You’ve won the Hall Of Fame Award at the Rock Sound Awards! How does it feel?
“It feels pretty cool! It was definitely not something that we were expecting, so when we found out this was happening, it was awesome. It’s awesome to be thought of, you know?”
Going right back to the beginning of it all, then, what do you remember of your first experiences with music - the influences that shaped you as a musician and a person?
“It goes back as long as I can remember. I remember being around five or six years old, and being really obsessed with music, things like The Beatles and The Monkees, because of their TV show. Around that time, if you filled up a certain amount of gas, say $30 worth, they would give you a compilation of ‘solid gold hits’, ’50s and ’60s revival hits, so my parents would give them to me and I was obsessed with them - it was the hits of the ’50s and ’60s, all great music like Buddy Holly, Elvis, everything from that era. So that’s what got me listening to music. But I think after that I knew that I wanted to play music too.”
How did that aspect evolve?
“When I was around 11, I started writing some songs, just lyrically, and at that time it was all what would now be considered old school rap. I was writing these old school rap songs, and my cousin and I had this little fake rap group, so we’d perform our songs for our families and stuff like that! Then when I was a little bit older, I started playing guitar, and turned that into writing music as well.”
When did Sum 41 come into the picture? Because you guys started at a super early age as well, right?
“Yeah, at 13 I first picked up a guitar, and then it was about three years later that we started Sum 41. I was in tenth grade, we were just your average high school band, you know, just doing our thing and playing around Toronto. It started very typical, and then all of a sudden, we somehow met the right people. We met people in the Toronto music industry who got our music to other people, and one way or another it ended up getting heard. People started hearing it, but what I think they were more interested in than our music was the personality of the four of us. Because I don’t know if they cared much about the music at that time, but they saw something in us as people, and we were sort of helped along in those early days. People would give us some money to make recordings here and there, I got a publishing deal with EMI Music at that time, so that’s kind of how it started to turn professional from high school.”
How did you adjust to being on a major label so early on, even on the first EP ‘Half Hour Of Power’? It’s a big moment for any band, but must be even more so when you’re so young.
“We were all working towards that, so when it started to happen we were all definitely beyond excited. We got a great record deal, we were really young, and it blew everybody away in our families and in our circle. It was the biggest thing in Toronto. Everyone had heard about this band who were 18 and 19 years old and had got this huge record deal for over a million dollars. Word spread, and then we got to make the first EP. It was a great time on Island Def Jam for those early years because they just let us do whatever we wanted, and gave us money to do it.”
Did that approach continue with ‘All Killer No Filler’, kind of doing whatever you wanted and running with it?
“Pretty much! The thing with it was, we could record and go into a great studio to record for as long as we wanted, and especially when you’re young - and our producer at the time Jerry Finn was young as well - you just have such a great time. We were partying the whole time, probably partying more than we should have and getting less work done, but we were young and having a great time, doing our thing. But… we got about halfway through the process, and only had six songs done. I didn’t have any more songs! I went in with six and everyone was assuming I was going to write more when we were in the studio, but when you’re actually working there’s too much work to be able to do anything else, and when we weren’t working, we were at strip clubs! I’m not writing songs in either of those places! So halfway through, production kind of stopped, and they shut off the money because they realised what was happening! Then they made us regroup and go home, work on music for a while, so there I was in my parents’ basement trying to write songs. I finally got to a point where I had six more songs, including ‘Fat Lip’ - which was the last song I wrote for that record - and they sent us to LA to finish it because we weren’t 21 yet, so couldn’t go to bars.”
It feels like there’s always been an underdog element to Sum 41 - which is one of the things people love about you, that it’s real and relatable, but also drew a lot of snobbery from people who considered themselves ‘the punk police’...
“It felt like that for a really long time. My reflections on that era as a whole are all positive, but that was the other side of it. In terms of adjusting to the success, because things did get really big quickly, there was almost an element of embarrassment to it. I think that’s where the critical side came from, that people didn’t feel that we deserved what we were getting. And we always say the same thing, that it takes four to five years to become an overnight success! People were assuming that we started the band a couple weeks ago and got a record deal and a huge hit, but we were your typical high school band who actually made it through. It was actually a cool story, but we got written off as having it handed to us in a way.”
Do you think that fed into the disillusioned vibe on ‘Does This Look Infected?’ It was quite a shift in tone, and took a lot of people by surprise.
“I can’t really think why it took a shift, but for me it definitely felt like a very different record. Coming off of ‘In Too Deep’ and then going straight into ‘Still Waiting’ as the next single, those are two different bands to me. The fact that we had gotten out of Toronto and seen the world, met so many people and had this whirlwind experience, going through so much, at a really formative time in our lives - turning 19, 20, 21 - it’s a really serious growth period. You’re really going through quite a big change there.”
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