Sum 41 ditched the DIY rulebook on the road to ‘Does This Look Infected’
A blustery north wind greets Hollywood one Thursday morning in mid-winter. A shiny purple tour bus containing Sum 41 sits parked in front of the Hyatt West Hollywood on Sunset Strip. Behind it, a Jack Daniel’s delivery person offloads boxes of booze destined to replenish the hotel’s cocktail lounge and minibars.
As workday commuters in their flashy cars zoom past the scene, a bleary-eyed young man sporting crunchy spiked hair and a belt fashioned from a striped necktie bids farewell to a classic California blonde. To her, it feels like the last moment on Earth, but to him, the guy’s already looking down the road.
Inside the bus, another young man, this one with a chocolate complexion and a blue wool cap, lifts his head from the video game he’s playing to size up the scene outside. Yet another young man, this one lanky, raven-haired and stunningly pale, slides next to him, remarking, “Deryck’s saying goodbye to Los Pamgeles.”
“I guess she slept at the hotel,” the darker-skinned chap says with a grin, then depresses the pause button on his PlayStation.
Moments later, massive diesel engines rev and it’s all aboard Sum 41’s Tour Of The Rising Sum headliner express. Destination: the Inland Empire town of Pomona, which the Canadian quartet haven’t seen since filming their now-classic “Fat Lip” video there with area fans. That video, and its accompanying Beasties-meet-blink-182-meet-Iron Maiden hook, is set to plop the boys (average age: 21), and their debut album, All Killer No Filler, onboard the TRL bullet train from nowhere (a.k.a. Ajax, Ontario), to MultiPlatinumville. With Teen People’s blackheads-and-baby-tees demographic suddenly having new objets du désir, all of Sum’s shows since have been punctuated by the shrieks of young lust.
Just after departure, Sum—singer-guitarist Deryck “Bizzy Dee” Whibley, guitarist Dave “Brown Sound” Baksh, bassist Jay “Cone” McCaslin and drummer Steve “Stevo32” Jocz (pronounced “yatch,” as in “What up, beeyatch?”)—assemble in the bus’ cozy rear lounge. This morning’s topics of discussion are Tommy Lee and Kylie Bax, the former having played with the band at last night’s Palladium gig; the latter being the super-leggy Sports Illustrated and Playboy model seen in the “Hot For Teacher” photos accompanying this story. Apparently, the two are familiar.
Jocz, adopting the appropriately dude-ish tone, recounts his conversation from the previous evening with the Mötley Crüe drummer. “[Lee] said, ‘Kylie Bax! I know that girl! She scared me… and nothing scares me.’”
The bus pulls into the parking lot of California institution In-N-Out Burger, a chain this all-Canuck crew treat with deserved reverence. Three-quarters of the band scamper toward the scent of frying animal flesh and hot potatoes while Cone, having recently sworn off red meat, heads off in search of alternative eats.
For Sum 41, the idle hours that precede gig time are spent in brutal combat with boredom. The guys flutter about their luxury coach as fans, Sharpies at the ready, assemble outside the tinted windows and steel doors. Baksh lounges on the front sofa, noodling on his guitar for hours. Whibley, Jocz and Cone sit in the lounge, watching the collection of home movies they’ll eventually assemble into Sum 41’s first DVD. The marquee footage shows the genesis of their feud with salon-styled Maryland pseudo-punks SR-71.
Filmed in the days BFL (Before “Fat Lip”), the clip shows Sum rocking the side stage at a Southern U.S. radio show. Out of frame, the men of SR-71, then riding the dying swell of their lone hit “Right Now,” look on and prepare for their own set to follow. Mid-song, Whibley lets his guitar hang low and loose around his neck and signals for a breakdown. He grabs the mic stand tightly, as if choking it. “How many of you out there like SR-71?” The 300 or so onlookers respond with the standard meathead roar.
Whibley pauses for a second, wipes his brow. “How many of you out there think they fucking suck?” Confusion then seems to follow as he continues his rant, accusing SR of, among other things, busting sexual advances on his bandmates backstage.
