Interview with Jason “Cone” McCaslin of Sum 41

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Sum 41
Sum 41

Sum 41 are back with some new songs dripping out of the Internet, which the fans are just loving.  The modern version of the band might have a mellower lifestyle, but their sound is getting heavier.  With age, they are going back to what feels natural for them, and it’s clear that this new evolution is working.  I think fans today can smell a band going through the motions, a mile away.  I guess a kilometer, here in Canada…but being authentic resonates with fans.

We spoke about Cone’s first bass, playing dress-up, getting knocked down in the modern world and the upcoming tour.

Interview with Jason “Cone” McCaslin

Photo: Ashley Osborn

Montreal Rocks:  I want to start off with the fact that Sum 41 has been around for 23 years. What’s the contrast between the version of Sum 41 from 1996 and the version from 2019?

Cone:  A lot has changed.  We were 16 years old when the band started, now we are almost 40.  We’ve just grown up…with the band.  We are a little bit more mellow, obviously, now.  We used to be pretty crazy and wild back then, even through our 20s and early 30s.  We are all parents, except for Deryck.  It’s just basically growing up…we are older!  (laughs)

MR:  You might be more mellow with the lifestyle, but not mellow with the music, that’s for sure.

Cone:  The music’s definitely gotten heavier, more aggressive.

MR:  A very distinct contrast, as you grow mellower, the music gets harder.

Cone:    Yeah.  When I say mellower, I’m referring to the partying and heavy drinking.  As you grow up, you also get more into things like politics.  

MR:  You have a different view of the world and can see it from a different perspective. 

I wanted to go farther back into your childhood.  What’s your earliest memory of playing music?

Cone:  It was the summer, after graduating from elementary school, around 13 or 14 years old. A couple of my friends had bought guitars.  Another friend had a drum kit because he was playing drums with the school band.  They were going to start this little band, and I wanted so badly to be in it.  They told me if I wanted to be in the band, I had to play bass.  I had no idea what a bass was.  

I begged my mom to take me to the local music store in Ajax.  She walked in and said to the guy:  “What’s your cheapest guitar?”  This guy took me to this little area, and I went:  Oh…I guess that’s what a bass is!  (laughs). There was no Internet back then to look it up.  I picked this black bass that looked like Krist’s (Novoselic) bass from Nirvana. Then we just started playing…back in the summer of 1994.  We started by learning Nirvana songs, then made up our own songs that sounded like Nirvana. 

MR:  When you were flipping through your parent’s music collection, was there anything that stood out?

Cone:  My mom always had Elton John on, her favorite singer of all times.  My dad is a huge Rolling Stones fan.  I remember hearing a lot of Elton John, Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart and my dad also really loved the Guess Who.  It was always that classic rock stuff.  I never grew up with heavy metal or punk, that just came from friends, my parents didn’t listen to either.      

My neighbor was two years older and he showed me “…And Justice for All.”  “What is this?” I thought.    

MR:  Speaking of punk and metal, it’s the new direction you are going towards:  Punk Metal…or what I’m starting to call it: Petal (yes…it’s a groaner).

Cone:  Coining a new phrase…

MR:  I wanted to congratulate you on breaking the top 20 of Billboard’s airplay chart for the first time in over 14 years with “Out for Blood.”

Cone:  Yeah, crazy. Thanks.   

MR:  It’s a great video.  The song seems to be written from the point of view of the oppressed, the victim. There is one scene in the video of a mosh pit where they are helping someone get back up.  Are there any similarities with world conditions today and a mosh pit?

Cone:  Yes. The rule of mosh pits, that every band preaches, is if someone falls, pick them back up.  There are these little things throughout our video that leans towards the world we live in today.  People who are obviously sick and tired of certain things that are going on in their life can escape from that, have a good time and leave their worries and troubles behind.  

MR:  At the end, everyone has a little blood on them.  They are not beaten down totally.  They get back up.  You get hit by many things in life, but in the end, it’s what you learn from these things that make you happy, not the things themselves.  

