Fans of punk rock know that a distinct line can
be drawn from pop-punk masters the Ramones through Chicagoís influential
Screeching Weasel up to Green Day, Blink-182, and finally to Canadaís latest
exports, Sum 41.
To some purists, this makes the chart-topping,
snot-nosed quartet five times removed from anything original or innovative.
But these traits have always been overrated in a genre where all that really
matters is whether or not a band serves up solid tunes with maximum energy.
And on album (including the new ďDoes This Look Infected?Ē) and onstage,
guitarist-vocalists Derick Whibley and Dave Baksh, bassist Cone McCaslin,
and drummer Steve Jocz deliver the goods.
I spoke with Whibley by phone from the south of
France as the band was on a tour that brings it to a sold-out show at the
Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, starting at 7
tonight. (No Use For A Name, the Starting Line, and Authority Zero
Q. You guys have made another strong
record, but Iíve got to say, your live shows have always been where itís
A. Thatís the best part of being in a
band! Or the fun part, anyway. I really enjoy being onstage; a lot of times
I feel like Iím not really myself until I am onstage, and then thatís
really me. I donít really talk a lot in front of people; if thereís ever a
group of like four people, I wonít be the guy thatís telling the stories.
But if you give me 5,000 people and a huge microphone, then Iíll be able to
Q. Whatís the wildest thing youíve
found yourself doing in concert?
A. Sometimes Iíll climb up to the top of
the P.A. speakers, and sometimes theyíre a lot higher than you think, or
theyíre not very stable. One time I was in London, and it looked really high
but it looked really sturdy, so I climbed up there and I was gonna do like a
joking guitar solo and it just started shaking and I was like, ďOh [heck],
this whole thing is gonna tip over!Ē I always drink before I go on, so my
equilibrium is already kind of shaky. I had a close moment on that one.
Q. Iíve seen a lot of different theories on
the Net for where the bandís name came from. What does Sum 41 mean?
A. There are a lot of different
theories. But if you take a penny, a nickel, a dime, and a quarter, it all
equals 41. We should have put some more effort into naming the band, but
there it is.
Q. Take me through the groupís
A. Basically we were just a high school
band that got lucky. We used to practice in our drummer Steveís basement,
and we used to play these basement concerts and little crappy shows all the
time. And then thanks to like the success of bands like Blink-182 and Green
Day, every single record company went and looked for a pop-punk band. I
guess we were starting to make some noise in Toronto where weíre from, so
people started getting interested. Record companies started asking us for
demos, and instead of sending out CDs, we sent out this video of us causing
all this trouble in our hometown, like drive-by water-gunning people and
egging houses and all this stupid [stuff]. And we put our music over it and
it started getting circulated around to all these different record
companies, and all the sudden we had like 12 labels that wanted to sign us.
Q. Doesnít that seem sort of absurd
for a band that starts out in the basement, playing DIY shows?
A. Yeah, basically. It just happened to
work. We werenít really expecting anything to work; we didnít really have a
plan. It just sort of came out like that.
Q. You get the Green Day and Blink-182
comparisons all the time. How do you see yourselves fitting into the
A. I donít think we do, really. Weíve
never really said that weíre a punk band or a pop-punk band. I think weíre
just a rock band that has different influences. We have punk influences and
metal influences, but we also have like slow and hard and fast and all
different styles of music.
Q. So you werenít necessarily coming
from the Lookout Records scene and bands like the Mr. T Experience and
Screeching Weasel, like Blink and Green Day were?
A. Well, we like those bands, and I was
definitely into punk-rock music, and we grew up with the So Cal Fat Wreck
Chords and Epitaph-kind of bands. We just never really considered ourselves
one of those bands.
Q. What was different?
A. We listened to so many different
styles of music as well. Some of my other favorite artists arenít punk-rock
people; we listened to metal and just straight rock music, too, so itís just
hard to say that weíre like a certain style of music or a certain band/
Q. What does the word ďpunkĒ mean to
you in 2003?
A. To me itís not really anything because
I donít really consider myself a punk. To me it doesnít really matter. But
if I thought I was a punk, Iíd probably say itís just doing what you want
really. Not like saying, ďDo what you want, who cares, Iím gonna just go
beat the [heck] out of people ícause I want to.Ē Just not following what
society has assigned to you.
