The pride of Ajax, Ontario, Sum 41 was formed in 1996 by frontman and guitarist Deryck Whibley and friend and drummer Steve Jocz. They tossed around some musical ideas and played with others for about a year. But unhappy with the sound, they scrapped everything and eventually rounded out the lineup with guitarist Dave Baksh and Jason (Cone) McCaslin on bass. Initially running under the name Kaspirl, they changed their name after watching an episode of “Supernova,” which happened to be the 41st day of summer.
While making their rounds on the bar circuit, they developed an on-stage alter ego, a hair metal band spoof they dubbed Pain For Pleasure, which occasionally played for several years, and used in future videos. As their real selves, they recorded a demo tape in ’98 that they sent to the record companies. After landing a deal with Aquarius at home and signing with Island Record’s Big Rig Records in the US, they released their debut album themselves in 2000.
Although there were technically 11 tracks, several were less than a minute long, and the entire effort only clocked in at an even 30 minutes. The first single from HALF HOUR OF POWER was “Makes No Difference,” which they produced two different music videos for themselves – one using the video clips sent to the record label, while the second one used video shot doing a house party. The EP was certified gold in Canada, while the band continued working the Ontario circuit. Suddenly making a name for themselves, the EP was re-released for the Japanese audience, with videos for “Makes No Difference” and the previously unreleased “Gone Gone Gonorrhea.”
Following the success of the EP, the band began working on their first full-length album. After losing out to Nickelbackat the 2001 Junos for Best New Rock Group, they released ALL KILLER NO FILLER that May. They turned to Jerry Finn (Blink-182, Morrissey, Green Day, The Offspring, Bad Religion, among others) for production, which followed the punk road its predecessor put them on, and “Fat Lip,” its first single, topped Billboard’s modern rock chart, as well as scoring big in the UK, Australia, and in Canada, where it reached the top 4.
“In Too Deep” and “Motivation” followed it onto the charts, peaking at #10 at #24 respectively in the US, and both making the top 20 in Canada. The CD single release for “Motivation” also sparked what would become one of the band’s trademarks – including a pair of live tracks, as well as the previously unreleased “What We’re All About.”
The album itself made it to #13 in the US, #9 in Canada, and #18 in the UK, and was certified platinum in all three markets. Because it was their first release in the UK, that version of the album also featured their first hit, “Makes No Difference.” Their overnight success landed them on the backs of tours with Blink 182 and The Offspring, keeping them on the road well into the following year, with over 300 concerts. Although they found themselves nominated for three Junos in ’02, they again walked out empty handed.
For their next release, 2002’s DOES THIS LOOK INFECTED?, a limited number came with the added bonus of a DVD entitled CROSS THE T’s AND GOUGE YOUR I’s. Recorded in New York at Avatar Studios, they turned to Treble Charger frontman Greig Nori as producer. Although it barely made the top 40 Stateside and in the UK, the album topped up at #8 in Canada, and was certified platinum at home. and gold in several other markets, backed in part by the singles “Still Waiting,” “The Hell Song,” and “Over My Head.” Of the three, “Still Waiting” faired the best, peaking at #7 in the US, while also cracking the top 10 in Canada and the UK. Written after the band had to cancel dates due to the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the song was about the ugliness of war in general, not specifically about that particular incident. The video for the song also received initially heavy rotation on both MuchMusic and MTV.
While the band was in the middle of a world tour, a limited edition CD called DOES THIS LOOK INFECTED TOO? was released in 2003, shortly after picking up their first Juno Award that year for Group of the Year. Along with five previously released tracks, it also included the videos for three tracks, as well as the making of the video for “Still Waiting.”
With another exhaustive tour schedule now nearly complete, they were recruited by Iggy Pop to work on his album, SKULL RING. Along with playing on it, Whibley co-wrote the single, “Little Know It All,” and also joined him on “The Late Show with David Letterman” to promote the album.
They took some time off before returning to the studios for CHUCK, released in October of ’04. Recorded over a four month period in Toronto, California, and New York, it featured the return of Nori as producer, and continued the grittier edge its predecessor had laid out. It was also critically hailed for the band’s social stances taken. But the band took heat for their live shows during the tour, which featured videos before their set which were deemed unsuitable for children, containing excessive violent content. While filming a documentary for War Child Canada in the Democratic Republic of Congo a year earlier, fighting broke out and Chuck Pelletier, a UN peacekeeper, helped the band and forty other civilians safely evacuate their hotel. And so his name spurred on the title of the album. A documentary on the incident, called “Rocked: Sum 41 in Congo” later aired on MTV. War Child released it on DVD throughout North America in 2005.
