Co-Writer, Producer, Recording Engineer, Mix Engineer
Album Multi Platinum
Canada and US
Simple Plan tell the real story behind ‘No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls’
May 18 2017, 11:45 AM EDT By Colin McGuire
Fifteen years after No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls launched Simple Plan from obscure Canadian pop-punkers to mainstream hitmakers, the band are spending the majority of 2017 on the road, revisiting the album by playing it front-to-back each night.
Before heading to Europe this month and coming back to the States for continued touring in August, the band and some of their inner circle caught up with AP to recount the often tumultuous processes by which No Pads came together. As guitarist Jeff Stinco notes, “There’s a tendency to unify the story and recollect what happened in a very glorious way, and make it sound as if it was one unified front. But I think what’s important is that it was five guys, who had completely different situations getting into the studio.” He pauses to add, “We had to survive.”
LIVING THE WORST DAYS EVER
JEFF STINCO: The process itself was long. Arnold challenged us a lot. That record could have taken, at the most, two months to make; it took a year. We were living in very close quarters, sleeping in a windowless room with bunkbeds. We were cooking for ourselves, which is normal, but nobody knew how to cook, so it was horrible. It was a tedious process. Arnold had this vision where he would say, “You guys record yourself, I’m going to come back and criticize and edit it,” and that’s exactly what he’d do. He would leave us days at a time in the studio, I would record the whole album, he would come back and be, like, “Yeah, you could do better,” and scratch everything I did. It was frustrating.
ARNOLD LANNI: It may have appeared that way, but when I was a musician, I never wanted people looking over my shoulder. I’d want the producer to say, “Here’s the song. Here’s what I’d like you to do. How much time do you need? An hour-and-a-half? I’ll come back in an hour-and-a-half because that way, I’m not looking over your shoulder as you track it.” It was just to get them to chase what they wanted to chase. If you aim for a target and you don’t hit the target, I have to at least mention it. On some occasions, I’d say, “Here’s what I want you to do. I’ll be in the next room, or I’ll come back in three hours after you have a chance to lay this down.” If it wasn’t what we as a group talked about, I’d come back and say, “Yeah, this is unacceptable.” It was never anything personal; it’s just hard sometimes to explain to a young person what they don’t know. Because Jeff’s such a talented musician, I would have him do things that were probably just a little bit outside of his comfort zone—not in a technical sense, because there’s probably nothing that Jeff can’t play, because he’s just that good—but I was doing things to have him create tension and atmosphere within a track. Things like that, I don’t know if he, at the time being so young, understood.
PIERRE BOUVIER: There were some difficult times, for sure. We felt like it was a pretty big opportunity for us and we didn’t want to mess it up because if you mess up your first record, you’re kind of doomed. I think Arnold is really an artist, and I think he gets caught up in that “let’s make this the best that we can” [mentality]. We were working with Arnold for about a year-and-a-half before we got signed, so we spent a lot of time together and there was a lot of clashing of opinions. He came from a different world than we did, and he wanted to push the quirky, pop side of what we were doing. We were more of the pop-punk guys that wanted to keep it a little more simple. He would say there was no dynamic in the band. We were all perfectionists. Some days, I’d sing vocals for a whole song—lead vocals, backing vocals, everything. I’d spend hours and hours and hours while he was out of the studio, doing something else. Then he’d come back at night, at 9, 10 p.m., and listen to them, and be like, “Yeah, I don’t know. I’m not sure I’m feeling that; we’re going to do that again tomorrow.” And I’d be like, “What? I just sang my heart out all day and that’s not cutting it!”
DAVID DESROSIERS: It was my first time in a proper recording studio. I was very overwhelmed and intimidated by the process. Arnold’s vision for the band was that the singer was singing weird stuff and the guitar players should use different types of chord structures, whereas we just wanted to play really hard.
BOUVIER: Arnold was really trying to make us sound unique and different and one of the ways he was doing that was pushing me to sound—and I’m quoting him—“to sound more whiny.” There were some singers back in the ’80s that to my ears sounded kind of goofy, but he was like, “Push the teenage, annoying voice more,” and I was like, “No, I don’t like it!” When I listen back today, I think that record is the one where my voice sounds the most whiny and it really irks me. I find it hard to listen to.
When I listen back today, I think that record is the one where my voice sounds the most whiny and it really irks me. I find it hard to listen to.
DESROSIERS: Arnold had this analogy he would use: “Right now, I’m John McEnroe, and you guys can’t return my serve.” We always wanted to say, “How about you try to be the retired excellent tennis player who’s now coaching this new tennis player?” [Laughs.] I think that would have worked a little better.
LANNI: I do agree with the fellas that it was tough. I think a lot of it was due to the fact that they were just so young and eager. They knew who they wanted to be; they were full of piss and vinegar and protective of what they wanted to do. What we all understood was we all wanted the same thing: We wanted to make a record we were proud of and we also wanted to make a record that was hopefully going to stand the test of time. To do that, what I tried to bring to the table was, how could we set ourselves apart from everybody else, and that was probably the hardest thing for the guys to understand at such a young age.
ANDY KARP: You had a lot of strong personalities. Arnold’s a taskmaster, and he’ll tell you that. He works singers really, really hard. I was up there fairly regularly during recording and I remember feeling a little bit like a psychotherapist, sometimes like a diplomat, but that comes along with the job.
BOUVIER: Arnold was really pushing us to the extreme to the point where sometimes we’d just want to be like, “Go to Hell, dude. I think this is really good, and I don’t know what you’re talking about.” [Laughs.]