Strong words were thrown offstage that day, but fisticuffs didn’t ensue till the midnight hour, when the two groups were reunited at a hotel bar. Stupid drunk—and then underage—Sum taunted SR mercilessly, sending rounds of unwanted Blowjob shots to the band’s table, and hurling projectiles and slurred insults. Ultimately, though, it was slobber that broke the camel’s back.
As Jocz recalls it, “Deryck was, like, spitting on the one of the guys’ girlfriends, ’cause he always spits when he’s drunk. I can barely remember any of this, but then someone, like, slammed a glass down on a table, and next thing I knew it was, like, a full-on brawl. The thing is, I don’t even think any of the actual members of SR were actually fighting; it was, like, their crew or whatever. Those guys are too pretty to fight. They were just yelling all this dumb bullshit, like ‘Go back to your van. We’ll be on our bus!’ And ‘We’re gonna hang a gold record this year. How many albums have you sold?’”
Later that night, the aforementioned bus found its tires in need of air. Later that year, the old “How many albums have you sold?” argument was a no-contest. Sadly, the brawl won’t be on Sum’s DVD. Though they rolled tape throughout, an SR lackey went Sean Penn on Sum’s camera that fateful evening, forever ensuring the fight’s mythological status (and perpetual distortion).
Fast-forward to showtime at Pomona’s Glass House nightclub, a semi-righteous vestige of all-ages attitude packed with pierced and pomaded inlanders. When the house lights go down and Sum’s faux-spooky intro music rolls, a surge of sweating suburbanites strains the barricades.
Say what you will about Sum 41’s lack of musical invention, but to claim the band can’t play or aren’t showmen would be nothing short of ridiculous. Their hour-of-power set comes complete with synchronized leaps, flaming drumsticks and dueling guitar solos. Harmonies are nailed and nary a beat is dropped as Sum whoosh from the power-bounce of “In Too Deep” to the hardcore blitz of “Machine Gun.”
Whibley has Johnny Rotten’s bratty sneer wired. Cone’s tongue dangles like Scooby-Doo’s at a deli counter. Baksh plays with one leg up on the monitor, as per Judas Priest’s command. With two kick drums to man, Jocz has little time for tomfoolery—that is, until he swaps posts with Whibley for some old-skool MCing.
With this band, there’s no obligation to adhere to any DIY rulebook. Sum skipped the highly overrated street-cred years and went straight to the majors, and their show makes them all the better for it. Refreshingly absent is the “mosh-police” mentality that made At The Drive-In’s live set as fun as a funeral. Young bodies get tossed up and over like so many sacks of rice. Middle fingers shoot skyward in salute (four fingers on your right hand and the middle digit on the left—the official Sum 41 gang sign). The show’s splendor is its harmlessness, and its only agenda is spreading the gospel of being precocious.
“We’re not trying to be anything dangerous,” Whibley says after the gig. “We’re having fun. We wanna make music for people who enjoy music.”
Each Sum member has a nickname, but only McCaslin’s, seems to have replaced his birth name. Apparently, colorful handles run in the family. Cone’s dad, Paul, earned the nickname “Porno” for his triple-X film fetish and his equally nasty mouth.
The gangly guitarist earned his own moniker in high school, where, every day without fail, he’d eat an ice-cream cone at lunch hour. “Every goddamn day,” schoolmate Whibley says. It follows logically that a man called Cone would’ve cultivated a sophisticated palate for the frozen dairy arts.
Scoops I Have Known:
Cone’s McCaslin’s Favorite Ice Cream Flavors
#1: (tie) Vanilla & Chocolate Chip
WHIBLEY: You always go vanilla!
JOCZ: You could take that guy to Baskin Robbins, where he’d have 31 flavors to choose from, and every time he’d get vanilla.
CONE: But sometimes I get chocolate chip. It’s a treat for me.
Nothing more exotic than that? No imported, pricey, highbrow Italian gelatos?
WHIBLEY: He likes whatever’s the most plain.
JOCZ: It can’t be a brand name. It’s gotta be some no-name, tastes-like-cardboard, truckstop-freezer kind.
WHIBLEY: You should see what this guy eats. He hates everything.
JOCZ: His life consists of chicken fingers and vanilla ice cream. That’s it.
Do you like soft-serve or the harder stuff?
