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Metal In Their Veins: An Exclusive Interview with JASON “CONE” MCCASLIN Of SUM 41

By Curt Miller, Editor at Large
Wednesday, July 22, 2015 @ 4:17 PM

“The Dark Armies Then Will Come When the Sum Is 41”

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Some people associate SUM 41 with the band’s break out, punk-pop style, but in doing so, have missed out on the immense diversity of the band. This is a band that created a following by breaking into IRON MAIDEN songs in the middle of their live shows, shows that had been painstakingly planned out well in advance. Though they started out at a young age, the guys in SUM 41 have been highly motivated from the very beginning and have never left any details to chance.

A lot of what has made this band’s material so diverse and what would ultimately prove to be its greatest asset is the bond of friendship that its members forged back in their high school days before they ever began writing music together. It was their friendship and common musical interests that brought SUM 41 together, and during the past few years, it’s been that friendship that’s kept them together all of these years later.

SUM 41 has suffered very difficult times over the past couple of years, including long periods of silence between its members, and the near death of the band’s lead vocalist, Deryck Whibley. With this, the guys in SUM 41 made the decision to make the band secondary to their long-held friendships, and in doing so, they’ve come full circle with rebuilt friendships, a new live show for the Alternative Press Music Awards (APMAs) on July 22nd, and new material to be released down the road.

I had the chance to chat a bit with SUM 41 bassist, Jason “Cone” McCaslin, about the band’s return and all things SUM 41. Here’s what he had to say.

MCCASLIN: We’ve been off for two-and-a-half years, so this is the first big thing back for us. Playing the APMAs is really special. We haven’t been playing since our last tour ended and this is the big one back.

KNAC.COM: Recently, during an interview with Alternative Press President/Founder Mike Shea, he mentioned that they’d noticed a decided shift with audiences at the 2001 Vans Warped Tour. Fans were gravitating toward a new style. AP responded by promoting the new music and SUM 41 landed an AP cover shorty thereafter. What set SUM 41 apart from all of the rest performing on that tour that grabbed fan and media attention alike?

MCCASLIN: That’s kind of a tough question. We were the new band that was starting to break on that tour. We were out with bands like RANCID and a few others. At that time we were playing a lot of live shows, even before we got signed. We were living with our parents in Ajax, Ontario, Canada, booking our own tours, and touring a lot. Our focus was on becoming a really good live band. We were young, energetic, and liked to have a lot of fun.

It’s hard to say what set us apart from the rest. We were into metal and still are, and hip-hop, too. During our sets we used to cover RUN DMC and the BEASTIE BOYS, so maybe that was intriguing to the kids. We’d cover IRON MAIDEN and METALLICA and put together a whole medley of stuff. We were doing a bunch of cool things that other bands weren’t really doing.

KNAC.COM: A lot of people know SUM 41 for its hits like: “Fat Lip”, “In Too Deep”, “Motivation”, “The Hell Song”, “Still Waiting” and “Pieces”. That’s really only part of the story, though. There’s so much to this band’s music, everything from the well-known punk-pop sound, to rap-rock, metal, with a bit of reggae mixed in, too. There are even tracks featuring death growl vocals. Who were the musical influences that helped to shape this incredibly diverse band and how did they make their way into the mix?

MCCASLIN: Our influences go back to our high school days. SUM 41’s first album was written when we were 18/19 years old. We were listening to NOFX and the whole SoCal scene when we 17/18 years old. Then we started watching skateboard videos and IRON MAIDEN was the music being played on them. We were like, ‘who the fuck is this band?’ So, we started getting really into IRON MAIDEN. Growing up, we were all into METALLICA and GUNS N’ ROSES because they were the popular metal bands. As a teenager you just find out about those bands anyway.

Before we got into rock, we had all listened to rap, the ‘80s rap like: RUN DMC, BEASTIE BOYS, ROB BASE and DJ E-Z Rock and that kind of stuff. So, it’s like you said at the beginning. We tried to sets ourselves apart by doing all of these different things. We loved having a lot of fun and that type of stuff was fun to us. Breaking into IRON MAIDEN’s “The Trooper” or the BEASTIE BOYS in the middle of our set was a lot of fun. People who didn’t know our band, even when we played small clubs in front of only ten people, would walk away remembering us because we did stuff like that. Bands don’t do that enough nowadays. As a fan, you come and see ten bands in a day and walk away remembering one because they did something special. That’s what we were trying to do.

