INTERVIEW – Sebastian Lefebvre, Simple Plan – October 2013
By Shane Pinnegar
Simple Plan are heading to Australia as part of the VANS WARPED tour late this year, taking in
Brisbane: Friday, November 29
Coffs Harbour: Saturday, November 30
Sydney: Sunday, December 1
Canberra: Friday, December, 6
Melbourne: Saturday, December 7
Adelaide: Sunday, December 8
And a just-announced one-off headlining show in Perth on December 3 at Perth Arena.
Far from your average potty mouthed spiky haired pop-punk rabble-rousers, I am instead connected with a polite and erudite Quebecois whose fluent English is spiced with a slight French Canadian accent. Lefebvre opens by noting we are on opposite sides of the world – it’s a full 12 hours difference from Perth to Montreal – and how much he and his band are looking forward to getting back Down Under.
“You know, it’s one of our favourite places in the world,” he declares, “Our fans, we have a great relationship with them – we’ve been coming to Australia since way back, since our first album, and every single time it’s a great time. The shows are great, [and] we love being there ‘cos it’s so familiar – it’s [like] a nicer Canada, with beaches everywhere, you know, so it’s always fun to come to Australia.”
Perth especially is in for a treat, with a full headline show from the band rather than the cut down festival set they will be playing at their other dates.
“On Warped we’re playing for an hour,” he explains with no little enthusiasm, “and with four albums, we’re pretty much playing all the hits, all the stuff that’s been on the radio, so people can pretty much sing everything from top to bottom. With a headlining set you can throw in an album track here and there, put in some fan favourites. It is different. We play for almost two hours when we headline, and we always pull out the acoustic guitars and jam out a few songs towards the end of the set, so it’s a little bit more intimate – it’s fun.
“It’s funny,” he continues, “ ‘cos when you have four albums you kind of turn your show into a Greatest Hits – I mean, we throw in a few surprises here and there, but the show is just a party and we just go from one album to the next, go back and forth. I don’t think we’ve been to Perth in like, 5 or 6 years, so we’re excited to come back.”
Simple Plan are no stranger to Vans Warped, having racked up no less than eight appearances on the touring festival in The States, the first three times (1999, 2000 and 2001) before they even had heir debut album out. It must be a good vibe tour for a musician for them to have kept coming back.
“Absolutely!” he says, “for us, the first year we got to do Warped it was all about playing with our favourite bands, you know, and I think the more we did it the more we saw how important it was for the fans there to pay a cheap price and see twelve bands in a single day and get to enjoy the music, you know? ‘Cos it really is about the music – I think when Vans Warped was first started [the first Vans Warped tour was in 1995] it was really about being punk and being anti-establishment, maybe, but now it’s just about enjoying yourself, being what you want and enjoying whatever music [you enjoy] – new music or old bands like us that have been around for a while and you haven’t seen in a while and you just wanna be nostalgic.”
Having toured their fourth album Get Your Heart Out for over two years now, Lefebvre says they are finally getting around to writing some new material for release “hopefully next year”.
“[The next album is at] very early stages, but coming along good,” he explains. “What we’re going to do is, we have some songs got left off Get Your Heart On that we’re gonna release hopefully before Christmas, just to keep the fans waiting for the next album. In the meantime we’re writing, and we’re the type of band who really takes their time to write. Because we wanna make sure the album is as good as it can be, and we wanna make sure that we’re going in the right direction, so it’s always been form for us to not go into the studio before we have the songs. We wanna get in the studio once we know we have an album that is ready rather than ‘well this is all we’ve got’ and put it out, so we take our time to write.”
There’s also a DVD in the works that the band have taken their time editing and mixing.
“We’re kinda slow, I guess,” Lefebvre laughs, “A year and a half ago we were actually in Australia, and we had such amazing shows [that] we filmed a couple of them and we’re just finishing putting them together now. So we have this awesome live show and we wanna put it out, so we just have to figure out the details of that – either physical, or special online, or either it will come with this EP I was just telling you about, or it might come with the next album, some live bonus stuff… I don’t know. There’s something coming out as far as that’s concerned – it’s really cool, it looks great, [and] obviously the crowd is awesome because it’s shot in Australia, and you know, it’s just a souvenir to have [of] over two and a half years of us touring Get Your Heart On!”
