The Cover Story

Sum 41: “If there’s one record that defines who we are, it’s this one”

In just under a year’s time, Sum 41 will be no more. But before the Canadian pop-punk legends call it a day, they’ve got a huge tour, not to mention this month’s outstanding final album. For one last time as Kerrang! cover stars, Deryck Whibley and Jason ‘Cone’ McCaslin reflect on their decision, what they’ll do next, and how right now the band are “the best we’ve ever been”…

Sum 41: “If there’s one record that defines who we are, it’s this one”
James Hickie
Travis Shinn

“A lot of this was by accident,” says Deryck Whibley of the genesis of Sum 41’s eighth record, Heaven :x: Hell. Early in lockdown, the Canadian band’s lynchpin was inundated with calls from managers and artists requesting his services penning pop-punk bangers. Deryck was a little worried – it had been several years since he’d dipped his toe in that particular pool, after all – but he decided to take the plunge anyway.

Back then, Deryck and his wife Ariana had just welcomed their first child into the world, a boy named Lyndon Igby. “The only thing he would mellow out to was punk rock music,” explains Deryck, who’d regularly take his son out in the car, driving around the uncharacteristically quiet streets of Los Angeles, blasting the songs that soundtracked his high school years – stuff by NOFX, Lagwagon, Strung Out, Pennywise, Social Distortion and Bad Religion.

This routine would repeat day after day, with these excursions often lasting hours, profoundly impacting Deryck’s craft. By a process of musical osmosis, he began writing in a way reminiscent of Sum 41’s early records. Initially, he actually thought these songs would be gifted to someone else. But as more materialised, he became reluctant to part with them, even if he didn’t know what he’d use them for.

At the same time, Deryck began trawling through songs left over from Sum 41’s previous album, 2019’s Order In Decline, which catered to the heavier end of the spectrum. Finishing up the tracks, the frontman realised he’d amassed quite the collection. Though some felt disparate, their creator believed they could be housed on a Sum 41 album, and a double one at that. So, he went about adding a pop-punk tune here, and a riffy rager there, until the bones formed of what would become the band’s final record.

“It was all with the help of our son,” smiles Deryck, whose daughter, Quentin, was born a couple of weeks after this interview – on her mother’s birthday.

Years on from the harrowing, well-publicised battle with alcoholism that almost killed him, Deryck is in a great place. Quiet but crystal clear in his insights, he’s been sober since 2014 and possesses more energy than ever before. It’s a question, then, of where he wants to put those energies, which he frames as embracing new challenges, rather than turning his back on the rollercoaster ride he’s been on since 1996.

“It’s not a winding down – it’s actually more of a ramping up,” he explains. “I feel like I want to do more. It felt like doing the same thing over and over again, while great and a privilege, made me ask myself, ‘Is this going to be the only thing I do – an album then a tour, on repeat?’”

Deryck would ponder this intermittently, before burying such thoughts, unable to admit it to himself and feeling guilty for even considering it, given what he’s built (and rebuilt) over the years – as well as his obligations to his bandmates and fans. The niggle persisted, though.

“It was the music that told me,” Deryck says of the tipping point. “I thought, ‘This is the moment. This is the best idea that Sum 41 has ever had for a record.’ It straddles that line between heavy music and pop-punk that I feel like only we have done over the years. I felt this was the record that I could walk away and hang my hat on. Musically, it’s our evolution, while the title, Heaven :x: Hell, represents our journey. If there’s one record that defines who we are, it’s this one.”

When Sum 41 first arrived on the scene in the early 2000s, they were subjected to the same kind of cynicism as many up-and-comers. Some said they were one-hit wonders, a flash in the pan, that wouldn’t last. Deryck bristled at the time – not because the naysayers’ words hurt, but the suggestion that anyone else could spell the end for his band. “No-one was going to decide when we would go,” he would think. “I will decide when we go.”

More than 20 years on, with that decision made, Deryck finally broached the subject with his bandmates – guitarists Dave Baksh and Tom Thacker, bassist Jason ‘Cone’ McCaslin, and drummer Frank Zummo – but he needn’t have worried.

“It was hard to bring it up but easy to talk about,” recalls Deryck. “Although they were surprised, and didn’t necessarily feel the way I did, it was a very loving and supportive conversation.”

“No-one was going to decide when we would go…”

Deryck Whibley

Jason McCaslin has done a lot of press over the past quarter of a century. More recently, however, Sum 41’s bassist – better known to fans as ‘Cone’ after his preferred method of eating ice cream as a youth – has grown a deeper appreciation for artistic interrogation.

The 43-year-old recently began hosting a weekly radio show and podcast, Cone’s Cave, featuring interviews, the inside scoop on Sum 41’s history, and insights from the frontlines of the music industry.

The first person to enter Cone’s Cave is No Doubt/DREAMCAR drummer Adrian Young. Like many of the guests, Cone has crossed paths with Adrian in festival fields sporadically over the years, though he’s been surprised at just how much he doesn’t know about his fellow road dogs, as well as the amount of research he has to do. “Should I be using Wikipedia?” he wonders aloud.

