my band, so I was kind of half-assing the school. I had no problems in school before, but I was never showing up because I was busy playing shows and doing things, and I ended up flunking a bunch of classes. It wasn't due to me not being able to handle the material, I had too many absences and the teachers would just flunk me. I was like, "This is ridiculous."

My parents were supporting me being in a band - they thought it was a really cool idea - but they were like, "Hey, you can't be quitting school and focusing on this because this is more of a hobby. Where do you think you're going with your life, and what are you going to do about money in the future?"

And I was like, "I don't care about money. I just want to play music, and I'm enjoying this scene. I'm a part of something." So, those challenges of living up to the expectations of your parents came out in those songs.

A lot of the lyrical content comes from Chuck. He comes up with the concepts of what we're going to talk about in the songs. I've always been more on the music side. I do a little bit of the lyrics with him as well, but as far as subject matter, he's always the one that sparks the ideas.

Chuck and I are definitely different. In high school, I was more of a skater kid and had some friends, and Chuck was more of the nerdy type that didn't have any. So maybe that side of our music comes a little bit more from him. His parents wanted him to be a little more into the school system, and I think they wanted him to be a lawyer - he went to law school for a minute and then he dropped out of that. So most of those lyrics come from that kind of challenge.

Also, from early teenage life, having a band together we were exposed to the punk rock scene in Montreal and played a lot of shows at a very young age, so we identified with this counterculture, Southern California punk music that was coming out from Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph and some stuff from Europe, and just that whole vibe. We'd go to a show with these people with spiked hair and piercings, and we'd go in the mosh pit and just mosh and get out and then have to take the bus back to our parents' house. I think all of that put together made us feel like we found our place in the world and that we belong. We wanted to give voice to that whole scene - for the kids at the shows. So all that blended together and that's where it came from.

Songfacts: "Perfect" has been a big song for you throughout your career, and here you are now, a parent. How does that song affect you now?

Bouvier: It reminds me of where I was as a kid, and it gives me perspective on how to handle my kids. I can see already some challenges showing up, and I can see their little personalities coming out. My kids are now 6 1/2 going on 7, and 8, so they're right at that age where they're starting to become their own people and they don't want to go to bed at a certain time and they don't want to do what you tell them or eat what you give them. They're like, "I don't want that. Let's not do it. That sounds boring."

So I'm getting a glimpse of what the teenage years ahead are going to be for me, and a song like "Perfect" hopefully will remind me in the difficult times with my kids to go easy on them and to remind myself that in those years, there's a lot of confusion and a lot of learning to become who you are, and learning to be a human being. I'm sure it's going to give my kids some fuel when they want something. They'll be like, "You always said I'd never be perfect..."

So, it's going to be challenging, but hopefully it will give me some insight.

I think a lot of times in our adult lives, we either block out or straight-up forget about the challenges of being a kid. We know it's all going to work out, but when you're a kid in that moment, it feels like the whole world is coming down on you. I'm going to try to look back and remember that when my kids get in those situations.

By 2000, Simple Plan had a fervent local fanbase in Montreal and had attracted the attention of Lava Records. The magic moment came when they found out Lava's A&R, Andy Karp, would be in town to see a different act; Simple Plan booked a show, convinced Karp to swing by, and didn't start performing until he got there. That night, in Karp's hotel lobby, they hammered out a deal.

It took well over a year to record their debut album, and another year before it caught on. Some of their songs had been in the works for four years by the time they broke through in 2003.
Songfacts: Pierre, what songs from your original demo made it onto your first album?

Bouvier: Original demo, "I'd Do Anything" and "I'm Just A Kid."

"I'd Do Anything" was one of the first songs we wrote together. Chuck and I were in a previous band that lasted about five years [Reset], and then when that band dismantled, it reshaped as Simple Plan, and one of the first songs we wrote together was "I'd Do Anything."

The demo version of that song is quite different. The intro riff is different, the chorus is pretty much exactly the same, but everything else got changed. That was one of the very early songs.

And "I'm Just A Kid" was one of the first songs we recorded with our buddy Graeme Humphrey, who was the producer so to speak at the time. "I'm Just A Kid" and "I'd Do Anything" were two of the first songs that we wrote, and oddly enough we still play them at every show, so I guess they worked out.