With “We’re All To Blame,” “Pieces,” and “Some Say” all cracking the top 10 lists in Canada, the US, the UK, South Korea, and in Japan, the album eventually went on to sell over 12 million copies worldwide, and earned the band its second Juno Award the following spring for Best Rock Album of the Year. “Open Your Eyes,” which turned out to be one of their most popular songs live, was also used in the video game Vancouver 2010.
Another world tour took them on the road for the better part of the year, including two Asian tours, where they’d become one of the biggest concert draws in years. To honour the Japanese fans, a five-song EP called CHUCK ACOUSTIC was released.
But following the tour that ended in May, citing musical differences, Braksh left to form his own band, Brown Brigade. Whibley meanwhile began focusing on his career as a producer, lending a hand to then-girlfriend Avril Lavigne for her BEST DAMNED THING album. Everyone else also found new projects to keep themselves busy. McCaslin started a new group called The Operation MD, releasing their debut album, WE HAVE AN EMERGENCY, which Whibley co-produced.
Undaunted by Braksh’s departure, the band announced it would carry on as a trio, with a second guitarist to be added for touring purposes only. Their first live album came in the form of GO CHUCK YOURSELF in March, 2006. Recorded in London, Ontario the previous fall, it had already been made available to the Japanese audience three months earlier, under the title of HAPPY LIVE SURPRISE. In between tour legs, they honoured Iggy Pop in April, ’06, whom they’ve cited as one of their biggest inspirations, by appearing at a tribute show in Detroit, joining him onstage for “Little Know It All” and “Lust For Life”.
Whibley donned the producer’s hat for their next project, 2007’s UNDERCLASS HERO, and as had always been the case up ’til now, he was also the main songwriter. The album debuted at #1 on the Canadian Albums chart, as well as the Alternative Albums chart, selling over 9,000 copies in its first week. It debuted at #7 in the US while selling over 44,000 copies in the first week, and sold over 30,000 copies during the same period in Australia and in Japan. But with the music often taking a more alternative turn than previous outings, the tracks themselves didn’t fare as well. Of “Underclass Hero,” the punk/pop tinged “Walking Disaster,” and “With Me,” only the title track cracked the US top 100, peaking at #86. All three singles made their way into the top 20 in Canada, while the album was eventually certified platinum at home.
Aside from appearing on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” shortly after the album’s release, problems repeatedly popped up during the subsequent tour schedule, which saw them in between Die Mannequin and Finger Eleven. Their live shows received mixed reviews, and they had to cut the tour short when Whibley sustained a herniated disk, though they picked up the pieces after his recovery and stayed on the road until early July, 2008. That year also saw them receive their ninth Juno nomination, this time for Group of the Year.
After taking nearly a full year off to concentrate on outside projects and life outside of music, which included Whibley touring with Lavigne, McCaslin resurrecting The Operation MD for a second album, and Jocz killing time by touring with The Vandals, they released the greatest hits CD/DVD combo, ALL THE GOOD SHIT, in the spring of ’09. It followed a Japanese version entitled BLOOD, SAKE AND TEARS, and both versions contained several limited edition bonus tracks, as well as a reworked version of “Makes No Difference” and the previously unreleased “Always.”
They occasionally returned to the stages at various venues in 2010, including a series of sold out shows in Russia and eastern Europe, but once again had to cancel dates because of Whibley’s re-occurring back problems. This resulted in the band cancelling shows throughout North America, as well as in Asia and their first ever South American tour.
They came out of the woodwork in early 2011 with SCREAMING BLUE MURDER, originally intended to only be an EP. They welcomed new guitarist Tom Thacker to the fold, and although it was on the store shelves everywhere else in the world, its Japanese release was delayed due to the tsunami disaster. Recorded entirely in California over a six month period, Whibley once again took control of the production reigns after their initial choice, Gil Norton, was fired a week into the recording sessions the previous summer.
The title track was the first single, and quickly shot up the charts, and was followed by “Blood In My Eyes,” and then “Baby You Don’t Want To Know” before the end of the year, both making the top 10 in several markets around the world.
While taking a break from performing live full-time, LIVE AT THE HOUSE OF BLUES, captured during a performance in Cleveland, Ohio four years earlier, was in the stores in August, 2011. That December, they also found themselves nominated for their first Grammy Award, for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance for “Blood In My Eyes,” but eventually lost out to The Foo Fighters during the ceremonies in 2012.
Over their career, Sum 41 has collaborated with many other artists, both on stage and in the studio, including Treble Charger, Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee, Judas Priest’s Rob Haford, Metallica, Tenacious D, Ludacris, Nelly, Ja Rule, and Gob, among others.