Sum 41’s Glorious Rock-n-Roll Disease: They Get Older, Their Fans Stay the Same Age

Sum 41 (Courtesy of the band)

Though it might be a nostalgic for many former angst-ridden teens, Sum 41’s Does This Look Infected? probably doesn’t make a whole lot of all-time classic albums lists–at least not yet. But while November 2002 may not seem like ancient history for some stuffy old music critics, anyone attending middle school around that time undoubtedly remembers the brash and catchy tracks like “The Hell Song” and “Still Waiting” that built the legacy of the most iconic Canadian pop-punk band.

Sure, it might’ve been the previous year’s All Killer No Filler that initially launched Sum 41 into the spotlight, but “Fat Lip” and “In Too Deep” could’ve easily fallen into the graveyard of singles featured on Now That’s What I Call Music! compilations and then never heard from again without a successful follow-up. Does This Look Infected? proved that the goofy 21-year-olds from Ontario could rock just as well as any of their American counterparts around the turn of the millennium — even if the band was mostly just concerned with cranking the record out as quickly as possible so they could get back on the road.

“The weirdest thing about it was how little time we spent on the record when making it,” lead vocalist and guitarist Deryck Whibley says. “We were only in the studio for a couple weeks, and I’d only written songs for the record in a few weeks. The reason was that it was our second record and the first record had done pretty well, so all we wanted to do was stay on the road and keep touring. That’s all we liked to do, and that’s still all we really like to do. We were 20 or 21 years old, so it was just a giant party every night, and we didn’t want the party to end. We wanted to go into the studio really quick and get it out of the way so we could get back to partying.”

Beginning late last year and wrapping up this Saturday at the Wiltern, the quintet’s celebration tour for their sophomore album’s 15th birthday has Whibley and the band performing some deep cuts off of Does This Look Infected? for the first time in over a decade. While plenty of artists may dread bringing up the past with anniversary shows rather than focusing on current music, Sum 41’s singer certainly doesn’t seem to mind. Even if some of the tracks may have a different meaning to him now than when he originally penned them, Whibley is just mostly enjoying the fact that his improved musicianship has made the older tunes less strenuous on his vocal cords — something he didn’t necessarily consider in his early 20s.

“[Playing the record] is much better now because we’re all better at it,” Whibley says. “In those early days, playing some of those songs was much more difficult because I would write songs that were a little more difficult to perform live. Going into the studio is very different from being onstage, and it was just a different thing. I didn’t know how to write music that we would be able to perform easily live. That was sort of a lesson on that record, because a lot of those songs are in a really high range — they’re really shouty — so when you start doing four or five of those songs in a row, it gets really difficult on your voice. These days, it’s much easier because I’ve been singing for so much longer.”

Of course, as much as the guys in Sum 41 have grown over the last 15 years, a big chunk of their audience has remained young enough to make David Wooderson jealous. These days, Whibley’s lyrics fall on many ears that weren’t even born yet when he originally wrote them, as the group’s unique brand of angsty rock tends to hit close to home with a pubescent audience — no matter the decade in which they were born. While the “original” Sum 41 fans are now hanging out in the back of venues, sifting through the sands of nostalgia, and worrying about their morning commute during the band’s concerts, the crowd Whibley sees night after night looks more or less the same as it did in the early 2000s.

“Our fan base for every single album has always stayed pretty consistently young,” Whibley says. “It seems like the new generation of 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds get into the band — and I’ve never really thought about it much, understood it much, or tried to question it much, it’s just an observation. The crowd always looks the same as it did back then even if we look much older. We play a lot of the same venues too, so everything looks the same and it kind of feels in a good way like nothing really changes. It was fun back then, and it’s probably even more fun now. The fact that we’re still doing it all makes us appreciate it a lot more than we did back then too.”

Aside from the personal connections that many fans have to Does This Look Infected?, there’s also a direct musical tie between the release and Sum 41’s recent comeback. Not only were some of their last shows the 10th anniversary tour for their second album, but when the band released a single track in June 2016 as a teaser for their first record in five years, the song they opted to drop stemmed directly from an unused piece of Does This Look Infected? as well.

“The first single on the last record, ‘Fake My Own Death,’ I actually started on Does This Look Infected? and never finished it,” Whibley says. “I’d forgotten about it completely until I stumbled across it when I was looking through some old tapes for 13 Voices, and I was like ‘Oh shit, why didn’t we ever finish this?’ I remembered it but wasn’t sure what ever happened to it, so I finished it and it became ‘Fake My Own Death.’ I hear Does This Look Infected? in that song, but it’s done with the new band all these years later. That song is the perfect evolution in a way.”

Although Whibley says there won’t be a 15th anniversary tour for Chuck coming next year due to an upcoming record and subsequent tour cycle, anyone who catches a Does This Look Infected? show will clearly see that the band knows how to throw a birthday party. Even now with cleaner lives and adult responsibilities, the guys in Sum 41 aren’t nearly old or boring enough to take the easy way out and just stand around onstage performing the album just like it sounded when you bought it on CD at Tower Records.

“We wanted to try to do something a little different on this tour than just your typical album anniversary tour where you play the whole album all the way through,” Whibley says. “We tried to do something special with the songs, change a few things around, and not do it all in the right order. We’re just having a little bit more fun with it because to me it’s a birthday party, and you can do whatever you want on your birthday, right?”

Sum 41 perform on Saturday at the Wiltern for the Does This Look Infected 15th Anniversary Tour. For full details, click here. 

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