KNAC.COM: How has SUM 41’s music evolved over the course of the band’s five studio albums?

MCCASLIN: I think a lot of people love our first record and those were just early, punk-poppy type songs that we had when we were teenagers. After that album, we thought, ‘where do we go from here?’ Then "Still waiting" came about, so we wrote Does This Look Infected?, which was a more of aggressive album. Then we put out Chuck, which was even heavier.

I don’t know. It’s a tough thing to talk about the evolution of the sound. In some ways it got heavier. With Underclass Hero, we went back to the All Killer, No Filler sound. Then, with our most recent release, Screaming Bloody Murder, we went back to heavy again. We just kind of do what we feel at the time. It’s not really so much of an evolution as it is, ‘what do we want to so next?’ Okay, we feel like doing this now.’ But in a way, we always have to keep it SUM 41. We’re not going to go do a full METALLICA-style or BEASTIE BOYS-style album. We still have to reel ourselves in and understand that we’re still SUM 41. We have to balance knowing what our fans want while still doing what we want, as well.

KNAC.COM: SUM 41’s third album Chuck is named in honor of Charles "Chuck" Pelletier, a U.N. Peacekeeper who called for armed carriers to bring the band and several others to safety when fighting broke out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo while SUM 41 was there with the British charity organization War Child Canada. This album is a decidedly heavy album. Did the band’s medley of METALLICA’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, “Enter Sandman” and “Master Of Puppets” at the MTV Icon: Metallica tribute in 2003 have any impact on the decision to make Chuck more of a metal release?

MCCASLIN: Actually, Chuck had already been recorded when we did that show. We had just come off Does This Look Infected?, which was a more heavy and aggressive album than All Killer, No Filler, so we were already going in that direction. That was the time when we were most into metal. We were listening to a lot of metal. We were covering SLAYER and stuff like that at our shows. We were naturally going that way. Once we’d recorded Chuck, we felt like we’d done the big, heavy album.

The good thing about music is that kids who didn’t originally gravitate to the All Killer, No Filler sound, after they bought Chuck, they’d fucking love it. Then, they’d actually go back and buy All Killer, No Filler and maybe appreciate it more. We got metal fans coming to our shows on the Chuck tour who were like, ‘you know what? That album’s actually not too bad.’ So, people would end up discovering stuff along the way even though they didn’t think they’d really be into it at the time.

KNAC.COM: By Sum 41’s fifth release, 2011’s “Screaming Bloody Murder,” there’s almost a complete abandonment of the band’s pop-pink sound that originally resonated with fans. Again, there’s far more of a heavy groove to it, the album’s track “Blood In My Eyes” being nominated for the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. As critical acclaim was coming in from the music industry, did fans who were originally attracted to your lighter, poppy style stay along for the ride, or has your fan base changed with your sound?

MCCASLIN: With us, it’s been a little bit of both on every single album because we do change sounds so drastically. We may lose some people who like All Killer, No Filler and Underclass Hero, which are our more punk-pop thing. If we go heavy, maybe they’re like, ‘yeah, I’m not into that one.’ They might still come to the shows and just not buy the album.

Then we get people who are like, ‘they’re not doing the punk-pop thing anymore, which I don’t like, but I’m going to buy Screaming Bloody Murder because it’s heavy and that’s what I’m into.’ We’re a strange band like that. We change so drastically all the time that we’re gaining new fans all of the time and we could be losing some at the same time. It’s hard to tell. We don’t know. We go play shows and people still come, which is great. You’re going to get the people who like punk, and you’re going to get fourteen year old girls who like pop music. They’re not going to buy Screaming Bloody Murder and that’s fine. It’s a strange thing.

KNAC.COM: Sum 41 delivers an incredible amount of energy with its live performances. What’s makes it possible for you to keep bringing that level of energy to every show, night after night for all of these years?

MCCASLIN: [Laughing] It used to be alcohol, but not so much anymore. Even when we were teenagers, we used to really focus on putting our show together. I remember sitting in Steve (Jocz)’s basement working on a show. We’d piece everything together so we knew exactly how it ran from start to finish instead of just playing songs back-to-back. We’ve always done that and we put on a pretty high-energy show. It definitely helps that we have a lot of fast songs, but even our more poppy songs sound ballsy live. The way we play live “In Too Deep” sounds like a hard rock song. We’ve always focused on putting together the best possible live show. I don’t know if I can pinpoint one thing that’s made it possible, but that’s definitely been our focus since we were teenagers. You play what you want to see. For instance, when you go see Green Day, you know you’re going to get a great show and that’s the whole idea. You do what you want to see.