Q. Make your own rules. Be yourself.
A. Yeah! Be yourself.
Q. Humor is a big part of what Sum 41
does. You donít take yourselves too seriously.
A. Weíve always had a good sense of humor
I think. I donít think weíre all about jokes and funny and ha-ha, but weíve
always been able to make fun of ourselves and other people. Thatís just the
way we are. It wasnít like anything intentional, we just canít help it.
Q. The best rock íní rollóeven the
stuff that is serious or heavyóstill always maintains that attitude of, ďIím
not the center of the universe, anybody can do this.Ē
A. Thatís true. There are so many other
bands that have come and will come that have done the same thing and more,
so you canít really expect that youíre the [stuff].
Q. Still, youíre making a living doing
this, youíre calling from the south of France, and 99.9 percent of everyone
else making music isnít able to say that.
A. Yeah, I think weíre lucky in the fact
that we are having success with a career that we love, and not a lot of
people can say that, so thatís where weíre really lucky. And weíre just
really thankful for it all, I guess.
Q. How do you know when youíve written
a good song?
A. I donít know. Itís hard to tell when
your own songs are good or not; I never know. So I just write a song that I
like or that I think is done, and half the time I donít know if itís good or
bad. I usually know when a song is good when everyone tells me it is. ďStill
WaitingĒ was my favorite song on this record. It was weird because I was
working on it and we were already in the studio recording the album. I just
kept singing this little part over in my head, and I was like, ďI think itís
good, but Iím not really sure.Ē I was too afraid to show anyone in the band
or our producer. Finally after about two weeks of me singing this in my
head, I played it for them and everyone was like, ďOh, thatís gonna be the
best song on the record; finish it!Ē So for two days I just stayed in my
hotel and finished the song and we went in and recorded it the next day, and
it was the last song we did for the record.
Q. Was the immediacy of it that
appealed to you?
A. I think so, but I donít know. It was
just something different that we hadnít done before. It was something
vocally that I didnít know if I could do; thereís a lot of screaming in it
and Iíd never really done anything like that before. We just tried to meld
two styles together with really heavy verses and really melodic singing as
I didnít know what to write the song about. It
kept coming out not directly about 9/11 but somewhat inspired by the whole
situation of the state of the world, I guess. And I didnít know if it was
going to be too heavy or if I even knew what I was talking about, but it
just kind of came up and I was really happy with the way it turned out. I
donít know; itís probably one of the most serious songs on our record.
Q. As a Canadian, whatís your
perspective on the U.S.? There seems to be a love-hate relationship with
Canadians; American culture is inescapable, and our neighbors can be annoyed
by our tendency to think weíre the center of the universe.
A. Yeah! [Laughs] I donít really have a
whole lot of patriotism to say, like, ďCanada is so much better and Iím
Canadian and I hate Americans.Ē Iíve never really cared about that. Thereís
a lot of stuff thatís bad about both countries that a lot of people donít
know about. I think a lot of people know weíre Canadian now, but in the
beginning weíd be onstage and weíd be like, ďHey, weíre Sum 41, weíre from
Canada,Ē and people would start booing. I thought it was a little ignorant,
and people didnít know why they were booing, they just knew we werenít like
Q. Youíre smart guys; you know how
ephemeral the music industry is. When the pop-punk craze blows over, the
labels will move on. Where does Sum 41 go from there?
A. I think weíre gonna keep growing as a
band. I think the three records that weíve had in the past three years, each
record is like a draft for change. Weíre at such a young age that the amount
of growth in a short time has been really big. Being our age and being put
into this thing of traveling around the world and doing things that most
20-year-olds arenít doing, youíre kind of forced to grow up a little faster
and you just become more aware of whatís going on.
The industry is what it is. People a lot of
times forget that the music business is a business, and itís a really fickle
business. I donít really care about it that much. I think weíre OK, because
weíve always been able to sort of change with the times and grow as a band.
You should always know as a band that labels change their minds very
quickly, and a lot of times the record companies donít really know what the
hell theyíre doing. But we could do our own records and our own tours
easily; we could always go back to doing it ourselves.