Sum 41 – ‘A lot of music today doesn’t talk about anything’

Words: Miljan Milekić

I honestly think there is no need in introducing a band such as Sum 41. Canadian punk rock legends are back with their new record – ’13 Voices,’ and the world is ready to be shaken up again. With original guitarist Dave Baksh back in the lineup, with new energy, and a new label, they are on fire. With so much going on, it was hard to think what to ask them first, but even harder, was to keep my cool being in a room with one of my all-time favorite bands. Read our conversation with Dave and bassist Jason ‘Cone’ McCaslin.

Is this the first time you play at Gasometer, or have you already played in this venue?
Cone: I don’t know (laughs). The name rings a bell, but I remember playing in Vienna a while ago with AFI. It was kinda like an outdoor place.

That was Arena.
Cone: Arena?

Yeah, but it’s not an actual arena, the place is called Arena.
Cone: Oh, the place is called Arena! Okay! That’s where we played the last time.

This time last year you were playing at the Air + Style in Innsbruck. How was that festival? Seems like an amazing experience.
Cone: That’s right.
Dave: Wow. That was pretty cool. Doing the soundcheck and seeing those guys do those massive jumps was pretty crazy.
Cone: Yeah, and it’s Shaun White who puts it on, so we could hang with him a little bit.
Dave: And he’s a really nice guy.
Cone: We don’t get to play those kinds of festivals all the time. Those snowboarding, motor cross, and things like that, so it was cool. It’s something different.
Dave: Yeah.

Are you guys into snowboarding or skateboarding or anything like that
Cone: Not really.
Dave: No. Some of us used to skate, but I was always a terrible snowboarder. Anything on snow I’m fucking horrible with it. (laughs)

Last year you released new record ‘13 Voices’. How was it going back to the studio after such a long break? Especially for you, Dave? You have been out of the band for a few years…
Dave: I’ve been with the band since we got back, but as far as being in the studio… It’s amazing to be back in the studio with the lineup we had. It was a new experience for us because we were all in our own studios. Files were sent to us, and it was awesome because it was no pressure of the budget, of being in a big studio for a long time. It felt comfortable just to sit there and track music in your space and have your own comfort zone. Pretty awesome.

What’s the main difference between ‘13 Voices’ and the previous records you made?
Cone: There are some sounds and things that happened throughout the album that’s never been done before, musically. There are even some strings. Like the whole album starts off with some big string arrangement and we’ve never done anything like that. And then lyrically, you know, what Deryck touches on. I don’t think he’s ever gone that deep before on other albums. I mean, we’ve done some more political stuff than before, and in the early days, it was more like relationship stuff and partying. So this one just has a different tone to it because of what he went through. I don’t think the band’s ever touched on that before.

For this record, you chose Hopeless Records as a record label, and for some previous albums, you worked with some major labels. What suits you better? Being a part of big machinery or having a label that looks a bit more after you?
Dave: At the beginning with Island we had a great team behind us. They cared about us and pretty much gave us a lot of priority at the label. And being able to come to Hopeless after the “honeymoon” kind of ran out with Island was the right thing. Hopeless treats us amazingly, they’re a great label, and I think that they’re a lot better of a home for us now especially at this stage of our career and especially at this stage of Hopeless career as well.
Cone: I think the bottom line is – it doesn’t matter if it’s major or indie. It’s whoever’s gonna put 100% in your band. That’s where you’re gonna go. And Island just wasn’t doing that for us anymore. Hopeless is.

I’ve noticed that in the last few tours you haven’t really played many songs from ‘Screaming Bloody Murder.’ Is there any reason behind it, or you just don’t feel those songs played live?
Cone: I don’t think so, I think it’s because we got so many albums out now, and we got the only certain amount of time to play. We played ‘Scumfuck’ a few times and ‘Reason to Believe’ here and there, but as we have more albums, and now we have a new album, it’s just hard to fit songs in the set. If we played many songs from every album, we would have to play for three hours or so. (laughs) We choose singles, some new songs, and some fan-favorite songs and we try to put them in the set.
Dave: Yeah. Seven pots to choose from, and people only take so much sweetness, you know. (laughs)

You’re playing a lot of songs from the new record, and I like that because I love seeing bands being proud of their new material. So does that mean that you’re pleased with the album and proud of the songs?
Cone: Yeah, and it really works live, too. You know, even some songs from previous albums, we like it on the record, and we try to play it live, but you never know how that’s gonna work. So we play it live and then we’re just like –“aargh, it’s not really a live song,” so we swap it for something else. It seems like most of the songs work really well live on this one, and it makes it easy to put new songs into the set. And the people seem to really like them.

Do you have a favorite song to play live on this album? Or maybe the crowd’s favorite?
Cone: I like ‘God Save Us All.’
Dave: Yeah, that’s a great song to play live. I have to agree; it’s probably one of my favorites with all the ups and downs in it.

