This past July, the Canadian rock ‘n’ roll band Sum 41 released their seventh album, Order in Decline. The Ajax, Ontario band’s heaviest offering to date boasted three singles, “Out for Blood”, “A Death in the Family” and “Never There”. The strength of the album has the band rolling again, as they continue their transition from punk rock poster boys to notorious party rockers to nice-guy rock ‘n’ roll dads. The band is back in their early 2010s form, performing 150-200 shows a year, and having a great time doing it, with a stable lineup and healthy, confident members. We had the opportunity to talk with bassist and backing vocalist Jason Paul “Cone” McCaslin about their new album, their recording practices and what it’s like being a career musician.
Sum 41 has been a band for 23 years now, and you’ve been with the group for 20, nearly since their beginnings. Did you ever think that this sort of career was going to happen when you first started out?
I was 14 years old when I first started playing. Everyone starts loving music into their teenage years, and we just got into the basement and practiced all the time. When I joined Sum 41, things got serious pretty quickly because they were already gigging and everyone had a certain drive about it. It seemed unrealistic for us at the time, a small band from the suburbs in Ajax, so we just kept going and going and we were really lucky to build and make a career out of it. We worked really hard, but a lot of bands work really hard and don’t have this sort of career in music, so I consider our band pretty lucky to be doing it still.
The fact that Sum 41 came out during the wave when punk-rock, pop-punk, mall-punk and all the variations of it were blooming probably didn’t hurt either, right?
Of course. The timing was great. The thing about that is that we were just playing the music that we wanted to play. Nothing changed. It just so happened that we were playing the style of music that got popular at the time. That’s what Sum 41 was and that’s what people were looking for. It was a perfect time for us.
What is it like for your band to write and record records now that you’ve reached a tier where you all have home studios and the privilege of being able to do something collaborative, while still doing everything separately from the comfort of your own homes?
It’s somewhat different, but it’s also somewhat the same. In the old days, we would go into the studio for two months, but if we were just tracking guitars for four or five days, I probably wouldn’t go into the studio just to watch Dave closely. You’re home and you’re alone, but you get to take your time and work on a song for a whole day, rather than feeling like you’re paying a thousand dollars a day to be in this crazy studio where there’s time restraints and the pressure to perform well.
How does it feel to look back on Order in Decline now that it’s been out for a few months and had some time to mature?
It’s definitely one of the more raw albums that we’ve done – which I really like at this point in our career. A lot of our albums have been mixed by Tom Lord Alge so its always going to have a sound that we’ve always had, so its nice to have a little bit of variation after seven or eight albums (because Deryck mixed the record). I don’t think I would change anything about the album at this point.
I was on your Wikipedia page earlier and noticed that there’s a section there listing all the bands that Sum 41 has inspired. Obviously, Sum 41 has been quite successful and reached a lot of people throughout the years, but to see it all in a list (that’s most likely just scratching the surface) is pretty crazy. Do you guys try and connect with younger bands and fans when you’re out on the road, encouraging them to become musicians too?
It’s strange to think about and it comes up once in a while when we hear of a band that’s doing great things that were fans of us when they were kids. But, we were in that position when we were young too. Our band was born out of love for NOFX, Lagwagon and Pennywise and when we got to play with them for the first time, it was pretty crazy for us to meet them too. It’s crazy to be in that position where these young bands are looking up to you. We never really thought we’d be influential to a younger generation of bands, the way other bands inspired us.
Well, I think one of the reasons you guys have become so successful and influential is because you guys are road warriors. You guys are still out on the road all year. Most artists at the point in your career are not doing that anymore. They’re releasing an album and touring it, they’re doing festivals in the summer, maybe they do another tour in support of the record, but you guys are constantly out there. How do you keep it going? Has your view of playing music on stage changed over the years?
It’s just kind of the way we’ve always done it. We’re all super lucky that we get to tour all over the world and that there’s a lot of places to play, and a lot of places we want to play, where people want to see us. Next year we’ll be in Europe and Japan and South America, and there’s all these places we want to go to and that kind of keeps us on the road. Obviously all of us have kids and families, but, the difference now is that we’re juggling family life with being on the road, so we’re not complete strangers when we get home. The touring is kind of how we’ve always done it and we’re lucky that there’s all these places that want to have us. We’re just happy to go and play for them.
You’ve been doing this for 20+ years, if you were to give advice to yourself when you were young, or even to your kids if they decide to pursue a career in music, what would you tell them?
If you really want to make a career in music, you have to commit to it. For us, the music industry was a lot better and record companies had a lot more money, when we started out but we still had to commit to them. Sure, we had part-time jobs to make money, but our full time job, even when we weren’t signed was always the band. That was our main focus and that was our only focus for a very long time and everything revolved around our band. You really have to really put it all into it. You cant half ass it. You just have to go for it, sacrifice everything, and give it an honest try. Its not easy to do, so you just have to go for it.