Crank up Still Waiting, the lead single off Sum 41's brand spankin' new record, Does This Look Infected?, and you might do a Wile E. Coyote-style double take. Searing Iron Maiden guitar riffs, thundering drums and a knock-the-wind-outta-you bass assault drive sobering reflections on global intolerance and disillusionment. It's straight-up Jack Daniels to the hyper Jolt Cola fizz of All Killer No Filler, the album that skyrocketed the Ajax foursome to international stardom. New tunes like Hell Song (about a pal with AIDS) voice classically punk sentiments of social dissent, as opposed to yesteryear's whinings about clingy girls and beer-soaked house parties.
So what gives? After two straight years of touring, have the puerile pop-punks finally grown up?
Not exactly. Their music's light years more mature, but the barely-old-enough-to-drink-in-the-States brats, well, let's just say they have enough stories to fill three episodes of Behind The Music.
"I gave Avril Lavigne the most devastating wedgie I've ever delivered to anyone!" howls drummer Steve "Stevo" Jocz, in hysterics in a Philly hotel room. "She screams, everyone's laughing. And she's huge now, so it's like giving fuckin' Christina Aguilera a wedgie, right? Plus it's not the actual wedgie that's the most embarrassing part either -- it's the little squat you have to do to yank it out of your butt cheeks!"
To clarify. A couple of days before our interview, Sum 41 got turfed from NYC hipster joint Lit, where the band -- Jocz, rubber-faced frontman Deryck Whibley, bassist "Cone" McCaslin and guitarist Dave Baksh -- were partying hard with the Complicated chanteuse and her crew when Whibley got a little too tanked. Taking advantage of his shit-faced state, Lavigne tried to yank down Whibley's pants, and Jocz came to the rescue with the "devastating wedgie" in question.
Alas, Jocz couldn't stop his pal from panicking and destroying the club's bathroom after he accidentally locked himself in, or subsequently spitting in an annoyed patron's face -- all of which led to the band's disgraceful ejection.
It's a classic Sum 41 moment. Like the time a Cristalle-crazed Cougar, who happens to be a triple-X Texas porn star, flew to their gold-record ceremony in Paris, desperate to give Jocz a "wet, sloppy blow job." (He declined; she threw a fit.)
Or that time in Japan just a few weeks ago when they did a triple dose of a mysterious blue PCP-like substance, had a bad trip and fell in love with a pineapple. (Jocz wrapped the fruit in a blanket and introduced her to civilians as his new girlfriend, Mai.)
With incidents like that for material, you'd better believe Sum 41's only hope of being taken seriously is through their music.
Whibley claims Does This Look Infected? is Sum's attempt to set themselves apart from their goofy pop-punk peers (hello, Blink-182).
"There were so many bands that came out at the same time as us, and we knew we'd all be coming out with records again. We knew everyone was expecting us to try and repeat the last album and we wanted to do something different. I like the "holy shit' factor, where people start to listen and go "Holy shit, this is Sum 41?!' That's the way we wanted it."
Both boys say the recent System of a Down record was on constant repeat while they were writing the new album, but their greatest influence was Treble Charger's Greig Nori. A longtime buddy of the band (he snuck them into Toronto clubs when they were 15-year-old pups), Nori's the force behind the disc's raw but polished production.
"He taught us everything we know," raves Jocz. "He's totally a member of the band, and definitely one of the reasons the songs came out as well-thought-out as they did. Whereas a lot of producers can get good sounds or have a good idea but they don't really know how to tell you, Greig'll pick up a guitar and say, "Why don't you try it like this?' He's like a little ball of energy and creation, and he has so many ideas. He's like a hyperactive adult."
When Sum started out, their instrumental skills were pretty much high school battle-of-the-bands calibre. As Jocz notes, sudden stardom makes for a super-steep learning curve.
"When we did All Killer No Filler, we were all right, but now we've been on tour for two years and we've gotten a lot better. We play every single day. Dave's good at guitar now, 'cause all he does all day is practise. The riffs end up more complex, chugging weird stuff that most people can't play."
"A lot of bands don't get signed till they're, like, 30, and then don't wanna change any more. Whereas we fuckin' got signed right away, so we're growing as people watch. I think that's one of the great things about our band -- we're not scared to try new stuff, 'cause we haven't tried anything, really."
Sum 41 are still babies, and it's refreshing that the band is still infatuated with the business. The novelty of crazy parties, slutty groupies and drugs hasn't worn off yet. Even nods from the likes of Tommy Lee, Liam Gallagher, Elvis Costello and Joe Strummer haven't left them jaded.
Then again, on the video for Still Waiting, a wicked-smart parody of last year's multi-headed Strokes-Vines-Hives beast, the glimmer of cynicism that runs throughout Does This Look Infected? is brought to full flame.
Whibley says the critique is well-meaning but intentional.
"We're friends with the Strokes, so we weren't making fun of them. And the Hives are cool, too. We're trying to poke fun at the whole industry side of it, that you've gotta be "The' to be cool. There are enough "The' bands already, and more are on their way next year. It's part of the whole record company-industry thing, like how two years ago number bands were cool. When Blink-182 got huge, everybody wanted a number band -- so we're kinda also making fun of ourselves." email@example.com