It’s been a busy summer for Sum 41. Aside from unleashing the first tastes of brand new studio album Order in Decline (out now), the Canadian rockers have also found themselves on the European campaign trail, taking their infectious and energetic live show to a ton of festival stages across the continent. Jack Parker sat down with bassist Cone McCaslin and guitarist Dave ‘Brownsound’ Baksh at Jera on Air to discuss new music, longevity and technological adaptation.
Hey guys. You’ve spent this summer touring a bunch of European festivals ahead of new album Order in Decline. How’s it been?
Cone: It’s been awesome. We did some little headline shows just to put stuff in between the festivals, and we just got out of Manchester two days ago.
The record is out in August. Tell me more about the period between the end of 13 Voices’ campaign to where we are today. What’s new in the world of Sum 41?
Dave: Pretty much everything that we thought and think of what happened to us in this world is on Order in Decline.
Cone: It was a pretty quick process. We only took about six months off the road, and Deryck (Whibley, vocals) had been writing on the road. When we got off tour he already had a lot of these demos which he sent out to us. We fooled around with them and did some pre-production which was a quick process. We toured so much on the last album, so even though it’s been three years since 13 Voices that’s just because we toured so much.
Did it feel a bit like an endless cycle?
Cone: Yeah, a little bit.
Dave: In a way, yeah, but the advantage of getting together to record a new album this quick was that none of the onstage chemistry we had died down in any way. It’s right back into writing and recording guitars, getting into our heads the kind of feeling we wanted. It was very easy this time around.
Was that very different to how it panned out on 13 Voices?
Cone: Yeah, I think so. 13 Voices is so different because Deryck had come out of rehab, and he was just trying to be human. He had to learn how to walk again, and how to play guitar. We got the band back together; Dave came back, and we got a new drummer in Frank (Zummo). We were learning how to become a band again, and how to be friends again. This time we wanted to make an album which was fun to play live, and which was in turn inspired by the 13 Voices tour. We saw what worked on that album with our fans after 23 years.
Did you go into the process for Order in Decline with the live stage in mind?
Cone: Yeah, all these songs on the album are gonna work pretty well live. It’s a very heavy and aggressive album, so I think they’ll do well.
Is it your most aggressive record to date?
Dave: We said that about every record. But for the most part, yeah. We’re not gonna put something out that we don’t truly believe is a step forward for us, and that is something we’re going to be proud of. We all have our own studio suites at home; nothing massive, just a room where we can go and track things as soon as we roll out of bed.
Would you write a lot away from each other then?
Dave: Deryck actually does most of the writing by himself, so as far and hooks and bass lines are concerned then yes.
Cone: Yeah, we did stuff like solos and bass parts at my house and then I would send it to him via the Internet and he would tell me to record it if it was good enough. If not, he’d tell us to lose a few notes or change a part here or there. I’d then go back and rework it.
Of course. In the 23 years since you’ve formed technology has changed a lot, and also impacted the music industry greatly. Have you been able to adapt to these technological changes easily?
Dave: Rolling out of bed, going downstairs and using a piece of equipment called a Kemper Profiler is great. We trade all our amps through these files that Kemper’s use. I’ll record my guitars and DI’s, and then send them off to Deryck in LA. He’ll then re-amp the DI’s and put them through a natural amp which I used on the Kemper. Because of this technology, I can now record 2000 miles away and get the exact performance that I want because I’m in my pyjamas at home.
Cone: It’s also so much cheaper. You’re not sitting in a studio that’s costing $1000 a day, so there’s less pressure. We also got together and did pre-production in a studio in LA, of course, so we were hashing out songs in a room for a while.
What does that do to the band morale, though, being so many thousands of miles apart at certain parts of the process?
Dave: I think we’re old enough now that we can just appreciate whichever medium we need to use. We’re just glad it’s there! It could be weird though; like, [to Cone] did you ever have any family dinners where your mind was still stuck in the studio?
Cone: Yeah. I don’t remember eating that carrot kind of moments. I spent all that time recording my bass parts with a two month old baby staring at me. That was kind of strange.
Over the course of the last two decades Sum 41 has remained a mainstay in the hard rock/punk scene, with plenty of bands coming and going in the meantime. What does it take for a band like Sum 41 to remain relevant after more than twenty years in a scene where bands are pretty disposable?
Dave: Well, I don’t believe in luck, but I think there was definitely a lot of luck involved. We don’t put an album out until we’re 100% proud of it, and we don’t write something based on what someone else tells us what to do. The first time we took Does This Look Infected? to the label they looked at us and said, “what the fuck have you done? There’s no In Too Deep on this, and there’s no Fat Lip on this. How are we going to sell it?” We were just like, “That’s your job, we thought you took care of that!”
Cone: We’ve just done a lot of work and toured hard. Somehow people still come to the shows.
Dave: There’s a small piece of the world which has grown with us, and another small part which has joined us as well. We’ve just been one of those bands that’s been luckily enough to live past the usual ten year lifespan of some bands.
Even as we speak now, State Champs are playing behind this fence. What would you say to a young band struggling to push forward?
Cone: It was a big thing for us, because we never went with the trend. Right now, the trend in our genre is to become poppier and try to get on pop radio. Sum 41 has gone the opposite direction – we’ve gotten heavier! It’s sort of career suicide, but it works. We even discussed this, but it’s just how we sound now. We never wanted to try and become a pop band because it was the popular thing to do, we just did what we liked ourselves instead. With new bands they just have to realise what they want to do, and what kind of sound they want to have. Do it, no matter what other people think you should be doing!
Dave: I’d also say that you should always stay thankful for the opportunities people give you, regardless of where you’re at in life. Order in Decline is out now.