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Magazine > Celebrity
As seen in Spring 2011 issue.

Sum of all Parts
The Canadian rockers debut a more mature sound on their new album. But not too mature.
By Jordana Divon

It's been almost four years since the boys from Canadian punk outfit Sum 41 released their last album. In the interim there have been a few major changes in their lives. Two of them got married, and one went through a divorce you may have heard about. The guys anointed Tom Thacker as an official member, after claiming they wouldn't ever replace departing lead guitarist Dave Baksh. They produced an album that, based on early reviews, many are saying is the edgiest, most accomplished collection of songs they've ever put together. And perhaps most importantly, bass guitarist Jason "Cone" McCaslin rediscovered his obsession for hockey.

"Let's just say my homepage is NHL.com," he says on the phone from Spain, where the crew is setting up a sound check for that night' performance. "I was a huge hockey fan when I was a teenager and then I got out of it for about five years when I was on tour. And then the last four years I'm, like, right back into it. But I' so hardcore back into it right now it' scary."
 

Though he doesn't get a chance to watch too many games on the road, the low-key 30-year-old carves out a bit of time each day to check scores and follow the tragicomic pursuits of his hometown team, the Maple Leafs. "t' the worst thing to say, 'Oh, this year I like the Flyers,' or, 'this year I like the Canucks' and when the Leafs are winning again you're all about them. You can't do that. I'm a loyal person. I've got to stick with my team. And I hope that Brian Burke will do the right thing. I personally don't think he's done a great job up until now."

McCaslin laments the fact that his fellow bandmates could care less about debating the strengths and weaknesses of Toronto's controversial GM. In fact, front man Deryck Whibley gets downright snotty if you even introduce the subject. "I hate hockey," he sniffs. "I hate all sports. Usually people who go into music are the people who are the outcasts. They can't do anything else. I grew up hating all the sports people."

Airing their dirty laundry

Those hateful sports people now compromise a solid percentage of the group's fan base. Since they signed their first deal with Island Records in 1999, Ajax, Ontario's most famous exports have gone on to sell more than 10 million records and established themselves as a solid touring band. Tonight's show in Barakaldo, a small industrial suburb in Spain's northern Basque Country, promises to be a wild one; the band's Spanish fans are amongst their most fanatical. But Whibley remains coy about the effect they have on the Iberian crowds.

"I guess fortunately for us, our music lends itself to a very energetic crowd. So wherever we go in the world it's kind of the same thing." McCaslin is a bit more philosophical: "Playing in Barcelona a few months ago was crazy," he says. "I don't know how many rock bands they get in Spain and Portugal all the time, so when bands come they kind of love it."

You'd expect the rowdiest fans to produce the craziest tour experience, but that's not always the case. McCaslin, the band's most personable and articulate member, admits their weirdest tour moments consistently happen due east of China. "You feel like you're the Beatles when you go to Japan," American rock that they seem to go nuts over. They wait at the airport for you; they follow you to your hotel and sit in your lobby all day just to wait for you to come out. It's strange. Girls, even guys are crying. The guys are really emotional over there. The first time we went over there we were just blown away."
That's still not the strange part, however. Not even close. "Steve got some soiled underwear once. It's weird shit. I think they just think -- because the Japanese watch our music videos and tour videos -- that we're these crazy guys so they try to give us the most out there kind of stuff."

808s & Backbreak

Sometimes that fanaticism can turn ugly. It was after a concert last August in Japan that a group of unidentified men beat the crap out of Whibley at a local bar and sent him to the hospital with a slipped disc. The band's reps remained mum on what provoked the incident; most likely they hoped it would all blow over. And really, it did. Despite his high profile marriage (and even higher profile divorce) to fellow Canadian pop tart Avril Lavigne, tabloids tend -- if not to ignore -- then at least to pay marginal attention to the band. Whibley has his theory on that, too. "You don't really hear of any bands in [tabloid] TMZ. Maybe pop stars like Lady Gaga and Avril. But you're not going to hear about Green Day on TMZ, or Linkin Park on TMZ. Those people [Gaga and Lavigne] enjoy that sort of coverage. I've seen it first hand. I avoid it at all costs."

That doesn't mean he lets the fearsome specter of US Weekly get in the way of his rock star lifestyle. As the married band members grow up and settle down, often returning to their hotel rooms after gigs, Whibley has a reputation for partying like it was ... well ... 1999. "I guess that's what comes with being single," McCaslin suggests. Sum's frontman is a constant fixture at bars, and has yet to shake his brief, unfortunate association with Paris Hilton back in 2003. "I don't think my lifestyle has changed since forever," he says defiantly. "I only do whatever I love. I don't really think of it as a lifestyle. I just wake up and I do my thing."

Declarations like this make it clear the I-don't-give-a-shit attitude so convincingly embodied by Whibley as a skinny, spiky-haired teenager remains just as true to his adult self. It's really not an act. And that authenticity is in large measure what has kept Sum 41's fans so loyal over the years. On the band's official website, commenter Ashley2010 gushes with the kind of unhinged admiration typically reserved for Canadians named Justin: "i love u guys more than myself and also more than anything else that i care about =)," she managed to type. Whibley's instincts, once again, prove correct. If he grows up too much, everything will collapse.

Screaming Bloody Media

A week before the March 29th release date of Screaming Bloody Murder, the band's fifth studio album, Deryck Whibley rang in 31 years on the planet. The shift into biological adulthood is perhaps most notably present in his songwriting; several tracks reflect the desolate landscape of emotional growth he underwent during the dissolution of his marriage. A sample lyric from the album's eponymous first single reads: Bloody murder we will scream/God will send you all to tear me open! It's heavy stuff. Just don't ask him to reflect on where it came from: For someone who's able to channel sentiment into art, the singer gives little thought to the way his mind works. "I guess the most realistic way [to describe] the way I write is it's all about my life. I don't think about anything. I don't think about what I'm going to write about or what I have to do, or what should I do? It's just whatever comes out comes out. And this album was written over a period of three years; you have a lot of stuff happen in your life in that amount of time. You change a lot and I was just collecting songs, never even thinking I was making an album. I was just writing when I felt like writing."

Whatever he's doing, his bandmates dig it. McCaslin says the album came together more organically than anything they've worked on before. "It's an album album," he says. "We actually made an effort to put it together in a way we can listen to it from the first to the last song. And that's about it. I would say it's our hardest rocking album yet." Despite his connection to the material, Whibley, as usual, remains a little more ambivalent. "I approach every record and every tour like we're a new band. It's just the reality. People may not care. You never know. You can't make people care. So when they do care it's a nice surprise. But to expect it, I think that would be wrong." It could all be a posture to shield his ego from any sort of critical reception to the album's intensely personal themes. Or then again, it could all be a visceral part of the whole I-don't-give-a-shit thing. Hard to say. Then, this sort of thing comes out of his mouth: "I hope for the best, but so far it's been good and I think we've made a good record. But at the end of the day we're just a rock band and it's just a record." And that, folks, is a sign of true maturity.

 

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