Despite Lefebvre and drummer Chuck Comeau both having directed several of Simple Plan’s music videos each, one thing you shouldn’t expect is a full blown band foray into film or television a la Tenacious D, The Beatles or The Monkees.
“I doubt it!” chokes Lefebvre, “I think Chuck really enjoys being behind the camera, and Pierre [Bouvier, vocals]’s a natural in front of it but doesn’t really like it – and the rest of us, HA! I would NOT call myself an actor AT ALL. I’m very comfortable on the radio, behind the microphone where no-one else can see me – radio is fun, so I do have a radio show, but TV, I don’t think it’s my thing, so I really don’t think we’ll have a Simple Plan movie coming out!”
Over fourteen years Simple Plan have kept the same five piece line-up, putting out four studio albums and collaborating along the way with such luminaries as Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus and Good Charlotte’s Joel Madden, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Natasha Bedingfield, as well as producers Bob Rock (Motley Crue, Metallica, The Cult, Bon Jovi, Joan Jett and many more), Danjahandz (Timbaland, Justin Timbalake) and Max Martin (Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson), notching up over seven million sales as they’ve done so. Since 2009 Lefebvre has also released three solo EP’s of his own, reaching a more roots folk-based sound. With all the travelling and the luxury of working with some pretty big names, I ask him if he really is ‘living the dream’?
“It’s still fun – surprisingly!” he laughs. “We definitely get along, and that’s the reason we keep going, you know? I think that when you see bands break up after twenty years and you see band members leave, [that] we’re the type of band that thinks, ‘well, maybe they could have worked it out?’ There’s always a bigger picture and we have a lot of fans that we don’t want to disappoint, and we know what we do so it’s easy for us to justify keeping going, especially if we still have a good time doing it.
“Not to say that we’ve never had arguments,” he says with another laugh, “but I think they’ve never been about… well, I don’t even know how other bands are, but I know with our band if people have issues we figure ’em out and we get on with things. It’s not like we’ve had issues with anybody PERSONALLY, you know? We’ll have arguments about whatever we make albums about, the philosophy of it, and what we should do as a band, and we’ll discuss it, but it’s never been like, ‘I hate this one guy and he’s this and that and I don’t ever wanna see him again’ stuff… luckily!”
All those collaborations and different producers mean a lot of outside influences and input for a band to absorb, but Simple Plan have never ceased sounding like, well… Simple Plan. It begs the question as to whether the extra input is to explore the boundaries of their own music, or just to jam and have fun.
“I think it’s a bit of both, you know,” he says thoughtfully. “For some reason when you’re in a band, when it comes to producers you don’t have to be faithful at all, so we hopped around and had fun over the years experimenting with different guys. Whenever we had an opportunity to work with somebody who had a lot of talent and who could bring something to the table, we took it – we took that chance and we tried whatever that person had to offer. Making an album [2004’s Still Not Getting Any…] with Bob Rock was a lot of fun because you could hear the energy and the heaviness of the band. Working with Danjahandz on a few songs on the third [2008’s self-titled] album really brought some beats to the table which [carried over to] – even though they are different albums and they do sound like an evolution – the latest, Get Your Heart On, [which] still has some programming in there. It’s definitely something that we learned from him that we carried on to the next project. I mean, it’s fun to try new things, especially moving onto our fifth album with the same guys [in the band] it’s fun to spice it up and mix it up a bit.
“I think the best way to explain [our progression] is just to listen to all of the albums” Lefebvre carries on. “There’s definitely an evolution and a lot of doors have been opened – we did try some stuff on the third album and established ourself as a rock band, and we established ourself as a fun band. Sometimes there’s a very emotional song, the ballad on our last one. It’s kind’ve important that we can do whatever we want and it’s still gonna sound like Simple Plan – we’re not gonna pull a 180 on anyone. So, I mean, it’s a good place to be in, we definitely have a sound, and at the same time we can go in and try things and keep on evolving as musicians, and as a band that plays together.”
