There comes a time in every band's career when it has to choose between staying on the well-worn path or taking a detour onto the road less certain. For Simple Plan, that decision was made earlier this year when they headed down to Miami's Hit Factory studios to work with producer Nate "Danjahandz" Hills, Timbaland's protégé and the man responsible for Britney Spears' "Gimme More."
"We're a band that's sold something like 7 million records, had two records that did really well, so we had to find a way to change without changing, to kind of reinvent ourselves," frontman Pierre Bouvier said. "All the bands that stand the test of time always have that record where it sounds different than anything previous, so we wanted to make things that sounded a bit more fresh. And so we did things like work with guys like Danja. He'd come up with some stuff, very synthy, very beat-oriented, and we'd write on that, and we made these really cool songs. And from there, we felt more confident to try something different, so we wrote the rest of the record."
Working with Hills marked the beginning of the end of a year-and-a-half journey making SP's yet-untitled third album, which the guys say will be released in late January. The voyage took them from their hometown of Montreal to San Diego, down to Barbados and then to Miami, and saw them courting collaborations with artists like Gwen Stefani and Will.I.Am (though neither of those will appear on the final product). Through it all, they kept fans abreast of developments through copious amounts of MySpace blogging (see "Simple Plan Taking Their Time On New LP, But Promise To 'Blog Like Hardcore Nerds' "). And, somewhat understandably, as the developments kept getting weirder — or, at least, less Simple Plan-y — their fanbase got more and more worried.
So now that the record — which features three songs produced by Hills (the first single, "When I'm Gone," along with "The End" and "Generation") and an assist from former Limp Bizkit deckhand DJ Lethal (on "Your Love Is a Lie") — is finished, were all those worries justified? Have Simple Plan taken things too far?
Well, yes and no.
"It's a big step, and for sure, a lot of people will hear it and be like, 'Oh, my God, this is so not what they were before.' But if you want to make a mark on music, you have to take some risks," Bouvier said. "Like, you'll hear a song that when it starts, you'll be like, 'Whoa, this is not Simple Plan,' but by the end you'll realize that it is Simple Plan, but with a different flavor.
"In this day and age, you got to find a way to get ahead, and we did," he continued. "I think it all puts an edge to what we've been doing, but nothing too crazy. I hate when people go out and do collaborations and it sounds like two separate things that don't mesh together, but these songs feel honest. They don't feel forced. We could've been in the studio a year earlier, with 12 songs that would've been really good, but we wanted to make something more important than that."
Simple Plan claim to realize what usually happens to successful bands that try to shake things up. It's an age-old tale that usually ends in alienated fanbases and plenty of crashing and/or burning. But when they talk about some of the songs on the record, like "No Love," "What If" (which features an orchestra conducted by Beck's dad, David Campbell) and "Save You" (which Bouvier said is about his brother's recent battle with cancer), it's not difficult to tell that they're immensely proud of album number three, and they're willing to deal with any repercussions that come from the album.
"We're not really a strictly modern rock band. We're basically a pop band that played the Warped Tour, and so I think that gives us more freedom, because our fans are more open to what's good," Bouvier said. "If you're a band that only gets played on modern rock radio, and then you make a song with some keyboards in it, people are like, 'You sold out.' But for us, our fans will listen to anything. And hopefully they'll like this."
"There were definitely a few moments where we'd be listening to the music and we'd go, 'Are we really gonna do this?' And I think we all decided to do it," guitarist Jeff Stinco added. "If the five of us can endorse it, well, then it's probably good. We had to trust our opinions and what we felt. And when it was good enough for the five of us, we decided it was time to release it."