LANNI: I always knew, because they were good kids and they were arguing for the right reasons, it wasn’t a pissing contest, where it was just about winning for winning’s sake. They just wanted to make a great record, and we just disagreed a little bit about how to get there. I kid with the guys now and say if we went back and tried to make that record now, I think 90 percent of the things we thought were challenging probably wouldn’t be an issue today by virtue of the fact that we’re a little bit older. I remember after the record was done, we didn’t talk. We didn’t speak for a while and it wasn’t anything personal; it was just that they were really challenged. I applaud them because they never quit, they never, ever quit. I’m kind of notorious for trying to get the most out of somebody, but I never asked them to do something that they couldn’t do. I think looking back, it’s been 15 years and that record still holds up. Melodically, it’s a masterpiece. The songs are amazing and that’s because there was a lot of friction.
BOUVIER: There’s no right or wrong and I think for young guys who just got signed, we thought we knew what we needed and he thought he knew what we needed and they weren’t always the same things. At the end of the day, I think the record was great. Our relationship with Arnold was tested many times during that record, and by the time it was done, I would say we definitely needed a break from each other. There were probably some bad words that were exchanged about what we thought about each other, but what’s great is that after all that time, our relationship with Arnold has become better and solidified and we realized all the positives he brought to the record. It says a lot that today, we’re good friends. We just needed a moment after that to breathe. It was such an intense period.
The tumult behind them, No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls was finally released March 19, 2002, to little acclaim. The band initially wanted to go with “Addicted” as the lead single, but a movie opportunity arose and “I’m Just A Kid” was the mainstream’s first introduction to Simple Plan. After initially stalling, the record took off, eventually selling more than 3 million copies worldwide. Fully immersed in the MTV generation, the band began to feel the blowback from their success, with fans accusing them of being sellouts, among other things, that summer on Warped Tour. “I anticipated there would be some of that backlash,” Andy Karp explains. “I also had in my mind that this could be the first pop-punk boy band. They were good-looking guys and they could sing their asses off and they had songs. But it’s hard for an American audience to perceive a band like them as credible as a punk band. I think that was a little bit unfair,” the A&R rep added. “Because they really did the work and by the time they finished that Warped Tour, I think a lot of bands had respect for them.”
STINCO: For us, playing the whole Warped Tour was an achievement unto itself. It was definitely a difficult tour, but an important tour. You’re coming out of two years of shit touring, not very successful touring, and then you’re doing Warped Tour. Simple Plan was perceived as an alternative band and suddenly you get played on MTV. Now kids come to the shows and tell you you’re selling out. It’s the same fucking music, dude. It’s the same record. We’ve been playing the same record for the last three years! You’re telling us we’re selling out? You should see my apartment in Montreal—I ain’t selling shit!
CHUCK COMEAU: We came out right as pop-punk was exploding. There was a lot of pushback against all these bands. We were probably, in people’s minds, the worst example of that scene, the sort of mall punk. We had kids that were into the heavier bands, the more punk-rock side of Warped Tour, that gave us a lot of shit about our sound and the album and the band. I think we’ve dealt with it in a lot of different ways.
STINCO: I would have these arguments with punk-rock kids after the shows and try to make them understand that what they were saying was actually very, very hurtful and made no sense whatsoever. I would have multiple conversations after shows with kids. If kids were throwing bottles, I would jump into the crowd and talk to the kid and just discuss with them, make sense with some of them. I took criticism very difficult.
COMEAU: At the time, the whole selling out thing was extremely taboo. It’s amazing to me how it has changed in 15 years. Now, you’re rated on how popular you are and how many followers you have and how big you are. When we came out, it was the complete opposite. You were not supposed to want to be big and popular and famous. You were supposed to be happy to be a small underground band, and we never really felt like that. We always felt like we wanted to reach people, we wanted to play in front of a lot of people. I thought some of the criticism was unfair. We just followed our hearts and did what we believed in.
You were not supposed to want to be big and popular and famous. You were supposed to be happy to be a small underground band, and we never really felt like that.
BOUVIER: I think there’s something attached to the band and I’m not really quite sure why it’s been there. Once you get successful and you’re in people’s faces who maybe don’t necessarily want to be fans of yours, that can always cause a little bit of an issue. I also think Simple Plan has always been on the poppier side of pop punk—not as heavy, not as aggressive. For some reason, the genre of the Warped Tour pop-punk scene is very interesting; it’s an interesting animal, whether you’re cool or not or whether you fit in. It’s followed the band throughout our career. Some of the Warped fanbase just does not want to like us. It’s very bizarre because it’s just music and it feels like high school some of the time.
ERIC LAWRENCE: There was a conscious decision made. The USA is the most fragmented country on the planet when it comes to separating genres of music. In America, a record company will pick a path, but in other parts of the world, music doesn’t exist that way. Some years after this record, Simple Plan played a festival opening for Metallica in South Africa and no one questioned a thing. If you tried to do that in USA, Simple Plan would get murdered, probably literally. Knowing we wanted to reach into the rest of the world, we wanted the rest of the world to look at them as a pop act and not a punk act. So we went straight to pop radio instead of first going to alternative. There was a short-term fear on the credibility front—if we don’t come up in alternative radio, will they be cool?—but the long-term fear was if they only live in alternative radio, how do we break this band around the world? We did this knowingly. We talked with everyone about it, including the band. We went to pop radio first and it wasn’t really done before with a rock band on an American label. We knew that would lead to some problems: And one of those problems is you go on Warped Tour and some people are throwing bottles at your head because they think you’re a pop band.
I'D DO ANYTHING... AND I DID
Having survived the adversity, 15 years later, the band and the album’s surrounding players have mostly warm feelings regarding the No Pads time period. “We put out a record that we truly cared about,” says Comeau. “It wasn’t an attempt to put out something that we hate and make a lot of money. It truly was a reflection of our tastes and what we loved.”
Simple Plan is currently on their 15-year anniversary tour for No Pads, No Helmets...Just Balls.