Top of Cone’s list of dream guests, pipping non-musicians Robert De Niro and Al Pacino to the post, is Iggy Pop. Sum 41 and Iggy go way back, of course, having worked together on the track Little Know It All from The Godfather Of Punk’s 2003 album, Skull Ring – which also featured appearances from The Stooges, Green Day and Peaches – and acting as his backing band on and off for a year afterwards. Cone recalls the “humble” legend, then in his mid-50s, bounding into the studio and sitting cross-legged on the floor, refusing to let anyone give up their seat for him, before launching into warm, unassuming conversation.

“Anything that can be done, he has done it and lived to tell the tale,” Cone says of his former collaborator, himself a radio presenter for the BBC. “I still talk to him once in a while, occasionally slipping in that I have a show, but I don’t want to be annoying.”

Even with this growing taste of life on the other side of the microphone/Zoom call, Cone makes for quiet, restrained company. Perhaps it’s tiredness, as the band’s schedule is understandably fit to bursting. Or it could be a case of old habits dying hard; in the early days, he was happy to let their former drummer, the more garrulous Steve Jocz (aka Stevo32), do all the talking. These days, he’s similarly quick to defer to Deryck, as chief songwriter, when asked to dig into the making of Heaven :x: Hell – out of respect, though, rather than evasion.

Cone doesn’t have a huge amount to say about life post-Sum 41, other than to suggest it’ll involve making more records – and perhaps studying geography, a subject he only became passionate about after leaving school. It’s not that he’s opposed to discussing the future; he’s just keeping the prospect at bay until he has to, on January 30, 2025, when touring in support of Heaven :x: Hell concludes at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. “It seems so far away to me,” he reasons from his LA hotel room. “I’m just trying to enjoy it right now.”

If there’s any hesitation in looking further ahead, it may be because despite living with the knowledge Deryck was calling a day on things for more than a year, Cone has things to process.

“It was a shock,” he admits. “There was no big fight or argument. But there were no hints either. Deryck doesn’t know what else he can give anymore, so wants to move on and try other things. He started the band when he was 16 years old and it’s all he’s really known. It’s hard; this band is so full-on all the time, and he’s involved in every single aspect, while I’m involved in certain aspects, so he feels he can’t get away from it. So he’s ending the band to get away from the band.”

It’s an interesting insight when you consider that Sum 41’s five members weren’t exactly under each other’s feet during the creation of Heaven :x: Hell. It was recorded remotely during the pandemic, a far cry from the days of 2001’s All Killer, No Filler and the following year’s Does This Look Infected?, when their camaraderie could barely be contained by the garages and rehearsal rooms in which they plied their craft. This time around – older, wiser and considerably better off – well-equipped home studios housed their individual efforts, though denied them the close proximity of yore.

“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t have all been together, given what we found out later,” says Cone.

Those conditions were obviously conducive to productivity, though, because a lot of songs were born during that period, 21 in all, and strong ones. One could almost say it was all killer… ah, you know the rest. The question of what to do with this haul was another matter. Sum 41’s sound has long been characterised by a combination of pop-punk and metal-flirtations, which, as Deryck has alluded to, was unusual compared to their contemporaries in blink-182, Good Charlotte and Simple Plan, who stuck more rigidly to the former.

It’s unsurprising when you learn that in high school Cone, Deryck and guitarist Dave Baksh had collectively omnivorous tastes, listening to everything from hair metal to ’80s hip-hop. That being said, even Cone has been bewildered with some of the pivots and about-turns over the years – particularly the three-album sequence of 2004’s Chuck, 2007’s Underclass Hero, and 2011’s Screaming Bloody Murder. “At the end of all that, I sat back and thought, ‘That sounds like two different bands.’”

Those two sides of Sum 41, Cone suggests, have respective factions of fans. One side only wants to hear the Fat Lips and In Too Deeps, while the other favours big riffs and ripping guitar solos. Thankfully, whichever camp you’re in, Heaven :x: Hell delivers in spades. Because this time, Sum 41 have taken those elements to the nth degree, making them bigger and bolder, though arguably pulling in opposing directions.

Landmines was the first single from this record, but it was also the first song that Deryck sent me,” says Cone, who admits the duo still argue about choices of singles to this day. “When I heard [Landmines] I thought, ‘Wow, pop-punk again.’ It made me think we could get back into that side of things. But then he sent me something really heavy and I thought, ‘Huh, well those two aren’t going to fit together…’”

The idea of a double-album was therefore mooted, with both Deryck and Dave independently coming up with the title Heaven :x: Hell. Responsibility for making it as cohesive as possible was shared with Mike Green, the man responsible for helming records by All Time Low and Set Your Goals, and the first external producer employed by Sum 41 since they made Chuck.

“He was there to offer an outside perspective, which was great,” says Cone. “Maybe this time we can please all the fans.”

