Sum 41

by Dan MacIntosh

It was 2001 when Sum 41 scored with catchy pop/punk creations like "Fat Lip" and "Motivation," becoming one of the few bands who appealed to MTV's Total Request Live crowd and the tattooed and pierced Warped Tour throng at the same time. How they successfully mastered this unusual balancing act is a topic of this interview.

With lead singer Deryck Whibley (Avril Lavigne's ex-husband) out front, Sum 41 is still a favorite on the Warped Tour and has generated a whole new set of fans that are just now discovering those hits from a decade earlier. We spoke with their bassist Cone McCaslin and drummer Steve Jocz during a stop on this tour, where we learned that a big part of being Sum 41 is knowing what to take seriously while leaving everything else on the lighter side. The juvenile humor is balanced with a serious side, most evident when the band worked with the charity group War Child Canada to make a documentary that exposed the effects of the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2004.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): Let's talk about some of your more familiar songs and what they mean to you. Is "In Too Deep" your most popular song?

Steve Jocz: Not really.

Songfacts: What would you say is your most popular?

Steve: Well, that's one of them. That one, "Fat Lip," "Still Waiting," "Hell Song."

Songfacts: Well, what's your favorite, Cone?

Cone McCaslin: Of all time?

Songfacts: Yeah.

Cone: That's really tough.

Steve: "Still Waiting" I like.

Cone: Yeah, "Still Waiting" is maybe up there.

Songfacts: And why is that still a favorite?

Steve: Well, you play these songs every day for years and years and years and years and years. They're all fun to play, but there are some that stand out that are still fun after all these years. There's an aggressive sort of energy to that one - it doesn't get old. Also, a lot of it has to do with the crowd reaction. The crowd reacts - regardless of where we are - to that song the same way. It's still fun every time.

Songfacts: Right. That's a good point, when you're performing, it's gotta be fun, right? You're not gonna be one of those bands that's going to stand up and say, "We're very serious musicians and we want a lot of respect." You want people to have a good time.

Steve: Well, it's not that we aren't serious musicians. But yeah, we like to have fun and we want our audiences to have fun, and we want to put on a good show. We're serious, but only when it comes to music and our show. Everything else we kind of fuck up.

Songfacts: Is it possible for you to take me through the process of how you write your songs? Is there a way you do it every time?

Cone: Generally. It starts with Deryck, he comes up with a riff or a guitar part or a little bit of a melody. And then he'll bring it to us - nowadays he'll send an MP3 to us. In the olden days he'd send us CDs. So then we'll get together, we'll practice, and then he'll go back home and he'll work out what we worked out and demo it more. Lyrics are always the last thing to get done. We just go back and forth: we'll practice, he'll go home and demo more of the song, and then it comes along a little bit more. He'll send it to us, we get together again, and we work it out like that. But it always starts with Deryck.

Songfacts: But it's collaborative, right?

Cone: For drums and bass, yeah, we collaborate on what we do. We don't come up with melodies or rarely come up with lyrics. Sometimes if Deryck is stuck on something and can't think of a line.

Songfacts: What about when it comes to videos, because your videos are always so much fun. Do you have input?

Steve: Yeah, on all of our videos we've had tons of input. They're either our ideas or we help mold the ideas. That's the way it's always been.

Songfacts: I think MTV's just celebrated an anniversary, and MTV's not like what it used to be. Does it bother you that there's not that outlet that you used to have?

Steve: No, because we do have the output. Our videos have fortunately aged well. So some, like our "Still Waiting" video was what, 2002? You can watch that and it still looks okay, it looks fun and cool, and people think it's funny. I mean, that's had a lot to do with the fact that we're playing to some of the biggest audiences we've ever played and our fan base keeps regenerating and getting bigger. And I think it's because of YouTube. We can put our videos on there and they stand the test of time and people still enjoy them. I mean the age difference between our fans is between 12 and your mid-20s.

Songfacts: I can attest to that. My son's here, he's 18.

Cone: He was 8 when our first album came out. He was 8.

Songfacts: Yeah, and this was his first show with you guys, and you were the band he most wanted to see.

Steve: And I think one of the reasons was he was 8, so he probably wasn't aware of us when "Fat Lip" came out, but he could probably watch "Fat Lip" now and be like, "I like this." So I think YouTube, it's great.

Cone: When MTV stopped playing videos, all bands were a little pissed off about it. But then as technology got better and things on the Internet advanced, a lot of bands could give a shit about if MTV plays a video or not.

Steve: It all comes down to whether or not people want to watch the show. Which is what MTV was, too. But you can make entertaining videos, entertaining virals or whatever, and people like it. Some bands aren't good at that, and we happen to be able to project a personality that people like - at least they like to laugh at us making asses of ourselves. We're good at being asses.

We spoke with Steve and Cone on August 11, 2011. Get more at sum41.com.
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