CONE: I like the hard kind.
JOCZ: He likes it really hard.
The next night finds Sum 41 in La Jolla, readying for the biggest headlining show of their infant career. RIMAC Arena, University Of California, San Diego’s echo-laden sports hall, holds 5000 people, and the show is a sellout. Sum’s Los Angeles bender is now two days behind them. They’ve had ample recovery time, and now they’re sidling up to the beer coolers. Clutching Heinekens, the boys gather in their dressing room around one Andy Sommers.
A dead ringer for HBO’s Larry David (of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame), the legendary booking agent counts Megadeth and Motörhead as past clients and presently works with Face To Face, Unwritten Law, Pennywise and approximately 10 million other SoCal bands skaters love—and Sum 41. He’s got that “Been there, done that, don’t take shit” pile-the-coke-high-on-a-mixing-board rock-guy vibe, and likely tosses around clichés like, “Great record, great hook.”
The topic of Sommers’ talk this evening is Sum 41’s live set, specifically that they should revive the boy-band dance routine busted previously during “Makes No Difference.” “How many times have people seen Gene Simmons spit blood?” Sommers wonders rhetorically, tugging on a cold one himself. “And they still love it!”
An area tattoo artist has been brought backstage to ink the band and their road crew. Dave settles into a chair and debates briefly with the artist about the ideal placement of “Brown Sound” on his right arm. He eventually settles on a vacant area just above the “41” he’s already got.
The assumption most make is that Brown Sound himself is Canadian via India, which would make him the second most famous Indian rocker behind No Doubt’s Tony Kanal. The fact, however, is that Dave’s family comes from Guyana, that sliver of a South American nation snuggled between Venezuela and Brazil known to most only as the place where, in 1978, psycho minister Jim Jones served up cyanide punch to 900-plus followers of his People’s Temple cult. (The Baksh family actually knew people who died in the massacre).
He speaks of his origins with obvious pride, detailing his teenage trip to his homeland and his hopes to return one day. That being established…
Dave’s Favorite Thing About Being A Guyanese Rock Star
#1 He Can Get Into Any Club He Wants By Saying He’s Tony From No Doubt.
BAKSH: A guy came up to me once, really eager, and was like, “Dude, I just wanna shake the hand of a man who’s fucked Gwen Stef…” and right then realized who I was—or wasn’t.
The show at RIMAC is better than both the Palladium and Glass House gigs. Onstage, when the biggest lights flash, the band stare out onto the thickest throng of devout Sumheads ever assembled beneath one roof. From the opening note of “Motivation” to the final snare cracks of “Fat Lip,” the gymnasium is a breathing nocturnal animal of its own, not so much out to kill as to frolic.
The last note signals the sound guy to start the house music, and then the revelry begins, first backstage (where Whibley fights off a manic 14-year-old insisting, “You’re my boyfriend. You are!”), then on the bus. Someone’s found a bottle of tequila, and, from a shot glass fashioned out of a ripped cardboard cup, most everyone onboard takes a gulp.
Whibley gulps more than most. Not two hours into the party, he’s fading fast and drooling steadily, just as Jocz promised. At 2 a.m., the coach begins its slow roll northward, toward San Francisco.
Twenty minutes later, Whibley is getting ready for bed. Shirtless, he’s struggling to stay upright in the narrow aisle between the bunks. His cell phone rings and he recognizes the number. He pushes the phone to Baksh, imploring him to answer it. The guitarist complies.
“Yo, baby! This is Deryck Whibley representin’ and shit!” Baksh insists in vain. Seconds later he concedes, “Okay, it’s not Deryck. Who’s this?” The caller doesn’t answer, but by now he’s caught on.
“Is this Los Pamgeles?” he asks. “It is!”
Whibley leans out from behind the curtain of his bottom bunk. “Ask her what she’s wearing,” he tells Baksh. He asks, but the girl won’t answer him. She wants to talk to Whibley directly.
Baksh hands his bandmate the phone, and Whibley drunkenly lifts it to his tilted head. He greets Pam with the biggest burp of the evening.
This cover story originally appeared in AltPress issue #165. You can check out all of the back catalog issues here.