Songfacts: What was it like when you started hearing about how deeply people were affected by these songs?

Bouvier: You know, it took me a moment to realize that, because back when we first started, social media didn't really exist - it was communication with emails. In our early years together, we were kind of oblivious to it. We knew our records were selling, but we didn't have this thing in our pocket that would tell us how many likes and how many followers we had and how popular we were, so it wasn't as easy to get a real grasp of what was happening.

I remember specifically one show early in our career we played in Vermont, which is just south of Montreal, just a few hours away from us. We played with Marcy Playground, which was an alternative band that got a lot of buzz with the song "Sex And Candy." I remember there was no barricade or anything. It was a small show in a ski resort, and the front row was all a bunch of young people - mostly young girls - that were sitting on the sides of the stage where we were playing, and when we played "Perfect," a lot of them were crying. They weren't crying hysterically like with the Beatles where it's like, "I love you!" It was more the emotion from the lyrics and how they could relate to it. And I remember thinking, Holy shit. These people are crying to the words that I'm singing.

That was the first time I saw that, and I remember it being an indicator of how these songs are more than just me and a band. Because before in our band Reset, which was more of a fast, punk, sort of skate-punk music, we had a lot of great lyrics which really touched people, but it was more angry with a political side to it, and we never had those deep, emotional songs that could get to people and really tug on those cords.

So, that show - I think it was a resort called Jay Peak - seeing those young girls on the front row sitting on the stage and crying while we were playing, I was like, Holy crap. I think we wrote something that may be important to some people.

Songfacts: Did that affect how you moved forward with your songwriting?

Bouvier: Yeah, I guess so. When we did our first album, we carved out a sound for ourselves that was uplifting musically, melodically, but with lyrics that were deeply touching and at times sad. We figured out it was the lane we've carved out for ourselves and decided to keep going with what we've accomplished.

I grew up with fast, punk music, and then right when Simple Plan came together was when blink-182's Enema Of The State came out and we got more into pop music and alternative music, and combining those styles. Like No Doubt, I remember that song "Don't Speak" was just coming out. Those songs gave us the idea of what this band could sound like. It was using those punk influences for a few songs, but also tapping into more of these pop-melodic songs with really heartfelt lyrics.

In my household when I was growing up, my mom was a super pop lover. She loved Michael Jackson, all the way to cheesy Whitney Houston stuff, and my dad loved The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac. So a lot of very melodic, catchy things were happening in my household when I was a young child, and all those things put together gave us that sound.

Songfacts: I heard Andy Karp talk about how before social media, you guys found ways to individually connect with fans in ways nobody else did. Can you describe what you did?

Bouvier: Yeah. We put our emails on our website.

Back then it was before MySpace and before Instagram and all of that stuff. We were a young band that didn't have a lot of fans, and we wanted to reach out to them. We were passing out free demos and trying to promote ourselves as much as we could, and one of the ideas was to create a website and put our emails on there - it was pierre@simpleplan.com, jeff@simpleplan.com, chuck@simpleplan.com - and people wrote and we replied.

At some point, it became impossible to catch up with the emails, but for the first few years, we literally would answer every email that we got and developed a strong connection with a lot of those fans that were there in the beginning. Social media didn't exist, so it was a way to communicate with the fans and get to know what they want and what they were like.

It was also fueled by the idea that we were fans of bands. When I was growing up I was a huge fan of Pearl Jam, and if Eddie Vedder would have replied to an email from me, I would have lost my shit. So we tried to do that as long as we could. We did it for a while and it was awesome.

Songfacts: On "Addicted," at what point did you come up with the "I'm a dick, I'm addicted to you" bit?

Bouvier: I remember specifically writing that song in Chuck's parents' house in his bedroom and coming up with that line, which was the anchor of that whole song. The first thing we wrote for that song was the little riff, then we had that line, "I'm a dick, I'm addicted to you."

We were trying to push the envelope and do stuff that would attract people's attention and stand out from the masses. That's how we came up with "I'm just a kid and life is a nightmare" on "Just A Kid," and for "Addicted" it was the "stutter" part as we called it, because you don't want to say "I'm a dick" - it's just a stutter.