In contrast to the ‘sex, drugs & rock n’ roll’ cliché of a touring punk or hard rock band, Lefebvre says the show is too important to compromise like recent history’s wild figures of rock might have.
“Maybe some bands still do the Eighties way,” he says, dismissively, “but it’s not the same any more. I have this crazy theory and I might be completely wrong, but I have a feeling that most bands back then weren’t that great live, but there’s no way of knowing ‘cos YouTube wasn’t around. And because they partied all night long, they just didn’t deliver onstage, but everybody was still having a good time at the shows so [no-one noticed].
“Nowadays if you go out and party every night and you step on stage, you’re done – you’re finished – no-one’s gonna come see you again. So it’s always been very important for us to be professional and to give the fans what they want. If you go to one concert a year [and that happens], you’re probably not gonna come back. So our philosophy is to give the best show we can, but the whole partying all night and being a dickhead on social media… maybe not!”
That’s hardly a surprise for a band who formed The Simple Plan Foundation (http://simpleplanfoundation.org) in 2005 to ‘help young people in need, by easing their often difficult passage to adulthood and by supporting the victims of life threatening illnesses.’ The band have done a lot of fundraising and publicity in order to be able to use their foundation as a real force for good, and something they can be justifiably proud of.
“We do have the Foundation,” Lefebvre agrees, “that has grown over the years and we’re very proud that we can make a difference, even if it’s small in some cases in some people’s lives, and it’s part of who we are in the band now.”
I ask Sebastien is the concept of karma enters into the equation.
“Well hopefully!!” he laughs, “It’s definitely pretty good if part of the bonus effect is we get good karma on top of it then. [That’s] good for us!”
With all the good things happening around the band, they can’t complain too loudly.
“Exactly!” he exclaims, “You know, maybe that’s part of it?”
In an interview Lefebvre did way back in 2008, he described a day on the road as “You shower, then you try to find food ‘cos… you’ve been sleeping too long, then you probably have a couple of interviews to do, then you’ll have a sound check, then you’ll have a show, then you’ll have a party, and then you’ll go to the next city”. It sounds like a fast track to feeling like a rat in a cage, doing the same schedule day in, day out.
“I dunno,” he shrugs, laughing, “all those things sound like fun to me! It’s part of how it is – especially when we come to Australia, honestly, ‘cos it’s far for us and we don’t go there every other month, we come there only once a year so we do try to maximise our time there. So there’s definitely interviews, there’s definitely short periods of time when you can roam around and… It is what we signed up for, so it would be very, very weird for us to start complaining ‘oh life is so boring’ and all this and all that.
“There’s SOOOO many bands out there that would kill to be in our position and we know that we’re very lucky to be doing what we want and what we love and make a living out of it hopefully. It’s fun, even if sometimes the schedule does look hectic – I don’t think ANYbody could do it, but we do it. We love it and we have fun.”
I finish by asking Lefebvre which album he would like to work on if he could magically go back in time.
“Probably the first one, because it WAS the first one and we had never been together in the studio as a band,” he says, slightly misreading my question. I let him continue though as it’s an interesting take on the experience of recording your debut album. “I definitely learned a lot during that recording, but I cant say I enjoyed it that much because a lot of it was new, and I was very intimidated by the whole process. Turned out great, mind you – the album did great for us, it sort of launched us into touring everywhere that we’ve been. It was a very interesting record to make and we were very young, first album and all that. So I’d love to go back and try to maybe enjoy it a bit more and have it sink in a bit more so I could maybe learn from everything that happened.”
What about somebody else’s album?
“Any Beatles album that ever got recorded!” he says in awe. “There was definitely some magic in those recordings, and just to be in the room when they were tracking those songs, I would’ve loved to have been there.”
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