I have a question about this song. In the video, there’s a voice that says that you feel like rock music connects and unites people and that pop music can’t-do that. What do you mean by that?
Cone: I definitely agree with that in a way, because pop music can be really watered down sometimes and talking about bullshit. It’s all about – “let’s make something catchy.” And I don’t mean all pop music is like that, but just in general… A lot of stuff that I’m hearing is just like that. It’s super watered-down, and it doesn’t talk about anything. It’s just about some dance move or something like that. So I guess pop music connects people in that way, on the dance floor, but that’s gone soon. People forget about those songs like six months later, while rock music is different. Even people in our show would still be singing Still Waiting.’ It’s connecting. It has connected them since they still remember it. While pop song that was big six months ago is gone, nobody remembers it anymore.

I know some of you are big fans of hip-hop. What do you think about hip-hop today?
Dave: I think that everything’s growing, I think that choice of what you can listen to is so vast. For me and I think for you Cone too, a good beat and a good flow are great, but of course just like back when we were younger there were DJs and MCs who weren’t really connecting with us. I think that there’s just a lot more to take in today.

The same question for punk rock and pop punk. In the last few years, there was an explosion of pop punk like it is the 2000s again. How do you see those new bands? Do you think there’s new energy, new creativity, or do you think it’s generic and people are just trying to catch a wave that you and other bands of your generation created?
Cone: I think it just depends on the band. I don’t think everything’s great, and I don’t think everything’s bad. I can’t even name those new bands, I hear songs here and there, on festivals, on the Warped Tour, wherever, all I think is “Oh, that band’s really good” or “I don’t really like that band.” But it’s the same when we were coming out. Some bands were kind of not great, and some bands were good. I think the scene’s pretty strong though; there’s a lot of bands right now. Tours are going really well, even for the new bands, so I think it’s pretty strong.
Dave: There are bands out there that are working hard, hard, hard – so it’s nice to see punk rock musicians hungry again to go out and make something out of themselves.

Even on Hopeless, you’ve got bands like Neck Deep or ROAM…
Cone: Yeah, they work hard.
Dave: Yeah, great bands! Neck Deep is probably one of the greatest live bands out of new ones for sure.

They’re playing here tomorrow with A Day To Remember.
Dave: Oh sweet! No way! That’s awesome!

You said that there are bands that are still hungry, do you as a band feel hungry? Because that’s how it looks. It seems like with this record you wanted to put out something that’s gonna be remembered.
Dave: Yeah. We’re all nice guys, but when it comes to music when it comes to being on stage, we’re all pretty competitive.
Cone: Pretty serious.
Dave: Absolutely there’s no doubt! It’s crazy that after 20 years the hunger is still as strong as it is, to go out there and give the best kind of show we can, you know.

I think it will be 20 year anniversary next year or will it be this year?
Dave: This year.
Cone: It was actually last year.
Dave: Last year?
Cone: 1996!
Dave: ‘96, yeah yeah yeah!
Cone: We’re so old now.
Dave: Yeah we lost count. (laughs)

So I guess you won’t be making any anniversary tour or something…
Cone: There were no talks about it. But we did an anniversary tour for ‘Does This Look Infected’ in 2012 or 2013 and it went well. So, who knows, we’ll talk about it. We might do something again.

So, after 20 years of your career, how do you feel about being on the stage, perhaps at a festival, and having to “fight” for the crowd who might not be there to see you but some other band like Iron Maiden for example. Do you still have that hunger and energy?
Dave: Oh yeah, yes, definitely!
Cone: It’s a good opportunity.
Dave: Yeah, it’s a great opportunity to fight for it!
Cone: We’ve never really been a stadium band size where we headline every festival like, you know, Metallica. So we’ve always had to fight for it. At every festival, I feel like we’re trying to win over the crowd, to a certain degree. Of course, there are some hardcore fans that are there for us, but there are also people that are kind of unsure about us, so you’re winning over fans all the time.

Speaking of festivals – what do you like more: intimate club shows, or festivals with huge crowds and diverse lineup, different types of bands?
Dave: I think they’re completely different animals, and each one of them has to be respected in their own way. There’s no real preference. The best thing for us is a great crowd, and that’s all you can really ask for.

Have you ever had any bad experiences with the crowd, have they thrown things at you or something similar?
Cone: It has to be… There probably was, but nothing super crazy.
Dave: Oh! There was one year at Reading. We were playing, and Metallica was headlining that year, and every band was just getting bottles filled with mud and all the stuff just thrown at them. We ended up doing a little snippet of ‘Master of Puppets’ that we normally do on stage and everything just stopped. Metallica’s fans are pretty tough, but then Metallica is a tough band so yeah, well deserved. (laughs)

So, what’s next for you guys as a band?
Cone: This year we’re just touring everywhere.
Dave: Yeah, we’re trying to work something out with Pierce The Veil in a few months. It’d be pretty fun – all across America. And then back for festivals for the first part of summer. There might be another European tour in the works, but I don’t know, it’s just in talks right now.

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