Cone:  That’s it. Life experiences and how to deal with them.  Our band has been through so much.  Year to year things happened to us that have been crazy but made us the people we are today. The biggest was Deryck’s alcoholism and how he was able to overcome that.  Now, we are out touring, and it feels like we are bigger than we’ve ever been! More people come to our shows than ever before.  That’s a huge feat for Deryck and our band, to still be doing this.

MR:  I don’t normally do this, but I did read the comments for the Out for Blood YouTube clip. When a band changes their sound direction, there is often backlash.  From what I read; everybody is on board!  

Cone:  I don’t really read the comments either, but our fans will come up to us at the shows and tell us the same.  

The heaviness has always been with us, since the mid 2000s with our album Chuck, so it wasn’t totally in left field for people.  Our audience is growing with us, we have the 40-year old’s coming to shows that have been with us since the beginning.   We now also have the 14-year old’s that weren’t even alive when our first record came out, coming to our shows.  They didn’t know we were “pop-y” back in 2001.  They just know the songs and singles that are out on YouTube.  

This album feels right.  It’s not something we really talked about: “Ok guys, we need to make a heavy and aggressive punk metal album.”  It’s just something we did naturally.  

MR:  It’s interesting that you mentioned that some of the fans weren’t even alive for the first album.  It reminds me of your latest video “Death in the Family.”  You see the Sum 41 version of 1969 and the one from 2019.  You weren’t even alive in ’69.  

In 1969 there were the first steps on the moon, Woodstock, the final performance from the Beatles, the birth of the Montreal Expos and even the Charles Manson murders.  What was the meaning behind that date, or that opening?

Cone:  The whole thing, from 50 years ago, was about history repeating itself and everything coming back around.  That was a year the director pitched us, and we really liked the idea.  It was also just fun to dress up again!  We used to do these videos, back in our 20s, where we used to dress up.  When they had the idea to dress up, we went YEAH!  We haven’t done that in 10 to 12 years.  

MR:  How does it feel working and performing with Dave again, after almost 10 years?

Cone:  Because we have been friends since we were 14 years old in grade 9, it was strange initially. I hadn’t seen Dave for a few years. When he was in another band, we would maybe text each other twice a year.  Then he shows up…planned…at rehearsal one day and it’s like having your old friend back.  A couple hours into it, it’s just like old times.  He’s really easy to get along with and a phenomenal guitar player. That’s a bonus for band.  Tom also is also an insane guitar player, so now we have three.  There are albums we released in the 2000s that have three guitar parts that we can now pull off live.  We can now go back for all these songs and play them properly, the way they were recorded.

MR:  The way they were intended…

Cone:  Exactly. It’s not like they were missed live, but it’s cool to hear ALL the guitar parts taken care of now.  

MR:  Speaking of hearing you guys live, you are just about to embark on the Disrupt Festival, a 25 show tour.  Will you be playing in Toronto for that tour?  

Cone:  No, unfortunately, we start July 10thfor that tour.  We are doing our own Toronto show August 8th, at Echo Beach.  It reminds me of the Warped Tour, which is gone.  Disrupt Fest has less stages and bands, but still have that vibe.  

What’s cool about Disrupt is that all the bands can use their regular production.  Warped Tour was bare bones, no backdrop, you go up and you play for half an hour and you’re done.  We get to bring all our production stuff so it’s going to be cool.

MR:  There is a rotating list to the bands, so they might not do all the location.

Cone:  Exactly. We join July 10thto the end. 

MR:  My last question is do you do anything special each year on the 31stof July?

Cone:  No, not really.  (laughs) A lot of fans message us and stuff, but we don’t really do anything, never have.  I don’t know why.    

MR:  Maybe a bottle of de-alcoholized Champagne would be a good idea.  Anyways, hope you drop by Montreal soon.

Cone:  We will definitely be in Montreal soon.

MR:  I wish you all the best for tour and the release of the new album “Order in Decline” on July 19th, 2019.  Big things ahead for you guys!

Cone:  Awesome, thanks.

Interview: Randal Wark is a Professional Speaker and MasterMind Facilitator with a passion for live music.  You can follow him on InstagramTwitter and YouTube.

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