But the funny thing is, we recorded that song and were in the mixing process getting it ready for the album when one of our favorite bands, Lit, comes up with a song called "Addicted" that pretty much does the same exact thing. Lit at the time was huge - blink-182 and Lit were the two big bands of that genre. Their song went, "I'm addicted to you, but you're such a dick to me." We were crushed.

Our song was written and recorded, but we were like, "How can we put this out now? Lit is going to put this single out and it's going to be huge because all of their singles are huge. It's going to kill that song for us." We got really depressed about it.

Our song came out, and I hate to say it, but luckily for us, the Lit song didn't do that well. It kind of went under the radar, so we talked about it with Andy and the label and decided not to let it stop us. The song was good, so we put it out anyway, and it did great for us.

Songfacts: What is the defining song of the pop-punk genre?

Bouvier: Hmm. Good question. Even though I'm sure they don't like the word pop-punk, "Basket Case" by Green Day took that style and really blew up in a way that had never been done before. Chuck and I and the guys were all into it, and so were bands like Face To Face and No Use For A Name.

And then "What's My Age Again" by blink-182 was obviously a gigantic smash. Those two songs paved the way for bands like Simple Plan and Good Charlotte and New Found Glory, and all the ones that came afterward, like Yellowcard. I think we owe a huge debt of gratitude to those two songs - those are the ones that really solidified the pop-punk genre and created a whole scene for us.

Simple Plan: the early yearsSimple Plan: the early years
Songfacts: You talked about how you often come up with the musical ideas for songs. Can you elaborate on how you do that?

Bouvier: A lot of the songs we've written were a true collaboration where Chuck would come up with a line and tell me all of these ideas for lyrics, and I'd pick out the ones I thought were more of a chorus line, and then I would just sing it out loud. For "Welcome To My Life," he said, "What about a song called 'Welcome To My Life' that's about how things are difficult and if you ever felt that way, well, welcome to my life." I sang the melody, and we built the rest of the pieces around that.

For most of the songs, that was the process. Other times, I would come up with a riff or a melodic idea. On this next record that's coming out, a few of the songs I wrote almost everything melodically - intro, verse, chorus melodies - without any words, and then we put some words onto it. So, it all depends, but our big songs were written with the words coming first, and then I would sing them out and find a melody for them, and then from there we'd do a chorus and then we'd do a verse, and then we'd try to build an intro.

I try to not make it too much into a formula because at some point it gets repetitive, but Chuck is a more lyrical guy, and I'm able to get in there and do the music. I've developed my skills over the last 20 years and now I can pretty much demo on anything I want: I play guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, piano, sing all the melodies and backing vocals. I do that at my studio at home, and then I can show the guys and we can all pick it apart and figure out how to make it into a Simple Plan song.

Songfacts: What's a song on the upcoming album that you're excited about?

Bouvier: Just yesterday I just put together a teaser reel because we're having some meetings with some people. I was putting together the six or seven best songs that we have - just little snippets of verses and choruses - and it's super exciting to hear it that way because you get to hear like a minute of each song. I looked back and I was like, Wow, I think we've got a great record on our hands.

But one of the songs I'm the most excited about, I can't divulge any titles yet, but there's a song that's got a bit of an '80s vibe to it with high energy, and it's a song about infatuation with someone, and just being in love with someone. But there are four or five songs that I think are some of the best I've ever been involved in.

This is our sixth full-length album, and it's interesting when I look back at what decisions we took in writing songs and putting records out. There are fears and doubt, but I feel like with every album we get a little bit more confident. For so many years we tried to change what we sounded like to adapt to certain things or to give ourselves this creative freedom, and at the end of the day, I think fans want to hear what Simple Plan sounds like, but in a new format and in a new way, but still being true to who we are. I think this record really encapsulates that. We've found a great balance of something that sounds likes Simple Plan but is not something you feel like you've heard over and over again. So, I'm excited.

Songfacts: What part of the process takes the most time?

Bouvier: I call it the tweaking phase. The initial inspiration of a song or the initial chorus usually goes pretty quickly, but after we record the bass tracks, the drum tracks, the basic guitar tracks, we try in every single way to make the songs more exciting and we tweak every part, whether it's adding guitar parts or changing the melody a little bit, or doing the drums. So we're very meticulous.