KNAC.COM: In the 30th Anniversary issue of AP Deryck Whibley was very open about his month-long hospitalization (ending May, 2014) due to liver and kidney failure, his very critical health issues due to a struggle with alcoholism and self-medicating from pain due to a back injury. This wasn’t a band issue anymore. This was someone you’d been friends with since high school. Were you able to be there with him during that time and after he got home during the recovery process?

MCCASLIN: I thought about that all the time. Deryck was in Los Angels and I live in Toronto and when we got off of the last tour I guess we weren’t on the best of terms. So, we took time off from the band and we also took some time off from each other. When that happened (Deryck’s hospitalization) that’s when it hit me even harder that this had been going on out on tour for a long time. The excessive drinking was getting more excessive. The band would get together and we’d talk about it and talk about coming off the road to get him help.

He went to the hospital after we’d been home for a year and we hadn’t spoken even once since the end of the last tour. That’s when it hit home really hard. A lot of emotions were running through me. I reached out while he was still in recovery and eventually, when he was ready to talk with me, he called. We talked for three hours for the first time in a year-and-a-half. It was really good and he seemed like he was doing better.

Tom (Thacker) and I flew down to visit him in Los Angeles. Then Deryck and I had dinner in Toronto around Christmas time when he was up here right after that. We started talking more and more and rebuilding our friendship. We didn’t really talk about the band that much. It was more about being friends again. That’s kind of what we did for a while, then we started talking about the band when it was time.

KNAC.COM: What’s it like coming back live at the APMAs?

MCCASLIN: We’ve never been off for this long. It’s huge for us, especially after everything Deryck and our band have been through over the past few years. Along with Deryck we all were there witnessing his struggles and feeling the effects with him. Now, we get to just go do what we all love again and having the APMAs be the first thing back is probably going to be the biggest thing of our career. There’s nothing bigger than coming back after the lead singer almost died. Again, it’s huge for us and I’m really excited about it.

KNAC.COM: After the APMAs Sum 41 will be doing some additional shows as well, correct?

MCCASLIN: Yeah, we’re going to be playing Columbia. It’s our first time in South America, which is going to be crazy. We’ve heard from some other bands that touring South America is insane. So yeah, we’ve got Columbia in August. Oh, and we’re doing a warm-up show in Anaheim, CA right before the APMAs at the Chain Reaction. It should be pretty fun, a little sweaty, rock bar. That’s it, so far. We’re working on some more dates for the fall, but nothing’s confirmed yet.

KNAC.COM: It’s my understanding that Sum 41 has some new material on the way, as well.

MCCASLIN: Yeah, Deryck’s been working on new songs since he got out of the hospital. He does the same thing with us every record. He’ll record his demos and then send them off to the band. I’ll write the bass parts. After that, since he’s been living in L.A., we’ll fly down and work on the songs all together. We were working on new material last month and have five or six songs almost finished. That’s not saying we won’t rerecord some stuff. We’re definitely working on new songs, [laughing] but I don’t know when they’re going to be released.

KNAC.COM: Two last things: (1) what do you most want your fans to know about Sum 41 as you make your big APMA return? (2) What’s the one thing about this band your fans don’t know (favorite movie franchise, TV show you never miss, etc.)?

MCCASLIN: To answer your first question, we’re just really excited to be back after a long break. We love playing live and touring. We do have some surprises in store for the APMAs, too. I can’t give anything away, but it’s going to be awesome!

As for the second question, after seeing our tour videos our fans tend to think that our band is fully wild and crazy all of the time. If they spent some time with us, they’d come to realize that we’re pretty calm, normal people half of the time. We have been wild and crazy in the past, but if you spent a week on our bus, you’d actually be like, “huh, they’re actually kind of normal.” We get that from fans all of the time, especially with me because I’m a calm guy. [Laughing] When they talk with you they’re like, “why aren’t you trashing a dressing room right now?” So yeah, we’re pretty normal people half of the time.

With an outstanding and diverse catalog of music, new material on the way, and a triumphant return to the stage at the 2015 APMAs, Sum41 is poised to take over the world once again. Given the band’s meticulous coordination of its live shows one can only imagine what surprises they have in store for the APMAs. But if Cone says they’re going to be awesome, I’ll take his word for it. Congratulations to this great band for clearing the myriad of hurdles they’ve encountered during the past few years and coming back stronger than ever!

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