Plan didn't plan on becoming international pop-punk stars when they met up in their native Montreal as teen-agers.
But something happened along the way. Their textured, nuanced-yet-chaotic sound landed them a spot on the Vans Warped Tour in 2001 and made them big stars in America as well as Canada. Now they're on the road with Good Charlotte, a tour which will stop at the Pepsi Coliseum on Sunday.
Simple Plan's 2003 debut album, No Pad, No Helmets ... Just Balls, was a big hit, but their follow-up, last year's Still Not Getting Any ... , took the band a step forward sonically and melodically.
"We became better writers and we became better people and I think it's beginning to show in our music," guitarist Jeff Stinco said in a phone interview from Montreal. "Our music is a little faster, it's a little heavier, but it's still very melodic. I think the concept of what Simple Plan was when we started hasn't changed. We've just refined what a good song is to us. The records sound more organic, more like a real band playing.
"We're really proud of the first record, but we were insecure when we got into the studio, so we really overdid everything. Everything is pitch-perfect and rhythmically perfect. But that's not music. Music is human and should reflect some imperfections."
Playing before large crowds has changed the group's approach to live shows as well. "We've found that when you're on a big stage, if you want people to really enjoy the show, you have to exaggerate everything. You have to make really big movements and jump around really high. It's the same on record. If you want people to feel energy, you've got to play really, really intensively. All the guitar tracks are very intense and moving. We worked hard on it."
He said the band unleashed itself while recording Still Not Getting Any. "We allowed ourselves to say, 'Anything goes.' Let's put a guitar solo there. Let's put a string arrangement on there. Let's use piano. On our first album, we were scared of people perceiving us in the wrong way. Now, it's like, 'Does it work for the song?' 'Is it good?' If it's yes, then let's do it. It should always be like that."
The band isn't as concerned as it once was about perceptions in general, he said. "We have our own feelings about what we're doing. And a lot of people think we're just about having fun, that we don't put a lot of thought into our lyrics. Most of our lyrics are dealing with pretty serious issues. And we take a lot of pride in making sure that the experiences we express in our lyrics are honest and serious."
He said, "There's a contrast between the fun side of our music and the depth of what we're doing lyrically. It's a little bit of a shame, but I think that will come with time."
He pointed to the band's next single, "Untitled," as evidence. "It's a little deeper than what we've done in the past. It's slower and - I hate to use that word - but it's a little more mature. I think it will help people understand that we're not only about the fun. There are other aspects."
Ultimately, though, he agrees that Simple Plan's music, at its heart, is about having fun. "When you come to a show, it's about energy and letting go and enjoying what a rock show should be. But there are darker emotions that we express. Sometimes it's hard to convey in an arena. But our fans pay attention so much during the show, they really listen and, when that happens, it becomes a really cool setting."
When the band first played "Untitled," a brooding, yearning song, in concert, he said the audience went dead silent. At the song's climax, the crowd screamed in appreciation.
"The contrast between the silence and the screaming was so clear," he said. "It was quite an experience. We're lucky that our fans listen very carefully."
Like their friends in Blink-182 and Green Day, Simple Plan has received more than its share of criticism from punk purists, who complain that the group's sounds aren't authentic enough.
"Some of the songs on the new record are dealing with that directly. The song 'Shut Up' is strictly aimed at those detractors, the people who were giving us shit for not being punk enough. And, the truth is, we're not a punk band. Not at all. We have some influences that came from some newer punk bands. But we're just a rock band. That's all we are. We have some punk influences, but I think people started labeling us as a punk band and that made some people angry.
"The truth is, I don't know if there are any punk bands around anymore. I wonder if punk was not just a period of time in rock history that has passed. If you want to listen to the Sex Pistols, dude, go ahead! The records are still available. Why would you want a band to copy what they're doing? Music has got to evolve. It's gotta blend with other genres and that's what we're doing: putting all our influences in a basket and mixing it up and it becomes a Simple Plan song."