You can probably tell from our music that it's not this wild, recorded-off-the-floor thing. I think we're perfectionists at heart, and I'm a songwriter that loves well-crafted and perfected melodies and for everything to be just right. It's getting all those parts perfect and getting that feeling.

Even on this cycle making this record, there are a few songs where we had to go back and I was like, "This just doesn't feel right." Like the drum doesn't sound right or something. We'd re-record that, or mix it again, or put some vocals from my demo tracks on because the one I re-recorded doesn't sound as energetic. So it's just making everything sit perfectly to give you that emotional response when you hear it the first time.

Songfacts: Are there things you can express in French that you can't in English?

Bouvier: Probably a few, yeah. There are some times when my wife asks me something and I'll say, "In French I would say this, but I don't think there's a word in English, because I think there are more words in the French language than there are in the English language, and there are more ways to say the same thing in different ways."

Songfacts: Did you ever write a song in French?

Bouvier: I have never in my life written a song in French. I have translated songs in French for a French version.

The whole band are from Montreal, Canada, a very French-speaking area. When we were younger it was about 60% French, 40% English. My mom grew up in an English household and my dad grew up in a French household, but in my household growing up we never listened to French music or French TV. We didn't have anything against it, we just were more drawn to American movies, American TV shows and American music.

There was one song my parents used to play once in a while from a band called The Harmonium called "Pour Un Instant," which means "For An Instant," and that was the only French song my parents played in the house. But yeah, I wasn't exposed to a lot of French TV and music because my parents were just really into more of the American culture.

Songfacts: You've been working with a lot of collaborators lately. What is the most important thing you've learned from one of these collaborators?

Bouvier: The first two records, we did zero collaborations - it was just Chuck and I that wrote everything. We involved the guys later in the process, but it was just the two of us writing. When I started collaborating, the biggest lesson I learned was that every collaborator, everyone that is a songwriter, has ideas that are mediocre.

The best songwriters are the ones that allow themselves to suck - to have a bad idea and then move on and write another one. At first, I was terrified of showing my ideas because I was like, This is so bad. I can't hum a little melody on a guitar thing and say, "Here's my idea for a song." I felt like there's no way the big songwriters that I look up to do it this way.

I remember on our third or fourth record we had a writing session with Desmond Child, who is one of the biggest songwriters in the music industry - he's written songs for Alice Cooper, Katy Perry... he's been a huge writer. We went to his house in Nashville and I was so intimidated. I thought everything he came up with was going to be amazing.

We sat down and we spoke for a while. Chuck and I were chatting with him for a minute and then we started writing. The ideas he was coming up with at first were just the same as mine: They were very simple - a little humming melody or an idea for a lyric. And I was like, Yeah, that's kind of a shitty idea. I have huge respect for him and I always will, but I realized that most songwriters, especially ones like him who have written some of my favorite songs and have been hugely successful, have ideas that are not that great, and then once you get through those ideas and write more and keep going, you're going to hit those good ones. That gave me a lot of confidence, and it gave me a little more freedom to show up in a room and show an idea that might not be great. I'm just going to say it because that's the way you get to good ideas. So that was the biggest lesson I learned.

On their self-titled third album in 2008, Simple Plan started using outside songwriters, including Max Martin, the Swedish uber-producer whose name shows up on the hit lists of Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys. Martin is a rainmaker, but his efforts with Simple Plan were more of a drizzle. The song they put together, "Generation," made the album but wasn't released as a single.
Songfacts: So many artists have talked about the genius of Max Martin when he comes in and writes their big single, but the song he worked with you on ended up being an album cut that I've heard you guys slag off over the years.

Bouvier: Uh-huh. The process of working with Max was an interesting one. Our A&R at the time, Pete Ganbarg, hooked us up with him, and we were ecstatic about writing a song with him. We went to Conway Studios and started writing. It was kind of the same thing: The ideas were not incredible.

We ended up working on a song that we had already written called "Generation." He thought the concept of it was really cool, and he thought the integration of that hip-hop beat with the trumpets and all of that was really exciting, so we ended up doing that.

But Max is a very busy man and didn't have a lot of time to work with us. He sent us some demos of songs we could use. We've never taken someone else's song, but hey, from Max Martin, I'll take a listen. So, he sent us I think three songs and they were all kind of meh. I thought, We can do better than that.