“Maybe this time we can please all the fans”

Jason ‘Cone’ McCaslin

Ask Cone about the ways in which he, Dave and Deryck have remained the same over the years and he smiles broadly. Of himself he’ll say he’s maintained the ability to be neither too hot nor too cold in a given situation, acting as “the glue” during Sum 41’s tumultuous periods.

Dave is still the awesome guitarist who effortlessly shredded Anthrax tunes at age 14, to the envy of his peers, all while threatening Dave Grohl’s status as “the nicest guy in rock music”.

Deryck, meanwhile, continues to possess the “crazy drive” that made things happen even when Sum 41 were an unknown quantity. “That’s how we got our first manager,” Cone says of his friend’s chutzpah. “He’s always just go-go-go and has this insane work ethic. He’s always had that and I don’t think he’ll ever lose that.”

So, where does Deryck imagine he’ll be channelling those qualities from early 2025 onwards? Having lived with the idea for longer, he’s more relaxed on the topic, even if his hyperfocus on the job at hand limits him to little more than what ifs. Even so, he remains excited about trying new things once the “safety net” of Sum 41 has been removed, whether those projects are successful or not.

“TV and movie creativity excites me,” reveals Deryck. “I haven’t had time to explore it, so I don’t even know what that would look like. I don’t mean acting, though, because I think I’m a horrible actor. I have sat down and written some scripts and it’s been enjoyable, but I haven’t had time to really see it through.”

What about a career in film scores, a la Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross?

“I’ve never thought of that,” he admits. “But everything is on the table. I’ve never done it and never thought about doing it, but that doesn’t sound too out of the realm of possibilities as something I’d be interested in.”

“Everything is on the table in the future”

Deryck Whibley

There’s another topic, in the shorter term, Deryck says he’s not given any thought to.

We ask about Steve Jocz. Sum 41’s founding sticksman went into stand-up comedy after quitting in 2013, but has recently re-embraced the drums, releasing videos of himself tearing through songs by Rush, Refused, Metallica, System Of A Down and, of course, the band that made his name. More recently, he’s taken that return a step further, hitting the road with punk veterans The Vandals.

So, has there been any discussion about Steve making an appearance on this final tour? After all, Dave left in 2006 and returned in 2015, and has played alongside Tom Thacker, the man drafted in to replace him, for several years now.

Wouldn’t Deryck want all the key players from the Sum 41 story to take that final bow?

It seems a no-brainer of a question from a fan perspective, but seems to take Deryck by surprise.

“I’ll be honest: my brain has not gone there,” he responds after a pause.


“There have been no talks or thoughts on that, so this is the first time I’m processing that idea.”

In a world where people are always begging for reunions and reformations, that seems unlikely, but apparently not. Anyway, for Deryck, a man for whom this is a brotherhood, he’s only comfortable making music with people he has the right connection with.

“It’s been so long that I don’t know what that connection [with Steve] is right now,” explains Deryck tentatively. “It’s like if someone says, ‘Your ex-wife, who you haven’t seen in 10 years, is going to be there – do you think you’ll hook up?’ You think, ‘Woah, that’s a lot.’ That’s the closest metaphor I can think of on the spot.”

While we’re not sure about the metaphor, Deryck is probably right – because here and now, Sum 41 are at the peak of their powers.

“I think we’re the best we’ve ever been,” Cone says proudly, having made his peace with a full-stop that allows them to go out on top, on their own terms. And while he’s amused by the idea of Sum 41 rocking out in their ’80s, a hypothetical notion inspired by covering The Rolling Stones classic Paint It Black on the new record, there’s no guarantee they’d grow old as gracefully or successfully.

“No-one goes to see the Stones live and says, ‘They were horrible!’” reasons Cone. “We can still play really well. We all get along. We didn’t want it to get to a point where we had to stop, where we said, ‘Wow, we suck now,’ or, ‘We hate each other.’”

Deryck, meanwhile, isn’t about to let Messrs Jagger and Richards take too much credit for their longevity. “The Stones had almost all of the 1980s off. They never officially broke up, but to all intents and purposes they weren’t really a band and went off and did solo stuff. They’ve been a band for 60 years, but they had that break, which must have helped.”

Time away is no bad thing, as far as Deryck is concerned, even if his break came as a result of the most painful period of his life.

“The thing I’m most proud of is doing it twice,” he reveals. “Having success, losing it all, then building it back up to be bigger than it had ever been. As low as it got, surpassing what we’d done before is the most exciting thing I can think of.”

Famously, it’s said there are no second acts in American lives. Thankfully, Sum 41 are Canadian so didn’t get that memo. Their second act has been one that others could and should learn from, capped off by an album that exemplifies everything that makes them special: energy, exuberance, fire and fun.

What the band’s members do next is anyone’s guess, but whatever it is, it’s sure to be characterised by the same passion and perseverance that’s won them millions of fans over the course of the past three decades. No filler, indeed.

Sum 41’s final album Heaven :x: Hell is due out on March 29 via Rise Records.

Catch the band at Download, which takes place from June 14 – 16, 2024 at Donington Park – get your tickets now. You can also see Sum 41 live at Rock For People this summer – get your tickets here.

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