Max Martin is one of the most talented and smartest songwriters out there, but now I look at the way he operates - because I've been around people that work with him - and I see he has a huge pool of writers that all focus on the same project, and then you narrow it down to all the good ideas and you cherry-pick from them. Then when you have a good, solid structure, you can build from that.

I find the tough part about writing is coming up with the initial inspiration, the initial idea, the beginning. Once you have a cool chorus or something it's a lot easier to build the rest. So working with Max was interesting because he was excited about an idea that we already had. It reinforced that idea that maybe I have the potential to be a hit songwriter. Even though I already had hits in the past, I always felt that kind of insecurity, but now after all those years and all those sessions with people that are so successful, I realize I actually have the talent that it takes to write a massive hit song, I just need to work at it, and work at it, and work at it, and once in a while you'll catch lightning in a bottle and you don't really know why. Why is it on one day you'll come up with an idea that will change your career forever, and another day or another week, you'll write songs that fall flat? I think it's about pushing through and powering through those days that don't give you good songs to get to the good ones.

Songfacts: What's one of the lesser-known Simple Plan songs that means a lot to you?

Bouvier: It's funny because our band has always been so attached to our lyrics and our fans have always found our lyrical content so important and meaningful, but even though I love lyrics, I've always been more of a melody guy. I'm always moved by the way something is said - I'm not a poem kind of guy. So one of the songs that I think was overlooked is "Fire In My Heart." It's off our EP that came out between albums four and five [Get Your Heart On – The Second Coming in 2013], and it's really poppy. It's got those little grindy guitars that sound like "Life Is A Highway" by Tom Cochrane. It's not very punky at all, but as far as being a songwriter and being someone who has tried to develop my craft over the years, I think it's a well-written song that makes you feel good - it makes me feel good anyways. There's a lot of imagery in the verses and a lot of clever lyrics in there that all come together, and I just love it. I've never heard anyone comment on it - no fans or anything like that - but it's one of my favorites.

And, another one, oddly enough, is one we did on our last record called "I Dream About You." It's a very orchestral, dark, almost Lana Del Rey-style song, no drums. When I play it for friends or acquaintances, they're like, "Holy shit!" But oddly enough, it's one of those songs where once again I've never heard a fan say they love the song. So, it's obvious that my radar and my taste in music may not be in line with everyone who listens to Simple Plan.

Songfacts: What is the best part of your job?

Bouvier: Hmm. So many good parts. I guess the best part of my job is the freedom to be creative. That can be terrifying at times - it can be very intimidating - but I'm not attached to a schedule. I'm not a 9-to-5 kind of guy, so it allows me to be a parent with my kids in a way that a lot of people can't. I can be home for two weeks straight and have nothing else to do but to hang out with my kids.

My job is to allow myself to be free. I go up on stage and I have to find the inner wild rock-star guy and let him out. That's what I get paid to do, and when I think about it, it's pretty mind-blowing. I don't have a quota I have to meet, I don't have a deadline - well, I have deadlines but they're loose - and I can be myself at the highest level.

An analogy would be to take your clothes off and show everyone who you are. That's my job, and it can be very terrifying, it can be hard to deal with sometimes, but it's also the coolest thing about it: I get to show who I am on the deepest level.

February 6, 2020
Photos: Chady Awad
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Comments: 3

  • Erin from AustraliaFor the record I love the melodies, I love when the words speak to you and hit you right in the heart. Simple Plan lyrics about love like Fire In My Heart mean the most to me. On my wedding day I walked down the aisle to Perfectly Perfect, it didn’t matter that nobody else knew the song all that mattered was how it made me feel right to my core and now I get to feel that feeling for the rest of my life whenever I listen to that song. Music is powerful and I am forever grateful that I have Simple Plan songs and lyrics to make me feel something everyday of my life.
  • Andrew Zoeller from Hamburg,nylove the songfacts site! cool interviews!
  • Miriam Motou from Cdmx, MexicoLeer estas palabras me hacen saber que estoy en el canal perfecto, siempre me a gustado Simple Plan por lo que son, no por su imagen o sus ventas, sino por todo lo que representan en cada una de sus canciones.
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